Desiring God Roundtable

Chapters 3–4

Bethlehem College and Seminary

Pastor John, the question that I have is, how does Christian Hedonism square with Genesis 2:18? There, the Lord God says, “It is not good that the man, Adam, should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.” So, my question is, a Christian Hedonist would say God is all-sufficient, he’s all glorious. So, how can God himself say it’s not good that the man’s alone, he has all good right there with him in God, and how can he say he’s alone, because again, he has God right there with him.

Right. That’s a perfect question to ask with regard to both worship and love because it implies the horizontal dimension. Evidently, God thinks it’s not good for there to be only solitary worshipers. I think that’s very significant because we might think, “Well, I’m vertically satisfied in you.” And, if there were a lot of those people who were just in their little silos of vertical satisfaction, that would be great.

And God says, “No, it wouldn’t be great. Greater would be if they took their affections and began to expand them in other people’s joy.” So, what I think he means is that — just leave wife out of account. She’s a particular instance of another being who is like us. Couldn’t find it in the animals, had to make one like me. What God thinks is better than solitary worship is when I — both — expand my joy in God into her or him. And, when I see it there, I delight in their joy in God. So, God wants to be known and loved and enjoyed, not only directly and vertically but in all of the manifestations of his beauty in creation, especially in creation of beings in his own image.

Same question could be asked simply, “Why, when I was walking over to church today, was there a blue sky?” Because the heavens are telling the glory of God. Now, he didn’t have to use heavens to tell the glory of God, but he says, “This is good, this is good, and it’s good that there’d be a wife. It’s good that there’d be a friend. It’s good that there’d be a congregation in a church where we can both extend our joy and have it expand like a weather system and where we see it and draw strength and joy from it.”

So, we might create a world in which God is more glorified when he is solitary in our attention, but he doesn’t think it works that way. He says, “I will get more glory if you see my glory reflected in other beings like me and enjoy me there as well as me directly.” That’s my take on Genesis 2:18. Where are we?

On Twitter: How does a Christian Hedonist worship joyfully in the midst of suffering and affliction brought by God? Is it possible?

I hope it’s possible, because Romans 5:3 says you have to do it. It comes through chapter 5, and he says, “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And, not only that, but we rejoice in our tribulations, for tribulations,” — so, now, here’s the answer to the how. So, you say, “Okay, you just told me to do that, Paul, God. Rejoice in tribulation. How?”

And he argues like this. “For tribulation works patience, and patience works approvedness, dokimé — a sense of approvedness — and approvedness works hope, and hope doesn’t put us to shame.”

Now, if you collapse that argument down, I think it goes like this. One reason, and this is only one. There are others. One reason why we can rejoice in pain is that through pain, God is designing our reality. Approvedness means, as you persevere without cursing God and without leaving the faith, as you persevere through a broken marriage or a wayward child or cancer or a lost job or some horrific catastrophe in the world, as you persevere through that, you have a sense, “I’m making it, I’m real.” That is, “I’m approved. I’m like gold that just went through fire and stuff got burned out of me and now gold is coming out on the other side.”

And when you know yourself real, “I made it, I didn’t throw away the faith,” hope increases, and when hope increases, it will not put you to shame. Hope in the glory of God that there’ll be a great redemption of all this stuff at the end is what sustains us through. So, we could go to many other texts but just linger long over Romans 5:1–5 as Paul’s argument for why it’s possible.

Let’s just be real specific. About an hour ago, or several hours ago, there’s another 7.4 earthquake in Japan. Earlier this morning, thirteen children were slaughtered in Rio de Janeiro. So, we are aware, we’re just so painfully aware that those parents, right now, and those Japanese are facing just what I said, and what we want, what we so long for in the ministry is to extend our joy in God deep down into the roots of those people so that, when all their other joys, like their precious children, are ripped out of their lives, they don’t kill themselves.

