The following is a lightly edited transcript.
Greetings from Ralph Winter, who called yesterday afternoon over at Bethlehem and we had a chance to talk and I said, “Well, I’m talking at Perspectives tonight and tomorrow night.” He said, “Oh, please give my warmest greetings to my friends in the Perspectives class.” He has a real fondness in his heart for this class around the country, so I extend to you his regards. The way I see the two pieces that I’ve been able to put in this puzzle, the first and the last, is that in the first lecture, I tried to answer the question, “What’s the goal of God in history?” You could bring that down and say, “What’s the goal of missions? What’s the goal of life?”
The answer was this: God’s goal is to glorify himself in everything that he does. My topic assigned tonight is “World Christian Discipleship.” The way I’m interpreting that, just because it’s the way I see life, is that now, I’m going to try to answer the question about motivation. If you know the goal then you know the direction that you’re heading. What do you want to accomplish? Where’s the power come from? What’s the driving force behind that goal? Those are the two questions that I consider it my job to answer. The first one, where we’re heading or what’s God up to in the universe and now, tonight?
If you want to be a part of that, what should be the power or the driving force in your heart? I’m going to talk about Christian hedonism. I think I mentioned that somewhat at the beginning. It’s a term that I used to describe my philosophy of life and what I think biblical religion is. I want to begin by defining it for you, and then make a thesis statement, giving you six reasons for the thesis statement.
Five Steps in Defining Christian Hedonism
The definition of Christian hedonism comes in five steps. First, Everybody in the world, you and me included, have a massive, deemed, irresistible desire to be happy. Everybody desires to be happy. Second, that desire is put there by God and it’s good and should never be resisted. But rather nurtured and cultivated and strengthened. Third, the only full and lasting happiness is found in God. The only full and lasting happiness is found in God, and the reason I choose those two adjectives, full and lasting, is because we won’t be satisfied without both of them.
By full, I’m talking about quantity, quality, and intensity. By lasting, I mean that it can’t ever come to an end. If you offer me ten thousand years of happiness after which there’ll be misery, I’m not interested. I want one that is not going to let me down, not pitter out on me ever — full and lasting. I get that from Psalms 16:11: “In thy presence, there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore.” See the two words? Fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore in God — that’s step three in the definition. This passionate longing for happiness that you and I have ought not to be resisted, it ought to be glutted on God where alone you’ll find full and lasting happiness.
Fourth, hedonism is a philosophical term referring to the pursuit of pleasure, and I’m just baptizing it into Christianity. The fourth step in the definition is that the consummation of the happiness that you find in God happens when that happiness spills over in love to other people. I say long and complicated one that we’re going to talk about in about an hour, but let me say it again and maybe just give you a little illustration. The consummation is when it reaches its climax. This joy that you find in God reaches its climax or its consummation when it begins to spill over in love to other people.
Picture a glass here. You’re empty, an empty glass, and God’s the fountain, and he begins to fill you with his delicious, living water. It comes right up to the top and gets within just an eighth of an inch to the top. You’re having the most wonderful experience as God fills you up, and he stops. It lasts a week, a month, a year, but if something doesn’t happen, that water gets tepid and begins to get a film on the top of it, and it’s not going to satisfy.
What I mean is that the joy that you get from God must reach that tension surface breaking point of the top where all of a sudden, it spills down and starts getting other people wet. Joy increases when it extends itself to another. That’s the fourth step in the definition. You will not reach the consummation of the joy that you long for until you begin to spill over onto other people with the joy that God has spilled into you from his fountain.
Fifth and finally, the implication of all this is to try to resist or deny your desire for pleasure is to resist the possibility of virtue and worship or to strive against virtue and worship. Let me state it positively. The pursuit of pleasure, as I’ve just outlined it, is a necessary part of all virtue and all worship. That’s the key sentence in number five. The pursuit of pleasure is a necessary, not an optional, part of all virtue and worship. Now, the reason I’m so concerned to talk this way tonight and to tell you that world Christian discipleship must be driven by this motor is because I care about worship, and I care about virtue and love.
There’s so much abroad in the land today that makes the essence of discipleship the denial of the quest of happiness. It isn’t always made real explicit. You just get the flavor. It hangs in the air. If you really want to be a disciple of Jesus, you must deny your self-happiness. Mark 8:34, “He who would come after me must take up his cross and deny himself.” Now, nobody ever quite gets to the meaning of that text, which we’ll do later on. It’s just left hanging that if you care about being happy, if you’re driven by the motor of happiness, you can’t be a disciple of Jesus. You’re worldly. I’m going to argue that you can’t resist it.
Six Reasons for Joy in World Christian Discipleship
The more you try, the more you will strive against love and strive against worship. You should nurture it, cultivate it, strengthen it, and glut it on God. That’s my thesis, that genuine discipleship, world Christian discipleship, has to be driven by the motor of Christian hedonism or this quest for pleasure and happiness and joy, and I want to give you six reasons for that. We’ll just unpack these as much as we have time for.
1. God Is Breathtaking
You know the song that you sing, and it’s taken from Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” “To behold the beauty of the Lord.” If you had asked David, “What do you really want in life, and beyond life, what do you want more than anything else?” He would say, “To see God,” because God is breathtaking.
Why do people have on their coffee tables at home these big glossy books on Minnesota, rivers, and mountains? You open them, and they’re just magnificent, glossy photographs of nature. Why? I don’t think I’ll buy those books. It’s because of this hunger that people have for something breathtaking. Why do people take scenic vacations to the Grand Canyon? I just got a postcard two weeks ago from a Cameroonian seminary student in Sioux Falls, a good friend who spent some holidays with us.
He is in Cameroon and had never seen anything like the Grand Canyon, and he went on a singing tour. He wrote us a postcard from the Grand Canyon, trying to put into words what he felt as he stood on the edge of that mammoth display of power through the centuries. There is something in us that makes us hunger for the breathtaking. Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s mind yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Now, I think that verse says in every human heart, God has put the seed of eternity, and people don’t know what it is without revelation.
They don’t know what they’re really longing for. Have you ever read C.S. Lewis on this? He calls it “the inconsolable longing.” You know, if you want a taste of C.S. Lewis, the best introduction would be to buy A Mind Awake. It’s an anthology by Clyde Kilby, and there’s a whole section on the inconsolable longing. Listen to these two sentences from Lewis. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” If people could just be shown that’s what they’re really after when they create movie trilogies like Star Wars. Why are those movies so spectacularly successful?
