Pleasing the Lord

“Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.”
Ephesians‬ ‭5:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We want to please the Lord. Why would we want to make the Holy Spirit sad? Why would we not want to please God? We think back to the point when we realised that through Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary, when He gave His life for ours, when He traded His righteousness for our unworthiness, when we realised how much He must have loved us, then we, from our knees, can only respond with a thankful heart, brimming over with a desire to please Him. We realised that our pre-Christian lives didn’t please Him one little bit; in fact God turned His back on our sins. But in the light of God’s presence, now being aware of a new dimension of living, we want to please the Lord. 

So what pleases the Lord? We know what doesn’t – worldliness manifesting in our thoughts, our speech, our behaviour, our deeds. It’s called sin. But Paul wrote verses elsewhere in his epistles that help. In one of them, Romans 12:1, we read, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” There’s another relevant verse in Colossians 1:10, “Then the way you live will always honour and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.” From these two verses we get a complete answer to our question about pleasing the Lord. It’s all about living a surrendered life, surrendered to God and His ways. Sounds simple on paper, doesn’t it? But the reality of living a surrendered life is far from easy. You see, there is a basic desire within us to live a sinful life. Paul articulated the problem we face in Romans 7, “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.”‭‭ But thankfully, Paul gave us the answer in the first two verses of the following chapter in Romans, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” 

The Holy Spirit will help us lead a surrendered life that pleases God. And notice that the presence of the Holy Spirit is not benign; He has the power to transform our lives, if we let Him. And in the transformation we please the Lord. 

Four One’s

“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”
Ephesians‬ ‭4:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians continues the theme of unity. And in these two verses he presents a fundamental view of God. Paul sets out the bottom line. The bedrock of our faith. A picture of God that is total and complete in every way. I see a picture before me today of an onion, and Paul is peeling away the layers, exposing truths that are seismic and fundamental to our beliefs. We have to peel away each layer to be able to appreciate the next. This view of God is so profound and true that if we cannot accept in turn each of Paul’s statements, then there is no point in continuing. This is a creed with five truths that underpins all other creeds. 

So for the first layer, Paul says there is “one Lord“. Believe it or not, in the world today there are many “lords”. And all except one are the wrong lord. We can make a loved one “lord” of our lives. Or even the devil. We have a privileged class in the UK of “lords”. And a part of our government here in the UK is the “House of Lords”. Many people make a “lord” out of their hobbies, or jobs. But Paul said there is only one Lord who really matters and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. If we hold a view that Jesus was anything other than the Son of God, a Member of the Holy Trinity, both human and divine, then there is no point in proceeding to the next layer of Paul’s “onion”.

The next layer refers to “one faith“. A sad phenomenon in some established churches today is the willingness to have “multi-faith” services. The bizarre spectacle of a Rabbi, Imam, Priest, Buddhist monk,  and a Clergyman holding joint prayers is directly at conflict with the God-truth of there being “one faith”. But is this what Paul was bothered about? No. I believe Paul was pointing out that true faith was not only believing that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, that He died for our sins and that He sent the Holy Spirit to be His representative here on Planet Earth, but Paul was also pointing out that the faith we have extends to an unshakeable belief and assurance that God knows what is best for us, and regardless of our circumstances we will continue to have faith in Him. For an example, Abraham showed true faith when he placed his son on the altar as a sacrifice to God. True faith involves obedience to God regardless of the circumstances.

We continue to the next layer by considering what “one baptism” means. The New Testament mentions two types of baptism – baptism in water (Acts 8:36-39) and baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16). The fact that Paul mentions baptism here is therefore significant. It is an essential, non-negotiable, part of what being a Christian is all about. In Acts 2:38 we read, “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“.

The next layer of our onion is the all-encompassing declaration of who God is. There is only “one God“. I can remember a Muslim man I worked with telling me, some years ago, that we both worshipped the same God. But the God of the Christians, Paul’s God, our God, is different to Allah, the Muslim God. very different. Sadly, even amongst Christians there are different views of who God is. Some Christian denominations worship a God that is different to the One described in His Book, the Bible. But one thing is very clear. God is a God of love and grace. He is infinitely patient and kind. “The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” (Psalm 145:8).

