Thursday, January 24, 2008

From duty to delight

Or, alternatively titled, "This One's For Linda"

I was working on this post yesterday when I got Linda's comment which mentions "acting our way into feelings," precisely the point I attempt to make here. That, plus the fact that I so did not want to get up at 5 this morning, well, it turns out the Holy Spirit has something to say to me and Linda both, and maybe you as well...

I'm still reading The Bruised Reed, and if any of you keep up with such things, I've been in the process of reading it for what seems like forever now. It's not that it's a difficult read; it's not. It's more that my life has been crazy, therefore I've done little reading except for the occasional reading binge where I am more likely to indulge in the entertainment offered by a fiction title rather than the intellectual pursuit of the Puritans.

But I picked The Bruised Reed back up this week and Sibbes offers some important truths for those of us struggling with the balance of duty and delight. I've heard it said, and maybe I've even said it myself, that obedience apart from love isn't obedience, that merely adhering to some standard or performing some discipline without the proper motivation becomes legalism. After all, Jesus said the greatest command is to love Him, and that if we love Him, we will keep His commands.

But what if you don't feel like it? What if the very last feeling you have is love, or desire, or warm fuzzies of any kind? If you don't want to do something, even if that something is right and good and in obedience to the will of the Lord, should you not? If you do that thing you don't want to do, aren't you just being a legalist, a hypocrite, a Pharisee? How do we reconcile duty and delight?

I think maybe I've told you this truth that a friend shared with me many years ago: discipline leads to desire which leads to delight. Sometimes I don't feel like walking in obedience, but those are the very times I am to choose discipline, to do the things I wouldn't want to do otherwise, not to fulfil some righteous standard, but because I want to want to, because I desire the desire to be obedient. The more I discipline myself to choose obedience, the more I desire obedience, and ultimately I will begin to delight in those things I previously despised.

Here Sibbes offers motivation to persist in duties even when delight seems elusive:

1. Our hearts of themselves are reluctant to give up their liberty. In other words, we will always have a ready excuse if we trust our hearts, and the more excuses we offer, the more reluctant we become. In our flesh we do not want to obey God's commands!

2. As we set about duty, God strengthens the influence that he has in us. Because of the unwillingness of our flesh, when we choose obedience God "may manifest his work the more clearly...and all the glory of the work may be his, as all the strength is his." We don't even want to; it must be His work in us, to His glory!

3. Obedience is most direct when there is nothing else to sweeten the action. Our every inclination is to disobey, yet choosing obedience just because He said so, apart from any "what's in it for me" attitude, that is direct obedience that says He is worth it and His glory is worth it.

4. What is won as a spoil from our corruptions will have as great a degree of comfort afterwards as it has of obstruction for the present. Sibbes goes on to say, "Reward follows work. In and after duty we find that experience of God's presence which, without obedience, we may long wait for, and yet go without." Obedience brings blessing and intimacy and greater knowledge of the provision and grace God offers to those who love Him and keep His commands.

May we strive after holiness, whether we feel like it or not, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, being fully confident that we do not obey in vain. We choose discipline in the now, so that we may know the delight to come. While emotion plays a right and proper place in our relationship with our Savior, we must not and cannot rely on our feelings as a motivation for obedience. We must choose it.

Psalm 40:8 reads "I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart." In the margin I have jotted "You have changed my want-to!" As we hide His Word in our hearts, as we pursue obedience and the spiritual disciplines, He will be faithful to give us a heart that delights in Him and finds great joy in the duty He requires.


  1. I have felt dull and "hard of hearing" for the past week or so for some reason. I thought to myself this morning that I must go to the Puritans to revive my cold heart.

    Thank you for this. I'll be picking up The Bruised Reed this afternoon.

  2. Lisa, Thank your for this. One of the things I've been fighting against is the direction from God to be a better steward of this body he has blessed me with. Although this is the LAST place I want to be and while I have made numerous typing errors and had to fix them . . . I am actually on the treadmill RIGHT NOW. (walking 3 miles per hour) I do not want to be here. But obedience leads to desire. Right?

  3. Excellent, Lisa, just what I needed. My NEW (hallelujah!) Pastor preached a message on getting the desire/ hunger back last night. This ties in perfectly!

  4. Such great words, and thank you for speaking them to me (and anyone else who needs them).

    Because I struggle with legalistic tendencies, I find it hard sometimes for the pendulum not to sway too far in one direction or the other. I don't want to do something just for the sake of doing it. And yet, you are so, so right. I have to take that step of obedience whether I feel like it or not.

    Just like I love my kids and desire to care for and mother them, even though my feelings are not overflowing with adoration when it's 2:00 a.m. and I'm changing dirty sheets or cleaning a bathroom floor! :-)

    It's good to know you didn't want to get out of bed. Too many times I hear people say "I get up at 5:00 to have my Quiet Time and it's wonderful!" It's nice to see authenticity and working through the struggle.

    As for me, last night I still was a bit reluctant when I went to bed "God, I don't want to but I WANT to want to." Amazingly I actually woke up before the alarm and argued with God a bit but realized 1) He could wake me up 2) He could give me the "want to" but 3) I had to be the one to put my feet on the floor. So I did.

    And I'm so glad I did.

    Even though it got my routine all out of whack and a school lunch didn't get made until the last minute!!

    Sorry to be so long-winded. Thanks for your encouragement!

    And have a fantabulous time on the retreat this weekend. :-) :-( I can't wait to hear all about it.

  5. Your blog always is such a good exhortation. Thank you.

  6. I'm so glad that you are sticking with the good Dr. Sibbes. I think the most apt thing that was said of him was, "Of this blest man, let this just praise be given: heaven was in him, before he was in heaven."~Izaak Walton, from the publisher's prologue.

  7. Oh Lisa!
    What a beautiful two days of posting you've been doing~ So true.

    I'd love to send you a little gift, if you'll e-mail me an address to send it to:

    Sweet Blessings~

  8. This is so very true! Thank you for taking the time to post of all of this information.