I was a bit wary reading the book. The author was making sense, but he seemed to be going too far with his argument. How trustworthy was this guy? So I took the opportunity one day having lunch with the man I did trust, Dr. Boice, to ask the question: “I am reading Desiring God. What do you think of John Piper?”
Here is Piper’s thesis in the book: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Here are some of the sentences from his book I highlighted:
“…it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him” (p. 16).
“Praising God, the highest calling of humanity and our eternal vocation, did not involve the renunciation but rather the consummation of the joy I so desired” (p. 19).
“My aim is to own up to the amazing, and largely neglected, fact that some dimension of joy is a moral duty in all true worship and all virtuous acts” (p. 20).
This insistence on personal joy being a necessary element in glorifying God pushed my sensibilities. If glorifying God is what matters most, then I should not value too highly my personal pleasure, I reasoned. Did Jesus not root discipleship in the concept of denying oneself? Piper addresses this question by quoting another author, C. S. Lewis, from whom he learned the principle of joy.
"The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire" (p. 17; quoting from “The Weight of Glory”).
So back to my lunch with Dr. Boice and my question. He replied, “Piper is so scriptural.” His point, which would have mattered most for him, was that Piper drenched his writing in Scripture. I went back to the book, this time paying attention to the Scripture quotes.
“Delight yourself in the Lord; and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
“O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
“How sweet are thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103).
“In thy presence is fullness of joy; in thy right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11).
“…the Almighty will be your gold and choice silver to you” (Job 22:25).
Somehow I had missed the import of taking pleasure in God. I thought that what mattered was to do one’s duty for God regardless of feeling; indeed, what proved true love for God was to serve him when there was no pleasure. Is that not true commitment? Was Jesus feeling happy in Gethsemane? But that is exactly where Piper and Lewis would press their argument. There is a pleasure deeper than fun feelings; there was a joy for the Son in pleasing his Father in the midst of his suffering.
I thought of my own position as a father. I have two daughters now grown. Suppose I had asked each to clean up their rooms. They both are obedient and get to work. The first takes me to her room when she is done and with a stoic expression says, “Father, you can see that I have cleaned my room. It was a lot of work, but I want to be an obedient daughter and do what is right.” I would appreciate her obedience, knowing that she cleaned her room not out of pleasure but still from a desire to show me due respect. The second daughter, when she is done, grabs my arm and pulls me into her room. “See, Dad, what I’ve done! Do you like it? I want so much to please you!” I would indeed be happy, not by the condition of the room but by the joy my daughter took in wanting to please me. “I get it!” What matters to God is that his people take delight in him!
It all began to make sense. The very notion that God is to be glorified presumes that God is worth glorifying. How then can we glorify him indifferently or begrudgingly? Indeed, this very concept of “bearing one’s cross” as though it is an emotional disposition for a Christian to display is what has turned many away from following Christ. They look upon Christians as sour pusses who do not have fun, nor want anyone else to have fun. And that is how many Christians are. They are like the elder brother in “The Prodigal Son” story who serve out of duty and have forgotten the joy that first won them to Christ, if such had ever happened to them. The Christian life becomes a set of rules to follow to be dutiful children. They lose the joy that was set before Jesus, which moved him to endure the cross and despise the shame (cf. Hebrews 12:2).
I thought through more this matter of giving to God and receiving from him. What had led me to Piper’s book in the first place was a question posed to me by a seminary student. He gave me an article one Sunday by Piper asking what I thought of his message. The next Sunday, after reading it, I responded in that, whereas we are called to sacrifice for God, the truth is that he out-gives us. In other words, God gives more to us than we give to him.
But now I asked myself, “When do I ever give to God what he needs?” What have I ever done that God would respond, “Thank you, Marion. What would I have done without you?” Then why does he give me work to do? Is not the very service itself a privilege? And is not that privilege real joy? Do I not delight in the very concept of serving my Creator and King? Do I not find joy taking part in the great enterprise of Christ’s Kingdom? My very “giving” is the gift that God has given me. The artist does not bemoan having to create art so as to live. He does wish that he could lie around doing nothing. He does not regard whatever pay he gets as recompense for the work; rather, the work is his pleasure and he is thankful for having the gift to do it. As much as our society may prize living the easy life, we know that what we really want is to live the meaningful life, which is what we Christians have been given the joy to do.
We are not pondering the meaning of our existence. We know why we live. Our chief end is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever. That enjoyment begins now. He is our joy, our treasure. We rejoice in our redemption because it brings us into right relationship with our God. We are thankful for the Spirit’s work of sanctification because it deepens our satisfaction in God. We rejoice in our hope because it promises us the day when we will be with our Lord in glory. We suffer, we sacrifice, we struggle through our sin and frailty because of the joy given now that what happens to us and what we do have meaning. We press on, as the Scriptures say, “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). There is a prize, and that prize is no less than being in the presence of God and receiving his blessing.
And as if redemption and a relationship with Christ were not enough, God gives us meaningful service to do for his glory. It does not matter who we are, what gifts we may have, nor what our circumstance may be. All that we have comes from God and is being used by him for his glory. The trouble I had with suffering and poor circumstances was that they seemed to serve little or no purpose. Even now I cannot understand why most things happen – either good or bad – but I can believe that the God of the Gospel is the God of glory who is working all things to a glorious end. And he is letting me get on the ride! How can I not take delight in such a God?
As I have noted, it was John Piper who opened my mind to grasp the importance of delighting in the Lord. Even so, it was Dr. Boice who by his teaching, ministry, and eventually his death taught me to delight in God’s glory. And so I close with his theme passage:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
"For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?"
"Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?"
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
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