Finally, Paul continues with the statement that God is “Father of all“. God is our Heavenly Father. We are His children. And as with any family, children can be naughty and rebellious. Well, that is how we started off in our natural lives. The religious jargon is that such behaviour is “sin”. Sadly, most people deny that they have a Heavenly Father. But saying we don’t have a Heavenly Father is the same as saying we don’t have a natural father. One day everyone will stand before God to give an account of their lives – most people will get a nasty shock if they continue to deny He exists! But it is so sad for those who don’t believe in God’s Fatherhood. He is the perfect Father. Loving. Fair. Helpful. A Guide when we need Him. Gracious. Merciful. God’s parental attributes could fill a book – well they do – His Book, the Bible. And the more we read it, the more we find out about Him. Imagine what it would be like to be in a situation where we never knew our natural father. But he left us a book about his life. I can guarantee we would read, and re-read the book he left us, to try and find out as much as we could about him. So it is with our Heavenly Father. He left us a book all about Him. And just for good measure, He threw in a shedload of information about our elder Brother, Jesus. Oh – and don’t forget the Holy Spirit – there’s a lot about Him in there as well. Three for the price of one?

The rest of these verses describe God as being, “over all, in all, and living through all.” Paul included these words just to make sure that what he had been saying was total. Complete. Nothing missed out. The word “one” is mentioned four times in these verses. Someone once said that if God said something once, we should take note. If He said it three times then we had better sit up and do something about it. Well, here is Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying something four times. Something important, don’t you think?


“Beside the rivers of Babylon, 
we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. 
We put away our harps, 
hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. 
But how can we sing the songs of the Lord 
while in a pagan land?”
Psalms‬ ‭137:1-2, 4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is a dreadfully sad Psalm, written by the Jewish exiles while in Babylon, a place where they didn’t want to be. A place of idolatry, of customs and laws foreign to the Jews, a place where they were separated from their God and His home in Jerusalem. And it ends with the gruesome thoughts of what they would like to do to the Edomites, who were apparently instrumental in the demise of their beloved city. Before we condemn them for their thoughts, though, I suppose we should think through what they had experienced, walking mentally in their shoes for a bit. The barbaric and cruel Babylonian soldiers had performed unspeakable atrocities on them, their families and their cities, and those that had survived had been force-marched for miles, away to a foreign land. Away from their homes, their homeland. And now, once they were there, their captors were taunting them, ridiculing them for their religion. They were at rock bottom.

But there was one ray of light shining out in this Psalm. In verse 6, the Psalmist’s memory of Jerusalem couldn’t be destroyed. Only death would take that away. Today, we mustn’t forget that there are many Christians in the world who are exiled. Dear brothers and sisters forced away from their homes into an exile in a place where they don’t want to be. A place with a different language, or dialect. A place where they are resented as refugees, treated as third class citizens. The Middle East has numerous examples of what is happening to our Christian brothers and sisters. Persecuted, they have little option other than move away. And in Western societies today, Christians are increasingly being marginalised. Thankfully not to a place where exile, forced or otherwise, is required, but if the current trend continues, one day this will perhaps happen. 

But one thing is for sure. We cannot be exiled from our relationship with God. We cannot be exiled from the Kingdom of Heaven, our home. The Jews in Babylon seemed to think that they could only find God in Jerusalem, so taking them away from their beloved city was in effect removing them from God’s presence. Thankfully we can find God anywhere we live. In Acts 17:28 we read, “For in Him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.’” Paul was explaining to the people around him how close God is and, more, that we are His children. No exile will ever prove that verse wrong. Our loving Heavenly Father is always with us. We will always be His children. So with a lightness in our spirits, we can “sing the songs of the Lord”. Wherever we find ourselves.


“I look up to the mountains – 
does my help come from there? 
My help comes from the Lord, 
who made heaven and earth!”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭121:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 121 was my father’s favourite. As a Scotsman, he was used to the Scottish hills and munroes, though more from a visual perspective than anything strenuous. But he lived for most of his life in the South of England, in the balmier and flatter county of Hampshire. He often wistfully expressed a desire for hills, “to lean on” as he put it. 

The Bible is full of references to mountains and hills. Jerusalem is built on one and we read in Psalm 2 that Jesus will rule from there one day, from His holy mountain. Often people in Biblical days fled to the hills, where they expected to find safety. There is something comforting about hills. But the Psalmist contrasts help coming from mountains with help coming from the Lord. We read in the preamble to this Psalm that it was sung by pilgrims climbing the roads and paths towards Jerusalem, so perhaps the Psalmist was thinking about where the true source of safety and security was, and he wrote down his thoughts. Thoughts full of references to how God looks after us. He brings out thoughts that God continually watches over us, day and night. He is our Protection, keeping us from harm. The Psalm ends with the verse, “The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” This has to be one of the most reassuring passages of Scripture that the Bible contains.

