Today we celebrate the compounded effect of human labor in America. We call it Labor Day — happy Labor Day! In fact, day by day we can invest our lives in what becomes a major enterprise over the years, like in reflecting on the effect of daily habits and disciplines over the course of a whole life. Today’s question is from a listener named Kate.
“Hello, Pastor John! I want to start by thanking you for your ministry to the saints. Your podcast has been helpful in my own life concerning Christian living. I’ve recently been quite intrigued and curious about Christian Hedonism — something that you are so passionate about and I have come to believe is beautiful. My question is, What are the little things I can do throughout my busy day to find this joy in God, the joy you so clearly know?”
As simple and as practical, even humdrum, as this question sounds, it is one of the most important questions in the world. Maintaining our joy — or our satisfaction, our contentment — in God is absolutely essential because without it we will be swept away from Christ with affections for other things.
“If we don’t find Christ of supreme value, if he is not our supreme satisfaction, something else will be.”
If we don’t find Christ of supreme value, if he is not our supreme satisfaction, something else will be. As a result, we will be drawn away from the Christian faith.
It’s not a small thing to ask the question and find the answer to “What are the little things I can do throughout my day to find and preserve my joy in God so that I don’t find greater joy in other things?”
Our hearts will not rest until they find contentment in something. Our hearts are a desire factory, and if we think that we just fall into delight in God or satisfaction in God without any pursuit of it or conscious maintenance of that flame, we’re kidding ourselves.
Our flesh and the devil are active all day long to draw us into pleasures that are anti-God. If we have no strategies for awakening and cultivating and preserving and intensifying our joy in God, we will be drawn away by our flesh and the devil into alternative pleasures, which are, as Paul said, idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
Brim with Passion
Listen to Colossians 3:5: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
Now, if you only kill evil desires, what you have is an empty soul. Remember what Jesus said about an empty soul: what has been driven out will return sevenfold as bad (Luke 11:26). In other words, the point of killing evil passions and evil desires and covetousness is not so we would have empty souls with no passions, no desires, or no zeal for anything.
It’s that they may be filled and brimming with alternative passions and alternative desires — desires for Christ, desires for godliness, desires for nearness to God, desires for all that is good and pure and true and right and lovely and excellent.
So I’m just saying yes to Kate’s question “What are the little things we can do?”
Call to Mind
I’m just going to mention one strategy — sorry it can’t be more. We can do this again sometime, but I’m going to just mention one thing that became very clear yesterday morning as I was working in my devotional time to maintain my memorization of 1 Peter.
Now, I taught 1 Peter several years ago and memorized the whole book, all five chapters. I recited it to the class. That was about three years ago. Since then, I’ve tried to say it once a week to not lose the memory of it. But sometimes it needs a concerted refreshing.
I was working on chapters four and five yesterday morning, just to make sure I could say those two chapters without stopping and looking at anything. Here’s the question that hit me: after I have recited from memory 1 Peter 4 and 5, what have I got in my conscious mind for spiritual use? This is what Kate is asking about — food for spiritual use during the day to help me fight for joy.
“Our flesh and the devil are active all day long to draw us into pleasures that are anti-God.”
It hit me again, as it has many times, that I simply do not have the dozens — yes, dozens — of wonderful, faith-strengthening, hope-sustaining, joy-awakening, assurance-producing truths in my conscious mind. They’re not there. There are too many. The mind doesn’t work like that (at least, mine doesn’t work like that).
I think I’m average in this. Those two chapters are simply unconscious to me, or a haze of words, until I make an effort to reach back and grasp something with my conscious mind, my memory.
Maybe just one phrase emerges. The mind really does work like this. You can tell the mind to go find something on the hard drive, to find those two chapters. Yes, you can, even if you don’t memorize them — you just read them.
You can tell the mind, “Now, go back and find something there that you just read.” It’s not all blank; it’s not all a haze. The value of memorizing for me is that my mind can take that phrase that comes to my mind and put it in place with the sentences before and after it so that I can properly say it, grasp it, preach it to myself for the sake of my joy.
Daily Sermons for Yourself
Here’s my specific suggestion: ask yourself how your mind works with God’s word. When you are done reading, what do you have present and ready for use? My guess is you will have very little present to your consciousness to fight your spiritual battles and strengthen your joy. Then ask yourself, “Okay, what can I do about that?” And one of the things you can do is to pick out something from the chapters that you worked on.
You pick it out by telling your brain to go find it, and your brain will do that for you. It’s amazing; the brain is amazing. I am amazed at the human brain. You can tell it to do things just like you can tell your hand to do things — “Hand, pick up that pencil” or “Lips, shut up; stop talking.”
If you have a good memory, you might be able to pick out two or three verses — not just one, but two or three verses. Once you have those verses, then make those the main message you will preach to yourself during the day. Set yourself a reminder on your phone to go ding every hour or buzz on your wrist to tell you to pull out that sword from your morning reading, say it to yourself, preach it to yourself, and tell Jesus thank you for it and that you really believe it.
Tell the devil you believe it. Tell the devil that this is blood-bought truth from the Bible, and they’re all blood-bought for Christians. Tell the devil that this truth is more precious to you than anything this devil has to offer.
Tell your discouraged soul to be strengthened: “Strengthen your knees, soul. Lift up your hands, soul. This is wonderfully true, soul.”
Called to Eternal Glory
Very specifically, by way of example, I’ll explain what I did this morning when I was done with 1 Peter 4 and 5. Everything was a haze, and hardly anything was conscious to my front brain, where I do my battle against joylessness. So I reached back, and I told my memory, “Now, go find something in those two chapters.”
I don’t know what you call this — “spiritual serendipity”? Let’s call it the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit led me to the phrase “called to his eternal glory in Christ.” Those words came to mind.
“This is how you wield the sword of the Spirit, and slay the demonic temptations to discouragement, and feed the fires of joy in Jesus.”
I didn’t know where they come from. I let my memory finish it, and I surrounded them with “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
He called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus. He called you, John Piper. He called you to his glory. He called you to his eternal glory. I’m squeezing every word like a grapefruit into my spoon at the end of eating it to make every good drop of this verse land with tastiness on my soul.
It doesn’t matter if you have to walk through much suffering, John Piper. Whatever you lose, he’s going to restore, he’s going to confirm, he’s going to strengthen, he’s going to establish. Get up now. Get up out of that comfy chair and get to work on APJ because you’re going to record tomorrow with Tony. Now, be strong. Give yourself wholeheartedly to this work today. Amen.
I had a great day preparing for this. As you can tell, I’m loving this.
Muscle of the Mind
So that’s my suggestion. Recognize that once you’ve read a lot of the Bible, most of it is a haze, a muddle in your mind. Indeed, it’s not even in your conscious mind.
You have to tell your mind — like a muscle, like you tell your hand to do something — you tell your mind like a muscle to go find it, pick it up, and put it before your consciousness.
Then you have to tell your mind to set it in context so you understand it rightly. Then you have to preach it to yourself and against the evil one. This is how you wield the sword of the Spirit, and slay the demonic temptations to discouragement, and feed the fires of joy in Jesus.