Christian Hedonism—The Missionary Advantage in Desiring God

Desiring God 2010 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor, the People, and the Pursuit of Joy

The following is notes taken during the session, not the manuscript.

My wife and I worked among the Kurds of Iraq. When we arrived there were no believers and not a single verse of the Bible in their language. Now we have the book of John available in the Kurdish language. I'll read from John 10:14-16:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Christian hedonism is the desire for God, not only desiring him more than other things, but desiring him as our exclusive treasure. Christian hedonists live a life of planned neglect. We neglect everything that does not bring us to Christ. We have set our hearts on the far-exceeding treasure: God himself.

Simeon in the gospel of Luke was a Christian hedonist. So was Thomas Chalmers, who wrote "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection." David Livingstone, likewise, desired to go into missions because he was convinced it was for his own advantage. When he spoke to the students of Cambridge, Livingstone said of his missionary calling, "I never made a sacrifice."

Advantages of Being a Missionary

There are at least two advantages of being a missionary:

1. We are promised the presence and power of Jesus:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18–20)

2. We share in the blessings of the gospel:

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:23)

My wife and I went to Jordan to study Arabic, and we had no idea that Saddam Hussein was going to invade Kuwait that year. That opened great opportunities for gospel ministry. The Kurds rose up against Hussein, Hussein opposed them, and they fled to the mountains. The UN created a safe zone in northern Iraq and I asked our team to consider moving there to minister. That idea didn't go over well initially, but after praying we decided to go and live among the Kurdish refugees.

What Happens to Christians In This Life

Based on Jesus' words in John 10 about having other sheep that are not a part of this fold, I'd like to tell you what we can expect to happen in the world. I think you can expect the unexpected. But these unexpected things that are about to happen come from the hand of the one who said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." All things are working together so that God may make all the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of God and of his Christ.

When we think about being missionaries, our footing is most secure when we think about Christian hedonism. However, missionaries are always in danger of losing heart. I'd like to speak to that. Missionaries need to learn the hope of Psalm 112:

Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!….For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. (Psalm 112:1, 6-7)

Tomorrow may bring bad news. But I will not be afraid.

I lost my sister Patricia while I was living in Iraq. She was murdered by a gang in Charlotte, NC while she was on a banking trip. My father and Patricia's husband went to identify the body. In the presence of all who could hear, Patricia's husband said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they have done." My father could not believe the presence of mind that it took for my brother-in-law to say that.

The Effects of Deep Suffering

When martyrdom happens we will find out who we really are. If your son or daughter dies on the mission field, we will weep with you, but we will not fear with you. Sometimes pastors call me up and ask me to be afraid with them when they hear that one of their own is going to a "terrible" country. I tell them, "I raised my family in Iraq and my wife said it was a great place to raise a family. My only fear is not trusting in the Lord. Is there someone else you would like to talk to that could sympathize with you?"

We have to take our people to Colossians 1:24:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…

Let me encourage you to help your missionaries prevail over their natural inclination to lose heart. You can help them by encouraging them to press into theology, the kind of theology that enabled Paul to rejoice in his sufferings.

The missionary advantage is God's clear promise that Jesus Christ will go with us as we make disciples of the "ethnē" (the nations). Jesus will go with us through our Gethsemane. Therefore we can say with the poet, "Riches I heed not nor man's empty praise; Thou my inheritance, now and always…" Remind your missionaries one hundred times that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. Remind them that they have a heavenly Father who knows their needs.