The following is an excerpt from the Introduction of the book Delight! Discipleship as the Adventure of Loving and Being Loved by Justin Rossow, which recently won the 2020 Best Indie Book Award™ for best independently published book in the Christian category. You can find out more at www.findmynextstep.org.
Over the last couple of years, an image of mutual delight has repeatedly captivated my heart and mind. You know the mutual delight I am talking about, or something like it. You might experience it during a moment of peace in the company of dear friends. You would recognize it in the eyes of two lovers as they first discover they’re in love. But I think you can see this image of mutual delight most clearly in that moment when a darling child rushes into their parent’s arms.
In my imagination, the child is older than an infant, but still small enough to be picked up easily. The parent could be a mom or a dad, or even a grandparent, cousin, or friend. The important thing is the moment when the little girl or boy runs into a trusted embrace, and mom or dad lifts them up and twirls them around, and brings that darling child, still dangling in the air, face to face.
And I don’t know if mom made a funny noise, or dad tickled a little as part of the hug, but the delight of the moment makes the child giggle. That giggle makes mom laugh. That laugh makes the little boy squeal. And so these two go, on and on, for longer than you would think reasonable, simply enjoying each other …
You know what that’s like. Mutual delight: that experience of loving and being loved; of shared joy, joy in another person’s joy, that image of a mom or dad beaming into the face of a smiling child until both are rolling in the grass laughing—that image of mutual delight has changed how I view my relationship with God.
Of course, following Jesus can be hard. Of course, following Jesus can be confusing, and difficult, and it can end badly (ask any of his original 12; only one got to die peacefully of old age …). Of course the call to follow this Jesus is a call to pick up your cross, to lose your life, to bear a new and different yoke.
But this same Jesus also promised that losing your life was the only way to find it; that by joining in his death already now, you join in his resurrection life, already now; that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Following Jesus is not supposed to be a weight to carry that drains the fun out of life. Following Jesus means being so full of new life that you can experience joy even in the midst of difficulty.
And that joy, the joy of knowing Jesus, flows directly from Jesus’ joy of knowing you.
Time and time again, the Scriptures paint for us a picture of a God who absolutely delights in people, a God who not only loves them and saves them, but enjoys them and wants to spend quality time with them. The God Jesus knows and reveals as Father is the God of relationship, who delights in specific individuals and throws parties in heaven because of what you just did this last week.
Of course, following Jesus means coming to grips with your failures, with your sin, with your shame. Of course discipleship entails repentance, and molding, and refining. Of course dying to your sinful self daily isn’t a lot of fun. An old, traditional confession of sins starts, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” Repentance is an essential part of discipleship.
Another old, traditional confession also expresses to God the reason I want to be forgiven: “… that I may delight in your will and walk in your ways…” Right next to repentance, delight is an equally essential part of discipleship. You cannot be a consistent, faithful follower the way Jesus intends without the key ingredient of delight.
Now, watch it! To say you have to have delight can become just as much a burden as saying you have to repent, when in both cases Jesus intends for you to receive these habits of following as a gift, not a burden. The Holy Spirit works repentance in you as a gift, to lead you into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God in Jesus Christ. But what I really want to get at in the rest of this book is this: The Holy Spirit works delight in you as a gift, to lead you into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
Now that I can see both repentance and delight as gifts, it seems strange to look back at my experience of church and church people. Almost all of the church people I have ever known would point to the need for repentance in the life of a believer; but few and far between were the individuals who knew one of the secrets of the Kingdom: delight is an essential part of your faith journey.
Of course, you might not use the word “delight” very much; you might prefer a different vocabulary word. But whatever you call it, I mean that moment when the little boy runs laughing into his mother’s arms and she picks him up and brings him close and each can’t get enough of the other’s joy. I call that loving and being loved “mutual delight.” Jesus invites you into that kind of mutual delight in his relationship with you.
Maybe that invitation feels more like a challenge to you, way up here at the very beginning of a book on discipleship as delight. Or maybe it makes your heart beat a little faster and awakens a longing deep in your soul. Or maybe you have no idea how to think about mutual delight with God. All of those reactions are valid.
Although I never heard “discipleship” described by anyone as “the adventure of loving and being loved,” I’m not trying to roll out a new doctrine. I am convinced that the Scriptures themselves invite us to see our relationship with God, perhaps even primarily, as an interaction of mutual delight.
Whether you are confused, excited, or skeptical about that claim, I invite you to take this journey with me. I want to show you what I have seen in Scripture and share with you what the Holy Spirit has been shaping in me, and perhaps, will shape in you, too. There is such a freedom in loving and being loved, in living not under the burden of religious practice but in the confidence of God’s delight, that I can hardly tell you how much a difference delight has made in my own personal life!
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The ultimate goal of this entire journey of delight is to relieve the burden of being a Christian with the joy of being a follower. To follow Jesus is to have confidence in God’s delight and to have freedom to try and to fail. Following Jesus means you are caught up in a love story beyond your wildest dreams. To follow Jesus is to put your foot on a path of adventure, marked by challenges and difficulties and sorrow and failure, but marked most fundamentally by mutual delight.
As we read Scripture and think and pray and discern together, I hope you will also come to see discipleship as the adventure of loving and being loved.
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