Solid Joys – Daily Devotionals by John Piper
Resources from the ministry of John Piper.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
The word of God is our only hope. The good news of God’s promises and the warnings of his judgment are sharp enough and living enough and active enough to penetrate to the bottom of my heart and show me that the lies of sin are indeed lies.
Abortion will not create a wonderful future for me. Neither will cheating, or dressing provocatively, or throwing away my sexual purity, or keeping quiet about dishonesty at work, or divorce, or vengeance. And what rescues me from this deception is the word of God.
The word of God’s promise is like throwing open a great window of bright morning sunlight on the roaches of sin masquerading as satisfying pleasures in our hearts. God has given you his good news, his promises, his word to protect you from the deep deceptions of sin that try to harden your heart and lure it away from God and lead it to destruction.
Be of good cheer in your battle to believe. Because the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, it will penetrate deeper than any deception of sin has ever gone and reveal what is truly valuable and what is truly worth trusting and loving.
Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)
Christianity means change is possible. Deep, fundamental change. It is possible to become tenderhearted when once you were callous and insensitive. It is possible to stop being dominated by bitterness and anger. It is possible to become a loving person, no matter what your background has been.
The Bible assumes that God is the decisive factor in making us what we should be. With wonderful bluntness, the Bible says, “Put away . . . all malice” and be “tenderhearted” (Ephesians 4:31–32). It does not say, “If you can . . . ” Or, “If your parents were tenderhearted . . . ” Or, “If you have not been terribly abused . . . ” It says, “Be . . . tenderhearted.”
This is wonderfully freeing. It frees us from the terrible fatalism that says change is impossible for me. It frees me from mechanistic views that make my background my destiny.
And God’s commands always come with freeing, life-changing truth to believe. For example,
God adopted us as his children. We have a new Father and a new family. This breaks the fatalistic forces of our “family-of-origin.” “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).
God loves us as his children. We are “loved children” (Ephesians 5:1). The command to imitate the love of God does not hang in the air, it comes with power: “Be imitators of God, as loved children.” “Love!” is the command and being loved by God is the power.
God has forgiven us in Christ. Be tenderhearted and forgiving just as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). What God did in Christ is powerful. It makes change possible. The command to be tenderhearted has more to do with what God did for you than what your mother or your father did to you. This kind of command means you can change.
Christ loved you and gave himself up for you. “Walk in love, as Christ loved [you]” (Ephesians 5:2). The command comes with life-changing truth. “Christ loved you.” At the moment when there is a chance to love, and some voice says, “You are not a loving person,” you can say, “Christ’s love for me makes me a new kind of person. His command to love is just as surely possible for me as his promise of love is true for me.”
Don’t be a fatalist. Be a Christian. Change is possible. God is alive. Christ is risen. The promises are true.
. . . casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
There is a promise suited to every sin you are tempted to commit and every form of unbelief that takes you off guard and makes you anxious. For example:
When I am anxious about being sick, I battle unbelief with the promise, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). And I take the promise with trembling, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
When I am anxious about getting old, I battle unbelief with the promise: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).
When I am anxious about dying, I battle unbelief with the promise that “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:7–9).
When I am anxious that I may make shipwreck of faith and fall away from God, I battle unbelief with the promises, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6); and, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
So, let us make war, not with other people, but with our own unbelief. It is the root of anxiety, which, in turn, is the root of so many other sins.
So, let us fix our eyes on the precious and very great promises of God. Take up the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit for help, lay the promises up in your heart, and fight the good fight — to live by faith in future grace.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
When I am anxious about some risky new venture or meeting, I battle unbelief with one of my most often-used promises: Isaiah 41:10.
The day I left for three years to study in Germany, my father called me long distance in New York and gave me the promise of this verse on the telephone. For three years, I must have quoted it to myself hundreds of times to get me through periods of tremendous stress.
When the motor of my mind is in neutral, the hum of the gears is the sound of Isaiah 41:10. I love this verse.
Of course, it’s not the only dagger in the arsenal of my faith.
When I am anxious about my ministry being useless and empty, I fight unbelief with the promise of Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
When I am anxious about being too weak to do my work, I battle unbelief with the promise of Christ, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
When I am anxious about decisions I have to make about the future, I battle unbelief with the promise, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8).
When I am anxious about facing opponents, I battle unbelief with the promise, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
When I am anxious about the welfare of those I love, I battle unbelief with the promise that if I, being evil, know how to give good things to my children, “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
So by all means fight unbelief with every promise in the book. But it helps to have one central, default weapon. And for me that has been Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Precious, precious promise!
Someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each of the seeds its own body. (1 Corinthians 15:35–38)
I have been picking up little things in Scripture that show God’s intimate involvement in creation.
For example, here in 1 Corinthians 15:38, Paul is comparing how a seed is planted in one form and comes forth in another form with a “body” different from all other bodies. He says, “God gives it a body just as he wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own” (my translation — the original does not say he gives to each “kind” of seed a body, but to each and every seed its own body!).
This is a remarkable statement of God’s intimate involvement in the way God designs each seed to bring forth its own unique plant (not just species but each individual seed!).
Paul is not teaching about evolution here, but he is showing how he takes God’s intimate involvement with creation for granted. Evidently, Paul cannot imagine that any natural process should be conceived of without God’s doing it.
Again in Psalm 94:9, it says, “He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?” The psalmist assumes that God was the designer of the eye and that he designed the way the ear is planted in the head to do its hearing work.
So, when we marvel at the wonders of the human eye and the remarkable structure of the ear, we are not to marvel at the processes of chance, but at the mind and the creativity and the power of God.
Similarly in Psalm 95:5, “The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” The involvement of God in making land and sea is such that the present sea is his.
It is not as though in some impersonal way he set it all in motion a billion years ago. Rather, he is the one who owns it because he made it. It is today his handiwork and bears the marks of his Creator claim on it, like a piece of artwork belongs to the one who painted it until he sells it or gives it away.
I point out these things not to solve all the problems surrounding the issues of origins, but to call you to be utterly God-conscious and God-exalting and God-saturated in all your observation and admiration of the wonders of the world.
To whom did [God] swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:18–19)
Even though the people of Israel saw the waters of the Red Sea divide and walked through the Sea on dry ground, the moment they got thirsty, their hearts were hard against God and they did not trust him to take care of them. They cried out against him and said that life in Egypt was better.
That is what the book of Hebrews was written to prevent. Oh, how many professing Christians make a start with God. They hear that their sins can be forgiven and that they can escape hell and go to heaven. And they say: “What have I got to lose? I’ll believe.”
But then in a week or a month or a year or ten years, the test comes — a season of no water in the wilderness. A weariness with manna. And subtly a growing craving for the fleeting pleasures of Egypt, as Numbers 11:5–6 says, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
This is a terrifying condition to be in — to find yourself no longer interested in Christ and his word and prayer and worship and missions and living for the glory of God. And to find all the fleeting pleasures of this world more attractive than the things of the Spirit.
If that is your situation, I plead with you to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking in this text. “They were unable to enter because of unbelief!” Give heed to the word of God. Do not harden your heart. Wake up to the deceitfulness of sin. Consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our great confession, and hold fast to your confidence and hope in him.
And if you have never even made a start with God, then put your hope in him. Turn from sin and from self-reliance and put your confidence in a great Savior. These things are written that you might believe and endure, and live.
Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:11)
Behind all disease and disability is the ultimate will of God. Not that Satan is not involved — he is probably always involved in one way or another with destructive purposes (Acts 10:38). But his power is not decisive. He cannot act without God’s permission.
That is one of the points of Job’s sickness. The text makes it plain that when disease came upon Job, “Satan . . . struck Job with loathsome sores” (Job 2:7). His wife urged him to curse God. But Job said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). And again the inspired author of the book (just as he did in 1:22) commends Job by saying, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
In other words: This is a right view of God’s sovereignty over Satan. Satan is real and may have a hand in our calamities, but not the final hand, and not the decisive hand.
James makes clear that God had a good purpose in all Job’s afflictions: “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).
So even though Satan was involved, the ultimate purpose was God’s, and it was “compassionate and merciful.”
This is the same lesson we learn from 2 Corinthians 12:7, where Paul says that his thorn in the flesh was a “messenger of Satan” and yet was given for the purpose of his own holiness — to keep him from becoming conceited. “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited!”
Now, humility is not Satan’s purpose in this affliction. Therefore, the purpose is God’s. Which means that here Satan is being used by God to accomplish his good purposes in Paul’s life. In fact, for God’s elect children, Satan cannot destroy us, and God turns all his attacks finally against him and for us.
Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses — as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Hebrews 3:3–6)
The people who boast and hope in Jesus Christ are the house of God. Which means that Jesus this very day — not just back in Moses’s day or in his own days on earth — but this very day is our Maker, our Owner, our Ruler, and our Provider.
Jesus is called the “builder” of this house. Moses was not the builder. He was part of the house. So it says, “Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses — as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” So Moses, as great as he was in leading the house, and giving God’s word to the house, was still just a part of the house. But Jesus built the house.
So if we boast in Jesus and hope in Jesus, we are the house, and Jesus is our Builder, and Owner and Ruler and Provider. He does not let his house be destroyed or fall into ruin.
Then the writer changes the imagery — from builder and house, to son and servant. “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant . . . but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.” So Christ did become part of the house — part of the household — he built. But even so, his honor is far above Moses. Moses was a servant. Christ is the Son. The heir.
And we are part of this household. Hebrews 3:6: “And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” By all means, let us respect and give Moses his due. But the point of the whole book of Hebrews is: Christ is greater. Greater in every way. He is the builder of the house of God’s people. And he is the Son in the house of God’s people. Let us respect Moses. But let us worship Jesus — our Maker, our brother.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3)
One possible response to the truth that our anxiety is rooted in unbelief goes like this: “I have to deal with feelings of anxiety almost every day; and so I feel like my faith in God’s grace must be totally inadequate. So I wonder if I can have any assurance of being saved at all.”
My response to this concern is: Suppose you are in a car race and your enemy, who doesn’t want you to finish the race, throws mud on your windshield. The fact that you temporarily lose sight of your goal and start to swerve does not mean that you are going to quit the race.
And it certainly doesn’t mean that you are on the wrong racetrack. Otherwise, your competitor — your adversary — wouldn’t bother you at all. What it means is that you should turn on your windshield wipers.
When anxiety strikes and blurs our vision of God’s glory and the greatness of the future that he plans for us, this does not mean that we are faithless, or that we will not make it to heaven. It means our faith is being attacked.
At first blow, our belief in God’s promises may sputter and swerve. But whether we stay on track and make it to the finish line depends on whether, by grace, we set in motion a process of resistance — whether we fight back against the unbelief of anxiety. Will we turn on the windshield wipers?
Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”
Notice: it does not say, “I never struggle with fear.” Fear strikes, and the battle begins. So the Bible does not assume that true believers will have no anxieties. Instead, the Bible tells us how to fight when they strike. It tells us how to turn on the windshield wipers.
[God will] grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:7–10)
When Jesus returns to this earth, which he has promised to do, those who have not believed the gospel, Paul says, “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” This is a terrible prospect that should terrify all unbelievers who hear this truth.
And oh, how it should sober us who do believe and fill us with seriousness about what is at stake in this world. Oh, how it should cause compassion to rise in our hearts for those who do not believe, or do not even know, the gospel.
But to sustain us in all our afflictions here Paul gives us two amazing words of encouragement and hope. “[God will] grant relief to you who are afflicted.” If we experience a terrible intensification of affliction near the end of history, God’s word is: Hold fast: relief is on the way. Your afflictions will not have the last word. And your seemingly powerful adversaries will regret the day they touched the Lord’s people.
But then comes the best word of encouragement and hope. Not only will we get relief when the Lord comes, but we will get the greatest experience that we were created for in the first place: We will see his glory, and marvel at it in such a way that he will be glorified in us for all the world to see.
Verse 10: “He comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.” We were made to marvel. Nothing and no one is more marvelous than the crucified, risen, returning King of glory, Jesus Christ. He will attain the destiny of his glory, and we will attain the destiny of our joy as we begin the perfect, sinless, never-ending marveling at the greatest marvel.
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.” (Isaiah 58:13–14)
It is possible to pursue God without glorifying God. If we want our quest to honor God, we must pursue him for the joy of fellowship with him.
Consider the Sabbath as an illustration of this. The Lord rebukes his people for seeking their own pleasure on his holy day. “Turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day.” But what does he mean? Does he mean that we should not seek our joy on the Lord’s Day? No, because the next thing he says is, “Call the Sabbath a delight.” And in verse 14, “You shall take delight in the Lord.” So what he is criticizing is that they are delighting in their own business on the Sabbath rather than delighting in the beauty of their God and the rest and holiness that this day stands for.
He’s not rebuking their hedonism. He’s rebuking the weakness of it. As C. S. Lewis said, “We are far too easily pleased.” They have settled for secular interests and thus honor them above the Lord.
Notice that calling the Sabbath “a delight” is parallel to calling the holy day of the Lord “honorable.” “If you . . . call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable . . .” This simply means you honor what you delight in. Or you glorify what you enjoy.
The enjoyment of God and the glorification of God are one. His eternal purpose and our eternal pleasure unite in one experience of worship. This is what the Lord’s Day is for. Indeed, this is what all of life is for.
[God] gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:6–8)
James teaches us that there is a precious experience of “more grace” and God “drawing near” to us. Surely this is a wonderful experience — more grace and a special nearness of God. But I ask: is this experience of the love of God unconditional? No. It is not. It is conditional on our humbling ourselves and our drawing near to God. God “gives [more] grace to the humble. . . . Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
There are precious experiences of the love of God that require that we fight pride, seek humility, and cherish the nearness of God. Those are the conditions. Of course, the conditions themselves are the work of God in us. But they are no less conditions we fulfill.
If this is true, I fear that the unqualified, biblically careless reassurances today that God’s love is all unconditional may stop people from doing the very things the Bible says they need to do in order to enjoy all the peace that they so desperately crave. In trying to give peace through “unconditionality” we may be cutting people off from the very remedy the Bible prescribes.
To be sure, let us proclaim, loud and clear, that the divine love of election, and the divine love of Christ’s death, and the divine love of our regeneration — our new birth — are all absolutely unconditional.
And let us declare untiringly the good news that our justification is based on the worth of Christ’s obedience and sacrifice, not ours (Romans 5:19, “as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous”).