But what about us today, living a long time after the Bible was written. Do we look to the physical world around us, to our government, to our finances and possessions, or to God for our security and protection? Would we still be trusting God if all but He was removed from us? We hope that we will never have to find this out, but many people in the world today have nothing else but their trust in God. For example, Christians in the Middle East are being persecuted to the extent of having to flee from their homes to find refuge where they can; all because of their faith. But they know God is watching over them and that sustains them through times of almost unbearable difficulty. In our own lives there is plenty that we could be fearful of. Particularly in these Covid times there are many who are almost paralysed with fear of illness. Add into the fear-inducing mix energy prices, inflation, illness, family problems and so on, and we have a cocktail of challenges to make even those most robust of people want to “head for the hills”. But there is no remedy there. The only answer to our future is our trust in God. Only He can sustain us, support us, and keep us safe. 

We don’t know what the future holds but we do know the One who holds the future. That’s enough for me.


I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:1-2

When did you last tell someone you loved them? Hmmm. That’s a hard question. I must confess that expressing my emotions in that way is hard for me. Not that I don’t mean it. It’s not that I don’t do it, because the sentiments are there inside me, but somehow those early conditioning years discouraged me speaking out anything emotional. I’m sure I’m not alone. 

But what did the Psalmist, David, mean with the use of his word “love”? It implied not just a feeling, though that may be part of it, but mainly an attitude of heart, confirming and affirming that David was deeply interested in, and aware of, God, His Heavenly Father. That he was grateful for all His wonderful works and provisions, in fact all that he needed for life. And it involved the reciprocation for all the love God poured out on him, His son. Many years later, Jesus, in answer to a question from a Jewish religious lawyer, said that the first and most important commandment was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27 NIV). It doesn’t get more complete than that! And that was the kind of love David was implying right at the start of this Psalm.

David associated the love of his Lord with His strength, using words such as “rock”, “fortress”, “deliverer”, “salvation” and “stronghold” to describe the way he felt about God. To David, God was utterly dependable. But how do we view God? In 21st Century Western society? Can we apply the same words David used in his day to our own relationships with God in our day? Or do we have God put in a box, with limits to what we think He can do. A box full of Sunday hymns and nice feelings but without any particular substance to help us, or a relationship to be lived out. It doesn’t matter where we live or what we do or think. Somewhere along the way, in our pilgrimage through life, we will come up against a problem. Will it overcome us, or will we rise up and declare, as David did, that God is our strength and our salvation? But one thing is for sure. God is always there for us. We may stumble and fall from time to time, but he will help us up and dust us off. And set our feet back on the Rock, ready and equipped for the next time something comes against us. Remember – God is the Lord of all.

Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. And Peter finally responded in a way that shaped the rest of his life. What would we say if Jesus asked us three times if we loved Him? Would we evade the question or embrace our wonderful Saviour with a resounding “Yes Lord, we love You!” A question to mull over in the day ahead.

Be Still

“Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” Psalms‬ ‭46:8-10‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

“Be still and know that I am God” is one of those Scripture verses much quoted by Christians in times of stressful activity. But in its Scriptural context it has associations with wars and weapons of destruction, within an environment where God is dealing with the warring tendencies of people, replacing them with an acknowledgement of His status as God of all nations everywhere. Of course the Psalmist was writing in an age of armed strife between the Israelites and the surrounding nations, but wars didn’t end then and are still taking place today. So perhaps this was a prophetic message for the apocalyptic times we read about in Biblical books such as Ezekiel, Isaiah and Revelation. When the world as we know it will end and be replaced by a “new Heaven and a new earth”, as the Apostle John wrote about in Revelation 21, or when the last days prophesy in Isaiah 2:1-4 comes to pass.

But whatever the circumstances, to be still in God’s presence is an important part of our devotions, our personal time spent with God. I don’t know if you are like me, and through activity want to “fix” things in our families or in the communities of faith of which we are a part. Well, God sometimes encourages us to be still in His presence. Allowing Him to do what is necessary to bring about His will and purposes in the lives of the people around us.