There’s a place to stand, there’s something to stand on, and it’s God and his grace and his mercy and his power. Even though God runs the world, God could stop a gunman and God could stop an earthquake and he has his reasons for not doing it, and he, in his sovereignty and his grace, are where we stand in the midst of our tribulations.

Pastor John, I was wondering, in your chapter on worship, you seem to say that joy should be the conscious end of our worship, that it’s not a means to an end, but it’s an end in itself. I was wondering if you thought it was possible for a person, in their worship, to just get so wrapped up in whether or not they’re feeling joy or having joy or really glorifying God in their emotions. Is it possible for them to get so wrapped up about that that they lose sight of glorifying God and that their mind just isn’t able to experience the joy that they’re supposed to experience? So, I was just wondering if you could address that, and what would you say to that person and just, what is the experiential aspect of having joy but having it in God? How does that work?

That is so crucial. Let me fill out the part that you’re referring to. When I say that joy is an end in itself, I know that’s fraught with possible misunderstanding, but here’s what I mean. Consciously, we never experience an authentic emotion as a means to an end. And I gave about five illustrations in the chapter.

If a bear is ripping your tent down in Yellowstone Park, you don’t say, “Now it might be helpful for me to be afraid here. So, what might I achieve if I could experience fear here? So, I think it would make my adrenaline stronger and make me stronger, so I will now fear.” That’s not the way emotions work. They come, they’re just there, just like that, and there’s no conscious “I’m doing this as a means to an end.”

Or if you are on a raft in the ocean and you are about to die of thirst and there rises in your heart a longing that that little white speck on the horizon would be a boat coming your way, you don’t stop and say, “Now, it might be helpful for me to feel hope here.”

Nobody produces emotions as a means to anything. Now, that’s what I mean. Authentic emotions are just there because of something. Now, your question. Can we, given how unbelievably deceitful the human heart is, say that should happen in worship because of God and his glory and he’s the bear of wrath that we need to be afraid of and he’s the white boat on the horizon?

Could we then turn in on that experience of hope and start liking it? Like, “Whoa, this feels really good?” Fear won’t work, but let’s just say hope. Yes, it is possible for that to happen in worship and when it does, worship is over. It’s over because worship is gladly reflecting back to God the value of his worth, the greatness of his worth. It’s gladly reflecting back to him.

So, if I suddenly take my eyes off him and look at myself. Now, that’s what I meant when I say my statement is ambiguous and misleading because you might hear me say, “Oh, my joy is an end in itself, meaning God is not the end.” But all I mean is, in me, it’s the end, but it only functions as the conscious emotional end because it’s riveted on God.

So, yes. Sam Crabtree, when he was interviewing for a position in this church, said something that made me want to hire him almost right away. He said, “Sometimes, we love loving God more than we love God.”

I said, “Okay, you’re hired.” That’s brilliant. That is so penetrating into my soul that in worship, I can love this moment of everybody loving more. I’m not even thinking about God. I love the song, I love the smiles, I love the sound, I love the feelings, and suddenly, worship is not worship anymore. So, excellent caution.

You say true worship always combines heart and head. Any tips on uniting the heart and head for theological studies students?

Did I tweet this morning or was it yesterday that the best way to experience wonder is to pray for it every five minutes in everything you read, newspapers, novels, systematic theology? So, a tip. You’re asking for tips. A tip would be, as these students are reading and they do a lot of reading, they should pause every few minutes and ask that their eyes be opened. Ask that your eyes be opened, because the Bible says, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonder” (Psalm 119:18).

Now, wonder is the awakening of the heart. The eyes are reading a book, okay, and that requires mental effort. So, mental effort is always being expended when you are reading, but often, the heart is just 10,000 miles away. How do you get it awakened and engaged? You pause and pray what the Bible prays. Namely, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Not just blank, meaningless, boring things but wonders shining here.

So, I think I’ll just give this one tip for everybody. I think we should do this all day long. We should do this right now as we’re doing this event and we should do it when I walk home across the bridge and I look up at the sky and I see those fine lines of the buildings downtown that are so sharp because there’s no smog.

