The following is a lightly edited transcript
Let’s begin with a fact — a clear, compelling, unassailable, biblical fact. I do believe in facts. I believe that there’s reality out there that doesn’t depend on whether or not you believe it’s true — it’s just raw fact. The sun doesn’t cease to shine because all kinds of people in their padded cells write darkness on the wall over and over again, and say, “There is no sun.” There are facts in the world. I want to begin with one, and then show you where it comes from in God’s word. It’s this: You were created for the glory of God. You exist, every one of you in this room, for the glory of God.
From Him, through Him, and to Him
Everybody was created for the glory of God. Bill Clinton exists for the glory of God, so does Kenneth Starr, and so does Boris Yeltsin. Everybody was made by God for God. Colossians 1:15 says:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.
Everything, including you, was created for Jesus Christ — to magnify him, to exalt him, to show his glory to be what it really is. You exist to magnify God; that is, to do it like a telescope, not a microscope. Microscopes show little teeny things to be bigger than they are; telescopes show huge things that look little to be as big as they are. And that’s the way you were created to magnify God. You were created to glorify God.
And so was everything you do and everything you are. Sex, what you do with your body was created for the glory of God. First Corinthians 6:18–19 says:
Flee sexual immorality…Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Sex is for Christ, and so is pizza and everything you eat or drink. First Corinthians 10:31 says:
Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Do everything to the glory of God, whether eating or drinking. You exist every minute of your lives, for the glory of God.
We prayed earlier. Prayer exists in your life for the glory of God. John 14:13 says:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Prayer was created and designed so that we might lean on God in Jesus’s name. He catches us and he provides for us so that the giver gets the glory. Prayer exists for the glory of God, and so does everything else you do. All the deeds of your life are meant for the glory of God. Matthew 5:16 says:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
The glory doesn’t go to you, the doer, but to your Father in heaven. Do you know how to live this afternoon so that when people see you, they glorify God? That’s why you exist. You are on planet earth so that God will get glory from your life, so that you will display his worth. When it’s all over, we finish the Great Commission, and he comes back, it says in Habakkuk 2:14 that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
The Wrong Emphasis
That’s the fact, and the question based on the fact is this: How do you join God in the purpose of God to display God in your life? How do you do this? How do you get onboard with God in the purpose that he has for your life? That’s what I want to talk about.
But first, let me tell you what I’m not going to talk about, because there’s a lot of different ways you could approach talking about a God-centered life and the glory of God. I don’t want to talk about it in a certain way that would still be a legitimate way.
Here’s the way I’m not going to talk about it: I could say that you glorify God by gratefully enjoying the health that God gives you in answer to your prayers for healing; or, I could say that you glorify God and fulfill your purpose on planet earth by gratefully receiving and acknowledging that the wealth you have, you have by virtue of the mercy and grace of God enabling you to work and earn it with the strength that he provides; or, I could say you glorify God by the vindication that you experience over all the people that mistreat you, and show how wrong they are. And so, you could pray for God to vindicate you and show them to be wrong and you to be right, and then you give him the glory.
I’m not going to talk about that, and there are four reasons why I’m not going to talk about that:
First, all the nations of the world seek those things. Even when we say, “Thank you, God,” to the world it looks suspiciously like those are just words, and that we want everything they want, just like they want it. Sure, God can be the giver. Who cares who gives it if you get it anyway? They want it and you want it, so what’s the difference? So I’m not going to talk about it like that.
Second, getting these things tends to make us feel at home in the world. You have your money, you have your health, and you have vindication. That’s a good place to be. But the Bible says, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek a city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Anything that starts making you feel more at home on planet earth is dangerous.
Third, it runs the risk of making a god out of God’s gifts. We could say, “Thank you for my health. Thank you for my money. Thank you for showing them that I was right,” but who can know in those moments whether the heart really loves God or it just loves his gifts? It’s dangerous.
Fourth, you won’t finish the Great Commission if that’s the only way you live to glorify God.
Displaying God’s Glory in Suffering
So here’s how I’m going to talk about it. I’m going to try to make a case for you that the primary and most effective way to glorify God with your life and fulfill your purpose in existence is by the way you relate to God in suffering. I have two ways in mind. I’ll take them one at a time after I state them for you. First, Do you retain your joy in God when you’re suffering? And second, Do you pursue your joy in God through suffering? The first is passive — you take what God deals you and stay happy in him, no matter how bad it is. The second is active — you see risks in front of you, you see deprivation in front of you, and you say, “For the sake of the nations, for the sake of the cities, for the sake of my roommate, for the sake of the campus, or for the sake of the lost, I will embrace the suffering, take the risk, hold the deprivation, and go for broke with God.” Those are two ways by which you glorify God in the way you relate to him in suffering.