Well, because there’s this incredible longing for some massive experience, something breathtaking, something awesome and thrilling that we just crave. People go to those movies, they sit there, and in a kind of artificial way, they experience what they were made to experience in God. He wrote further, “It was when I was happiest that I longed most. The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to find the place where all beauty came from.” Lewis had learned that every beauty in this world left him empty, as great as it was. He knew he was made for something else, the maker of the beauty, something breathtaking called God.
These are all echoes. These beauties, these books on our coffee tables, these movies, these exploits of climbing mountains or going to distant places like the Alps or to see something, they’re all echoes of a shout that we’re longing to hear, and we don’t quite hear it until our ears are open to the voice of God. Things like scenic vacations, accomplishments of creativity, stunning cinematic productions, sexual exploits, sports extravaganzas, like 88 Pianos, hallucinogenic drugs, and ascetic rigours. Why do people commit such extreme ascetic rigours? Managerial excellence, that’s one of the biggies in America in the passion for excellence. Well, why?
What’s this questing for a bigger company and no fly on the counter in Burger King, no hair in the French fries? Managerial excellence today is what the old Western was one hundred years ago, the pioneering spirit, the conquesting frontier spirit. Men today, they conquer business spheres, and their quick draw is the one-minute manager and so on. We just want so bad for some great accomplishment or some immense experience. My point is that God is behind all that. He’s left his footprints on the human soul, and he’s breathtaking. As soon as you know that God is breathtaking, an obligation is upon you.
Picture yourself as a tour guide on a bus in Switzerland. Your job is to show people what’s there that they’re after. So, the bus is driving down the road, and you’re not seeing anything spectacular that you can’t see in North Carolina for a while. Then, all of a sudden you turn a corner and this massive peak rises in front of you, and the top is up into the clouds. If you see it first as the guide, there is something wrong with you if you don’t turn around and say, “Excuse me, may I have you attention. We’re coming up on . . . Look! Look!” The better guide you are, the more you’ll be full of that mountain when you say, “Look!”
The better guides we are in this world, the more full we are of the breathtaking power of God. There is something about God that, once it captures you, and stuns and holds your attention, there’s something strange and awful and wrong about the human heart if it doesn’t say, “Look! You’re seeing such a thing.” My first reason for why you should pursue pleasure in God is because God is breathtaking. He is the satisfaction of that questing longing, and he is for others, so that it just lies upon you to say, “Look!” That’s a tremendous implication for missions. That’s reason number one.
2. God’s Word Commands Us to Pursue Joy
The word of God commands you to pursue your joy. For example: Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” It’s a command. “Delight yourself in the Lord.” Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say: Rejoice!” There’s a quote I’ve been using for years from a man named Jeremy Taylor, and I was so excited because I was with Noël in Dinkytown on Thursday on our day off, and she, Barnabas, and I went to the Pizza Hut, which has the greatest deals in the world, I think. To have a mug that is bottomless and a personal pan pizza for $1.79 simply can’t be beat for going out, if you’re a nut for pizza like I am.
We finished our mugs and our pizza, and we took a walk down 4th Avenue there and turned left at the Bridgeman’s. If you go down that street, on the left is a bookstore, a used bookstore. We went down in the basement, and it has zillions of books, and I am a real nut. There are two big sides of theology books, and I couldn’t believe what I found. In a beautiful binding, was the first volume only of Jeremy Taylor’s collected works, which was his life. Now Jeremy Taylor, you probably don’t give a hoot about who Jeremy Taylor is, but he was an old Anglican evangelical from the seventeenth century, and I’ve never seen a life of Jeremy Taylor. I’ve been quoting him for all these years, and I don’t know where the quote came from. I got it from C.S. Lewis in his anthology of McDonald.
It was just in the introduction, but this is the quote that now maybe I’ll find in this book when I get to it. “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” That just so bolted me when I first read that. “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” I thought to myself when I first read that, Really? Like where? Then, I started looking, and let me read you the most obvious place maybe where he got this quote from the Bible. In Deuteronomy 28:47, God says to Israel, “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things. Therefore, you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord your God will send against you.”
Isn’t that amazing? “Because you did not serve me with gladness and with joyfulness of heart, because of how much abundance I gave you, I’m going to sell you to your enemies.” God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy. So, the Bible both positively commands it. Delight yourself in the Lord. Don’t deny your quest for delight! Glut it, glut it on God, and then he threatens you as though if you don’t get the point negatively, if you don’t do that, you’re going to be destroyed. It’s like he holds in front of us this chocolate sundae and says, “Now eat that!” If you don’t eat it, you don’t get anything. That’s really what he’s doing. He knows what’s best for us and what will bring us the most pleasure, and he sets it in front of us and says, “Eat it.” If we turn away to broken systems like Jeremiah says we do, then, that’s awful. That’s awful.
Now, let me raise a couple of objections here that are typically raised to this point of pursuing our own pleasure. The first objection that a person who is thoughtful might raise hearing this for the first time is somebody’s standing up and saying, “Actually, be a hedonist, live for your pleasure” is what I’m saying. They might say, “Wait a minute. Even if I agree with you that we ought to have pleasure and God is going to give us pleasure, what you’re saying is going to backfire because you ought to say, ‘Pursue God, not pursue pleasure, because if you pursue pleasure, it backfires, and if you pursue God, then pleasure comes in as a result.’”
Now, what would we make out of that objection? Is that valid? What does that actually mean? There’s probably a good concern behind that question, and it might be that the person who says it, and I would agree and mean almost the same thing, but let me show you why I don’t settle for that. I don’t think it’s helpful to say to people, in fact, I think it’s positively misleading to say, “Pursue God. Don’t pursue pleasure.” It’s the negation that bothers me. Their concern I’m sure is that God be honored, and I am too. That’s going to be my sixth argument in fact, but let me use the analogy of an art museum and your visit to an art museum. Why should you go to an art museum? Somebody might say “For the art!” I might say, “For pleasure.” Then we could argue, which should it be, for the pleasure or for the art? If you ask what do you mean “for the art”?
Picture two people going into a museum, and they may go for the pleasure and this person here. This person we’re going to call a black market art dealer, who knows that one of the paintings in there is worth $100,000 and the curator thinks that it’s only worth $10,000, he’s going to get it. He doesn’t give a hoot about art. He wants the $90,000 profit, because he likes what you can do with the money. We go in and somebody stops us and says, “What are you after?” And I say, “I’m after pleasure.” He says, “What are you after?” He says, “I’m just going to look at the art. I don’t care whether I’m getting pleasure or not. I’m not pursuing pleasure. I just want to look at the art.” He’s going to look at the art just as closely as I am.