I should be praying, “God, fill me with a sense of wonder that I’m alive, that I have eyes, that human beings can create buildings like that, and that you shine with this brightness and glory,” because otherwise, I’m just going to be looking down at the cement and crabby because Minneapolis still has such potholes. We have to, every two or three minutes, stop and say, “Help me see, help me see,” so that my heart is awakened.

So, I’m thinking about the section called fuel, furnace, and heat. And, you say that the spark that ignites the fire of true heartfelt worship is the Holy Spirit. So, I’m thinking about the illustration of the bear. I can imagine the bear automatically creating fear. But for many people, and sometimes for me, with God, it’s not so automatic. Is there anything I can do to invite or, if it’s the Holy Spirit, is it just completely out of my hands?

So, so right, because the illustrations are wired. The boat on the horizon, the bear tearing down your tent, are so wired that we just feel that’s a given. I’m going to be afraid and I’m going to feel hope. No question about it. And you’re pointing out, it’s not the case with spiritual reality, and it’s not the case with spiritual reality because we are dead in our trespasses and sins.

Our heart is hard, and the boat is totally uninteresting because we’re eating fish and we’re going to kill ourselves eating fish on the raft. Or we’re not afraid of that big bear of wrath because frankly we’re having a good game of poker in here and it’s just fun and I don’t care what, it must be a wind or something. We’re just so blind to divine reality, both the positive and the negative.

So, if I understand your question, am I just totally helpless then? Is there nothing I can do? Ultimately, yes, you are totally helpless, but if you’re listening to me, God is in your life right now. For this very moment, if you and you are listening to me, God is speaking to you, and what he’s saying is, ask me. God is saying it. Ask me for life. Ask me that I would not be left in my helplessness.

Now, if my words from God trigger that in you, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. So, one thing you can do is ask, but you’re being called to be one who does what I just did. That’s what ministers do. Ministers say, “I beseech you, on behalf of God, wake up.”

“Awake, O sleeper” (Ephesians 5:14). Now, Jesus said to a dead man, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). That’s our job. So, I’m saying it. “Lazarus, come out.” You are totally unable to raise yourselves from the dead, but, when you hear me, God may be at work through this word, like “Lazarus, wake up.” And suddenly, you find in yourself life that wasn’t there before.

So, we do believe that the Bible teaches total inability. That’s what total depravity means. I cannot, the flesh cannot please God, but God can use you and me to waken people from the dead. That’s the way the gospel works.

Question from Twitter: Does God worship himself? What is the purpose? Because he is fully satisfied in himself and his joy within the Trinity.

That is his worship. Next question. No, okay. Does God worship himself since God is satisfied? Now, there’s some peculiar assumption in that question that’s bothering me. I don’t understand why they ask it the way they ask it. There’s the assumption: worship is something you do after you’re satisfied in God. Okay, now, this is good. You must be thinking, whoever tweeted this, you must be thinking that worship is singing, praying, preaching, confessing. That is something we do with our lips or our hands or our knees.

Now, that’s true, it is. But when I speak of worship, I’m speaking usually of its essence. That is, what it takes to be happening inside, so that the lifted hands are worship, because they’re not always. Or “I love you” is worship, because it’s not, sometimes, or “I confess my sins” is worship, because it’s not, sometimes.

And what’s on the inside is, being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. That is the essence of worship. If I was paralyzed and couldn’t lift my hands, I’d be worshiping. If I was dumb and I couldn’t speak, I’d be worshiping. If I was chained down and couldn’t go to church, I’d be worshiping. The stuff of hands and lips and kneeling and waving arms and preaching is nothing in comparison to the reality of what’s going on on the inside.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8), key verse. So, yes, God worships himself, because the Father beholds his panoramic perfections in the Son’s reflection, the Son sees and loves the Father. The Spirit carries all of that back and forth between them. They are supremely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. And, I suppose you could say, “Well, do they ever move beyond that to the speaking and the doing?”

