It is important for us to be mindful of God’s objective in creation. The four and twenty elders, prostrate before him that sat on the throne of Him that liveth forever and ever say, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev 4:10, 11). A dictionary definition of ‘to please’ is “to be agreeable, to derive pleasure from:” and ‘pleasure’ is “enjoyment, delight.” So we must always be asking ourselves, “Is what I am thinking, saying or doing, pleasing in God’s sight?”

There is an inevitability about God’s will ultimately prevailing, as in the petition in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10); and particularly in our heavenly Father’s declaration “as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud … So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa 55:10, 11).

What is not pleasing

The Apostle Paul made the unequivocal statement, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:8). What does he mean by the expression, “in the flesh”? The context explains that it refers to those whose lives are devoted to fleshly, or carnal thinking: “… they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh,” This is contrasted with “they that are after the Spirit” whose lives are governed by the Spirit, the Word of God (v5). So herein lies a warning for us all to heed the Word of God and adhere to the beliefs, values and teaching of our Lord and Master. And this is so much more difficult in these days, these last perilous days in which humanism, the thinking of the flesh has usurped the influence of the Spirit Word in the lives of men and society: as the Apostle Peter warns us, “there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts” (2 Pet 3:3). Tragically how true this is.

 Faith is essential

“Faith is the substance (mg, ground, confidence) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Having defined faith thus the next verse tells us that “by it the elders obtained a good report” (v2). All the actions recorded in Hebrews 11 were motivated by this crucial quality: men and women did things they would otherwise never have been moved to do unless they believed in God. So important is this motivational force of faith that the writer pauses to say, “But without faith it is impossible to please him [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is [exists], and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (v6). What does this tell us? That we need to come under the influence of the Word of God, for faith comes by hearing (that is, listening to) the Word of God (Rom 10:17). So as we commence a new year we are wise if we resolve to hear our heavenly Father’s voice by doing our daily readings, all three of them, that are more important than the three meals a day we are careful not to overlook!

 Things we can do that give God pleasure

When Solomon requested of God “an understanding heart to judge thy people”, “the speech pleased the Lord” (1 Kings 3:9–10). We need to set aside time to meditate upon God’s Word and upon the life of our Lord if we are to grow spiritually and please God. In Romans we are told that the liberties we take must in turn take into account others: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (15:1–2). As disciples of Jesus Christ we need to think about the impact of our ways and actions on others, and if what we ‘allow’ is likely to have an adverse effect on them we should change our course. This is challenging and wide-ranging.

Our heavenly Father is cognisant of all the ‘small’ acts of kindness and thoughtfulness done for others: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (RSV, Heb 13:16). This is part of the allembracing commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, which in turn flows from the commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and mind (1 John 4:19–20; Rom 13:9; Matt 22:37–40). And within our Brotherhood there is also a requirement to preserve “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3); for expressing the mind of the Father the Psalmist says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (133:1) Recognition of our Father’s love for us in providing His beloved Son for our salvation, in calling us to Christ, in richly showering us with blessings, spiritual and material, should elicit love and praise, as the Psalmist says, “Praise the LORD: for it is good to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly” (RSV, Psa 147:1).

So we need to be conscious of our Father’s presence and the joy He has when we choose the things that please Him, “not doing [our] own ways, nor finding [our] own pleasure, nor speaking [our] own words” (Isa 56:4; 58:1, 13).

 “Mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth”

When Saul returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites he sought to justify his failure to utterly destroy “ox and sheep,” saying the people spared the best “to sacrifice unto Yahweh thy God” (1 Sam 15:3,15). Samuel made a salient point (v22), “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD?” Subordination of the human mind to the will of Yahweh is what He delights in. Born with a free will we choose whether to obey or disobey. Sadly without exception, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” (Isa 53:6). In a psalm that foreshadows the sacrifice of the Christ and his compliance to his Father’s will, we read “This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs” (Psa 69:31). The animal to be sacrificed had no choice or appreciation of the divine objectives or will. Not so in the case of the Son of God. From early days he knew precisely what was required of him, sinlessness in hostile and demeaning circumstances. From this challenge he did not rebel “or turn away back” (Isa 50:5).

Isaiah, by inspiration, writes, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him” (42:1). At thirty years of age, following his baptism by John in order to fulfil all righteousness, the divine stamp of approval upon the Son was made plain for the Spirit descended on him “in a bodily shape like a dove,” accompanied by the heavenly voice, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Towards the end of his ministry at his transfiguration, the same voice uttered the same words with the addition, “hear him,” signifying God’s approval of His Son as well as providing encouragement for the fray ahead – “the last and fiercest strife”. And Jesus could say without a trace of hypocrisy, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).

 “It pleased the LORD to bruise him

So how would the Father take pleasure in His Son’s obedience to the death of the cross? It has always required thought and insight to appreciate how this could be the case, especially as the earthquake and darkness at the crucifixion scene indicated God’s displeasure. There is a three-fold affirmation that this death was Yahweh’s purpose, within the inclusion that it was the His “pleasure”:

 “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him: he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isa 53:10).

The RSV rendition changes “pleased” to “was the will,” as follows:

 “Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; He has put him to grief; When he makes himself an offering for sin, He shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; The will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand”.

Our Lord’s resolution in Gethsemane to do his Father’s will and not his own was the template of his life. Perfect obedience, sinlessness, even in the most painful and humiliating of circumstances is beyond us to fully appreciate. Yet it was what was required by God as the basis for His mercy and forgiveness being extended to fallen men, men who believe the service. God’s approval of him was seen in him being raised from the dead the third day and his ascension to His right hand, where there is “fulness of joy” and “pleasures for evermore” (Psa 16:11). So it was God’s will, His “pleasure” that His Son should lay down his life, enabling the love of God to embrace all nations: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever …” (John 3:16) and “thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created”(Rev 4:11).

“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you what is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for every and ever. Amen” (Heb 13:20 – 21). Here is life’s purpose. All other pursuits are vain and will come to nought.