But let us also declare the biblical truth that the fullest and sweetest experiences of the grace of God and the nearness of God will be enjoyed by those who daily humble themselves and draw near to God.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
No one has ever felt unloved because he was told that the attainment of his joy would make another person happy. I have never been accused of selfishness when justifying a kindness on the basis that it delights me. On the contrary, loving acts are genuine to the degree that they are not done begrudgingly.
And the good alternative to begrudgingly is not neutrally or dutifully, but gladly. The authentic heart of love loves kindness (Micah 6:8); it doesn’t just do kindness. Christian Hedonism forces this truth into consideration.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. (1 John 5:2–4)
Read these sentences in reverse order and notice the logic. First, being born of God gives a power that conquers the world. This is given as the ground or basis (notice the word “For”) for the statement that the commandments of God are not burdensome.
So, being born of God gives a power that conquers our worldly aversion to the will of God. Now his commandments are not “burdensome,” but are the desire and delight of our heart. This is the love of God: not just that we do his commandments, but also that they are not burdensome.
Then in verse 2 the evidence of the genuineness of our love for the children of God is said to be the love of God. What does this teach us about our love for the children of God?
Since love for God is doing his will gladly rather than with a sense of burden, and since love for God is the measure of the genuineness of our love for the children of God, therefore our love for the children of God must also be done gladly rather than begrudgingly.
Christian Hedonism stands squarely in the service of love, for it presses us on to glad obedience, not just begrudging obedience.
How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:3)
Is there a sense of greatness in your mind about your salvation? Or do you neglect it?
Do you respond to the greatness of your salvation? Or do you treat it the way you treat your last will and testament, or the title to your car, or the deed on your house? You signed it once and it is in a file drawer somewhere, but it is not a really great thing in your mind. You rarely think about it. It has no daily effect on you. Basically, you neglect it.
But when you neglect your great salvation, what are you really neglecting? Here’s what he is saying when he says, “Don’t neglect your great salvation!”
- Don’t neglect being loved by God.
- Don’t neglect being forgiven and accepted and protected and strengthened and guided by almighty God.
- Don’t neglect the sacrifice of Christ’s life on the cross.
- Don’t neglect the free gift of righteousness imputed by faith.
- Don’t neglect the removal of God’s wrath and the reconciled smile of God.
- Don’t neglect the indwelling Holy Spirit and the fellowship and friendship of the living Christ.
- Don’t neglect the radiance of God’s glory in the face of Jesus.
- Don’t neglect the free access to the throne of grace.
- Don’t neglect the inexhaustible treasure of God’s promises.
This is indeed a great salvation. Neglecting it is very evil. Don’t neglect so great a salvation. Because if you do, will there be an escape from judgment? That’s what the writer asks: “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”
So, being a Christian is a very serious business — not a sour business, but a serious business. We should be blood-earnest about being happy in our great salvation.
We will not be deflected by this world into the fleeting and suicidal pleasures of sin. We will not neglect our eternal joy in God — which is what the goal of this salvation is. We will gouge out our eyes rather than be lured away from such a great salvation.
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30)
Jesus says that the root of anxiety is inadequate faith — “little faith” — in our Father’s future grace.
One reaction to this might be: “This is not good news! In fact, it is very discouraging to learn that what I thought was a mere struggle with an anxious disposition is rather a far deeper struggle with whether I trust God.”
My response to this discouragement is to agree, but then to disagree.
Suppose you had been having pain in your stomach and had been struggling with medicines and diets of all kinds, to no avail. And then suppose that your doctor tells you, after a routine visit, that you have cancer in your small intestine. Would that be good news? You say, emphatically not! And I agree.
But let me ask the question another way: Are you glad the doctor discovered the cancer while it is still treatable, and that indeed it can be very successfully treated? You say, yes, I am very glad that the doctor found the real problem. Again I agree.
So, the news that you have cancer is not good news. But, in another sense, it is good news, because knowing what is really wrong is good, especially when your problem can be treated successfully.
That’s what it’s like to learn that the real problem behind anxiety is “little faith” (as Jesus says) in the promises of God’s future grace. And he is able to work in wonderfully healing ways when we cry out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:26)
We do not choose suffering simply because we are told to, but because the One who tells us to describes it as the path to everlasting joy.
He beckons us into the obedience of suffering not to demonstrate the strength of our devotion to duty, or to reveal the vigor of our moral resolve, or to prove the heights of our tolerance for pain, but rather to manifest, in childlike faith, the infinite preciousness of his all-satisfying promises — the all-satisfying greatness and beauty of his own glory as the fulfillment of all of them.
Moses “[chose] to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. . . . For he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:25–26). Therefore, his obedience glorified the reward — all that God is for him in Christ — not the resolve to suffer.
This is the essence of Christian Hedonism. In the pursuit of joy through suffering, we magnify the all-satisfying worth of the Source of our joy. God himself shines as the brightness at the end of our tunnel of pain.
If we do not communicate that he is the goal and the ground of our joy in suffering, then the very meaning of our suffering will be lost.
The meaning is this: God is gain. God is gain. God himself is gain. That’s the meaning of our suffering.
The chief end of man is to glorify God. And it is truer in suffering than anywhere else that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11–12)
Christian Hedonism says that there are different ways to rejoice in suffering as a Christian. All of them are to be pursued as an expression of the all-sufficient, all-satisfying grace of God.
One way of rejoicing in suffering comes from fixing our minds firmly on the greatness of the reward that will come to us in the resurrection. The effect of this kind of focus is to make our present pain seem small in comparison to what is coming: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18). In making the suffering tolerable, rejoicing over our reward will also make love possible.
“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great” (Luke 6:35). Be generous with the poor “and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). Confidence in this promised reward cuts the cord of worldliness and frees us for the costs of love.
Another way of rejoicing in suffering comes from the effects of suffering on our assurance of hope. Joy in affliction is rooted not only in the hope of resurrection and reward, but also in the way suffering itself works to deepens that hope.
For example, Paul says, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4).
In other words, Paul’s joy is not merely rooted in his great reward, but in the effect of suffering which solidifies the hope of that reward. Affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces a sense that our faith is real and genuine, and that strengthens our hope that we will indeed gain Christ.
So whether we focus on the riches of the reward or the refining effects of suffering, God’s purpose is that our joy in suffering be sustained.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Colossians 1:24)
Christ has prepared a love offering for the world by suffering and dying for sinners. It is a perfect sacrifice. It pays in full for all the sins of all his people. Nothing can be added to make a better gift. It is lacking in nothing — except one thing, a personal presentation by Christ himself to the nations of the world.
God’s answer to this lack is to call the people of Christ (people like Paul) to make a personal presentation of the afflictions of Christ to the world. In doing this, we “[fill] up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” We finish what they were designed for, namely, a personal presentation to the people who do not know about their infinite worth.
But the most amazing thing about Colossians 1:24 is how Paul fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
He says that it is his own sufferings that fill up Christ’s afflictions. This means, then, that Paul exhibits the sufferings of Christ by suffering himself for those he is trying to win to Christ. In his sufferings they are to see Christ’s sufferings.
Here is the astounding upshot: God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people.
God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering he experienced so that when we proclaim the cross as the way to life, people will see the marks of the cross in us and feel the love of the cross from us.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
This is God’s universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less reliance on self and the world. I have never heard anyone say, “The really deep lessons of life have come through times of ease and comfort.”
But I have heard strong saints say, “Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep with him has come through suffering.”
The pearl of greatest price is the glory of Christ.