And I think the answer is, yes. In the Gospels, at least, God stood forth and he said, “This is my beloved Son. I love him. Really. He is totally pleasing to me.” That was an act of worship on the Father’s part. Looking at the Son.

Pastor John, in chapter 4, you walked through these various sections of Hebrews. And it seems like the author there is seeking to motivate these languishing Christians using these hedonistic passages that you quote there. And, I just was curious, how do you, with this whole philosophy of Christian Hedonism, seek to use that in your preaching in pastoral ministry situations to encourage people in the life of faith and love and worship?

Well, you’re absolutely right. Hebrews is called at the end, a short word of exhortation, even though it’s thirteen chapters long, and it’s usually viewed as a sermon. And, you’re right that in Hebrews 10:34 and Hebrews 11:26 and Hebrews 12:1–2 and Hebrews 13:13 –14, manifestly, he is trying to motivate them to love by being satisfied in their supreme reward.

So, that is a paradigm for me. Christian Hedonism, for me, dictates a lot of what I do in the ministry, and when it comes to preaching, I regard my job on Sunday morning as to worshipfully spread a feast for the saints, worshipfully spread a feast. Now, I’m aware, as we saw before, that some of these saints are coming with no desire for this food at all, and some unbelievers are coming with no desire.

So, I have some other things to do to help them, but my ultimate goal is, whether I’m talking about marriage, whether I’m talking about parenting, whether I’m talking about missions or poverty or the Trinity, to so speak about it that hearts would be awakened to love God more, to delight more, to be happier in him.

If I speak negatively, if I warn, if I convict of sin, the whole aim there is in order that people might come alive to the supreme value of God. So, I would say these four texts in Hebrews are a paradigm for me of how I want to motivate Bethlehem to give, want to motivate them to care for the poor, motivate them to love in every way in their homes and on the streets, and I’m not going to do it mainly with a whip. I’m going to do it mainly with a carrot, and the carrot is going to be, your joy in God will increase if you seek to expand your joy in the joy of others who don’t have it. That’s the paradigm. And so, they have to see God as supremely satisfying, and then they need to be helped to see all the duties of the Christian life as pathways to maximum joy. So, yeah, that’s the way I do it.

John, how do we worship a God who seems to need evil to reveal the fullness of his glory?

Need is a word that’s loaded with connotations of deficit. God has no deficits. He chooses to reveal his glory that way, and we should love him because we see more of him that way. But I don’t think it would be biblical or honoring to him or true to talk of him as having needs to do it.

So, let’s put that aside for a minute and maybe still stay with the question, because the question is still hard and good. God ordains that there be evil, and one of the reasons he does it is because, without the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, there would be no manifestation of God’s grace. There would be no manifestation of God’s mercy. There would be no manifestation of God’s patience, and there would be no manifestations of God’s wrath or God’s justice in the face of dealing with injustice.

Now, those five things are massively glorious about God, and, therefore, God wants human beings to know him in the fullness of what he is, not what he’s becoming in creation and fall, but what he is. He is those ways in his completely self-sufficient being.

So, he goes on display and creates a universe in which the whole panorama of his glory is seen. Unless that sounds just so off the wall to some of you, let me just read it to you from Romans 9. “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience?” (Romans 9:22). So, now there’s three things. He wants to be seeing wrath, power, and patience. “What if he has endured, with much long-suffering, the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction in order that” — here’s the ultimate verse in the Bible — “in order that he might make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy” (Romans 9:23).

If God had not been able to show his wrath, if God had not been able to show his patience, if God had not been able to show his power, then we, vessels of mercy, would not see riches of glory. There would be just a dim flicker for us of glory when there’s so much more. The riches are completed by the demonstrations of wrath and justice and power and patience and mercy and grace, all of which depend upon there being evil in the world.

