How to Fight for Joy, Session 1
Desiring God 2005 Regional Conference
When I Don't Desire God
The following is a lightly edited transcript
You can hear that I had a kind of person in my mind and I did because of a recent conversation at my church. And this is such a typical conversation. There is nothing extraordinary about it. Any pastor in the room has had it. Most of you have walked through it. A woman who comes into my office and basically says, like many of you feel: It feels, pastor John, as though the distance between my head, which is totally affirming of everything you preach and my heart is about a thousand miles. That is why I wrote this book and why we named this conference that. It is called When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. Because there are a lot of people like that and there are a lot of people who think that doesn’t matter. And there are some people that states the way it does matter in totally misleading ways. And so we want to work on this together.
I am on what I consider an apostolic mission. Jon Bloom, my partner for 10 years who was at the piano before I came up here asked me at the airport as we were flying down here today: How do you feel? How do you feel about tonight? And I said, “I feel like I am on an apostolic mission. I feel like I have the authority of Jesus Christ behind me because of 2 Corinthians 1:24, which says, ‘And I say this to you now. Not that I lord it over your faith, but I am a worker with you for your joy.’” Worker with you for your joy. Isn’t that an amazing statement? Work. I am an apostolic workman, Paul says, for what? Happiness. And if you have ever thought about the apostolic mission of Paul on planet earth, not that I lord it over your faith, Corinthians. I am called to work with you, alongside of you for your joy. And so that is the mission I am on here. I am a worker with you for your joy in these few hours that we have together.
He said it in another place, lest you think that was kind of an isolated exceptional statement. You remember in Philippians 1 where he is struggling? Am I going to live or am I not going to live? He settles it. Yes, I believe. I probably will live. Convinced of this I know I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith. Yes, the Lord is going to leave me a little longer on planet earth so that I might advance your joy of faith. Isn’t it amazing? 2 Corinthians 1:24 and Philippians 1:25, two apostolic mandates to me to get down there to Greenville and work for their joy. So that is what I said, in a shorter form, to Jon in the airport this morning.
Joy in Jesus, Not Health and Wealth
Let me give you four things I am not coming to do. It helps to clarify what you do do when you decide what you don’t do. I am not coming with a health, wealth and prosperity gospel or on a health, wealth and prosperity mission. I am not bringing the message that Christ will make you healthy, Christ will make you wealthy, Christ will make you prosperous in this life so that you can have joy. That is not my message. I am bringing you a message that Christ will give you himself so that you don’t need health, wealth and prosperity in order to be happy, but can have so much invincible joy in the durable Christ you can give up health, wealth and prosperity in the sacrifices of love if God so calls.
This is a very dangerous conference. If you catch on to what I am saying or if any of you parents brought your kids, that is risky. I get in trouble with a lot of parents because of what kids do when they listen to messages like this. They do crazy things for Jesus after they learn that their joy can be rooted in something absolutely higher, more sure, more satisfying than the American dream, which dad had for them and now dad is really made at me, because they are in Afghanistan.
I am not on a mission to add happy icing to the cake of your decision for Christ. I am on a mission to show you from Scripture that if all you have is a decision for Christ and no delight in Christ, you don’t have Christ. We are not saved by mere decisions. We are saved by the sovereign work of God by his Spirit causing us to be born again, which brings into being a new creature who has new affections for God and less affection for the world. That is salvation. Salvation is not my brain doing what it can do by itself. My salvation is a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit upon me doing what I cannot do for myself, bringing into being a new John Piper who has affections for God and is falling out of love with the world. So I am not bringing you a message of happiness as the icing on the cake of decision; but rather, I want to persuade you that if you understood saving faith aright, then delight in God would be a part of the cake, not just the icing, not the caboose at the end of the train and not just something dispensable for stoical personalities.
Third, I am not on a mission to put your happiness above God’s glory. I am on a mission to put your happiness in God’s glory. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.
Fourth, I am not on a mission to help you feel good about yourselves. I am on a mission to help you feel so good about the greatness of God that you forget about yourselves and live a life of love making others glad in God. I am going to say that again, because in our 21st century mold and time on the back end of the crest of the wave of self-esteem it needs to still be said. I am not here to make you feel good about yourself. That is a low salvation. That is a low level American gospel message. I am here to make you so happy in God, to help you feel so good about the glory and majesty and beauty and justice and love and truth and power of God that in that you forget about yourself.