Now, I’m looking at this painting here, and my goal is to experience delight in that painting. He’s looking at this painting and saying, “Is that it? Is this the one?” His whole mindset is money. Now, at this point, I got a real insight into what people mean when they say, “Art for art’s sake.” I used to avoid that phrase like the plague. I still am a little bit fidgety with it. I always say, “Art for God’s sake.” Keep things oriented on God, but I think I know now what the best meaning of the term “Art for art’s sake” is. “Art for art’s sake” means deal with art in a way that honors art. Experience art in a way that honors art not money.
Now, my question is this: “I agree with that, but how do you do that?” This mercenary is not honoring art by the way he is dealing with art. He is not honoring art though he might be looking at art the God. Pursue God? It’s not enough to say pursue God. You have to talk about why you’re pursuing God. It’s not enough to say pursue art. You have to talk about why you are pursuing art because there is a pursuit of art that dishonors art, and there is a pursuit of God that dishonors God. Now, what pursuit of art and what pursuit of God honor then? I think it honors the painting.
Suppose the artist is standing there beside me, and I’m looking at this painting and saying — I don’t even know that he’s the artist — “This painting fills me with joy. Just look at the contrast and the texture and the tone, the color and the characterization and that face. This painting is wonderful! It makes me so happy. It gives me a marvelous contented feeling and an aesthetic delight.” Now, is he going to stand there and say, “You selfish hedonist”? “Talk, talk, talk about your pleasure.” No, because to delight in the art honors the art. Now, the same thing is with God. It is not a dishonor to God to say that I pursue him for my pleasure. It isn’t. It honors him. We’re going to come back to that at the end and try to show that when you say, “I am pursuing my joy in God,” then you have honored him. You haven’t dishonored him.
Here’s another objection. This is a biblical one, namely, the text of self-denial. Mark 8:34–35, “He who would have come after me,” Jesus said, “must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Again and again, that is quoted and left sort of hanging, giving the impression to young people and other people, who don’t think a long time about it or read the context, that Christianity means all these incredible longings that I have inside that I don’t quite understand, I just know that if I want to be happy in life and fulfilled and contented, I must deny. Just read the rest of the text. Here’s the ground clause: “For he who would save his life will lose it, and he who loses it for my sake and the gospel’s, will find it.” That’s what I want: to find life. The argument is hedonistic.
It’s just amazing how many people don’t see that it is sin to deny yourself a pleasure in a good thing in God or in Christ, in obedience. Take Esau for example of somebody who failed to deny himself in this biblical way. Let me read you Hebrews 12:15–17. “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it, the many become defiled. That no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” Now, what should he have done? Here are the two things: a bowl of oatmeal and a birthright, a blessing from God.
He looks at the one, and he looks at the other, and Jesus said, “Esau, deny yourself the oatmeal.” Esau says, “No, I’ll deny myself the birthright.” You always deny yourself something when you make a choice. The point of Jesus’s command is to deny yourself lower, unsatisfying, fleeting, sinful pleasures that you might have gold. Don’t settle for bronze, let alone oatmeal, go for gold, go for God. That’s the point of that text. Deny yourself all the temptations that the world holds out that will keep you from having maximum joy.
I got a letter email yesterday. I wrote an editorial for the Tribune that was in Saturday about these condom ads on television. I argued that I thought it was a contradiction to try to fight AIDS by glamorizing and promoting the cause of AIDS, namely, sexual promiscuity, which those ads do necessarily promote. You can’t promote toothpaste, without promoting tooth brushing. I wrote that. Well, the phone rang off the hook on Saturday and poor Char, our minister for children, was there, and she had to take all the calls. I did not hear any of them — thank goodness — but I did get a letter in the mail. I should’ve brought it along. I answered it today. It was by a guy, and he gave his name and his address, so I answered him. I might even send him a copy of the book I’ll show you in a minute.
He said, “You have got your head in the sand. You must be crazy if you think that I’m going to deny myself the pleasure of sexual sensation. I’m thirty-eight years old and single, and I happen to like sex, so does my girlfriend. I think that if I don’t have sex ever just because I don’t get married, my well-being is being jeopardized.” In other words, his physical desires are what dictates his rights. I mean, this is twentieth century America. Whatever desires you have, you have a right to satisfy. Now, I wrote him a letter today. I wish I’d brought it along too. I did not say, “You filthy, worldly, no-good, lecherous, hedonist,” which he is, probably.
But, I went at it from a bunch of different angles, and I said, “I love sex too. I’ve been married eighteen years. I have four sons. I think it’s a great gift of God, but shouldn’t you consider the possibility that it should be viewed in relationship to larger values like loyalty, commitment, permanence, personhood, and emotional depth.” I lifted it up a level and said, “If God created it, shouldn’t you take his judgment into your consideration when you’re deciding how to handle this hour in your body?” The last thing I said was, “I don’t think Jesus Christ was any less admirable or any less of a person because he never in his life had sex. You’re going to call Jesus a person with a deficiency in his personhood, in his well-being, because he had the power to say no to his single drive for sexual experience?”
Now, the point I’m trying to make here is that life holds out a thousand pleasures, and when Jesus comes along and says deny yourself in order that you might be my disciple, he’s not talking about denying yourself delight in God. He’s not talking about denying yourself satisfaction for your soul thirst or something significant and meaningful and joyful admissions. He’s talking about anything that’ll keep you from that. Like Hebrews 12:1 says, “Lay aside every weight and care and sin.” Strip it off. Why? Because there’s a wreath at the end of the track. You don’t want to stumble and fall while you’re running the race. You want the gold. You don’t want to settle for petering out in the twenty-second mile of the marathon.
I think that objection — that Jesus teaches self-denial — is true, but underneath it is a hedonistic argument that says the reason to deny yourself short-term believing low pleasures that are offered by the world is to have the best in God, and in obedience to God. Those are two objections, and the second point was you should pursue your pleasure in all that you do — in missions, in worship, in family life, in business life — because the Bible commands you to delight yourself in the Lord. It commands you to pursue your pleasure.
3. Affections Are Essential
Emotions or, I like to use the word, the old-fashioned word, affections from Jonathan Edwards — whose book, Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections, is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read and would recommend it very highly — are essential to the Christian life, not optional. They’re essential, not optional. Now, here I’m setting myself against an immensely powerful stream in contemporary American evangelicalism, which seems to give the impression, at least, especially in its evangelistic methodology, that becoming a Christian consists fundamentally in decision; and feeling, emotion, and affection are not essential to the event.