Thus, Paul stresses that in our sufferings the glory of Christ’s all-sufficient grace is magnified. If we rely on him in our calamity, and he sustains our “rejoicing in hope,” then he is shown to be the all-satisfying God of grace and strength that he is.
If we hold fast to him, “when all around our soul gives way,” then we show that he is more to be desired than all we have lost.
Christ said to the suffering apostle, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responded to this: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
So suffering clearly is designed by God not only as a way to wean Christians off of self and onto grace, but also as a way to spotlight that grace and make it shine. That is precisely what faith does: it magnifies Christ’s future grace.
The deep things of life in God are discovered and magnified in suffering.
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)
We all know people that this has happened to. There is no urgency. No vigilance. No focused listening or considering or fixing of their eyes on Jesus. And the result has not been a standing still, but a drifting away.
That is the point here: there is no standing still. The life of this world is not a lake. It is a river. And it is flowing downward to destruction. If you do not listen earnestly to Jesus and consider him daily and fix your eyes on him hourly, then you will not stand still; you will go backward. You will float away from Christ.
Drifting is a deadly thing in the Christian life. And the remedy for it, according to Hebrews 2:1, is: Pay close attention to what you have heard. That is, consider what God is saying in his Son Jesus. Fix your eyes on what God is saying and doing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
This is not a hard swimming stroke to learn. The only thing that keeps us from swimming against sinful culture is not the difficulty of the stroke, but our sinful desire to go with the flow.
Let’s not complain that God has given us a hard job. Listen, consider, fix the eyes — this is not what you would call a hard job description. In fact, it is not a job description. It is a solemn invitation to be satisfied in Jesus so that we do not get lured downstream by deceitful desires.
If you are drifting today, one of the signs of hope that you are born again is that you feel pricked for this, and you feel a rising desire to turn your eyes on Jesus and consider him and listen to him in the days and months and years to come.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:8–9)
Is the suffering that comes to the Christian because of persecution the same as the suffering that comes from cancer? Do the promises given to one apply to the other? My answer is yes. All of life, if it is lived earnestly by faith in the pursuit of God’s glory and the salvation of others, will meet with some kind of obstacle and suffering. The suffering that comes to the obedient Christian is part of the price of living where you are in obedience to the call of God.
In choosing to follow Christ in the way he directs, we choose all that this path includes under his sovereign providence. Thus, all suffering that comes in the path of obedience is suffering with Christ and for Christ — whether it is cancer at home or persecution far away.
And it is “chosen” — that is, we willingly take the path of obedience where the suffering befalls us, and we do not murmur against God. We may pray — as Paul did — that the suffering be removed (2 Corinthians 12:8); but if God wills, we embrace it as part of the cost of discipleship in the path of obedience on the way to heaven.
All experiences of suffering in the path of Christian obedience, whether from persecution or sickness or accident, have this in common: They all threaten our faith in the goodness of God, and tempt us to leave the path of obedience.
Therefore, every triumph of faith, and all perseverance in obedience, are testimonies to the goodness of God and the preciousness of Christ — whether the enemy is sickness, Satan, sin, or sabotage. Therefore, all suffering, of every kind, that we endure in the path of our Christian calling is a suffering “with Christ” and “for Christ.”
With him in the sense that the suffering comes to us as we are walking with him by faith, and in the sense that it is endured in the strength he supplies through his sympathizing high-priestly ministry to us (Hebrews 4:15).
And for him in the sense that the suffering tests and proves our allegiance to his goodness and power, and in the sense that it reveals his worth as an all-sufficient compensation and prize.
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29–30)
What Jesus means here is that he himself makes up for every sacrifice.
If you give up a mother’s nearby affection and concern, you get back one hundred times the affection and concern from the ever-present Christ.
If you give up the warm comradeship of a brother, you get back one hundred times the warmth and comradeship of Christ.
If you give up the sense of at-homeness you had in your house, you get back one hundred times the comfort and security of knowing that your Lord owns every house.
To prospective missionaries, Jesus says, “I promise to work for you, and be for you, so much that you will not be able to speak of having sacrificed anything.”
What was Jesus’s attitude to Peter’s “sacrificial” spirit? Peter said, “We have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28). Is this the spirit of “self-denial” commended by Jesus? No, it is rebuked.
Jesus said to Peter, “No one ever sacrifices anything for me that I do not pay back a hundredfold — yes, in one sense even in this life, not to mention eternal life in the age to come.”
“I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” (John 10:16)
God has a people in every people group in the world. He will call them through the gospel with Creator power. And they will believe! What a power is in these words for overcoming discouragement in the hard places of the frontiers!
The story of Peter Cameron Scott is a good illustration. Born in Glasgow in 1867, Scott became the founder of the Africa Inland Mission. But his beginnings in Africa were anything but auspicious.
His first trip to Africa ended in a severe attack of malaria that sent him home. He resolved to return after he recuperated. This return was especially gratifying to him because this time his brother John joined him. But before long, John was struck down by fever.
All alone, Peter buried his brother in African soil, and in the agony of those days recommitted himself to preach the gospel in Africa. Yet his health gave way again, and he had to return to England.
How would he ever pull out of the desolation and depression of those days? He had pledged himself to God. But where could he find the strength to go back to Africa? With man it was impossible!
He found strength in Westminster Abbey. David Livingstone’s tomb is still there. Scott entered quietly, found the tomb, and knelt in front of it to pray. The inscription reads:
OTHER SHEEP I HAVE WHICH ARE NOT OF THIS FOLD; THEM ALSO I MUST BRING.
He rose from his knees with a new hope. He returned to Africa. And today, over a hundred years later, the mission he founded is a vibrant, growing force for the gospel in Africa.
If your greatest joy is to experience the infilling grace of God overflowing from you for the good of others, then the best news in all the world is that God will do the impossible through you for the salvation of the unreached peoples.
“All things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
Sovereign grace is the spring of life for the Christian Hedonist. For what the Christian Hedonist loves best is the experience of the sovereign grace of God filling him, and overflowing for the good of others.
Christian Hedonist missionaries love the experience of “not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). They bask in the truth that the fruit of their missionary labor is entirely of God (1 Corinthians 3:7; Romans 11:36).
They feel only gladness when the Master says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). They leap like lambs over the truth that God has taken the impossible weight of new creation off their shoulders and put it on his own. Without begrudging, they say, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).
When they come home on furlough, nothing gives them more joy than to say to churches, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience” (Romans 15:18).
“All things are possible with God!” — in front the words give hope, and behind they give humility. They are the antidote to despair and the antidote to pride — the perfect missionary medicine.
Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:5)
The great missionary hope is that when the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, God himself does what man cannot do: he creates the faith that saves. The call of God does what the call of man can’t. It raises the dead. It creates spiritual life. It is like the call of Jesus to Lazarus in the tomb, “Come out!” And the dead man obeyed and came out. The call created the obedience by creating life (John 11:43). That is how anyone is saved.
We can waken someone from sleep with our call, but God’s call can summon into being things that are not (Romans 4:17). God’s call is irresistible in the sense that it can overcome all resistance. It is infallibly effective according to God’s purpose — so much so that Paul can say, “Those whom [God] called he also justified” (Romans 8:30), even though we are only justified by our faith.
In other words, God’s call is so effectual that it infallibly creates the faith through which a person is justified. All the called are justified according to Romans 8:30. But none is justified without faith (Romans 5:1). So the call of God cannot fail in its intended effect. It irresistibly brings into being the faith that justifies.