The Right Emphasis
Let me give you five reasons why I’m going to talk about it this way. They’re almost the flip side of the other four reasons, though the first one is different.
First, this world is a mess. It’s a mess because God, in response to sin, has ordained that it be a mess, which means that the mess of suffering, hardship, calamity, and depravity is judgment upon the world. Even Christians must experience it, live with it, deal with it, and suffer under it. Let me read you the text where I get that truth. Romans 8:20 says:
The creation was subjected to futility…
Now this is a description of the world after the fall, I believe, both of the moral world and physical world. God looked down on the sin of Adam and Eve, and he broke the world in response to sin. This includes hurricanes, cancer, arthritis, AIDS, broken families, and economic disaster—it’s all subjected to futility.
The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope…
Now who was that? It wasn’t Satan. Satan did not subject the world to futility in hope. Hope is not on Satan’s agenda; it’s on God’s agenda. Therefore, the person being spoken of here is God. God subjected Fort Worth and Minneapolis to futility in hope. Romans 8:22 says:
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
That’s like pregnancy. The word is travail. It’s the groaning of a pregnant woman to bring something wonderful forth. So when you look at a world in futility, or when you look at Hurricane Mitch, or when you look at famine, think pregnancy. And then, here for all you Christians, is the key word:
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).
Do you hear what I hear? It’s saying, “Christian, don’t think that in your case the curse is lifted now.” It will be lifted. Sins are forgiven now, but 10,000 futilities will bring you to your grave. And you will groan all the way saying, “How long, how long O Lord, until I can be made whole, well, and complete?”
So the world is broken and it’s a mess. Therefore, if I’m going to talk to 11,000 of you about how you glorify God in that world, I’m going to talk about how you respond to suffering, and how joy in God relates to suffering. That’s my first of five reasons for why I’m going to talk about this.
Second, if you seek to glorify God by maintaining your joy in suffering and by embracing suffering for joy, it will set you apart from the world. This will make you radically different, because nobody in the world does this, apart from God.
Third, it tends to loosen you from the world to think this way. To know that the world is shot through with futility will free you. You will see that a life devoted to increased comforts and ease is a charade.
Fourth, it shows that God himself is your treasure and not the gifts of God. We have to find ways to live, men and women, to make the world look at us and say, “They must love God, not God’s gifts.” How do you do that? Do you do it by surrounding yourself with all the gifts that the world wants and then just whispering, “Thank you, God, you gave it”? Is that the only difference between us and them, that we know that he gave it? Then we just hug those gifts, idolize those gifts, and live on those gifts. That’s not going to do it. The world will not be saved that way. They won’t even see God that way. All they will see is an echo of their values, with God stuck on the end. Big deal. You can say thank you all you want.
Fifth, it’s the pathway to the God-glorifying power that will finish the Great Commission. O God, I want to finish the Great Commission. I want Jesus to come back. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus. Hasten the day. This is the 14th day of Ramadan. One billion Muslims, including all the mosques here in this city, fast from sunup to sundown every day starting on December 20 in the hope — the vain hope — that God will put it in a balance and on the last day it might go down. They have no assurance, no atonement, no blood, no Christ, and no resurrection, just works. They’re all perishing. Do you want that to change? One billion Muslims are perishing.
There are 394,000 Dujang people in the northern provinces of China. They have 595 mosques, one for every 30 families. There are no Christians, no missionaries, and no testimony. We have our nice jobs, but what does God want us to do? My prayer for Passion 99 is that there would be released out of this place a wave of radical, God-enjoying, suffering-embracing missionaries that can hardly sleep while there’s an unreached people group in the world.
So those are my reasons for why I want to give you my message this morning. That was the introduction.
How to Glorify God in Suffering
So here’s how you glorify God. There are two points to this message, and they’re very simple. First, you glorify God in this life by retaining your joy in God while suffering; that is, by not being bitter, angry, indicting, or shaking your fist in God’s face. And the second point is that you glorify God by pursuing joy through suffering. Let me take the first one and then the second one.
Retaining Joy in God while Suffering
I’ll just go to the Scriptures and give you some texts. I have been married, as of December 21, 30 years. Noel and I were married in Barnesville, Georgia, in a little country church building. Thirty years ago in that little church out in Midway, my father opened the Bible, and we asked him to read these verses. This is what I mean. This is the text on which my marriage is based, and frankly, I believe this is how marriages hold together. This is Habakkuk 3:17-18. It goes like this:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
You can paraphrase that for yourself. What do you want to insert there? You could say, “Though I fail my test, though my girlfriend leaves me, though my parents divorce, though I have cancer in my thyroid, yet will I rejoice in the Lord and take joy in the God of my salvation.”