I think what that has done is, first of all, give a non-biblical meaning to the concept of conversion, and then, fill our churches up with un-born again people. Let me just give you some illustrations for what I mean when I say emotions are not optional. That is, in a heart that is truly Christ’s, in a heart that is truly born of God, in a converted heart, there must be certain emotions. When I say that and I’ll come back to this qualification in a minute to spell it out, I don’t mean that they’re consistently strong or high all the time. They fluctuate up and down. Life is a battle and a conflict and a war against deadness and lukewarmness, but I do mean they are there, or their seeds are there, and they are experienced regularly.
Here is why I think that. For example, the Bible commands us not to covet. “Thou shall not covet.” Covetousness is a feeling, not a decision. It’s opposite is what? What word would you use for the opposite of covetousness? Contentment, exactly, and that is a feeling as well. It’s commanded in Hebrews 13:5, “Be content with what you have.” Contentment is a feeling. It is not a decision, and it is commanded. Emotions are commanded in Scripture. I remember reading as a junior in college the book Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher. One of his arguments to the effect that love is not a feeling, is that it’s commanded.
I’ve never thought that one minute, not even as a junior in college, because feelings are commanded all over the place in the Bible. That was no argument to me, and we’re going to talk about love a lot more. Let me give you some more examples of feelings that are commanded. Leviticus 19:18, “Bear no grudge against your brother.” Grudges and bitterness are feelings, and the Bible demands that we not have them. “Forgive your brother,” it says, “from your heart,” in Matthew 18. Or take love, for example. A little foretaste of what we’re going to talk about. In Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” That’s a feeling. That’s not a decision. It’s brotherly affection. First Peter 1:22, “Love one another earnestly from the heart.” That’s not just a decision.
Here are other examples. Joy is commanded in Psalm 100:2. Hope is commanded in Psalm 42:5. Fear is commanded in Luke 12:5. Peace is commanded, that you be peaceful and have the peace that comes with justification is commanded. Zeal is commanded in Romans 12:11. Grief for sin is commanded in Romans 12:15. Desire for the milk of the word is commanded in 1 Peter 2:2. Tender heartedness is commanded in Ephesians 4:32. Brokenness and contrition are commanded in Psalm 51:17. Gratitude is not a decision. It’s commanded in Ephesians 5:20. You agree with that, don’t you? Gratitude is not a decision.
If you open a gift, and it’s something you can’t stand, you can’t decide to feel grateful. You can decide to say thank you, and there is such a thing as hypocrisy. Gratitude either wells up in your heart because you are a grateful person, or it doesn’t, and you’re guilty if it doesn’t when you’re given God’s gifts. You see how serious our plight is. I did not understand myself as a sinner until I discovered this because I grew up in a Christian home and never did anything really horrible. When I came to confess my sins, I tried so hard to think what I’d done bad. I’d been thinking too much because I had such an incredibly superficial view of sin.
It didn’t have anything to do with my emotions. They were somehow in a sphere that was all marble and couldn’t be touched because they couldn’t be commanded. If you can’t command them, they can’t be wrong. You have them or don’t have them. It doesn’t make any difference. Whether you have hope, zeal, or grief, tender-heartedness, or brokenness, or gratitude, or loneliness, or peace, or fear, or hope, or joy, it doesn’t matter. Once you realize that God Almighty looks down on his creatures and says, “Thou shalt not covet.” Then you know you’re a sinner. You don’t just do sins. Sins stops being a list of do’s and don’ts, and it starts corruption. There’s a corruption in my nature that makes me love money instead of God.
A corruption that makes me delight in food more than Bible reading. Makes me love the television more than worship. I am corrupt. You can’t even begin to grasp what conversion is until you know how corrupt the human heart is. Yet, so many people just go around saying, “The essence of conversion is ‘decide.’ Make the decision.” Of course that’s true, it’s just so little of the need. It’s so little of the gospel. I’m trying to stress that emotions, in which I include joy, are essential. They are necessary. They’re not optional. That’s the third reason why we must pursue a change in our hearts, so we delight in the things of God.
It’s just awesome how many people come to church, who hear preachers preach, who don’t love Christ, and who don’t think it matters that they love him because they’ve decided to say they believe in him. I just read this morning. I’m trying to get through the New Testament again in February because we challenged everybody in Bethlehem to read through the New Testament once a month, in 1997, and I’m forty pages behind. This month only has twenty-eight days, and I don’t know what I’m going to do to get through. I was looking through 2 Corinthians this morning. I couldn’t go so fast to miss what he said in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “He who has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.”
How do preachers say that? They say, “He has no faith in the Lord, let him be accursed.” And everybody says, “That’s right, and I have faith because I decided to believe. I have faith that Jesus is Lord and died for my sins.” Love that draws him away from sin; love that makes them fight bad habits; love that puts them on their face in contrition; love that lifts their hands and hearts in worship, no way. They don’t think it matters because nobody saying anything.
Consider it said that you must be so changed, so born of God, that your emotions change as well as you start questing for joy in God. Now, before the break here, we have a couple of minutes, let me raise an objection that’s real practical and deal with it because this can be very discouraging at first. It usually is discouraging because we all know that we don’t love God the way we should, that is, delighting in him, enjoy him, rest in him and have all these series of emotions. We know we’re fickle people. We’re up and down. What if, let’s just use worship as an example now, you are called upon to worship on Sunday morning.
You wake up, and you know that is right to go to the house of the Lord, to be with God’s people, to listen to his word and lift your heart and praise in adoration to the King. But you don’t feel like it at all. There’s nothing there. It’s flat. What do you do? I’ve said several times from the pulpit at Bethlehem that I think worship happens in three stages and all of them are genuine worship, though one is very inferior to the other, and this one is to this. Let me start at the top and give you a descending description of worship.
The first act of worship you know very clearly. Namely, it’s overflowing joy in God. When you’re full, you walk into the service, and you burst. There’s no problem at all to let it out. Second is when you don’t have that fullness, but you have the grace at least to want it so bad that the longing is almost sweet. You’re there bowed in the pew saying, “God restore me the joy of my salvation. Don’t let the service end without opening my eyes to your beauty.” A lot of us find ourselves in that situation at some point, but there are times when you don’t even feel bad or longing. Nevertheless, there is enough grace to break your heart that you don’t. You bow there sort of numb, maybe with discouragement, depression, weariness or whatever, and you just sort of get choked up and say, “I’m so sorry that I’m this way. I’m so sorry that I don’t even desire you.”