And one more comment. The most ultimate thing you can say about the universe is that its point is the glory of God, manifested in Christ, crucified and risen. Christ crucified and risen for sinners could not happen if there were not crucifiers who are sinners. And, therefore, the whole history of redemption, including the fall, has been ordained by God for the central event of the crucifixion of himself as it were, in his Son, for the sake of sinners. We might’ve designed another universe where there’s no evil and no injustice and no cross and no Christ, but that’s not the universe God designed and he’s wiser than we are.

Pastor John. My question has to do with terminology and how to best explain it. Of course, Christian Hedonism, you say that you don’t require everybody to be using those terms, but to have the principle. I had an opportunity to talk with a Hindu recently who is very satisfied in who he is and he’s very joyful in being a Hindu and in worshiping whoever he worships. Of course, Hindus have millions of gods. How would I explain something like this? Because if I were to explain, “Well, you need to have joy in God,” he says, “I already have joy in God.” And the conversation was, “Oh yes, you say that and this, and we agree with each other.” And it was like whatever goes. How do I explain that to him?

The issue there, probably won’t get anywhere if you try to persuade him he’s not satisfied. I don’t think he is, at the bottom of his life, because he was made for the true God, and he isn’t communing with him. He doesn’t know him. You don’t know the true God if you don’t know the Son and embrace him as Savior and Lord and treasure of your life. And so, at least I have not found it fruitful to try to say to a satisfied person, whether secular or Hindu, you’re really not. You’re really not, because they’re just going to look at you and say, “I am,” even though I think I have biblical warrant to say that from Psalm 4, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7). But they won’t believe that. In fact, they can’t. They can’t see it, they can’t feel it. There’s no connection.

So, what the Bible instructs us to do is to come to them with the gospel. We tell them the story of Christ and why he came. We tell them that he’s a sinner and that God is alienated from him and he needs reconciliation with God. Whether he knows this whether he feels this, this is true. We’re just saying so because that’s what God’s word tells us, and we say what Christ did for him, to deliver him from his sins and how he rose again.

And so, we’re saying, your ignorance of or rejection of Christ crucified for your sins as the only pathway to God, your rejection of that means that, in the end, you’re not going to be satisfied because the Bible says he’s going to cast you out. If you reject his Son, you reject him, and you’ll wind up in eternal misery. Hell.

Now, all that are facts he doesn’t believe in, but that’s our job. All we do in life, in order to get people who are unbelievers, who think they’re perfectly content and happy, Jesus is a myth, God probably doesn’t exist, if he exists he’s okay with me. People that have that worldview, we’re coming to them with stories of the truth, and it’s the work of the Holy Spirit to take the truth and drive it in. And it’s amazing, what he does.

And probably around this table, we could tell stories of how there were seasons when you felt nothing, he was of no interest at all. And you’d heard sermons, you’d listen to radio shows, it was all boring. And then, somebody spoke, and this time, this time, that satisfied person was awakened to realize, I’m really not. I’m really not, and I’m frankly very scared of what will happen when I die. So, my answer is, we tell them the gospel and pray earnestly that God would open their eyes.

Is it ever appropriate to obey apart from happiness, or, in Christian Hedonism, is it even possible to truly obey apart from happiness?

The illustration I give, and I can’t remember if it’s in the chapter in worship or not, but the answer is yes, I think it is right to obey apart from happiness, but only this way. The pastor just challenged you with a sermon on tithing. And let’s just, for argument’s sake, assume that you agree with him, that this is right, do what’s right, and you don’t want to. All right? He’s just persuaded you that it is your duty to give and you don’t want to. It would not make you happy to put anything in the offering plate or in the box as you walk out.

Now the question would be, should you do it anyway, since you’re now persuaded that it’s right, and the difference between a Christian Hedonist who puts it in anyway and a hypocrite who puts it in anyway, it’s what’s going on in here. Jesus abominated those who gave, prayed, fasted in order to be seen by men. So, they weren’t happy in giving, they were happy in being praised by others. “They have their reward,” Jesus says.