So I’m asking you this: Do you know God and do you love God? Do you see God and do you savor God, not his gifts, so much that when everything is stripped out of your life except God, you don’t get angry at God? Instead, can you say, “Yet will I rejoice in God. I will joy in the God of my salvation. Everything can be taken from me, but when everything is taken from me, I still have God”? If that’s what the Bible thinks about suffering, why do most of you get angry at God when things are taken from you? It’s because you’ve been taught so badly, and because we’re all such sinners. We don’t know God, and we don’t know the world.
And I’m pleading, O God, utterly revolutionize the hearts in this room, so that they can say, “When there is no fruit on the vine, when there’s no herd in the stall, when there’s no sheep in the flocks, when there is no olive produce, and when everything around my soul gives way, you then, O God, are all my hope and stay.”
I tell you, if that happened in your life, then your campus would see and give glory to God. Do you see why I approach it this way? The world is not impressed by Christians who have everything and just turn it into gratitude on Sunday. They’re just not impressed. So what’s the point of it all? If we’re just on the earth to have everything the world has, and then say a thank you on Sunday morning, and go and live just like them, enjoying everything they have, what is the point? Be different. Don’t be like the world. Get your values revolutionized. Love God. Delight in God. Enjoy God. Treasure God. Show the worth of God by the way you maintain your joy when everything but God goes away.
Blessed Be the Name of the Lord
I’ll give one other text on this point. And it adds one incredibly important insight. I’m talking about Job. Let me just tell you the story and highlight it. You know what happens. Satan comes to God in heaven. And God says, “Have you considered my servant Job, a righteous and just man?” (Job 1:8). And Satan says, “You have surrounded Job with so much wealth, and surrounded Job with so much pleasure, and so much delight, and so many good things, of course he worships you. Who wouldn’t?” (Job 1:9–11). That’s a provocation that God is very concerned about. That’s why I’m saying what I’m saying. So God says, “All right, you can have him. Just don’t touch his body” (Job 1:12). And Satan goes forth from the presence of the Lord and here’s what we read:
There came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Now, here’s how Job responds. I’ll read it to you. Job 1:20 says:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Come forth, Job. Where are you in America today? Did you see those three things? First, he grieved. Oh do not hear me say I’m talking about a flippant attitude that says, “Oh, Praise God anyhow.” No way. He ripped his clothes, he shaved his head, he put ashes on, and he fell on the ground and wept bitterly. It hurts to lose things. I’m not asking you not to cry in your life. Weep your eyes out. Many of you should cry a lot more than you do. You need to cry.
Second, he worshiped. What does that mean? It means he savored God. He treasured the worth of God because he lost almost everything he valued on this earth. He clung to God and treasured God.
The third thing he did was bless God. He said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” That means he spoke well of him. He didn’t indict God. He blessed God. Can you do that at the funeral? Even the funeral of young ones?
All Things Are His Servants
Here’s the thing that Job adds to Habakkuk. Job makes crystal clear that his worship toward God, and his blessing of God, and his treasuring of God is rooted in the sovereignty of God over Satan. Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and in his secondary causality was engaged, no doubt, in bringing these horrible things to pass in Job’s life, though it does say “the fire of God” came. But Job, with eyes of faith, and confidence in the sovereignty of God, knows that Satan does not move one inch until the leash is loosened. And therefore he says, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
I’ve got a question for you. Are you willing, are you able, to embrace a great God — a God greater than Satan and greater than cancer? You see, he did finally get touched in his body, didn’t he? Satan goes back to God and says, “Oh sure, skin for skin. Anybody will keep worshiping you as long as you don’t touch their body” (Job 2:4–5). So God says, “You can have his body, just don’t kill him” (Job 2:6). And it says that Satan afflicted his body with boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, so that he scraped them with potsherds (Job 2:7–8). Then his wife came and said, “Curse God and die.” And Job said to her, “Woman, you speak like one of the foolish women. Shall we receive good at the hand of God and not evil?” (Job 2:9–10). And the writer of this book, again, feeling like he’d been struck in the stomach, adds the words, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
It is not a sin, in fact, it is the essence of good sound theology, to say, “Satan is subservient to God, and does not move in this world without God’s permission and ordination.” And on that rock-solid foundation is built a life of unassailable worship and joy that cannot be shaken.
So where are the Jobs among us? I plead with you, be like Job, because when you glorify God by retaining your joy in God through suffering, the world will look and say, “It obviously isn’t the ox, it obviously isn’t the camels, it obviously isn’t the children, it obviously isn’t the health, and it obviously isn’t the wealth. What is it? It’s God.” And he will be glorified.
