Strong Horses & What Delights God Most

Percheron mares, aged 3 and under 4: Please enter the ringsounded over the arena loudspeaker. 

His pleasure is NOT in these strong horses? resounded in my bemused brain.

The draft horse stable is just inside the east gate at the Walworth County Fair. Each year we stop to see the horses. 

And each year, in awe, I gawk.

His delight is not in the strength of a horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.       

Psalm 147:10-11, ESV

The Strength of a Horse

Immense strength envelop exquisite equine form. Burly, bulgy backsides and shimmery, sleek shoulders bear witness. Divinity designed such elegant power.

draft horse

From the war horse (heavy saddler) to diligence horse (heavy coacher or light draft) to the true horse of heavy draft, the breeders of Le Perche sculpted away on their beloved indigenous breed for hundreds of years, altering the animal to meet the demands of the times and to entice the buyer.

In the case of the Percheron breed, French breeders played a big role in harnessing living, breathing strength:

God himself praised these creatures as he questioned Job,

Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with strength? Can you make him leap like the locust? 
He paws in the valley, and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear, and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword

Job 39:19-24

Entice they do. I stand in awe of the Belgian Drafts, Clydesdales, and Percherons. To lay eyes on these beautiful hulks is to marvel.

God seems duly impressed by his creation. So what does God mean when he says he doesn’t take pleasure in horses? 

The Danger of Delighting in Horses

I found John Piper’s explanation helpful:

God is not displeased with horses, but in those who hope in horses—or in whatever our modern equivalent is for the strength and security that horses once delivered.

To take pleasure in visible strength is natural. Big bank accounts and a clean bill of health can make me feel secure. Top Gun Maverick had a similar effect. I left the theatre feeling confident.

But it displeases God when we put our hope in militaries, missiles, or health—or in anything other than him. Because God cares for us. He wants the best for his children. And he knows that all of those are false security, and worse than false.

When we swell secure with anything less than the Lord, we not only dig broken cisterns, but forsake the living water (Jeremiah 2:13). When we think we can buy or be our own strength, we reject God our strength (Psalm 81:1).  

Fear & Hope: What God Delights In

God helps those who help themselves isn’t in the BIble. Military might and financial force don’t dazzle Almighty God.

But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. 

If you want to swell the heart of God, fear him and hope in his love

Bible commentator Matthew Henry writes that fear and hope not only may, but must go together:

In the same heart at the same time, there must be both a reverence of his majesty and a complacency in his goodness; not that we hang in suspense between hope and fear, but we must act under the gracious influences of hope and fearOur fear must save our hope from swelling into presumption and our hope must save our fear from sinking into despair.

Commentary on Psalm 147

Oh, for this holy, God-pleasing, Christ-exalting draw-near fear, for this fear co-mingled with hope! It is hope that will not disappoint us because God has poured out his love in to our hearts (Romans 5:1-5). It is fear that does not paralyze or make us run away. Perfect love casts that fear out. 

I got all that from a little trip to the fair.

Some might argue that these muscle-bound beasts have served their purpose. After all, horse pulls are just for show.

To them, I simply say “no.”

Every year at the fair, God uses them to remind me. These strong horses point past themselves to a God who is not impressed even by their splendid strength, to a God who is strength itself.

The LORD is the strength of his people…

Psalm 28:8a, ESV

“Grieve is a Love Word”

My last post was about a decisive question that can help us say no without guilt. That question was,

“Who are you willing to disappoint?”

I ended the post with a look at Mary and Martha through that clarifying lens and quoted Jon Bloom. Bloom drove the point home with this statement, Mary was more willing to disappoint Martha than to disappoint Jesus. 

Whoa dere, boy! We can disappoint Jesus?- the Son of God, and the second member of the Holy Trinity?  Little old me can disappoint Almighty God?

Maybe this is as clear to you as it was for my friend Peg. “Well,” she simply said, “if it’s possible to please God, it must be possible to displease him. So, yeah, we can disappoint God.”

Scripture makes that plain- that we definitely can please God. (See Col. 1:10, Rom. 12:1, 14:18, Col. 3:20, 1 Thess. 2:4, 1 Tim. 2:1-3, 5:4, Heb. 13:16, 1 John 3:22 for examples.)

In a nutshell, whenever we trust and obey God, he is pleased.

Can you make God sad?

But for many of us that line from Bloom about disappointing Jesus begs the question: Can we make God sad?

After all, Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. And we know with Job that he can do all things; no purpose of his can be thwarted. He makes known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.

To those who would argue that God can’t be grieved because he knew what was coming, I would say, Really? Just because I know a dear friend is losing a battle with cancer means I won’t grieve when I see her body wracked with pain and losing the fight? Really?

Knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any less sad when it comes.

So is it possible to grieve an all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign God?

I think so. Here’s why.