This is what man cannot do. It is impossible. Only God can take out the heart of stone (Ezekiel 36:26). Only God can draw people to the Son (John 6:44, 65). Only God can open the spiritually dead heart so that it gives heed to the gospel (Acts 16:14). Only the Good Shepherd knows his sheep, and calls them by name with such compelling power that they all follow — and never perish (John 10:3–4, 14).
The sovereign grace of God, doing the humanly impossible, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, is the great missionary hope.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Hebrews 1:3)
Jesus relates to God the way radiance relates to glory, or the way the rays of sunlight relate to the sun.
Keep in mind that every analogy between God and natural things is imperfect and will distort if you press it. Nevertheless, consider for example,
There is no time that the sun exists without the beams of radiance. They cannot be separated. The radiance is co-eternal with the glory. Christ is co-eternal with God the Father.
The radiance is the glory radiating out. It is not essentially different from the glory. Christ is God standing forth as separate but not essentially different from the Father.
Thus the radiance is eternally begotten, as it were, by the glory — not created or made. If you put a solar-activated calculator in the sunlight, numbers appear on the face of the calculator. These, you could say, are created or made by the sun, but they are not what the sun is. But the rays of the sun are an extension of the sun. So Christ is eternally begotten of the Father, but not made or created.
We see the sun by means of seeing the rays of the sun. So we see God the Father by seeing Jesus. The rays of the sun arrive here about eight minutes after they leave the sun, and the round ball of fire that we see in the sky is the image — the exact representation — of the sun; not because it is a painting of the sun, but because it is the sun streaming forth in its radiance.
So I commend this great Person to you that you might trust in him and love him and worship him. He is alive and sitting at the right hand of God with all power and authority and will one day come in great glory. He has that exalted place because he is himself God the Son, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. (Hebrews 1:1–2)
The last days begin with the coming of the Son into the world. “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” We have been living in the last days since the days of Christ — that is, the last days of history as we know it before the final and full establishment of the kingdom of God.
The point for the writer of Hebrews is this: The Word that God spoke by his Son is the decisive Word. By the Son’s own design, that word has been captured for the ages in the writings of the New Testament. He explicitly made provision for this, lest every generation be left to itself to dream up the decisive word of God. This word will not be followed in this age by any greater word or replacement word. This is the Word of God — the person of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and the work of Jesus, captured by inspiration in the apostolic writings we call the New Testament.
When I complain that I don’t hear the Word of God, when I feel a desire to hear the voice of God, and get frustrated that he does not speak in ways that I may crave, what am I really saying? Am I really saying that I have exhausted this final, decisive Word revealed to me so fully and infallibly in the New Testament? Have I really exhausted this Word? Has it become so much a part of me that it has shaped my very being and given me life and guidance?
Or have I treated it lightly — skimmed it like a newspaper, clicked through like a quick series of internet postings, dipped in like a taste-tester — and then decided I wanted something different, something more? This is what I fear I am guilty of more than I wish to admit.
God is calling us to hear his final, decisive, inexhaustible Word — to meditate on it and study it and memorize it and linger over it and soak in it until it saturates us to the center of our being.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:24–25)
There is a pattern of love in marriage ordained by God.
The roles of husband and wife are not the same. The husband is to take his special cues from Christ as the head of the church. The wife is to take her special cues from God’s design for the church as submissive to Christ.
In doing this, the sinful and damaging results of the fall begin to be reversed. The fall twisted man’s loving headship into hostile domination in some men, and lazy indifference in others. The fall twisted woman’s intelligent, willing submission into manipulative obsequiousness in some women, and brazen insubordination in others.
The redemption we anticipated when the Messiah finally came in Jesus Christ was not the dismantling of the created order of loving headship and willing submission, but a recovery of it. Wives, redeem your fallen submission by modeling it after God’s intention for a joyful church! Husbands, redeem your fallen headship by modeling it after God’s intention for the lavishly loving Christ!
I find in Ephesians 5:21–33 these two things: (1) the display of Christian Hedonism in marriage and (2) the direction its impulses should take.
Wives, seek your joy in the joy of your husband by affirming and honoring his God-ordained role as “head” or leader in your relationship. Husbands, seek your joy in the joy of your wife by accepting the responsibility to lead as Christ led the church and gave himself for her.
I would like to bear witness to God’s goodness in my life. I discovered Christian Hedonism the same year I got married, in 1968. Since then, Noël and I, in obedience to Jesus Christ, have pursued as passionately as we can the deepest, most lasting joys possible. All too imperfectly, all too half-heartedly at times, we have stalked our own joy in the joy of each other.
And we can testify together after almost 50 years of marriage: For those who marry, this is the path to the heart’s desire. For us, marriage has been a matrix for Christian Hedonism. As each pursues joy in the joy of the other and fulfills a God-ordained role, the mystery of marriage as a parable of Christ and the church becomes manifest for his great glory and for our great joy.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31–32)
Here in Ephesians 5:31 Paul is quoting Genesis 2:24, which Moses spoke — and Jesus said God spoke through Moses (Matthew 19:5) — “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Paul says this word of God, spoken before the fall into sin, is a reference to Christ and the church and contains therefore a great mystery.
What this implies is that when God engaged to create man and woman and to ordain the union of marriage, he didn’t roll the dice or draw straws or flip a coin as to how they might be related to each other. He patterned marriage very purposefully after the relationship between his Son and the church, which he had planned from all eternity.
Therefore, marriage is a mystery — it contains and conceals a meaning far greater than what we see on the outside. God created man male and female and ordained marriage so that the eternal covenant relationship between Christ and his church would be imaged forth in the marriage union.
The inference Paul draws from this mystery is that the roles of husband and wife in marriage are not arbitrarily assigned, but are rooted in the distinctive roles of Christ and his church.
Those of us who are married need to ponder again and again how mysterious and wonderful it is that God grants us in marriage the privilege to image forth stupendous divine realities infinitely bigger and greater than ourselves.
This mystery of Christ and the church is the foundation of the pattern of love that Paul describes for marriage. It is not enough to say that each spouse should pursue his or her own joy in the joy of the other. That is true. But it is not enough. It is also important to say that husbands and wives should consciously copy the relationship God intended for Christ and the church. That is, each should seek to live after the distinctive model of God’s pure and glad design for Christ and the church.
I hope you will take this seriously whether you are single or married, old or young. The revelation of the covenant-keeping Christ and his covenant-keeping church hangs on it.
“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches that the first priority in praying is to ask our heavenly Father to cause his name to be hallowed. In us. In the church. In the world. Everywhere.
Notice that this is a petition, a request. It is not a declaration or acclamation. It is not an expression of praise, but petition. For years I misread the Lord’s Prayer as if it began with praise: “Praise God, the Lord’s name is hallowed, revered, honored!” But it is not acclamation. It is supplication. It is a request to God that he would see to it that his own name be hallowed.
It is like another text, Matthew 9:38, where Jesus tells us to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he would send out laborers into his own harvest. It never ceases to amaze me that we, we laborers, should be instructed to ask the owner of the farm, who knows the harvest better than we do, to add on more farm hands.
But isn’t this the same thing we have here in the Lord’s Prayer — Jesus is telling us to ask God, who is infinitely jealous for the honor of his own name, to see to it that his name be hallowed, which means honored, revered, exalted as supremely precious?