“Being still” perhaps involves a time of worship, reading a passage of Scripture, sitting or kneeling in prayer, allowing His Spirit to wash over us. And enabling us to exalt Him in our time of solitude, seeing Him lifted up and given His proper place as Lord of all we are. How many times have I done that and found that whatever I wanted to “fix” had somehow been resolved by God Himself, and in a much better way than I would have achieved? Being still in God’s presence helps us see God for who He really is – the high and exalted One, the Lord over all the earth.

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

“I said to myself, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me.” But as I stood there in silence— not even speaking of good things— the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words:” Psalms‬ ‭39:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Psalmist is in worldly company. This Godly man is in a quandary – the worldly talk going on around him is distressing and sinful. It probably contains language and humour he disagrees with, and alludes to practices he abhors. So he keeps silent. And becomes seriously upset internally – turmoil is the word he uses to describe his feelings. And eventually he is unable to hold within himself the feelings of frustration, and he blows up, blasting his companions with a torrent of words. Sound familiar? It’s a place where I have been during my work-a-day life. Conversations take place in the office that I find degrading and upsetting. Gossip, smutty jokes, character assassination, foul language, sexual innuendo. It’s all there and as a Christian it’s a place where I don’t want to be. But I have to be there because it’s a place where I earn the money I need for life.

But there is a different meaning in these verses. We see from later in the Psalm that the Psalmist is perhaps quiet before the “ungodly” because of his sins. And in the Psalm he goes on to reflect on the temporary nature of life, his sins, his hope in God, being disciplined by God and finally pleading with God for his prayers to be heard.

But whatever interpretation we choose, the message is clear. The dichotomy between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world is stark. We can’t have a foot in each kingdom. Jesus was clear about this in His teaching during what we call the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” Once settled in the Promised Land, Joshua delivered a rousing message to the Israelites which was recorded in Joshua 24:15, “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” The choice he laid before his countrymen was the same choice we have before us today. Whom will we serve? As for me I can say without hesitation – I and my family will serve the Lord.

Ancient Doors

“Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, invincible in battle.” Psalms‬ ‭24:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

What are these “ancient doors” and “ancient gates”? The Psalmist, David, was perhaps alluding to the entrances in the walls of the ancient Jerusalem. But the thing that leapt out of the page to me was the importance of being open before God. You see, over time, I can become hardened and calloused to the things of God, fighting battles He never intended for me to fight. I remember those exciting days when I walked through the door from worldliness into God’s Kingdom. I came out of a dark place into one of light and clarity. A place where spiritual understanding finally emerged into my world of hopeless confusion. A place where Jesus took up residence in my heart. But over time I can lose the wonder of being in God’s Kingdom and forget what He has done for me. So perhaps the hinges and locks of my spiritual doors need some lubrication. Perhaps some repairs are also required, with thoughts and attitudes brought under the gaze of the Master Builder. But whatever is required, I need to be open before God, so that He can enter at any time. And the Lord, invincible in battle, will strengthen me in my pilgrimage through life, helping me to fight battles that otherwise would be too great for me to win.

So to myself this morning I say, “Open up ancient gates! Open up ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter.”

Psalm 15

Who may worship in Your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter Your presence on Your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts.” Psalms‬ ‭15:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Psalm 15 is a short Psalm, with just five verses. It considers the importance of who can enter the presence of God for worship. And the conclusion is in verse 2, where three qualities are deemed essential – being blameless, righteous and truthful. The Psalmist, David, takes it for granted, rightly in my opinion, that worshiping God is one of the most important things, perhaps the most important, that a person can do. And he continues in verses 3-5 to identify important qualities, both negative and positive, that help in an individual’s approach to God.
David starts by highlighting the importance of right relationships with others. He is saying that you cannot have a right relationship with God if you are not in a right relationship with those round you. So who have you fallen out with lately? Before you come into God’s presence you will have to restore that broken relationship with your neighbour. That argument with a friend.
Next David considers the importance of avoiding contact with what the NLT calls “flagrant sinners”. God’s people will reach out and help those in a hard place, because that is the essence of the Gospel, but in the process, they must be very careful to discern, and subsequently avoid, acts that will draw them into sin. As an example, being employed in a company engaged in sinful activities or practices might be unwise because inevitably you will be drawn into sin. And in the remainder of verse 4 David goes on to highlight the importance of keeping promises and honouring God’s people.
Finally, in verse 5, David concludes by mentioning the importance of being honest in financial dealings. Money is a great servant, but a terrible master, and the wrong attitude to money will stand in the way of entering into God’s presence.

A short Psalm, but so profound. Yet another Biblical nugget of gold to help us in our pilgrimage through life.