And some of you have heard me say that nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to increase his self-esteem, because on the edge of the Grand Canyon, as you feel your soul being drawn out into this vast opening that is not what happens. What happens is wonder — awe — which is what you were made for. Heaven will not be a hall of mirrors in which you like what you see. In fact, I just have this suspicion there won’t be any mirrors in heaven, because anything good and beautiful about you will be radiated back to you from the other people that you re loving so much. It just bounces back to you, but mainly it is going to be about Jesus everywhere satisfying your soul. So thoughts about you, which in this world cause us so much grief. And we think that the solution is to just feel better about me, better about the way I look, better about my height, my weight, my complexion, my hair, my mathematical ability. If I could just feel better about me I would be healed. You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t be healed. You would have low level, low grade, non-satisfying measures of contentment. You were made to see God, love God, delight in God, be stunned by God. So I am not here to help you feel good about yourself. I am here to help you feel good about God and forget about yourself and give your life away in love to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive.
The Blazing Center of God’s Glory
So the content of these several messages assumes, now, a foundation in another conference that I did and a book that I wrote and I have to resist continually not preaching all that stuff again, because I love to preach it. The conference I am thinking about is The Blazing Center. It is in a DVD. I am going to assume that conference. And the book I have in mind is either Desiring God or God’s Passion for His Glory. I am going to assume that. But since I know I can’t assume it totally, I have to squeeze in a few minutes of summary. So we are going to spend some time asking the foundational questions in this initial talk so that those of you who are not familiar with what I am building on might be a little bit up to speed.
So we have got to ask some huge questions. The biggest question I have ever asked, I think, is why God does everything that he does. Because why I do things doesn’t matter at all. Why God does things really matters, really, really matters. So why does God do everything he does? Is there a unifying motive for all that God does? And there is and all of you who have heard any of my talks ever would know the answer, because I say it over and over again and I will say it now. God does all that he does to display his glory for the full and lasting enjoyment of all who embrace Christ as their highest treasure. God does everything that he does, in order to display his glory for the enjoyment of all those who find in Christ their highest treasure.
Isaiah 43:6. Bring my sons from afar, my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by name, whom I crated for my glory.
Made for God’s Glory
So I know beyond a shadow of a doubt why you were made. You were made for God’s glory. Isn’t that amazing that I can stand in front of these people and say I know totally with confidence why every one of you in this room was created. You were created for the glory of God. Now that is an ambiguous statement and I have thrown it around for years and realized how ambiguous “for the glory of God” is in people’s ears. So I have come up with this little analogy to clarify how you should not glorify God and how you should glorify God, how you should not magnify God and how you should magnify God. And it is the telescope, microscope analogy, because magnify and glorify are very similar in their meaning biblically. Paul says, “My aim is to magnify Jesus Christ.” That is the same as glorify Jesus Christ, but oh how ambiguous the word magnify is. Does it mean magnify God like a microscope magnifies or like a telescope magnifies?
A microscope makes little teeny things look bigger than they are and a telescope make gigantic things that to the naked eye look little look more like what they really are. Now which way are you called upon to magnify God? And the answer is like a telescope, not a microscope. It is blasphemy to magnify God like a microscope. Oh, poor God. He is so teeny and so small. I must now make him look bigger than he is. That is blasphemy. But, in fact, in this world after the fall God to most people is either not on their radar screen at all or a little tiny dot that might show through the smog of sin every two or three weeks, just a little twinkle that you might say exists, but significance zero and your calling is you are on planet earth to put a telescope to the eye of the world. That is why you exist. By your behavior, your parenting, the way you do your job, the way you worship, the way you handle your things in life, they should read off of your life: God is great. That is why you exist.
Forgiven for God’s Glory
Why are you forgiven?
Isaiah 43:25. I am he who blocks out your transgressions for my own sake. And I will not remember your sins. I blot out your transgressions for my own sake, says the Lord.
You are forgiven for God’s glory.
Matthew 6:9. “Pray then like this, disciples. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” The very first petition that Jesus teaches us to pray is make your name great in the world. That should be the number one thing you pray for. How are you doing? The number one prayer on your lips and springing from your heart is: Hallowed be your name in my life, my family, my church, this city, this world. Oh, make your name holy, pure, righteous, set apart, valuable, big, one of a kind, magnificent. Show yourself to the world, God. Hallowed be your name, number one petition in the church from your heart every day. And God the Son taught you to pray that, therefore, God is teaching you to pray for the glory of God.
