When I Do Not Desire God
Sequels usually don't fare well with the American public. There are exceptions, of course. One thinks of The Godfather II and the seemingly endless installments in the Harry Potter series of books.
But John Piper has produced a "sequel" of sorts that is sure to become a classic of the Christian life. I have often said that Piper's Desiring God (Multnomah) is the most influential and life-changing book I've ever read outside of Scripture itself. I still stand by that judgment. It's a book that promotes what has come to be known as "Christian Hedonism." Joy, says Piper, is not a peripheral element in the Christian life nor a mere after-effect or fruit of obedience. Rather, it is essential to every act of moral and spiritual virtue, for God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied (i.e., find maximum, optimum joy) in Him.
Not everyone has responded as positively as I to Desiring God. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that joy does not come easily. Piper himself acknowledges that over the years many have come to him complaining or lamenting the absence of joy and their repeated failure to cultivate a passion and desire for God and all that he is for us in Jesus. So what does one do when he or she doesn't desire God? Are there specific ways and spiritual strategies, based in Scripture, that help us "fight for joy"? On the one hand, "when all is said and done, only God can create joy in God" (9). But on the other hand, says Piper, "if I didn't believe God uses means to awaken joy in himself, I would not have written this book"(9).
This book is all about getting a desire you don't have and can't create. Piper addresses the question, "How can I obtain or recover a joy in Christ that is so deep and so strong that it will free me from bondage to Western comforts and security, and will impel me into sacrifices of mercy and missions, and will sustain me in the face of martyrdom?" Make no mistake. Piper wants nothing to do with promoting middle-class comforts and conveniences that lull people into a spiritual slumber and apathy. His concept of "joy" has nothing to do with the mindless, flabby, enervating giddiness of so much western "Christianity". He's talking about a joy that consists in a deep, abiding, substantive delight and satisfaction in Jesus Christ that ruins us for anything else and impels us to willingly and joyfully(!) embrace whatever material loss or persecution the pursuit of God's glory may bring.
Piper has chapters on the eternal importance of joy in the Christian life, joy as a gift of God (that nevertheless does not undermine responsible human effort), together with the role of the Word, prayer, and even the world in stoking the fires of passion for God. But rather than summarize each chapter, let me whet your appetite with a few classic Piper quotes:
"Loving Christ involves delight in his Person. Without this love no one goes to heaven. Therefore there is no more important struggle in the universe than the struggle to see and savor Christ above all things - the struggle for joy" (35).
"God ordained that spiritual seeing should happen mainly through hearing. Christ is not visually present for us to see. He is presented today in the Word of God, especially the gospel. . . . Therefore we can say that seeing the glory of Christ is what happens in the heart when the hearing of the gospel is made effective by the Spirit' (emphasis mine; 65).
Statements such as these make it quite obvious that in some respects this book is an enlargement and commentary by Piper on Jonathan Edwards" sermon, A Divine and Supernatural Light. Again,
" . . . we bring the power of the Spirit into vigorous, sin-killing action by hearing with faith. Hearing what? The Word of God. Therefore, the way we destroy deceitful, joy-killing desires that threaten to overwhelm us with destructive cravings is to hear and believe the Word of God when it says that he and his ways are more to be desired than all that sin can offer" (105).
Piper provides the reader with clear, practical steps on how to make the Word of God a staple of one's daily diet through memorization and meditation. He also places great emphasis on substantive, mind-expanding (in a non-pharmaceutical sense!) doctrine:
'I would challenge you to throw off the notion that weighty books of doctrine are joy-squelching, while light devotional books are joy-producing. It's true that the joy of serious reading and the thinking that goes with it (sometimes called study) may not be as immediate as the joy of singing in church, or seeing a sunset, or talking with a friend, or hearing a preacher with lots of stories. But the payload for joy may be greater. Raking is easier than digging, but you only get leaves. If you dig you may get diamonds' (125-26).
The most challenging chapter in the book is entitled, 'How to Wield the World in the Fight for Joy.' Piper is at his best when he explains the role of the natural creation in the stimulation and sustaining of joy. For example,
'All of God's creation becomes a beam to be 'looked along' or a sound to be 'heard along' or a fragrance to be 'smelled along' or a flavor to be "tasted along" or a touch to be 'felt along.' All our senses become partners with the eyes of the heart in perceiving the glory of God through the physical world' (185).
Some of you will be especially blessed by the concluding chapter, "When the Darkness Does Not Lift." Here is Piper's analysis of and practical advice for conquering, through the grace of God, depression, or what the Puritans called "melancholy". His perspective is respectful of those suffering, but no less hopeful. He addresses the influence of Satan and the demonic, the relationship between the physical and spiritual, as well as the role of medication in alleviating the horror of depression.
I could go on seemingly without end in giving you reasons why this book is a must read. Let me simply say, you must read it. If at all possible, start with Desiring God and then move on to its sequel. You will be immensely blessed and, dare I say, filled with joy in Jesus as you do.