Well it may amaze us, but there it is. And it teaches us two things.
One is that prayer does not move God to do things he is disinclined to do. He has every intention to cause his name to be hallowed. Nothing is higher on God’s priority list. But we should ask anyway.
The other is that prayer is God’s way of bringing our priorities into line with his. God wills to make great things the consequence of our prayers when our prayers are the consequence of his great purposes.
Bring your heart into line with the jealousy of God to hallow his name, and you will pray with great effect. Let your first and all-determining prayer be for the hallowing of God’s name, and your prayers will plug into the power of God’s jealousy for his name.
No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:29–30)
Don’t miss that last phrase: “because we are members of his body.” And don’t forget what Paul said two verses earlier, namely, that Christ gave himself for us “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor.” So in two different ways, Paul makes plain that Christ pursued his joy in pursuing the holiness and beauty and happiness of his people.
The union between Christ and his bride is so close (“one flesh”) that any good done to her is a good done to himself. Which means that the clear assertion of this text is that the Lord is moved to nourish, cherish, sanctify, and cleanse his bride because in this he finds his joy.
By some definitions, this cannot be love. Love, they say, must be free of self-interest — especially Christlike love, especially Calvary love. I have never seen such a view of love made to square with this passage of Scripture.
Yet what Christ does for his bride, this text plainly calls love: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church . . . ” (Ephesians 5:25). Why not let the text define love for us, instead of bringing our definition from ethics or philosophy? According to this text, love is the pursuit of Christ’s joy in the holy joy of the beloved.
There is no way to exclude self-interest from love, for self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense of others.
Christlike love seeks its happiness in the happiness of others — not at their expense. It will even suffer and die for the beloved in order that its joy might be made full in the life and purity of the beloved.
This is how Christ loved us, and this is how he calls us to love one another.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor. (Ephesians 5:25–27)
The reason there is so much misery in marriage is not that husbands and wives seek their own pleasure, but that they do not seek it in the pleasure of their spouses. The biblical mandate to husbands and wives is to seek your own joy in the joy of your spouse.
There is scarcely a more hedonistic passage in the Bible than the one on marriage in Ephesians 5:25–30. Husbands are told to love their wives the way Christ loved the church.
How did he love the church? Verse 25 says he “gave himself up for her.” But why? Verse 26 says, “that he might sanctify” and cleanse her. But why did he want to do that? Verse 27 answers, “that he might present the church to himself in splendor!”
Ah! There it is! “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). What joy? The joy of marriage to his bride, the church. The joy of presenting the church to himself in blood-bought splendor.
Jesus does not intend to have a dirty and unholy wife. Therefore, he was willing to die to sanctify and cleanse his betrothed so he could present to himself a wife “in splendor.” He gained the desire of his heart by giving himself up in suffering for the good of his bride.
Then Paul applies this to husbands in verses 28–30: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”
Jesus had said to husbands and wives — and everyone else — “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Marriage is an extraordinary place of application. It is not merely “as” you love yourself. But you are loving yourself. When you love the person with whom God has made you one flesh, you are loving yourself. That is, your greatest joy is found in seeking the greatest joy of your spouse.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28)
There are three levels of how to live with material things: (1) you can steal to get them; (2) or you can work to get them; (3) or you can work to get in order to give.
Too many professing Christians live on level two. We glorify work over against stealing and mooching, and feel we have acted virtuously if we have spurned stealing and mooching, and given ourselves to an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. That’s not a bad thing. Work is better than stealing and mooching. But that’s not what the apostle calls us to.
Almost all the forces of our culture urge us to live on level two: work to get. But the Bible pushes us relentlessly to level three: work to get to give. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
Why does God bless us with abundance? So we can have enough to live on, and then use the rest for all manner of good works that alleviate spiritual and physical misery — temporal and eternal suffering. Enough for us; abundance for others.
The issue is not how much a person makes. Big industry and big salaries are a fact of our times, and they are not necessarily evil. The evil is in being deceived into thinking that a large salary must be accompanied by a lavish lifestyle.
God has made us to be conduits of his grace. The danger is in thinking the conduit should be lined with gold. It shouldn’t. Copper will do. Copper can carry unbelievable riches to others. And in the very process of that giving we enjoy the greatest blessing (Acts 20:35).
“The Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14)
God is infinitely jealous for the honor of his name, and responds with terrible wrath against those whose hearts should belong to him but go after other things, like a spouse running after another lover.
For example, in Ezekiel 16:38–40 he says to faithless Israel,
“I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber. . . . They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful jewels and leave you naked and bare. They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords.”
I urge you to listen to this warning. The jealousy of God for your undivided love and devotion will always have the last say. Whatever lures your affections away from God with deceptive attraction will come back to strip you bare and cut you in pieces.
It is a horrifying thing to use your God-given life to commit adultery against the Almighty.
But for those of you who have been truly united to Christ and who keep your vows to forsake all others and cleave only to him and live for his honor — for you the jealousy of God is a great comfort and a great hope.
Since God is infinitely jealous for the honor of his name, anything and anybody who threatens the good of his faithful wife will be opposed with divine omnipotence. That’s good news for the faithful wife — the faithful people of God.
God’s jealousy is a great threat to those who play the harlot and sell their heart to the world and make a cuckold out of God (James 4:3–4). But his jealousy is a great comfort to those who keep their covenant vows and become strangers and exiles in the world.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. . . . These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:7–8, 11)
Prayer pursues joy in fruitful fellowship with Jesus, knowing that God is glorified when we bear fruit in answer to prayer. Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer?
Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.
If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don’t just get up one summer morning and say, “Hey, let’s go today!” You won’t have anything ready. You won’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned.
But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing is ready.
We don’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure. And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the same old rut.
If you don’t plan a vacation, you will probably stay home and watch TV. The natural, unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer, you must plan to see it.
Therefore, my simple exhortation is this: Let us take time this very day to rethink our priorities and how prayer fits in. Make some new resolve. Try some new venture with God. Set a time. Set a place. Choose a portion of Scripture to guide you.
Don’t be tyrannized by the press of busy days. We all need midcourse corrections. Make this a day of turning to prayer — for the glory of God and for the fullness of your joy.
“I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal him.” (Isaiah 57:18–19)
In spite of the severity of man’s disease of rebellion and willfulness, God will heal. How will he heal? Isaiah 57:15 says that God dwells with the crushed and humble. Yet the people of Isaiah 57:17 are not humble. They are brazenly pursuing their own proud way. So, what will a healing be?
It can only be one thing. God will heal them by humbling them. He will cure the patient by crushing his pride. If only the crushed and humble enjoy God’s fellowship (Isaiah 57:15), and if Israel’s sickness is a proud and willful rebellion (Isaiah 57:17), and if God promises to heal them (Isaiah 57:18), then his healing must be humbling and his cure must be a crushed spirit.
Isn’t this Isaiah’s way of prophesying what Jeremiah called the new covenant and the gift of a new heart? He said, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33).
Isaiah and Jeremiah both see a time coming when a sick, disobedient, hard-hearted people will be supernaturally changed. Isaiah speaks of healing. Jeremiah speaks of writing the law on their hearts. And Ezekiel puts it like this: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26)
So the healing of Isaiah 57:18 is a major heart transplant — the old hardened, proud, willful heart of stone is taken out, and a new soft, tender heart is put in, which is easily humbled and crushed by the memory of sin and the sin that remains.