1 Peter 4:11. He supplies strength to us for his glory. Whoever serves, let him serve in the strength that God supplies in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. If you serve you should serve in the strength that God supplies so that he may get the glory, not you. The giver gets the glory. He leads us for is glory. Psalm 23. “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness.” Tell me the next phrase. “For his name’s sake.” God leads you for his name’s sake. Let’s sum it up with Ephesians 1:11. “God works all things according to he counsel of his will” — all things. That is my question. Why do you do all things? God works all things according to the counsel of his will so that we who first hoped in Christ might be for the praise of his glory.
God Does Everything for God
If you get this right, almost everything else I say, I think, will follow. It is getting this right. It is loving the truth that God does everything for God that turns a person’s life upside down. I have preached messages that have gotten me emails from philosophy professors and theology professors. One of the messages was entitled, “Did Christ Die for Us or for God?” And the answer is yes. And the word “for” means something different in each of those phrases. He died for us because we needed a substitute to bear our guilt and our wrath and he died for God in that God needed to be shown vindicated and righteous and holy in forgiving people like us. And so he had to put forth his Son as a propitiation by his blood so that he could be seen to be just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus. But right at the center of the gospel God is exalting God. So you get this amazing hammer blow from Isaiah 48:9. God says: “For my name’s sake, for my name’s sake I defer my anger. For my sake, the sake of my praise, I restrain it for you that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver. I have tried you in the furnace of affliction for my own sake. For my own sake I do it. How should my name be profaned? I will not give my glory to another.” That is one of the big questions that is a foundation for these hours we have together. We have to build on that. God does everything for the glory of God.
And then we have to answer this second question briefly. Is that love? Is that loving? If you live that way nobody would call it love. If you went around doing everything for your glory nobody would call that love. If you have something that you know will give others full and lasting pleasure and instead of showing it to them you elevate and exalt yourself, are you a loving person? No. You are most definitely not a loving person. And so it is with God. If God has something and he doesn’t show it to us even though it would bring us full and everlasting pleasure, God is not loving to us. And so he must show us himself. There is no gift that God can give you that would make him a loving person if he withholds himself. All the gifts that you think about, forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation, all the glorious gospel gifts if God says: You can have all that, but you can’t have me on the other side, he is not loving toward me. Therefore, God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation and self-presentation is synonymous with love.
You may not follow him in this, except like this. If you go through the world saying: I am going to exalt myself, now, like God. We are supposed to be like God, so I am going to exalt myself and that will be loving. It won’t be loving. It will be distracting. It will be distracting from what will satisfy their souls, because what will satisfy their souls is God. So if you want to imitate God in God’s self exaltation, then you become God exalting, not self exalting, because what will satisfy people’s souls forever and ever and ever is seeing, knowing, loving, fellowshipping with God. Therefore, God to be loving must give himself. He must exalt himself. He must commend himself. He must call for praise and love. He is the only being in the universe for whom such behavior is love. It is the essence of love. You can’t copy him in this. You are not God. For you to be love is to call attention to love. For him to be love is to call attention to him. And, therefore, in God’s case he is the one being in the universe for whom self exaltation is identical to love.
Here is the way I would define love to you. If you would ask me now: Ok, in view of that: What does it mean for God to love me? Here would be my answer. God loves you in that he does everything necessary in order that you might be enthralled forever and increasingly with what will bring you full and lasting happiness, namely, himself. Now that was a long definition. Let me say it again. For God to love you is for him to do everything, even the death of his Son, even at the cost of his Son’s life. He will do everything he must do for his own in order that they might be enthralled with what will make them fully and eternally happy, namely himself. God must be bent on self exaltation if he loves us. That is foundation stone number two.
The Fight for Joy Is Not Peripheral
There is another relationship between God’s self-exaltation — doing everything for his glory — and our delighting in it. And the connection is that when we delight in it, we magnify it. This is the closest thing to the heart of the foundation of what I am saying, that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. Or, put it another way: You glorify what you enjoy. If you really love something and delight in it and talk about it, because it gives you such pleasure, you make much of it, you exalt it. When God is our deepest pleasure, we display him as our highest treasure, which is why the pursuit of joy is not optional, because the pursuit of God’s glory is not optional. . The fight for joy is not peripheral, because God’s pursuit of his glory is not peripheral. As close to the heart of the universe is God’s doing everything for his glory so close to the heart of Christianity is your doing everything for joy in God, because what you take joy in is magnified. It is not just the things you decide. It is the things you love, want, crave, have joy in that you magnify, and God made you to magnify him and therefore it cannot be optional or peripheral or non-essential that you say it really doesn’t matter that I delight in God. I have decided for God or I am committed to God or whatever kind of willpower resolutions you want to make while your heart is in love with pornography or money or family or food, as though it is just this level of I decided, I prayed a prayer, I have a commitment and I see with worldliness. It won’t do. He gets no glory from that. Food gets glory from that. Pornography gets glory from that. Family gets glory from that. Whatever you treasure with your emotions gets glory from the intensity of those emotions.
