A woman in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, writes in to ask Pastor John: “At times it feels selfish to pray constantly for God to give me joy, how does a Christian Hedonist who groans to glorify God use prayer to increase his joy in God without feeling selfish for asking so frequently?”
We must define selfishness in a way that is different from the pursuit of joy that the Bible commands.
What Is Selfishness?
And here are my distinctions, I’ll give you several.
Selfishness, which is a bad thing, I’m assuming it’s bad, there’s a bad definition for selfishness, and this is what I mean by the badness of it, it’s wanting the exaltation of self without loving the superior exaltation of God.
Selfishness is wanting something for yourself at the expense of others.
Selfishness is wanting to be happy without our happiness being in the happiness of other’s happiness.
Selfishness is wanting to be happy without the happiness being a power to make others happy with the very happiness we have in God.
So, those are my four distinguishings of selfishness from the biblical pursuit of joy. If our craving for joy, our prayer for joy, turns into one of those, we should feel selfish, and we should feel bad, and we should repent. But Christian Hedonism is specifically designed to prevent all four of those, and here’s how.
Christian Hedonism’s Joy
Christian Hedonism always stresses that our joy is in God. We don’t merely pursue joy for joy, we pursue joy in God. That’s the first thing, we’ve got to keep that in mind all the time. Christian Hedonism then, as we see from texts like Philippians 1:19–23, shows that God is magnified by our being satisfied in him. This joy is always putting the exaltation of God over the exaltation of self, because the satisfaction of self in God magnifies God. So, we never ever exalt ourselves above God by being satisfied by God.
Christian Hedonism teaches, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Which means, that your joy in God increases when it expands to meet the needs of others. Our joy increases when others come to share it. Joy is not the kind of thing that if others get some, you get less, it’s just the opposite. If my joy can expand to include you in it so that yours increases from mine, mine gets bigger. And so, there’s a bit built-in protection against exclusivism. Christian joy has an expansive impulse to it because it knows that when others share it, it gets bigger. And we are after all Christian Hedonists, we don’t exclude others, we want more and more and more people to be included in it, which is the opposite of selfishness.
And then Christian Hedonism teaches that our happiness in God is the very power to lay down our lives for others. Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross. So, Jesus’s deep sense of satisfaction in his father and what his father had planned for him on the other side of the resurrection, was the very power that enabled him to die for us. And that’s exactly the way we should be motivated as Hebrews 10:34 shows: “You had compassion on those in prison.” So there you are, loving those in prison at great risk, why? You joyfully accept the plundering of your property since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
So, it’s the confidence my happiness is in God, he has taken care of me, he has infinite pleasures awaiting me at his right hand, he is presently the satisfier of my soul, how could I in any selfish impulse not go to the prison and risk my life to help my brothers and sisters there? So, finding my fullest satisfaction in God frees me from the need to protect myself, and impels me to a life of sacrifice.
Do What It Says
So, to the question then that I think was being asked about prayer, how do we not feel selfish by repeatedly praying for joy in God? I would say, keep all of that in mind, and then do precisely what the Psalms say the psalmist did. Psalm 90:14 prays, satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love that I may rejoice and be glad all my day. So, here’s a psalmist praying every day. Today, Lord, satisfy me. And if his joy dribbles away, Psalm 51:12 says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
And the reason those constantly repeating prayers don’t turn us into selfish people is because:
- They glorify God.
- They humble us as ever needy of his satisfying presence.
- They incline us to increase our joy by expanding it into the lives of others, that’s why we want it, and those prayers for joy free us from self-protection so that we can spend our lives in sacrificial love to others.