This is a heart that the lofty One whose name is Holy will dwell with forever.
. . . so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7)
To me, the Bible’s most astonishing image of Christ’s second coming is in Luke 12:35–37, which pictures the return of a master from a marriage feast like this:
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.”
To be sure, we are called servants — and that no doubt means we are to do exactly as we are told. But the wonder of this picture is that the “master” insists on serving. We may have expected this during Jesus’s ministry on earth, since he said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). But Luke 12:35–37 is a picture of the second coming, when the Son of Man comes in the blinding glory of his Father “with his mighty angels in flaming fire” as 2 Thessalonians 1:7–8 says. Why would Jesus be portrayed as a table waiter at the second coming?
Because the very heart of his glory is the fullness of grace that overflows in kindness to needy people. This is why Ephesians 2:7 says he aims “in the coming ages [to] show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
What is the greatness of our God? What is his uniqueness in the world? Isaiah answers: “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4 RSV). There is no other god like this. He never relinquishes the role of inexhaustible benefactor of his ever-dependent, happy people.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24–25)
We do not glorify God by providing his needs, but by praying that he would provide ours — and trusting him to answer, and living in the joy of that all-providing care as we lay down our lives in love for other people.
Here we are at the heart of the good news of Christian Hedonism. God’s insistence that we ask him to give us help so that he gets glory. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). This forces on us the startling fact that we must beware of thinking he needs us. We must beware of serving God, and we must take special care to let him serve us, lest we rob him of his glory. “God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25).
This sounds very strange. Most of us think serving God is a totally positive thing. We have not considered that serving God may be an insult to him. But meditation on the very meaning of prayer makes this plain.
In the novel, Robinson Crusoe, the hero, took Psalm 50:12–15 as his favorite text to hope in as he’s stranded on the island: God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. . . . Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
Which means: there is a way to serve God that would belittle him as needy of our service. Oh, how careful we must be not to preempt the mighty grace of God in Christ. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He aims to be the servant. He aims to get the glory as the Giver.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Suppose you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed done. How could you glorify this friend if a stranger came to see you?
Would you glorify his generosity and strength by trying to get out of bed and carry him? No! You would say, “Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me?”
And so your visitor would learn from your requests that you are helpless and that your friend is strong and kind. You glorify your friend by needing him, and by asking him for help, and counting on him.
In John 15:5, Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” So we really are paralyzed. Without Christ, we are capable of no Christ-exalting good. As Paul says in Romans 7:18, “Nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”
But John 15:5 also says that God does intend for us to do much Christ-exalting good, namely bear fruit: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” So as our strong and reliable friend — “I have called you friends” (John 15:15) — he promises to do for us, and through us, what we can’t do for ourselves.
How then do we glorify him? Jesus gives the answer in John 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” We pray! We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can’t do for ourselves — bear fruit.
John 15:8 gives the result: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.”
So how is God glorified by prayer? Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that he will provide the help we need.
God put [Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25–26)
Romans 3:25–26 may be the most important verses in the Bible.
God is wholly just! And he justifies the ungodly! Really? A just judge acquitting the guilty!
Not either/or! Both! He acquits the guilty, but is not guilty in doing so. This is the greatest news in the world!
“[God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He takes our sin. We take his righteousness.
“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Whose flesh? Christ’s. Whose sin condemned in that flesh? Ours. For us then? No condemnation!
“[Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24)
“Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)
“If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5)
If the most terrifying news in the world is that we have fallen under the condemnation of our Creator and that he is bound by his own righteous character to preserve the worth of his glory by pouring out his wrath on our sin . . .
. . . Then the best news in all the world (the gospel!) is that God has decreed and enacted a way of salvation that also upholds the worth of his glory, the honor of his Son, and the eternal salvation of his elect. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23–24)
Over against the terrifying news that we have fallen under the condemnation of our Creator and that he is bound by his own righteous character to preserve the worth of his glory by pouring out eternal wrath on our sin, there is the wonderful news of the gospel.
This is a truth no one can ever learn from nature. The truth of the gospel has to be told to neighbors and preached in churches and carried by missionaries.
The good news is that God himself has decreed a way to satisfy the demands of his justice without condemning the whole human race.
Hell is one way to settle accounts with sinners and uphold his justice. But there is another way. God provided another way. This is the gospel.
The wisdom of God has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God without compromising the justice of God. There it is. The gospel. Let me say it again slowly: The wisdom of God has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God without compromising the justice of God.
And what is this wisdom? The death of the Son of God for sinners! “We preach Christ crucified . . . the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24).
The death of Christ is the wisdom of God by which the love of God saves sinners from the wrath of God, all the while upholding and demonstrating the righteousness of God in Christ.
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” (Jeremiah 32:40–41)
God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in him are one and the same pursuit. God’s quest to be glorified and our quest to be satisfied reach their goal in this one experience: our delight in God, which overflows in praise.
For God, praise is the sweet echo of his own excellence in the hearts of his people.
For us, praise is the summit of satisfaction that comes from living in fellowship with God.
The stunning implication of this discovery is that all the omnipotent energy that drives the heart of God to pursue his own glory also drives him to satisfy the hearts of those who seek their joy in him.
The good news of the Bible is that God is not at all disinclined to satisfy the hearts of those who hope in him. Just the opposite: The very thing that can make us happiest is what God delights in with all his heart and with all his soul. These are amazing words: “I will rejoice in doing them good . . . with all my heart and all my soul” (Jeremiah 32:41).
With all his heart and with all his soul, God joins us in the pursuit of our everlasting joy because the consummation of that joy in him redounds to the glory of his own infinite worth.
From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)
Only a few things have gripped me with greater joy than the truth that God loves to show his God-ness by working for me, and that his working for me is always before and under and in any working I do for him.
At first it may sound arrogant of us, and belittling to God, to say that he works for us. But that’s only because of the connotation that I am an employer and God needs a job. That’s not the connotation when the Bible talks about God’s working for us. That’s not at all in Isaiah’s mind when he says, God “works for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).
The proper connotation of saying God works for me is that I am bankrupt and need a bailout. I am weak and need someone strong. I am endangered and need a protector. I am foolish and need someone wise. I am lost and need a Rescuer.
God works for me means I can’t do the work. I am utterly in need of help.
And this glorifies God not me. The Giver gets the glory. The Powerful One gets the praise.
Listen to the way the Bible talks about God working for you, and be freed from the burden of bearing your own load. Let him do that work.
“No eye has seen a God besides you, who works for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).
God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
“The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you. . . . Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:12, 15).
“To your old age . . . I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).
“I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
“Whoever serves, [let him serve] by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11).
“Work out your own salvation . . . for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work” (Philippians 2:12–13).
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Sound doctrine [is] in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed [that is, happy] God. (1 Timothy 1:10–11)
A great part of God’s glory is his happiness.
It was inconceivable to the apostle Paul that God could be denied infinite joy and still be all-glorious. To be infinitely glorious was to be infinitely happy. He used the phrase, “the glory of the happy God,” because it is a glorious thing for God to be as happy as he is — infinitely happy.
God’s glory consists much in the fact that he is happy beyond our wildest imagination.
This is the gospel: “the gospel of the glory of the happy God.” That’s a quote from the Bible! It is good news that God is gloriously happy.