Now I wish I could go into why, but that is all in that foundational material. Let me just draw out this implication. If it is true that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him, if that is true, then the fight to be happy in God is the most important thing in their life.
Like a Treasure
How did Jesus describe conversion? The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. And then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. I read that text for years without seeing the phrase in his joy. And every sermon I ever heard on it was: You can have the kingdom. Sell what you got. Take the kingdom. It is all kind of in terms of decision, resolve, commitment. And that little phrase in his joy take my car, take my computer, take my wedding ring. Take it. I get the treasure and I can buy it all back someday in heaven, a hundredfold on this earth and in heaven forever. Jesus got really bent out of shape when Peter said “O Lord, we have left everything and followed you.” What do you mean? You have left everything and followed me, like, what am I? You left everything and followed me? And he said: Peter, nobody has left mother or father or sister, brother, houses, lands for my sake who won’t get back in this age a hundredfold and in the age to come eternal life. Get off your self-pity kick.
How do you live in persecution and suffering and hardship? You know, the reason I ask this question is because I think when life becomes tremendously hard right up to the brink of death, disease or accident or war or persecution, your reality shows. And how did Jesus instruct us to be real in that moment? How did Jesus instruct us to endure that moment? This is Matthew 5:11. “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.” So how do you handle suffering? You look through it, beyond it to what God has promised you is working in and for you and you rejoice in it even though tears stream down your face in pain.
Why did Jesus teach is so many things about himself and his Father? Here is why. John 15:11: “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” Have you ever thought that the four gospels are written for your joy? If there is anybody’s joy in the universe I would want to have someday, it would be the joy of the omnipotently emotional Son of God who sees his Father and responds like ten thousand sights of the supernova or the Grand Canyon. I would like it very much if the energy and the purity and the delight of the Son of God could become mine and he said: I have spoken these things to you that my joy may be in you and your joy may be explosively full, partly in this life, oh, oh, I am no perfectionist, believe me, partly in this life, but some day and very soon, sooner than you think, in the age to come.
The Fight for Joy Is Essential
And so there are commands everywhere. I am just underlining how essential the fight for joy is. There are commands everywhere. Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. I just get so amazed. People will say, “I don’t think you should be talking about the pursuit of joy. I think you should be talking about serving Jesus and obeying Jesus. This joy stuff is just . . .” What Bible do you read? Serve the Lord with gladness. Serve the Lord with gladness. This is not rocket science. This is clear. Serve the Lord with gladness. There is a kind of service he doesn’t like — murmuring service, bored service, glum service. Serve the Lord with gladness. This is biblical. Are we biblical people or just get our truths from our emotions or non-emotions?
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous. Shout for joy, all you upright in heart. (Psalm 32:11)
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
That is a command. It is not a suggestion. Like if you don’t want to delight in me, that is ok. Go ahead with your house or whatever. It is not an option. It is a command. Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always and, again, I will say rejoice.” And he was writing from prison. And I want to underline and make sure I underline that you hear me say: Paul when he writes like that — Rejoice in the Lord always and, again, I say rejoice — this man knew more suffering than all of you combined probably. I will read you one of the lists. 2 Corinthians 6:4– “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way by great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings . . .” Raise your hand, no don’t. If you were beaten for Jesus, I would like to know who you are. Come up here and tell me. I was beaten for Jesus and I will bow down and give thanks for you and your faith. “. . . beatings, calamities, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. Through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise, we are treated as imposters and we are true. We are treated as unknown and yet well known. We are treated as dying and behold we live, as punished and yet not killed.” And here is the key phrase for me: “As sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” Isn’t that amazing? If that weren’t in the Bible, I couldn’t come to this conference. After that list and that is the short list, the long one is in chapter 11. That is the short list of his pain, he said, “Sorrowful, but always rejoicing.”