“Well, what about me?” I’ve got this ten-dollar bill and I was just going out to eat or something and I think I should put it in, the right way to obey. When you don’t feel happiness is, number one, confess to God, “I should.” So, this is the answer to the second half of the question. Can you obey at all in Christian Hedonist terms without happiness?

Ultimately, ideal obedience always is a cheerful giver. God loves a cheerful giver, not a begrudging giver. So, a begrudging giver is not pleasing to the Lord. So, there’s something between a begrudging giver and a cheerful giver that’s a giver who’s just discovered that he ought to give joyfully and he doesn’t have it yet. And the way you do it is to say, “Father.” You’re walking out now, you got the ten dollars in your hand and there’s a box out there you’re going to put it in. “Father, I am so sorry for not desiring to give this. My heart’s not in this.” That’s step one.

Step two: “Please restore to me the joy of giving, the joy of my salvation. Overcome my love of money and my disinterest in the gospel and spreading it and caring for the poor. Have mercy upon me, help me, give me the joy I need.” And the third step is, put it in. Because sometimes, in the very putting it in, the joy is given. I have seen this in my life over and over again. Let me give you one illustration, scrap the giving illustration and go to the hospital visitation.

I get a phone call at 8:30. I’m playing with my kids. I’m needed at the hospital because there’s been a very serious accident and somebody’s wounded, they don’t know if they’re going to make it, and I haven’t had an evening with my kids for a long time and I’m not liking this news, but pastors have to do what they have to do. Duty, duty, duty, right?

So, I get in my car and I’m driving down there to Abbott. This has happened many times over thirty years, and I’m saying, “God, my heart is not right here. I’m going to be of no use to anybody in there because I’m just angry that I got this call. Why didn’t Tom Steller get it?” So, I’m admitting, I’m admitting, I’m confessing. I’m not trying to be a hypocrite. I’m not going to put a nice face on and say, “Oh, I love being here.” No hypocrisy. I hate hypocrisy, but I’m just being honest with the Lord.

And, now, I’m in the elevator and I’m praying, “Oh God, please, I don’t know what I’m going to find here. This is going to be really hard and I need you. I need to love what I’m doing here. Love these people. I want to overflow with joy. They need my joy in God. They don’t need this dutiful burden pastor.” And so I’m now at putting the money in the box.

So, I’ve just confessed my sin. I’ve prayed for help. The door’s open, I’m walking over, family’s standing around. I’m putting my hand up. At that moment, it comes. Loving being there happens then because you’re looking at a real human being who’s on the brink of eternity. You’re looking at real needy people around. You’re looking at there, we are hungry, help us, Pastor John. And at that moment, the glory of the gospel, the glory in heaven, the glory of the ministry comes to you.

So, yes, I should have gotten in the car without happiness. Yes, I should have gotten in the elevator and gone up without happiness. And no, I shouldn’t be ever content to minister without happiness, because they’re not helped if I try.

Pastor John, you say that you’re a seven-point Calvinist, which includes that this is the best of all possible worlds that it could be. But we also were reading the book, and it says, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.” So, if this is the best of all worlds, what are we to think is good or best about the unbelief of unbelievers, especially practically as a teacher or a preacher of the word and throwing, scattering the seed, and people are responding like they’re corpses. Should we say, “Ah, yes, this is what I should expect, glory.” Or, should we think there’s going to be different degrees of glory that God will expose in hearts?

Okay, you left out a key phrase when you quoted me. I think you said, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied.” And that’s not what I say. I say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” And I say it that way because I’m so aware of this criticism, and it’s a good one. It’s so important that you ask this question.