I think God is delighted and honored by it because it shows that he’s the source of joy. You’re having an experience that is putting it far off up into the mountain right now, but you know it’s there, and you’re acknowledging it’s there, and you’re doing it with realness and authenticity. If you were to ask me, “Well what if I can’t even do that? What if I can’t even be sorry that I don’t desire?” Then I would say, “You cannot worship at all today.” In fact, it is a dangerous situation that you’re in. You could be on the brink of never wanting it again. You can go so far in worldliness and hardness of heart that there’s no return. My answer is that when you don’t feel it, do these three things at least.
Number one, repent of the lack of feeling for God. Don’t say it doesn’t matter. Don’t say, “I’m going to go to church anyway and do my duty. I’ll sing those hymns. I’ll put in my money. I’ll listen to the preacher. I’ll have done my duty this morning.” That’s not right. First, repent of not loving and delighting in God. Second, pray earnestly that God would restore the joy of your salvation. Ask him to do this. You know that word “restore” is a precious word to me. I saw it when I was still in research ministry, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. . . .” He what? “Restores my soul.” That means David had bad days, and that’s good news.
God is a restorer. He doesn’t cast off his people. Then, I discovered that in Psalm 19 when it says, “The law of the Lord is perfect.” Restoring or reviving the soul, it’s the same word. I said, “There’s the place he does it: his word.” That’s the third thing you should do. Give yourself to meditation among the Scriptures, in hope that God will open your eyes and grant you to see wonderful things out of his law. Fourth, go ahead and do your duty. Pick up your broom.
Eternity Magazine, I just read it today, Elizabeth Elliott I admire almost beyond words, and I know she’s been in this church just recently, in fact. The reason I admire Elizabeth Elliott so much is because she is so rugged. This article is called “When a Storm Rages, Pick up the Broom.” A widow, a woman’s husband dies, the lawyer cheats her out of her estate, and she comes home a penniless widow with eight children between the ages of four and fourteen. Her daughter is despairing beyond words, and her mother picks up the broom and starts sweeping the kitchen. The daughter is the one being reported about, and she says the whisk of that broom saved her. Her mother sweeping the kitchen floor. And that’s Elizabeth Elliott personified to me.
She describes how when she and her daughter were moving up one river — she didn’t say whether it was before or after the tragedy of losing her husband — it was pouring rain. They were in a tent. They had to get into an open, dug out canoe. It was three days up the river, and she woke up in the morning wet all over. She was discouraged out of her mind, this little girl and they had to go out in the rain and get in the canoe, and she said, “So I picked up my broom and got in the canoe, and by the end of the day, the joy had returned.” That’s my point. Go ahead and pick up the broom when you don’t have the joy, but don’t say the joy doesn’t count. Pray that in picking up the broom, the joy will return. It does. It does again and again. Let me take one more thing, and then we’ll take a break.
Hospital visitation is not my cup of tea in the ministry, and I do it regularly. I did it today. I saw two people in the hospital today. When I say it’s not my cup of tea, I mean by nature, I’d rather read or write or preach. Yet, I know that it’s good for my people, and it’s immensely helpful to their faith, which I want to help sustain. So, I preach to myself when there is a necessity to do it, that it’s worthwhile, and that it will in fact bring me more joy than if I neglect my duties. I don’t always feel that. So, I’m on my way and picking up my broom, going to the hospital. I went down to Northwestern today to see two people. While I’m going, I’m regularly rehearsing in my mind texts that might be encouraging to people and trying to say something to myself that will lift my mode and make me glad, because you can’t minister anybody else if you’re not glad. God so many times has met me in the elevator.
Sometimes he puts it off a little bit longer until I’m sitting there halfway through the conversation with Margaret or whoever, and he makes me say, looking into her eyes, “It’s good to be here. This is good. This is sweet. Aren’t you glad you’re here, John?” Generally, by the time I’m done, I feel immensely glad that I followed through. Go ahead and do the things that must be done, praying that God will restore your joy in the act. Reason number three was this: Pursue your joy because joy and all the other affections are commanded and are essential. They’re essential, not just optional in the life of a born again person.
I’ve just got to tell you this story about Ralph Winter. He is so funny. I like him so much. He’s got a blurb on the back of this. This is a remarkable and profound and basic book. Don’t let the subtitle throw you off. He hates the term, “Christian hedonism.” The desire for God is wonderfully linked to the cause of missions in an unusual, powerful way. He never read the book.
I called him up on the phone bout mid-January and said, “Ralph, I sent you a copy of the book. Can you give me a blurb for it?” He said, “Sure, take this down.” He dictates this sentence to me on the phone. I called up Multnomah and said, “Ralph Winter said this.” They put it on the back of the book. Yesterday, he calls, and he says, “John, I didn’t know there was a whole chapter on missions in this book. This is great.” He wants to take that chapter and print it in Mission Frontiers and make a little booklet out of it and sell it separate. He says, “Get that permission from Multnomah for me.” I said, “I had no idea. I hadn’t read it yet.”
He’s funny. He must have just based it on the fact that I told him a few things about it in the letter I sent. He just flies by the seat of his pants all the time. He came to speak at Bethel last year, or two years ago, and he stayed at my house overnight. Bill Zobers came to get him in the morning. About half an hour until he was supposed to speak, 10:20am or something at Bethel, Bill comes in to get him, and he says, “Bill, by the way, what was it I was supposed to talk about this morning?” He even prepared in the car on the way over getting his talk ready, but he gets a lot of things done.
4. Pursuing Joy Combats Pride and Self-Pity
Reason number four why you should pursue your joy in everything you do and never deny it, but only nurture it and fix it on God is this: It combats pride and self-pity. Pursuing your own joy in God and in obedience to God combats pride and self-pity. Now, I’m just going to take for granted that you agree that we ought not to have pride and self-pity. I didn’t take it for granted in the book. I argued for it, but I’ll take it for granted here. Let me tell you why combat pride, and then tell you why I think it combats self-pity.
Christian hedonism combats pride because it puts you in the position of a beggar. It combats pride because it puts you in the position of an empty vessel. When you go to God, saying to him, “Without you, I can’t live. Without you, I can’t have fulfillment. Without you, I don’t have the joy I long for.” That is not pride talking. That’s brokenness, emptiness, and humility talking. The pursuit of your own pleasure in God does not come from pride. It comes from an awakening of the fact that we can’t benefit God. We can only benefit from God. There are so many people who say things like, “Give your best to God.” Now, there’s probably truth in that. I think I know what they mean, but I just choke on that kind of language, because God already owns my best.