I say to the guys over and over again at desiringGod and I say to the staff at Bethlehem Baptist Church: Among the several ways that we can describe the ethos of this ministry and this church, let this be near the top: Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. I want you to be able to taste that. I want suffering people to come into this conference and come into our church and come into the door at desiringGod ministries and feel like these are not chipper people who have never tasted the dark night of the soul, never tasted the loss of a loved one, never tasted the pain of a wayward child. These people are so naïve about reality, they just jabber about joy. I don’t want that. The opposite of joy is not suffering. It is despair in suffering.
The Joyful Road of Suffering
Near the end of chapter one in the book When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, which this conference is built on, I have a section entitled this. The aim — meaning the aim of the book and I would say the aim of this conference — the aim is not to soften cushions, but sustain sacrifice. The reason I care so deeply about your joy in God is, first, as I have said, because God is glorified by what you enjoy and, secondly, it is that joy alone which will liberate you and free you to become a person for others, a person of love. The fight for joy is not a fight to be comfortable or have security or be prosperous or another of the American ideals that are advertised to us every day. It is a fight to join Jesus on the Calvary road. And now some of you know the text I am about to quote. It is a fight to join Jesus on the Calvary road. The fight to be happy in God is the fight to join Jesus on the Calvary road. “Looking to Jesus the author and perfector of our faith who for the joy that was set before him stayed on the Calvary road and endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).
That is the road I want you on when we are done, not a chipper road. I this not a rah, rah road. It is not a praise God anyhow road. It is a road of suffering. It is a road of tears. It is a road of empathy with all the dying people that you are aware of and the people whose marriages are in trouble, the people whose kids are on drugs. It is the people you know that are broken in your vicinity. And your joy is going to become a high pressure zone that begins to make wind when it bumps up against low pressure zones of need. And that wind is called love, because you are moving. Your joy is moving out. It is spilling over. I have so much in Jesus. Now I may not have a lot of stuff, but, oh, I am brimming with what really counts in life and I am going to use my stuff and my time and my energy to make your day for Jesus. I want to serve you for Jesus. That is the goal, horizontally, and, oh, how that will glorify God, because Jesus says it does. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works. This is the spill over of joy in God according to 2 Corinthians 8:2. They overflowed in liberality because they were full of joy in grace. So joy produces that kind of risk taking love and it is worth the fight.
When You Don’t Desire God
So here is where we are now. We just finished foundations, 45 minutes’ worth of foundations out of these sessions. And I am going to build now on that. And where we are going is that for years and years after I wrote Desiring God in 1986 and have spoken on it hundreds of times, I suppose and writing about them in every way I could write about them and preach as many ways as I could preach. The most common question that came back to me when I was done is “I think you are probably right and I am not there. I don’t delight in God like that. And I don’t feel like he is a Grand Canyon that I stand beside in the morning. I don’t feel like he is a super nova that causes me to explode with joy. I have just got to get up in the morning and go to work. I hardly even know what you are talking about. My experience of God isn’t anything like you are talking about.” Over 20 plus years, that was the most common response. It wasn’t a theological issue like: Oh, you know, you believe this or you believe that and I don’t. That wasn’t the problem. It is: Yeah, that sounds sort of biblical and I feel scared that I may not even be a Christian. And do you know what? I don’t think that is a bad response at all.
Back in the Puritan days, back when pastors preached the Bible and people trembled, people were concerned about their assurance a lot. And the Puritan pastors had to get really serious about getting them into the Bible, praying down the Holy Spirit and trying to help people gain some Holy Spirit given affection for God that would be the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit that I am a child of God instead of just: “I signed a card, I prayed a prayer. I must be.” It is a logical deduction, which is the way most people are taught to get assurance today. I prayed. I signed a card. The Bible says if I do this and this then I get the Holy Spirit. I have no experience of the Holy Spirit. I don’t have any changed affections. God is not precious to me. He is not a treasure, but I did those things, so the inference is that is not Christianity. And so when I said these things for all these years, there was this trembling, this concern and this simple question of: “How do you fight for joy? What if I don’t desire God? What if I don't desire God?”
From Questioning to Rock-Solid Assurance
And so I kept notes, and I thought and prayed for years and years and then finally, last year, I put this together and now I would like to just do a few conferences like this to help people. I am not eager to make anybody feel miserable. I would like you to work through the misery of questioning to rock solid assurance, because you should have assurance. The Bible talks about assurance.