2. Pursue Joy in God through Suffering
Now here’s my second point. It’s just an extension of the first and the last one. You exist on planet earth to bring glory to God, to display his worth, and to show that he’s your treasure. Not only should you do that by retaining your joy in him through suffering, but also by pursuing more joy in him by choosing suffering. Or are you going to be like the world? America, even American Evangelicalism, is shot through with a domesticated, harmless, man-like god, who’s not going to sustain God-centered worship, and is not going to get the Great Commission done, because the Great Commission is not going to be done without martyrs.
But if you’ve got a God like this — a glorious God, an all sufficient God, a sovereign God, a loving God, a wise God, an awesome God — then in your worship, dread can be sustained, reverence can be sustained, and trembling can be sustained. And in your life, power can be given to embrace suffering for the sake of the nations and for the sake of the campus. Whatever risk is in front of you, whatever deprivation is offered to you, for the sake of love you can take it. Let me just read a few instances of this in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 10:32–33 says:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.
Now here’s the situation, some were thrown in prison, some were not. Those who were not had the choice of going to visit them or not. Would they go and risk the plundering of their property and maybe the loss of their lives, or would they go underground and stay safe and not identify themselves with these Christians?
Here’s what happened. Hebrews 10:34 says:
You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property…
They ransacked your dorm room, they wrote graffiti all over your walls, they took all your precious possessions, they broke all your CDs, smashed your hifi, stole your bicycle, and smashed out the windshield of your car. Would you rejoice? Is this crazy? It is crazy. It’s just crazy Christianity. Now why had they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property? Here’s the key:
Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
Do you believe that? Do you believe that you have a better possession than all those CDs and all those toys? Do you believe that God is so valuable and so precious that if you lose everything, not only can you retain your joy, but you can walk right into suffering.You can choose it for the cause of love, and know that your joy is being increased in the reward in heaven.
The Power of Superior Pleasure
Here’s the second one from Hebrews 11:24–25. It says:
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
They are fleeting pleasures. Oh yes, there’s pleasure in sin, of course. It may last for 80 years, but then you will have nothing with infinite pain in hell. So what’s 80 years? Wake up! Oh that God would give us awakening to the ugliness and the horror of sin with all of its pleasure. Moses chose not to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin, but what did he do? He considered abuse and suffering for Christ “greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt. For he looked to the reward” (Heb 11:26). Same thing.
The question is, Do you savor God? Do you know God well enough to combat pleasure with pleasure? When you get that email that you didn’t ask to be sent to you and it says, “XXX — 18 only. Click here,” how do you fight that? You fight it with reward. You embrace that little teeny-weeny bit of denial. You’re not getting your head chopped off. Just hit delete. That’s all. Delete.
Enduring Like Jesus
Here’s the third one from Hebrews, this is speaking of Jesus:
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1–2).
Don’t try to be better than Jesus. Don’t try to be philosophically superior to Jesus Christ, the Almighty God, who endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” There are many philosophical ethicists telling you that any incentive ruins the morality of the deed. To which I say, “Baloney!” The Bible says, “For the joy that was set before him Christ endured the cross.” Which means that the greatest act of love that has ever been performed in the history of the world was performed in the pursuit of a superior joy.
So who are we to think that we should be motivated by anything better than the Lord Jesus Christ himself? Know God, so that you can embrace the reward of God and the joy set before you, and take the suffering of the cross for the sake of love.
Outside the Camp
Here is the last one and I’ll be done. Hebrews 13:12 says:
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
Do you see the dynamic? We don’t have a lasting city here. If we had a lasting city then, sure, let’s surround ourselves with as many toys, and as many comforts, and as much ease as we can get here and now. We could live like this was our city.
But the Bible says, “Here we have no lasting city. We seek a city that is to come.” It’s the city of God. And when that city is described in Revelation 21 and 22, the center of the city is God’s throne. And the word at the center of the throne is: “The dwelling place of God is with men” (Revelation 21:3). The dwelling of God is our treasure. The dwelling of God is our reward — to know him, to see him, to savor him, to delight in him, and to be satisfied in him. There is nothing that compares with knowing God.
So, when I call you now, as I close, to go outside the camp, I’m not calling you away from joy. Do you hear me? Yes, I’ve been talking about suffering, but I’m not calling you away from joy. I’m calling you to deeper joy, and I’m calling you to extended joy and expanded joy, as others get folded into it through your acts of sacrificial love.
When the day comes, and I pray that it happens today, or tomorrow, or the next day, that you are able to say — whether you get married, or if you never marry, or when you go into the hospital, or when you leave for the mission field, or when you head home, or when you get a C instead of a B, or after the accident — “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17–19), then your campuses will see the glory of God in your life, your churches will awaken to God-centered worship, your families will endure huge hardships, and all the suffering required to finish the Great Commission will be embraced.