Home > Christianity, Criticism, Study of the New Testament, Study of the Old Testament, Theology > When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy

When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy

  • Author: John Piper
  • ISBN 10: 1581346522
  • Published: 2004
  • Pages: 57
  • Format: PDF


For over twenty-five years John Piper has trumpeted the truth that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” He calls it Christian Hedonism. The problem is that many people, after being persuaded, find that this truth is both liberating and devastating.

It’s liberating because it endorses our inborn desire for joy. And it’s devastating because it reveals that we don’t desire God the way we should. What do you do when you discover the good news that God wants you to be content in him, but then find that you aren’t?

If joy in God were merely the icing on the cake of Christian commitment, this book would be insignificant. But Piper argues that joy is so much more. Our being satisfied in God is necessary to show God’s worthiness and to sustain sacrifices of love.

Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. He tasted it. It sustained him through the deepest suffering. His Father was glorified. His people were saved. That is what joy in God does.

The absolutely urgent question becomes: What can I do if I don’t have it? With a pastor’s heart and with radical passion for the glory of Christ, John Piper helps you answer that question.

This is John Piper’s best book of the last several years, which builds on (but doesn’t repeat, contrary to one review) the foundations laid in Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Because the supreme duty of every follower of Jesus is to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31) and because praise on the lips divorced from delight in the heart is hypocrisy (Matthew 15:8), nothing is more important than having a heart that is so satisfied in Jesus that it can say, “Whom have I heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire beside You” (Psalm 73:25). And since sustaining that kind of desire for God is a fight, John Piper served us well by writing this helpful book.

Chapter One is entitled, “Why I Wrote This Book.” From the outset Piper makes clear that “the fight for joy in Christ is not a fight to soften the cushion of Western comforts. It is a fight to live a life of self-sacrificing love.” (p.20). This is no health/wealth/prosperity handbook to grabbing as much joy in this life as possible. It is a field-manual for the believer who is dead earnest about not wasting his life on trivialities.

Chapter Two, “What is the Difference Between Desire and Delight,” far from playing fast and loose in defining words, is a helpful exploration of “affections.” Drawing on C. S. Lewis’s “Surprised by Joy,” Piper demonstrates that desire and delight are different though related, with God the all-important object of both. His discussion is laden with Scripture and his use of language wise.

Chapter Three, “The Call to Fight for Joy in God,” is a serious look at God’s demand that we delight in Him. Delight in God is serious because the essence of evil is to choose broken cisterns over the Fountain of Living Water (Jer. 2:13). And joy in God is so central to saving faith that Piper rightly says, “Heaven hangs on having the taste of joy in God” (p. 34). Which is why fighting for it is so urgent. This, however, doesn’t lead us into the cul-de-sac of legalism, because “Joy in God is a Gift of God” (Chapter Four). God graciously gives what He demands by creating delight in our hearts. Chapter Five further explores that gift in discussing how “The Fight for Joy is a Fight to See” – and seeing is the result of God’s gracious work. “Without the work of our omnipotent internal Eye Surgeon we would remain blind and unable to see. Oh, how we need the gift of spiritual sight!” (p.58) Chapter Six, “Fighting for Joy Like a Justified Sinner,” shows how the gospel is central to our fight for joy and urges us to feast on the gospel in the preached Word and the Lord’s Table.

Chapters Seven through Twelve take us deeper into application, as Piper teaches us how to “Wield the Word in the Fight for Joy” (Chapters Seven and Eight), discusses the focus and practice of prayer in the fight for joy (Chapters Nine and Ten), and explores “How to Wield the World in the Fight for Joy” (Chapter Eleven – a very useful chapter which shows how to use food and fasting, sex and suffering, art and literature, and rest and nature in the fight for joy). Chapter Twelve is a hopeful encouragement for “When the Darkness Does Not Lift.”

I’ve read most of Piper’s books and this one is near the top, along with the classics Desiring God, Future Grace, and The Pleasures of God. It is certainly his most practical book to date and will be my companion for many years as I continue to battle for a heart satisfied in God alone.

This is a general comment on Piper’s books and ministry. I deeply appreciate the work of John Piper–especially his emphasis on missions and on living God-centered, Christ-exalting lives of worship. And I am Augustinian, so I love Piper’s theology and am thrilled that he has become so popular. But I do want to provide a warning. Piper’s main emphasis is (and you’ll read this over and over again) “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied (or delighted) in Him.” This is a biblical and wonderful proposition that Piper became aware of through the writings of Jonathan Edwards. And to Edwards, this was one small part of his theology.

But Piper has taken this idea, which he calls “Christian Hedonism,” and built his whole life and ministry around it. The problem is that if you read enough Piper, you will begin to focus on the FEELING of being delighted in Christ, rather than on Christ Himself. And when your feelings don’t match what you want them to be, you will become disheartened. (And let’s face it, few of us have the emotional intensity of John Piper.) At that point, your feelings (of being delighted in God) become the object of your desires and, thus, an idol. Yes, they are feelings TOWARD God–but those feelings are NOT GOD. And when the focus of your life has become your emotions, it has deceptively become an idol.

I know Piper fights against this tendency. But I’m afraid he is often unsuccessful. The fact is, the Christian life is not going to be one of unending joy in God. Read the Psalms to see how often the psalmists cry out in agony and desperation and sadness to the Lord. Read Romans 7 to find out how tough and discouraging the Christian life can really be.

According to Piper, our happiness in God should be the driving motivation in our life. But when Christians are inevitably not overflowing with delight in God, then under Piper’s framework, the only solution is to seek that feeling of joy rather than just do our duty. There are times when duty and obligation (which Piper hates) are the only motivations for the Christian to be obedient and live a life of faith. I agree wholeheartedly with Piper that delight in God is a much better motivation for the Christian than duty. But when that delight is not there, we still must be faithful and obedient, and we can’t always wait on our feelings to drive us on toward the prize.

Father, I pray that all who’ve read this far will have the motivation and the strength to read on to the end at least as far as would be helpful to their faith. I pray that they would read with understanding. And may they be discerning so that, if I have blundered, they would be sure to see the error and not follow me. Protect them from the evil one who would distort and then deceive. Give great assistance from your Spirit, and may they see more truth than I have seen. Oh, that the eyes of their hearts might be bright with the glory of Christ through these pages! Remove every blinding obstacle, and show them your glory! And thus give them more joy than all the gladness that the world can give. And by this joy in Jesus Christ, fit them to love and serve and sacrifice. And by this joy, with which they bear their cross, Lord, cause the earth to know what you are truly worth. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

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