So I want to clarify, now, in the minutes we have left here. I have got four clarifications of the fight for joy. Just statements of what I don’t mean by the fight for joy. And then we will plow into how you do the fighting in real nitty, gritty practical ways. So we will start the clarifications here and we will pick them up in the next hour. So let’s see how many we can do here.
Joy in God, Not Joy in General
And I know some of you are going to walk out of this room and say I said things I didn’t say, because you don’t like what I am saying. And when you don’t like what somebody says, you distort what they say, but I am trying to make this clear. The pursuit of joy that I am commending, the fight for joy, is a fight for joy in God, not in general. Not any old place. The subjective experience of joy means nothing to me unless it is riveted in an object outside of me, has reality outside of me. I don’t create it. It is just there. I must deal with it and it is the glory of God.
C. S. Lewis, wow, has he been helpful to me on this. I don’t know if you have ever read C. S. Lewis’ autobiography Surprised by Joy. It sounds like some of you have. I commend it. It is a little bit weighty. Not everybody struggles with what he struggled, but I did. And therefore when you read a book that carries you where you are going, it works, helps. And let me read you his struggle and his main discovery. That book is mainly about this point in my message, namely that the pursuit of joy, which everybody has, should be not a pursuit of the experience, but of God and joy in God. So here is what he said:
I perceived (and this was the wonder of wonders) that I had been equally wrong in supposing that I desired joy itself. Joy itself considered simply as an event in my own mind turned out to be of no value at all. All the value lay in that of which joy was the desiring and that object, quite clearly, was no state of my own mind of body at all. I asked if joy itself was what I wanted. And labeling it aesthetic experience, have pretended I could answer yes. But that answer, too, had broken down. Inexorably, joy proclaimed: You want, I myself am your want of something other, outside, not you, nor any state of you.
The fight for joy, clarification number one, is a fight for joy in God. So crucial. Why, then, somebody should ask me, “Why then do you insist over and over again in everything you write that we should pursue joy in God? Why don’t you just say, ‘Pursue God?’” And there are three reasons.
1. It isn’t my idea to talk like this. It is God’s idea.
Deuteronomy 28:47 is one of the scariest warnings in the Bible. It goes like this. Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, you will serve your enemies. God is so bent on having people pursue joy in him that if they tried to serve him without that joy, they will serve their enemies. That is how earnest God gets in this issue of pursuing joy. So it is not me who made up all the commandments: Delight yourself in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord. That is Bible talk, not my talk.
2. God is glorified by our experience of him joyfully, not merely by the way we think about him.
The devil has had more theologically accurate thoughts about God in the last 24 hours than you will have in a lifetime. Do you believe that? I do. I think he is brilliant. And he knows God inside out and hates what he knows. Satan’s problem is not doctrine. It is delight. Therefore, getting our heads straight won’t save us. And it won’t glorify God by itself. And I hope you know I am really big on doctrine. But I am at this point saying the reason I push joy in God is because all the right thinking about God in the world is not as good as Satan’s thinking about God. He just hates it.
3. People don’t awaken to how desperate their condition is before God until they begin to measure their hearts by the demand for joy in God.
A lot of preaching of the law — and I think that is a good thing — deals with the law just at a do level. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. And it doesn’t probe the depths of commandment number 10, which is the root of all the others. Thou shalt not desire things in ways you shouldn’t — covet. Desire is the root problem in the law. And so when we preach not enough people probe people’s consciences and hearts. “What do you delight in? What are you going to watch on television when you go home tonight? What is your default activity when there is no pressure on you? What is your heart reflexively drawn to?” Those are the things that damn us. It isn’t adultery. I mean, good grief, it does not take a lot of willpower to stay out of bed with another woman. But not to have a desire to look at a picture, desire. That is damning to know that my heart has to change, my whole structure of motivation has to change, my whole priority of treasuring things in the world has to change. I am damned. There is nothing I can do. I feel totally devastated by this indictment. That is a third reason why I think we should not just say pursue God, because you know what people will do with the word pursue God? They will just fill in all the verbs they feel comfortable with. I will read about him. I will talk about him. I will do some things for him. Don’t you touch my heart, because I am in love with money and I am in love with the praise of man. So don’t connect pursue God with pursue joy in God, because that will get me into trouble.
So those are my three reasons for why even though I totally agree with C. S. Lewis, we are after God in a certain way, not to indict him, not to ignore him, not merely to say right things about him. We are after God to enjoy him. And if we don’t, we don’t honor him. It is a huge, huge issue. My goal is God and happiness in all that he is for me.