The wrath of man will praise the Lord, hell will glorify God, and nobody will be satisfied in God there. Nobody. In fact, hell is the opposite of heaven, and heaven is where you are perfectly satisfied in God. So, those people in hell who’ve rejected Christ are not most glorifying God in themselves. They are most glorifying God by manifesting his justice in their suffering. Now that’s the base answer to how the sentence works. I’m sure the larger issue, though, is still difficult, namely, is God more or less glorified by somebody getting saved?

And the answer is, in them, consciously, yes. Now there’s what we long for, is that a person will move from consciously dishonoring or ignoring God to consciously praising God. And, in that person, God then is more glorified.

We want that. We want that for everybody we minister to. But we know that God has set up the world in a way that if they blackball God, they don’t get the last say. I think this is why Jesus responded to the Pharisees who were so stiff arming him. I think he responded, for that reason, this way. “The reason you do not believe is because you are not of my sheep.” You thought your unbelief was frustrating me. It’s fulfilling my plan.

Now, we don’t know who those are. The reason you don’t believe is because God hasn’t given you to me. You are not of my sheep. It’s not you become my sheep by believing. You are not my sheep, therefore, you will not believe. You’re not elects, you won’t believe. So, nobody will be able to approach God on the last day. “Ha ha ha ha ha, I frustrated your designs, I’m in hell.” Nobody. God will have the last say, and nobody frustrates the designs of God, the ultimate designs.

Now, then we’re back to last week, where we talked about levels of desire in God, not willing that any should perish. Absolutely true. And yet, for wise and holy reasons, not saving everybody when he could. He could without destroying anybody’s free will. So, I think, the one truth that we most glorify God when we’re satisfied in him drives us to win people for their sake and for God’s glory in them that way.

And the other truth, that God cannot be frustrated in his ultimate designs, keeps us going. We don’t, in a cavalier way, say, “Oh three of these four soils are unfruitful. Cool. God has purposes for that.” Nobody. Paul weeps over his Jewish friends, my desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart . . . for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2–3). So, anybody who’s cavalier about lostness doesn’t have the heart of Jesus, they don’t know what they’re doing.

But in the end of the week, how are you going to survive if you think the gospel is failing among Islam right now? How are you going to keep going if you don’t believe God is sovereign? God is sovereign. He saves who he will and he uses us, so let’s penetrate.

John. Does Christian Hedonism endanger others’ feeling loved by us because it seeks to make us so relentlessly conscious of God?

Oh, that’s not where I thought it was going to go. Okay, I thought conscious of our joy is what I thought you were going to say. Say it again, now.

Does Christian Hedonism endanger others’ feeling loved by us because it seeks to make us so relentlessly conscious of God?

Yes, I know people like that. That is, I know people who hear me talk about my trust in God, relation with God, zeal for God, desire for God, satisfaction in God, and my desire for them to have it, that they feel like they’ve vanished in that equation and they don’t feel loved by me.

Now, there’s two possible explanations for that, and I think both of them would probably be at work. One is, I’m not representing him very well, which may be true in any given case where I’m trying to say why God is the most ultimately satisfying pleasure, I might be treating them badly. That’s one explanation and I need to be aware of that and confess and ask for more compassion and relational giftedness.

Another explanation that is not as much my guilt as theirs is that many people are simply not willing to see themselves loved when what you give them is God and not compliments. If people are wired to feel love by being made much of, by your compliments, then if you are short on compliments and big on God, they won’t feel it.

Now, that’s not your fault, that’s their fault. And, back to this preaching thing, my job is to so preach and so live and so write and so do Q&A that people will be awakened by the Spirit through the word to the fact that God is their supreme treasure, so that they would hear verses like Psalm 16:11: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

I want people to hear that and say, “That’s it. Fullness and forever. Him. That’s the end. I feel loved. Somebody introduced me to him, somebody showed me him. Somebody awakened me out of the short-term fleeting pleasures of the world to him. I feel so loved.”