1. “Love does not equal unconditional affirmation.”

That’s what Kevin DeYoung says. It’s in the context of The Hole in our Holiness, in a chapter called “The Pleasure of God and the Possibility of Godliness.”

And I agree with DeYoung: We need to clear up the confusion about whether or not a forgiven, justified, reconciled, adopted, born-again believer can displease God.

DeYoung breaks it down,

The logic seems sound: “I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. So no matter what I do, God sees me as his pure, spotless child.” It’s true there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), but this does not mean God will condone all our thoughts and behaviors.

Though in Christ he overlooks our sins in a judicial sense, he is not blind to them. 

For the record, affirmation means approval or validation. So, to paraphrase, God’s love for us does not mean that he approves or validates everything we do. Even believers can displease God. Scripture is clear about that. Our sins hide his face from us.

Discountenanced was born one sad night. But discountenanced does not mean unloved.

2. Discipline goes with displeasure and love.

DeYoung continues,

We can “grieve” the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 4:30). Though God is always for us in Christ (Rom. 8:31-34), Christ can still have things against us (Rev. 2:4). The fact that God disciplines his children (Heb. 12:7) means that he can sometimes be displeased with them.

God gives consequences. Moses struck the rock. God didn’t affirm that choice. As a result, he couldn’t enter the Promised Land. Even though he talked with Moses as to a friend.

My sons have heard this more than once: I discipline you because I love you. That’s why I don’t make them eat their veggies and brush their teeth and practice piano. I don’t discipline them because I don’t love them like I love you.

So with God. If he didn’t love us, he wouldn’t notice our sin and he’d never discipline us. But Hebrews 12:8, If you are not disciplined you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 

No, love does not equal unconditional affirmation. 

3. His “For-us” Frown

Instead, DeYoung writes (p. 74),

Love entails the relentless pursuit of what is for our good. And our good is always growth in godliness. “Those whom I love,’ Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, “I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19).

Is that confusing? Maybe this will help. DeYoung explains,

Through faith we are joined to Christ and have union with him. That bond is unbreakable. Our union with Christ is an established fact, guaranteed for all eternity by the indwelling of the Spirit. When we sin, our union with Christ is not in jeopardy. But our communion is.

It is possible for believer to have more or less of God’s favor. It is possible for us to have sweet fellowship with God, and it’s possible to experience his frown- not a frown of judgment, but a “for us” frown that should spur us on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).

I’ve been the giver and the receiver of “for us” frowns and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that behind that frown  is love.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (11.5) puts it this way,

Although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.

I hope this makes sense.

But why does it matter?

No Choke on Delight

Here’s one huge reason. DeYoung concludes it up this way (p. 74),

One of the main motivations for obedience is the pleasure of God. If we, in a well-intentioned effort to celebrate the unimpeachable nature of our justification, make it sound as though God no longer concerns himself with our sins, we’ll put  a choke on our full-throttle drive to holiness.

God is our heavenly Father…He will always love his true children. But of we are his true children we will also love to please him. It will be our delight to delight in him and know that he is delighting in us.

Our delight to delight in him and know he is delighting in us. Amen.

What Grieves God

In his sermon on Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” C.H. Spurgeon writes,

I think I now see the Spirit of God grieving, when you are sitting down to read a novel and there is your Bible unread…You have no time for prayer, but the Spirit sees you very active about worldly things, and having many hours to spare for relaxation and amusement. And then he is grieved because he sees that you love worldly things better than you love him.

…He will not hate his people, but he does hate their sins, and hates them all the more because they nestle in his children’s bosoms. The Spirit would not be the Spirit of truth if he could approve of that which is false in us: he would not be pure if that which is impure in us did not grieve him.

He is grieved with us mainly for our own sakes, for he knows what misery sin will cost us; he reads our sorrows in our sins… He grieves over us because he sees how much chastisement we incur, and how much communion we lose.”

God grieves because he knows what misery our sin will cost us, because he knows the sweet communion that we lose.

What a God. What a merciful, loving God.

“Grieve is a Love Word.”

In Jeremiah 2:13, this loving God, says, They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. When we forsake God and look for satisfaction elsewhere, I think God grieves.

I close with a quote from S. Lewis Johnson,

Grieve is a love word.You don’t grieve people who don’t love you. To truly grieve a person, what is necessary is that the other person must have high regard for you. So that grieve is a word of love. That is the word that is used here: grieve not the Holy Spirit of God. 

He is grieved, because we are the objects of the love of the triune God.

To acknowledge that we can disappoint, displease or grieve God is to realize at least some of his great love for us.

Because grieve is a love word, we make it our goal to please God.

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

2 Corinthians 5:9

 

For more on “The Two Wills Of God” – the one that will never be broken and the one we break when we grieve him- check out John Piper’s sermon “What is the Will of God and How do We Know It?”