Last Father’s Day, my daughters and I shopped together for Daddy. When we arrived home, my middle girl burst into the house, ran over to my husband and announced that we had gotten him a game, but she couldn’t tell him which one it was because it was a gift.
Oh, the suspense.
Then for Christmas, the girls shopped for each other at the church’s Awana store. At the end of the night before we had even clicked on our seat belts in the minivan, my daughter spilled the news to her big sister: “I got you a doll!!!!”
“You spoiled the surprise again,” we all complained.
“But I didn’t tell her what color doll,” she explained, as if that was enough to keep her sister on edge until Christmas morning.
We’ve become accustomed to the missing element of surprise on holidays all because my little girl can’t contain her excitement over good news.
A few weeks ago, one of the women in my Bible Study group expressed a similar disappointment in the fact that we can’t surprise God.
And I get that.
There are moments when I wish God would look down and say, “Wow! Did you see what she just did?” when He sees me serve in a way that brings Him pleasure.
God, all-knowing and all-seeing, though, isn’t surprised by what we do and say.
Yet, even though we can’t surprise Him, we can please Him. He can delight in us and rejoice over us and even be amazed at the growth in our faith. We can bring him joy.
This is a precious thought to me. We all know that God loves us because of his character, his faithful commitment to keep his covenant with his people and his unwavering grace that offers salvation to sinners like us.
But there are moments when we may wonder if we can please him as individuals. Can he delight in us, as Scripture tells us he delighted in David (Psalm 18:19)? Can we find favor with him, as Mary did (Luke 1:30)?
In her book, Knowing God By Name, Mary Kassian notes that there are two different words for the “love” that God has for us. The one is “chesed,” which is “firmly rooted in God’s character, loyal, steadfast, unfailing love, kindness and mercy” (p. 38). This is unfailing covenant love.
Yet there’s another kind of love—“ahab,” which means “to desire, to breathe after, to be inclined toward, to delight in” (p. 38).
We see both kinds of love at work in Jeremiah 31:3:
“I have loved you (ahab) with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness (chesed).
Perhaps it’s true that we can’t surprise God, but clearly He can love us personally and passionately—not just because He made a covenant of loyalty long ago.
In fact, I imagine God, grinning ear to ear at times when he looks down with love and affection and sees our hearts motivated by love and our service to others, untainted by pride and self-glorification.
This is what causes our God to “take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17).
Indeed, it’s not the moments when we’re conscious of our good deeds that make God break out in song over us. It’s not when we’re in it for accolades or when we are patting ourselves on the back for being such a nice person.
It’s never when we’re thinking, “Wow, I’m such a good Christian. I’m such a loving person. I’m so self-sacrificing.”
It’s never, ever about earning salvation or His loyal love by adhering to rules or performing well. God’s covenant love is constant and dependent on His character, not on our works.
It’s not at all because God needs something from us.
Instead, God is amazed by our faith when we come to Him and admit that He alone can rescue us. When the centurion, a man of power and authority, petitioned Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus “was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel” (Luke 7:9 NIV).
This is the humility of acknowledging that our own good works or personal strength are not enough; our only hope is in him.
Psalm 147:10-11 similarly tells us that “the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love”
In The Pleasures of God, John Piper explains that “it is because our fear reflects the greatness of his power and our hope reflects the bounty of his grace. God delights in those responses which mirror his magnificence… When I cry out, ‘God is my only hope, my rock, my refuge!’ I am turning from myself and calling all attention to the boundless resources of God’ (p. 187).
James said this with all his usual bluntness:
“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
‘God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble'” (James 4:6).
God becomes a doting Father and rejoices over us when our hearts are truly humble and we are living lives that are intentional about glorifying Him, not ourselves. This is when we please Him, maybe not surprise Him–but certainly bring Him joy and delight.
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2012 Heather King