This church, our church here, Bethlehem, is full of people like that. I have people come to me and they say, “I don’t care what else you do, just keep helping me see God. Just keep helping me see God, John, because that’s how you’re loving me best.” And, I think, therefore, it is possible that we get it wrong sometimes in our own demeanor and therefore we’re at fault. But often, it’s just that the people aren’t spiritually awake enough to see God as their pleasure and, therefore, feel loved in being shown him.

Pastor John, Psalm 145, it’s a song of praise. I’m looking at Psalm 145:15–16, says, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season,” and then, especially, Psalm 145:16, “You open your hand, you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” I’m just not sure how to read that. Is it, you satisfy the desire of every living thing or every living thing?

Or you satisfied the desire? And I’m not sure either, but I’ll give you another possibility besides the two you mentioned. Wouldn’t the psalmist be probably saying, “Wherever satisfaction is given, God is behind that, and you need to wake up to that.” Not that every human being always feels full satisfaction all the time. That would be so out of step with the Psalm and every other place, but rather, well, you need to know when you’re eating your grain and drinking your wine is, God gave you that.

Therefore, let grain become a beam that you rise into heaven and wine become a beam by which you rise into heaven, and you recognize the giver. You want to follow up on that? Okay. So, that would be, there are many, many statements like that about the world having these measures of satisfaction.

There’s two ways that God gets people’s attention: pain and pleasure. Pain is his shout, and pleasure is his woo, and when I was walking over here today, I just thought, “Look at the beauty of this day on this wicked city. Does anybody feel this? Does anybody downtown, pursuing their unbelieving, God-ignoring, Christ-belittling way feel what a gift they’re being given every second of this blue sky and this clean air and this peaceful, law-abiding place?” And so that’s one way.

And the other is, these hospitals around us are filled with dying and suffering people. And the point is, repent. Repent. You’re about to meet eternity. “Come to me.” So, whether it’s pain or pleasure, he’s after us.

John, should a Christian Hedonist compliment other humans? If so, could you give an example of how to affirm someone in a Christian Hedonist way?

Oh, where’s Sam Crabtree when you need him, right? He just wrote the book, and I think you should get the book Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree because that first chapter in Sam’s book is, I think, unique in Christian history. I don’t think that’s an overstatement. I think nothing’s ever been written like it. Sam scoured the Bible for arguments, and the subtitle of his book should have been — and I don’t want to get into this — God-Centered Praise for People Who Are Not God is the way it should have read, and it almost does. God-centered praise for people who are not God, and that’s what he finds all over the Bible.

For an example, maybe this would be an answer to the second half of the question. “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). Well, there it is. I mean, you’re told to praise her. And, in this case, the ground of your praise is, she’s manifestly a woman who’s fearing the Lord. And in the context, the cool thing about this woman is, she laughs at the time to come.

Okay, so now, if this is my wife, and it is, so many times when my wife is confronted with a prospect of a problem out there in the future somewhere, or she sees one of her boys running in with a big gash in his arm when they were little, she’s just so cool. I mean, she’s not, “Ah, what am I going to do?” Because this woman has her roots sunk so deep in God and her joy is so high in God that there’s an equilibrium about her life. She laughs at the time to come. Close her family with Scarlet, doesn’t care about the snow. Why?

She’s fearing the Lord. She’s got a fear in her life, fear of God and nothing else, right? Don’t need a fear of storm, don’t need a fear of the future. I got God to fear, and he’s on my side. So, I would say to her, I just love the way you handle problems. I love the way you encourage me by your being an unflappable person who manages trouble as well as you do.

So, the principle is, that Sam would lay down is, we are praising people for evidences of God’s grace in their life. Either common grace, you can even do it to an unbeliever, or special grace, a believer’s fruit of the Holy Spirit, and we may or may not make that explicit every time. You can thank somebody for their kindness without saying, “And God gave you that kindness.”

But if people know you, they will know, “The reason this person is so given to gratitude and spots evidences to be thanked and praised in people so often is because he’s so God-conscious that everything is coming from God and, therefore, wherever he sees it in people, he’s going to spot it and honor God by identifying it.”