He owns everything in the world. I can’t improve on him. I can’t add to him. He’s the owner of all peoples, all nature, and all things. What does it say in Romans 11:35? “Who has given a gift to God that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him, are all things.” Nobody has ever given a gift to God that God should be repaying. In fact, one of my favorite texts on prayer, it’s a whole chapter on prayer here — Steve Roy, our associate, said that was the best chapter for him that captured the essence of hedonism best — Robinson Crusoe’s text, if you’ve ever read Robinson Crusoe, the text he used when he got marooned on that island was Psalm 50:15. “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will answer you, and you will glorify me.”
You see what God is saying. He’s saying, “Look I have the riches, you’re bankrupt, I get glory when I pay the bills. Ring me up.” That’s the meaning of prayer. It’s not pride talking when you’re dialing God and saying, “I’m broke today. I need you so bad.” Now, what about self-pity? What is self-pity? Let me read you a paragraph that I like, if I had to pick one of the two best paragraphs out of my book, these would be the two. These are the ones I’m in love with, if you can be in love with your own writing without being a nerd.
“The nature and depth of human pride are illuminated.” I think the reason I like this paragraph so much is because there was so much self discovery of “I’m a husband and a male,” and I have been discovering so much about the male dynamics and his relationship with his wife in eighteen years of marriage and twenty years of going with Noël. What I have discovered is that we men have a love-hate relationship with the mothering of our wives. We hate to be treated like children.
Yet, you watch a man come home 10:30 at night after a long day’s work, everything on him and in his face says, “Stroke me. Tell me I put in a long hard day. Feel sorry for me. Serve me something,” like a little puppy. “Take my hand.” It’s true. I know it’s true. I do it all the time. I think about it, and I’m like, “What am I doing? I’m supposed to be leader in this house? I’m supposed to be a man, and I have this little boy, this little puppy in me that wants to be pitied if I put in a hard day.” If I’ve been criticized at church, tell me, Noël, I’m okay and that they were knuckle-heads.
I think it is basically why, so let me read the paragraph. You will see why there was so much self-discovery in this. The nature and depth of human pride are illuminated by comparing boasting and self-pity, both are manifestations of pride. Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much.” Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. Boasting sounds self-sufficient. Self-pity sounds self-sacrificing. The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be needy, but the need arises from a wounded ego, and the desire is not really for others to see them as helpless but as heroes. The need that self-pity feels does not come from a sense of unworthiness, but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.
That’s one of the most penetrating insights I got in the last three years, and I’ve got it in the mirror. Now, how does Christian hedonism go to war against self-pity, which is pride? Flip-side to the under side of pride. Do you remember the story of the rich, young ruler and the response of the disciples to what happened?
Let me tell it to you and show you, which was another discovery in the fall of 1983. I remember clearly when I got this. The rich young man comes, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says, “Sell everything you have, and follow me.” He goes away downcast because he’s rich. Jesus shakes his head and says, “It’s hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of heaven. It’s easier for the camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.” The jaws of the disciples dropped. They’d never heard of such a thing. “Hard for rich people, who have the blessing of God upon their lives, because they have money, to get into heaven?”
They say, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus says, “With men, it is impossible, but not with God. God can save rich people. He can get camels through the eyes of needles. He can do the miracle of conversion to take the love away from money.” Peter says, picture it, “We left everything and followed you.” What is he saying? What is he asking for? He wants heaven. Now, I wonder what tone of voice you would put into the mouth of Jesus at this point. Listen to what Jesus said. I’ll tell you what tone of voice I think he had. I think he said something like, “Peter get off that self-pity kick.”
Actually, what he said was, “Peter, no one who has left house or home or brothers or sisters or lands or mothers or fathers for my name’s sake will not receive back one hundred fold in this life, and eternal life in the age to come. Get off this sacrificial self-pity kick. You can’t out-give me.” That’s what I think Jesus said, which means Peter should have been pursuing his discipleship out of the joy in those one hundred fold reward and in eternal life. If he had been, he wouldn’t have been self-pitying. Christian hedonism cuts the root of self-pity. You don’t expect pity for doing what you love to do. Nobody pities me for eating chocolate sundaes.
Very few people, now, at Bethlehem, even pity me for preaching three times on Sunday. Every time somebody says, “Nice sermon,” I say, “It’s my pleasure.” I love to preach. I’d die if I couldn’t preach. I quit teaching at Bethel because I had to preach. Don’t pity me. I’m eating sundaes every Sunday morning, and you have experiences like that. Here’s another analogy. My wife spends an afternoon making a dinner, and you come over to the house. She’s been expecting you and worked hard all afternoon to make a nice dinner. She spreads the table, and you and several other friends come. You eat, and you enjoy it.
When you’re leaving later that evening, after we’ve had a chance to talk a while, you express your thanks to her at the door. You say, “The meal was wonderful Noël. You must have slaved all afternoon to make that.” Now, there are two possible responses that she could have. One ridiculous response would be, “You’re right. I sure did. I’m glad you recognized that.” Now, that’s the response of self-pity. She could say, which you would probably say, and I know she would say, “It’s my pleasure. I was so eager to. I loved doing it for you. It was my pleasure.”
Now, do you see what’s happening there? Christian hedonism is stopping self-pity. It’s cutting it. It’s a way of graciously accepting a compliment and yet turning away its pride producing effects and its self-pity producing effect. It’s so easy. Just pick out something in your own life where you work real hard because you love to do it, and somebody comes along who doesn’t love to do it. They say, “You’re awesome. This is awesome that you spent all day working on that.” You kind of look at them funny. If you hated it, you would probably say, “I am sort of awesome, aren’t I?”
If you loved it, if it brought you joy all day long, you’d say, “I love to do this.” Just like me, I’m a student, and there are people who don’t like to read. Well, I could sit at my desk for twelve hours, pen in hand, reading, and not make one moment’s sacrifice. Other people hate to read so much that they kind of stare and say, “Wow, you’re a real student.” No, I’m a hedonist, so if you’re the kind of person who finds your joy in obedience, pride and self-pity go. It’s such a great protection against the sin of pride.
I met Dr. Fuller, from whom I learned so much and who I mention and quote him all over the place, in 1968 in a class of hermeneutics. I went to the same church that he went to. He teaches at Fuller Seminary, and I remember something so clear at my ordination. I asked him to speak at my ordination in 1975, and when Ray Orton was introducing him, he extolled him like this. He said, “What I love about Dan Fuller is that not only does he hold his own with world class hermeneutical scholars in teaching and writing, but he’s an usher in the balcony of our church on Sunday. He assumes that role, that lonely role. Welcome Dan.” He sits down, and Dr. Fuller, as though he knew what was coming, and I know he didn’t because this is off the cuff.
