How to Seek Your Joy in God
Three Habits for Christian Hedonists
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters; . . .
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1–2)
It is almost too good to be true that God not only saves us from the eternal punishment we deserve for our sin, but he also satisfies us forever with himself. And this is the very joy for which we were made. God is not the cosmic killjoy many of us may have feared in our youth. Rather, he is the God who, in Christ, stretches out his arms to us, saying, “Come, all who are thirsty!”
But how do we “come to the waters” day in and day out in the Christian life? How do we “eat what is good” and delight ourselves in rich food for our souls? How do I practically seek my joy in him?
The answer begins with the vital truth that God gives us means. He gives us the dignity of participating in the process, of availing ourselves of the specific channels he has built for us. And he works in us to cultivate and take up various “habits of grace,” based on his revealed means of grace, in our pursuit of joy in him.
Habits for Hedonists
Over the years, I have found long lists of specific practices and disciplines (whether twelve, or fifteen, or more) to be minimally helpful, and often discouraging. What I needed was to press in through the particular practical manifestations and find the God-given principles that wove them together.
“God stops and stoops, bending his ear to listen to us. He wants to hear from you.”
One way, among others, to capture the matrix of God’s grace for the Christian life is in three great means: (1) hear God’s voice (in his word), (2) have his ear (in prayer), and (3) belong to his body (in the fellowship of the local church). So far as I can tell, all scripturally-directed “spiritual disciplines” cluster to one or more of these three centers: word, prayer, and fellowship. The book of Acts brings them together, for instance, in its summary of the collective habits of the early church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Our various habits of grace, then, are the practices we develop (both individually and corporately) for daily and weekly access to God’s ongoing, soul-sustaining means of grace for the satisfying of our souls in Christ. In particular, these three categories of God’s ongoing grace play a vital role in feeding our joy in ways that make God look good.
Welcome His Word
The very words of God himself, through his apostles and prophets in the Scriptures, are the first and foremost means of his grace to us. The God who is is a speaking God. He speaks first. He, as Creator, takes the initiative to address us as his creatures. And he, as our Savior, takes the initiative to tell us about our rescue. His own Son is the climactic expression of his Word (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:1–2), and he has filled for us — from Genesis to Revelation — a Book of his external, objective words about himself, our race, our world, and our redemption.
Through his word, he extends to us the particular joy of being led, of receiving the initiative he takes toward us. And he is glorified in our joy through Scripture in many ways. First, he is honored that we come to him (and not elsewhere) and treat his words as truth — that we say to him, as Peter did to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Also when we come to him honors (or dishonors) him, in terms of frequency and priority. Do we come to him regularly or irregularly, and do we prioritize his word over other influences and other activities?
How we come to him is also vital. God means for us to come hungry to his word. To come eagerly. To come hedonistically, consciously seeking to satisfy our souls in him, longing for him like newborns who “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). God means for us to approach him, through his word, as “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13); to come humbly, and welcome his words (James 1:21) — even when they seem strange and startling to us — and seek to obey them, not just hearing his words, but actually doing them (James 1:22).
“The serious pursuit of joy in God is not to be a solitary existence.”
God is glorified not only through our coming hungrily, but also as we enjoy the feast, as we experience his words as “my delight” (Psalm 1:2; 119:16), as “the joy of my heart” (Psalm 119:111), as “the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16), as kindling for the fires of our joy. God is honored when we approach his words as David did in Psalm 19: as words that revive the soul (verse 7) and rejoice the heart (verse 8), more to be desired than gold (verse 10), sweeter than honey (verse 10) and greatly rewarding (verse 11).
To come to God’s word is to come to God himself. He breathes out his words to us as initiatives, invitations, and instruction in order that we might know him. How we treat his words is how we treat God himself. And as we enjoy his speaking to us in his word, he also invites us to speak back.
Enjoy His Ear
Prayer, then, is the next distinct means of his grace. By opening to us the doors of heaven through the person and work of his Son, God gives us the stunning gift of having his ear. We get to speak to him. Prayer extends to us the particular joy of mattering to God Almighty. He not only speaks to us, but he stops and stoops, bending his ear to hear us respond. God wants to hear from us.
Prayer glorifies God when we approach him as the God he says he is: as a treasure, not a killjoy; as kind, not cruel; as attentive, not distracted; as near, not distant; as caring, not apathetic; and, mark this, as our magnanimous Lord, not our domestic servant. As John Piper writes about cultivating such a hedonistic impulse in prayer, “When we humble ourselves like little children and put on no airs of self-sufficiency, but run happily into the joy of our Father’s embrace, the glory of his grace is magnified and the longing of our soul is satisfied. Our interest and his glory are one” (Desiring God, 159–160).
God is glorified in our asking him (this is, prayer) to meet our needs, as he says in Psalm 50:15: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Through prayer, we get the joy of deliverance, while he gets the glory as Deliverer. Prayer simultaneously serves the pursuit of our joy — “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24) — and the pursuit of his glory — “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).
Cherish His Church
Finally, but not least — encapsulating both his speaking to us and his hearing from us — are the corporate habits of grace. We are not alone in the Christian life. God gives us the gift of belonging to a body, called the church, the very bride of his own Son.
The reality and experience of the church extends to us the joy of belonging and togetherness. God made us for life together, not only to receive his grace through others, but also to be living, breathing means of his grace to each other. In all this, God himself is the great end and source of our joy. His gifts, rightly received, point us to him as the deepest and most enduring source of joy — our joy.
God is glorified in his people’s joy through the church in our unity in his Son, as we “together . . . with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6). He is glorified as we receive his grace through each other as gifts from him (1 Corinthians 12:4–11). The church is the first context in which we live out the obedience and life-change which Christ calls us to, and produces in us. Our joy in him changes us, and he means for us to demonstrate such change for others to see, which begins in fellowship with others living out their joy in him, and then extending into our world.
“God is not the cosmic killjoy many of us once feared.”
The serious pursuit of joy in God is not a solitary existence. In fact, it will be, for most of us, an uncomfortably corporate journey. No doubt, we need our moments of being “alone with God” in his word and prayer, but we also will regularly receive his words together and respond to him in prayer together, as we do in corporate worship. Those who are serious about pursuing their joy in God will not be among those “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,” but will consistently, urgently, and joyfully encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25).
The camaraderie of Christian Hedonism is not a gift God means for us to wait on till the age to come. He offers it now, in this life, and makes the lives and influence of fellow Christians an irreplaceable avenue of our pursuit of joy in him, as together we welcome his words in Scripture and access his ear in prayer.