Two Anniversaries: Bethlehem and “Desiring God”

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Founder & Teacher,

Psalm 90:17

Confirm for us the work of our hands, O Lord,
yes, confirm the work of our hands.

The 125th anniversary of Bethlehem on June 14-16 and the publication of the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Desiring God give me occasion to ponder the work of our hands. I feel a sense of wonderment at the kindness of God. I wrote Desiring God during the months of our exhausting effort to work out a merger with First Baptist Church in 1985. The merger was aborted, but the book came to birth. The Lord willed two churches, not one, and he willed one book, not none.

I stand amazed at what the Lord has done with those snatches of writing on days off and evenings and vacation. There were no writing leaves in those earlier days. Today about 75,000 copies of Desiring God have been printed, and the demand for the book continues. So Multnomah Press was happy to let me make some changes, add a chapter and a study guide and reissue Desiring God.

The message of Desiring God has struck a chord in an amazingly wide range of denominations—from decent and orderly Orthodox Presbyterians to loose and free-wheeling Pentecostals. My own opinion about why this is so goes like this … It is very good news that God is God. Not many churches or ministries or books or lives have an unremitting focus on the glory and greatness of God in such a way that this Godward focus is experienced as fantastically good news. Most efforts today to deliver good news assume that theology and doctrine and God’s God-centeredness get in the way and must be dealt with in small rooms on a slow day—if at all. The message of Desiring God is that the glory of God is the central reality in the universe and that this is unspeakably happy news.

Pentecostals, deep down, want doctrine. Presbyterians, deep down, want pleasure. Desiring God seems to bring these things together in a way that has helped many. For this I am very thankful. God is good. Very good.

I feel about the message of Desiring God the way I feel about being the pastor of a 125-year-old-church. The message of the book and the ministry of this church are not new. They are very old, just like God and truth and love and joy. The only spiritual realities I care about are old ones. What new thing could replace ancient truth? What new thing could replace ancient love? What new thing could replace ancient joy? And as for God—he is from everlasting to everlasting. He is so full that all he ever could be he has always been. Every new discovery we make in God is as old as eternity. And there is so much in God from eternity that we will never stop discovering new old things, forever.

Being part of an old church (as Americans, not Europeans, count oldness) is a great reminder of this truth—that the valuable things are the old things. There is an exception. Individual people are brand new. There never was before and never will be again a person like you or me. But here’s the great lesson of Desiring God and the great lesson of 125 years of Bethlehem Baptist Church. The lasting significance of new people comes from living old truths. Our youthful newness fades like a flower. But if we are united to the great old realities (truth, love, joy, God), we will live forever.

Praying with you that God will establish for another century the work of our hands,

Pastor John