He stood up, and he did what my wife would do at the door after the dinner. He said something like this: “Well thank you, Ray, but you know that in the Bible it says, ‘I would rather be a door keeper in the house of the Lord then dwell in the tents of wickedness. A day in my presence is better than a thousand elsewhere.’” Now what was he doing? He was deflecting the pride producing complement by saying, “I’m an usher because there is a reward promised to ushers.”
Christian hedonism deflects pride. I’m up there because the Bible says this is the greatest thing in the world to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord. Well, that’s enough illustrations to get that point across. The fourth reason was this: Pursue your joy with all your heart because it cuts the nerve of pride and self-pity.
5. Christian Hedonism Promotes Genuine Love for People
Now, this is one of the hardest ones for people to believe at the outset because they’ve been told a thousand times, “If you pursue your own pleasure, you’re not a loving person. You’re a selfish person. Selfishness and love are opposites.” It’s real simple to see when you stop and think about it. Loving acts are genuine to the degree that they are not done begrudgingly. Loving acts are genuine to the degree that they are not done begrudgingly. Your missions are a mighty act of love. Keep that in the back of your mind. Well, what’s the opposite of begrudging? A weak way to talk about the opposite of begrudgingly would be, say, “willingly.” You should do things willingly. Do your acts of love willingly. A strong way to talk about the opposite of begrudgingly would be eagerly. I think genuineness in acts of love implies that the acts be done willingly, eagerly, joyfully, and cheerfully.
God loves what? He loves a cheerful giver. I assume that means he’s displeased with uncheerful giving. I assume that means that if you undertake to deny yourself the cheer in giving, you will displease God and not love either. Here comes the plate down the row, and you have your checkbook in your hand. If you say, “I’d love to get that stereo. If I write this, I wouldn’t be able to get it, but I guess I’ll write it anyway.” God’s not impressed. He does not like that. It’s love. It’s love. You’re supporting the gospel, right? Isn’t that an act of love to support the gospel, to pay the preacher’s salary? Missions?
It’s not very loving because love includes a motive of joy. God loves a cheerful giver. When you write that check, you must delight. If you don’t delight, you’re not pleasing God and not loving. There are so many texts I could take you to. Probably one of the most important passages is not even one I’ve written down here. 2 Corinthians 8, I think, is a beautiful paradigm of love. It says in 2 Corinthians 8 that Paul had been traveling through Macedonia, and he had collected money for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The Macedonians had done something that simply blew Paul’s mind.
They had given so generously and joyfully that he couldn’t believe it. He wrote to the Corinthians “to test that their love too was genuine,” he says in 2 Corinthians 8:8. Now, let me read you these first couple of verses as a model of what love is. “We want you to know brethren about the grace of God, which has been shown in the churches of Macedonia.” That’s the first and most important thing. God poured grace out upon the churches in Philippi, Thesssalonica, and Borea. “For, in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part.”
Notice that. Where did love come from? The wealth of liberality is an act of love towards the poor saints in Jerusalem. It was an overflow, Paul says, of the abundance of joy that they had in the grace of God. There’s my model for love. Here’s an empty sinner in Philippi. Paul comes in and preaches the gospel. God reaches down, opens the heart, pulls out all the garbage that’s been trying to satisfy that heart for all those years, and he begins to pour grace, mercy, peace, joy, and love of God into that heart. As it rises to the top, it’s joy. As soon as it gets to the top, it says in verse two, “It overflowed in liberality to the poor saints in Jerusalem.”
He calls it love in verse eight. Here’s my definition of love: Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others. Acts that are attempted that do not flow from and aim at joy in God aren’t genuine love. Which is why Paul could say in 1 Corinthians 13:4 or 3, “Though I give my body to be burned and have not love, I’m nothing. Though I give all my goods to feed the poor and have not love, I’m nothing.” Why or how can you give your body to be burned and have not love when Jesus said, “Greater love has no man, than when he lay down his life for his friend”?
Paul says, “You can lay down your life for your friend and not have love.” It’s because you can begrudgingly lay down your life. You can lay down your life without any joy in God, without delighting in God. It isn’t the overflow of joy in God, when you lay down your life like that. You’re not like Jesus, who endured the cross for the joy that was set before him in God. I think it’s fair to say that Christian hedonism stands squarely in the service of love. Let me give you another illustration because it’s so personal to me, and you can apply it to yourself as it fits. Hebrews 13:17 is addressed to the lay people in the church, concerning their pastors, “Obey your leaders, submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give an account. That they may do this with joy, and not with groaning, for that would not be profitable to you.”
Let’s think about that. “If your pastor,” it says, “does his work with groaning, and not with joy, you won’t profit. Therefore, do what you need to do, or what you can do, to make his ministry joyful.” I’ll leave that to you to figure out, let me take the other side for myself, as a pastor. This text says, “I will not profit my people, if I do my work begrudgingly, or groaning.” This means that I can’t love my people unless I pursue joy in my work. If I don’t find joy in my work, then my people won’t profit. If they don’t profit, I don’t love them. If I don’t care whether they profit, I don’t love them. This text says they won’t profit, if I groan in my work.
Therefore, I must pursue not groaning, which is pursuing joy in my work. In fact, isn’t that why 1 Peter 5 says, “Let the elders tend the flock, not under constraint, but willingly. Not for sorted gain, but eagerly. Not domineering, but giving an example.” Willingly, eagerly, giving an example, because you won’t profit them if you don’t. That applies to your Sunday school teaching. It applies to your marriage. It applies to your work. You say, “It doesn’t matter whether I get any joy out of this or not.” The people you’re dealing with won’t profit spiritually. You fill their bellies, maybe.
The Bible is so concerned with the spiritual profit that comes through a right attitude, in which we do things. A missionary who crosses a culture begrudgingly, because of parental expectation, or guilty conscience is going to do more harm than good. The best analogy for a missionary is the patient-doctor analogy. We’re all sick with hell-bent sickness. It’s going to pend us up in hell, if we don’t get healed from our sin-sick selves. God is the great physician. He comes to us through Jesus Christ with cleansing, healing, and therapy. He rescues us from our deathward, and he says, “I’m going to make you live. It will take now a lifetime to get you completely purified of this disease of sin, but I have a special therapy for you a regimen, a health regimen.