No one would want to spend eternity with an unhappy God. If God is unhappy, then the goal of the gospel is not a happy goal, and that means it would be no gospel at all.
But, in fact, Jesus invites us to spend eternity with a happy God when he says, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). Jesus lived and died that his joy — God’s joy — might be in us and our joy might be full (John 15:11; 17:13). Therefore, the gospel is “the gospel of the glory of the happy God.”
The happiness of God is first and foremost a happiness in his Son. Thus when we share in the happiness of God, we share in the very pleasure that the Father has in the Son.
This is why Jesus made the Father known to us. At the end of his great prayer in John 17, he said to his Father, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). He made God known so that God’s pleasure in his Son might be in us and become our pleasure in him.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
All of you have been wronged at one time or another. Most of you, probably, have been wronged seriously by someone who has never apologized or done anything sufficient to make it right.
And one of the deep hindrances to your letting go of that hurt and bitterness is the conviction — the justified conviction — that justice should be done, that the moral fabric of the universe will unravel if people can just get away with horrible wrongs and deceive everyone.
That is one of the hindrances to forgiveness and letting grudges go. It’s not the only one. We have our own sin to deal with. But it is a real one.
We feel that just to let it go would be to admit that justice simply won’t be done. And we can’t do it.
So we hold on to anger, and play the events or the words over and over again with the feelings: It shouldn’t have happened; it shouldn’t have happened; it was wrong; it was wrong. How can he (or she) be so happy when I am so miserable? It is so wrong. It is so wrong! We can’t let it go. And our bitterness starts to poison everything.
This word in Romans 12:19 is given to us by God to lift that burden from us.
“Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” What does this mean for you?
Laying down the burden of anger, laying down the practice of nursing your hurt with feelings of being wronged — laying that down — does not mean there was no great wrong against you. There was.
But it also does not mean there is no justice. It does not mean you will not be vindicated. It does not mean they just got away with it. No they didn’t.
It means, when you lay down the burden of vengeance, God will pick it up.
This is not a subtle way of getting revenge. This is a way of giving vengeance to the One to whom it belongs. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. You lay it down. I will pick it up. Justice will be done.
What a glorious relief. I do not have to carry this burden. It is like taking a deep breath, perhaps for the first time in decades, and feeling like now at last you may be free to love.
“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
That’s what Jesus prayed the night before he died. Imagine being able to enjoy what is most enjoyable with unbounded energy and passion forever. This is not now our experience. Three things stand in the way of our complete satisfaction in this world.
One is that nothing in this created world has a personal worth great enough to meet the deepest longings of our hearts.
Another is that we lack the strength to savor the best treasures to their maximum worth.
And a third obstacle standing in the way of complete satisfaction is that our joys here come to an end. Nothing lasts. But if the aim and the prayer of Jesus in John 17:26 come true, all this will change. He prayed “that the love with which you, Father, have loved me may be in them.” God’s infinitely well-pleased love for his Son in us!
If God’s pleasure in the Son becomes our pleasure in the Son, then the object of our pleasure, Jesus, will be inexhaustible in personal worth. He will never become boring or disappointing or frustrating.
No greater treasure can be conceived than the Son of God.
Moreover, our ability to savor this inexhaustible treasure will not be limited by human weaknesses. We will enjoy the Son of God with the very enjoyment of his Father. That’s what Jesus prayed for!
God’s delight in his Son will be in us and it will be ours — our delight in the Son. And this will never end, because neither the Father nor the Son ever ends.
Their love for each other will be our love for them and therefore our loving them will never die, nor ever diminish.
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6)
God abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Two images come to my mind:
The heart of God is like an inexhaustible spring of water that bubbles up love and faithfulness at the top of the mountain. Century after century the spring keeps on flowing.
Or the heart of God is like a volcano that burns so hot with love that it blasts the top off the mountain and flows year after year with the lava of love and faithfulness.
When God uses the word “abounding” — “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” — he wants us to understand and feel that the resources of his love are not limited. You can drink at this mountain spring all day, year after year, generation after generation, and it never runs dry.
You might even risk saying that God is like a government that simply prints more money when there’s a need. Inexhaustible, right? Well, there’s a difference. God has an infinite treasury of golden love to cover all the currency he prints. The government is in a dream world. God banks very realistically on the infinite resources of his deity.
The absolute existence, the sovereign freedom, and the omnipotence of God are the volcanic fullness that explodes in an overflow of love. The sheer magnificence of God means that he does not need us to fill up any deficiency in himself. Instead his infinite self-sufficiency spills over in love to us — to sinners — who need him, and the gift of himself in Jesus.
We can bank on his love precisely because we believe in the absoluteness of his existence, the sovereignty of his freedom, and the limitlessness of his power.
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:10–11)
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). The implication of this text is that God has the right and power to do whatever makes him happy. That is what it means to say that God is sovereign.
Think about it for a moment: If God is sovereign and can do anything he pleases, then none of his purposes can be frustrated. “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:10–11).
And if none of his purposes can be frustrated, then he must be the happiest of all beings.
This infinite, divine happiness is the fountain from which the Christian (Hedonist) drinks and longs to drink more deeply.
Can you imagine what it would be like if the God who ruled the world were not happy? What if God were given to grumbling and pouting and depression, like some Jack-and-the-beanstalk giant in the sky? What if God were frustrated and despondent and gloomy and dismal and discontented and dejected?
Could we join David and say, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1)? I don’t think so.
We would all relate to God like little children who have a frustrated, gloomy, dismal, discontented father. They can’t enjoy him. They can only try not to bother him, or maybe try to work for him to earn some little favor.
But that is not the way God is. He is never out of sorts with frustration or discouragement. And, as Psalm 147:11 says, he “takes pleasure . . . in those who hope in his steadfast love.” So the aim of the Christian Hedonist is not to avoid this God, not to run from him, or tiptoe through the living room lest his gloominess become anger. No, our aim is to hope in his steadfast love. To run to him. To be happy in God, to delight in God, to cherish and enjoy his fellowship and favor.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
The quest for pleasure is not even optional, but commanded (in the Psalms): “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
The psalmists sought to do just this: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2). “My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).
The motif of thirsting has its satisfying counterpart when the psalmist says that men “drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights” (Psalm 36:8 NASB).
I found that the goodness of God, the very foundation of worship, is not a thing you pay your respects to out of some kind of disinterested reverence. No, it is something to be enjoyed: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). Taste. Taste! And see.
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).
As C.S. Lewis says, God in the Psalms is the “all-satisfying Object.” His people adore him unashamedly for the “exceeding joy” they find in him (Psalm 43:4). He is the source of complete and unending pleasure: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. (Philippians 3:1)
No one had ever taught me that God is glorified by our joy in him — that joy in God is the very thing that makes our praise an honor to God, and not hypocrisy.
But Jonathan Edwards said it so clearly and powerfully:
God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to . . . their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. . . .
[W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it. . . . He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.
This was a stunning discovery for me. I must pursue joy in God if I am to glorify him as the surpassingly valuable Reality in the universe. Joy is not a mere option alongside worship. It is an essential component of worship. Indeed the very essence of worship — being glad in the glories of God.
We have a name for those who speak their praises of God when they have no pleasure in what they praise. We call them hypocrites. Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’” (Matthew 15:7–8). This fact — that authentic praise means consummate pleasure and that the highest end of man is to drink deeply of this pleasure for God’s glory — was perhaps the most liberating discovery I have ever made.