You should go and translate the Bible. If you go to the mission field without believing that’s your health regimen, appointed by your great physician, and you’re going there for your health, then you’re going to turn your mission into works instead of faith. You’re going to bring more misery upon your people than heal spiritually. If you go there as one who is rejoicing in God’s therapy for you, then they will look upon you just like people looked upon David in Psalm 40. Remember Psalm 40? He’s in the pit, and says, “I waited patiently for the Lord and cried to him.” How long you waited, who knows. Was it a month? A week? Three months?
“God came to me. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” The best evangelism is a broken patient who’s being healed by God. Don’t go as heroes. Go as patients. When I’m done here, I’ll read a text from David Livingstone. One last text or two on this point of not being able to genuinely love unless you pursue your joy would be Romans 12:8 where it says, “Do acts of mercy with cheerfulness.” And also 2 Corinthians 9:7, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver,” as we saw earlier. We’re passing over a text from 1 John 5:2–3 because of time, which would be interesting for you to look at sometime from the same point.
6. Pursuing Joy Glorifies God
Let me close with the last argument, which is probably the most important. The sixth reason for why you should, in all of your world Christian discipleship, all of your mission study, all your mission labor, all your mission promotion, and all your prayer, pursue your joy is that it glorifies God more than anything else. It glorifies God. Whatever you delight in most, you glorify most.
People sometimes object: “Piper, you’re making a god out of pleasure.” I always answer, “No, we’ve already made a god out of whatever we take most pleasure.” Pleasure is a subjective, inner experience. God, money, sex, drugs, power, and prestige are external realities, so whenever I say, “Go for pleasure,” I mean, “Go for what gives you pleasure.” The shorthand language is this: “You make a god out of whatever objective reality you find subjective pleasure in,” so I’m saying, “Pursue pleasure with all your might in God.” I make a god out of God when I do that. People who pursue money make a god out of money, and they glorify money.
People glorify sex if they live for sex and find their joy in sex. You glorify your house if you live for your house and find all your joy in your house. You glorify God if you live for the joy that he brings. The reason this is so important to stress is because you can pursue God in ways that don’t glorify. Listen to Isaiah 1:11, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices,” says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fed beasts.” You can make God hold his nose when you go to worship if you go for the wrong reasons; that is, if you go in ways that don’t accent and highlight his value and his delectableness.
How do you highlight the delectableness of God? By saying, “Ah” when you drink, by pursuing him as a satisfying treasure. The key text in my chapter in human conversion is found in Matthew 13:44. What does it say? “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who finds a treasure in a field, and because of his joy, he sells all that he has and buys that field.” He has just glorified that treasure. If he had opened the box in that treasure and seen oatmeal, he wouldn’t have bought the field. If he had seen a thousand dollars, he might have bought the field, like a little profit.
If it’s full of gold, he goes with joy to buy that field. It says, “With joy, he bought.” He sold everything. He sold his house. He sold his wedding ring. This is what self-denial means. This is self-denial. You sell your wedding ring. You sell your house. You do anything to get it. The field and the gold are God. You do anything to get God, and that glorifies God. My favorite illustration is my wife. When I come home on my anniversary with a big handful of roses, I open the door, and I give her the handful of roses. She says, “Oh, Johnny, they’re beautiful! Why did you?” I say, “It’s my duty.” In saying this, she is belittled and dishonored.
What’s wrong with duty? Duty’s good, right? You should do your duty, but not like that. What should I have said to glorify my wife? When she says, “Johnny, I love them! Why did you?” I should say, “Why did I? Because it makes me feel happy to bring you roses.” If I say later on, “I’ve got something special planned. We’re going to go out and get dressed,” and she says, “Oh, great. Why did you?” She wouldn’t say that, but I should answer, “Because nothing makes me happier then to spend the evening with you.” She does not respond by saying, “You self-centered hedonist.” She knows that for me to say, “You, Noël, and spending time with you and looking into your face over pizza makes me happy.” That’s an honor to her. It’s hedonism, but it’s an honor to her.
You honor people by enjoying being around them. It is so with God. Worship is the delight you have in the presence of God. Therefore, the pursuit of joy and worship is essential. Let me conclude by reading a text and then a quote from David Livingstone. I first ran across this text a couple of years ago, and it frightened me because I want more than anything to be biblical. I know it’s a great danger when you are building a system of theology, which I am, and unashamedly, because I think it’s tragic when people have pieces dangling around in their mind and the puzzle pieces make no sense. They don’t fit anywhere.
There’s a piece over here about God, a piece over here about Jesus, a piece over here about motivation, and a piece here, and the puzzle is just kind of there. There’s no picture that’s beautiful at all. So I am building a system by which I can grasp God biblically, but I am submitted underneath the Bible in doing this, so that every word in the Bible has the opportunity to knock a piece out of my puzzle. It can shatter it if it wants to, and this was a piece I couldn’t make fit at first, but now, I read it again. I said, “I almost gave up one of the most beautiful supports.” It starts off like this. Isaiah 58:13–14, “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on my day. . . .” I kind stopped there. “Don’t say that, Lord. It’s not good for my system.”
But, he said it, and then I just read on. It goes like this:
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath and from doing your own pleasure on my day, and call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy day of the Lord honorable, if you honor it, not going your own way 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. I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Now, that captures self-denial and Christian hedonism, okay? There are pleasures I should abandon.
There are stupid things to do on Sunday, like spending all day in front of the TV, when there are goldmines of Christian biography to be feeding on or worship with God’s people. The point is this: Don’t sell your soul for a bowl of porridge on Sunday. Go for gold. Delight in the Lord, and don’t talk about self-sacrifice when you do it. The chapter I did in missions in this book just thrilled me. What I discover in reading biographies is that I feel so confident about what I’m saying. If somebody were to say to me, “Piper, the reason you talk like that is because you’ve never experienced suffering. You’ve never been in the third world. You don’t know what life is like. You couldn’t talk that way if you’ve suffered.” I listen to that, and I will take it to heart. I would say, “I know that I have not suffered much. My stresses and pains in this life have been nothing compared to others, but I have read a lot of sufferers that talked to some. They talk hedonism, if they’re God’s people.” I close with this quote from David Livingstone.
It goes like this:
From my heart, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of the great debt owing to God which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blessed reward and helpful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter, a way with the word in such a view, a way with the word “sacrifice,” and with such a thought, it is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather, it is a privilege, anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger now, and then with the foregoing of common conveniences in charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waiver and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us and for us. I never made a sacrifice.
That’s what Hudson Taylor said in The Spiritual Secret, and that’s what David Livingstone said. I think it’s tragic how many young people are being told and older people that the essence of world Christian discipleship is somehow figure out a way to deny this massive longing in your heart today.