For Your Joy

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.

Last summer John Piper contacted me with the gracious invitation to speak at the Pastor's Conference.  Though I'd spoken a few times at the National Conference, I hadn't participated in one of these Pastor's Conferences since 1992.  John called me, and I said, "sure."  About 15 minutes later a loud voice seemed to scream at me, "Storms, are you crazy?  The man who wrote Desiring God, the book on Christian Hedonism, will be sitting about 20 feet away from you!"

Clarifying Christian Hedonism

I hope by God's grace to clarify and encourage you with this remarkable truth without which I can't envision life, let alone ministry.

2 Corinthians 1:15-22

Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace.  I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea.  Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes.  For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.  And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Notice these two verses closely:

2 Corinthians 1:23-24

But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth.  Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

It never dawned on me in 1961, when I first felt called to ministry, that I was to partner with God in the purpose for which he created the universe.  Ten-year-olds don't generally have those kind of thoughts.  It wasn't until 1996 when I read Desiring God that this idea began to really take root in my heart.  Now I know many of you are in some sort of ministry, but I want to speak directly to pastors.  I want you to hear me say something that is breathtaking: The ultimate purpose of pastoral ministry is identical with the purpose for which God created the universe.

Why Ministry Exists

Now if you ask a pastor why they're in the ministry, you will rarely get that answer.  Some say they want to help people while others like to study the Word of God.  I can even remember, back in seminary in Dallas, men who said, "Well, I tried a couple of other careers that didn't work out, so I decided to give ministry a shot."  We may feel awkward at saying that we have the same purpose as God in creating the world because it feels too grandiose.

Jonathan Edwards says that God created man for this very end, that he might communicate happiness to him. This is contrary to what some say, that God created the world to give more happiness to himself. We are the something else of creation, different than the sun and moon and trees and oceans.  We are what Edwards called, "the spiritual part of creation."  "Wait a minute, I thought you said God created the universe for his glory, not our happiness.  You can't have both.  So which is it?"

You can have both.  He created the universe for both in order that he might glorify himself in our happiness.  If you don't grasp this truth, pastoral ministry will forever be a burden, a drag for your soul. The essence of glorifying God is the creature's joy in magnifying the divine beauty. 

Jonathan Edwards: "Glorifying God is nothing else than rejoicing in God in his glory.  But if God made man to rejoice in this, then he made man to be happy." Man was designed by God for exceeding, inexpressibly great happiness, not mundane, run-of-the-mill happiness.

God's Glory and Our Joy

Surely the passion God has for his glory is infinitely intense and passionate.  He does not take his glory lightly. All the energy of an omnipotent God is devoted to the pursuit of the praise of his name.  Therefore, the way this pursuit is most clearly seen is the delight his creatures have in it.  What he's saying is, if God is exceedingly devoted to his own glory, he must have created us for exceedingly and inexpressible joy.

Edwards is not talking about happiness in your new iPad or in a 6-figure salary or exceedingly good sex with your wife.  Those are good things, but they're not the main point.  It is happiness in the beholding of his glory.

Take this and apply it to spirituality.  There is a great interest in spirituality in our time.  This can be both good and bad.  So much of spirituality is really used to get in touch with yourself, or to use the words of another pastor, "to become a better you."  Edwards means not just joy in and of itself, but joy in God.

My point is this:  God created the universe to glorify himself by making us immeasurably and exceedingly happy in him.  And that, my friend, is the purpose of pastoral ministry.  All this is that you might lead, teach, shepherd, instruct your people into the enjoyment of God for the glory of God.

Encouraging the Exhausted

Some of you are exhausted.  You're not thinking of the enjoyment of God, but rather you're more worried about how to get the funding for that new building, that you wouldn't drive that big giver away. What might happen if you subordinate all that stuff to the pursuit of the enjoyment of God for the glory of God?

I came to Bridgeway Baptist in September 2008 after several years of being a Bible professor at Wheaton and an itinerant preacher.  I loved that time in my life, but it was so nice to return to a church home.  And I unabashedly told them I was a Christian Hedonist.  Yes, it is a shocking phrase. John intended it that way, but it's true.  Hedonist because I love pleasure, but Christian Hedonist because my pleasure is in Christ.

When you set an agenda for a week or a month or a year down the road, are you thinking of this truth? Jonathan Edwards: "Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of." Make no mistake: if you're not fighting for joy, you WILL burn out.

The Apostle Paul on Joy

Tonight I want to look at 2 Corinthians 1:23-24.  It's important to understand the historical and pastoral context.  Unlike his relationships with other churches, with the Corinthian church it was rocky at times.  They were questioning his apostleship, attacking his bodily weakness, and questioning his integrity when Paul changed his plans. 

Paul went to Corinth and it was very painful and humiliating visit.  Therefore, he decided to not go back for a longer visit later.  Thus he defends his decision in 2 Corinthians 1.  Paul says, in essence, "All that I do, I do for your joy." He pulls back a curtain on his own heart: "I want you to see what drives me:  your faith is not in me, but in Christ.  I labor for your joy in Jesus.  Energizing my every action was my desire to see your joy in Jesus.  When I rebuked you for you sectarianism, it was for your joy in Jesus.  And when I challenged you about generous giving, and warned you about false apostles, it was all for your joy in Jesus.'

My Definition of Joy

What is joy? It's a deep, durable delight in God that ruins you for anything else. Everything becomes sour. It ruins your taste buds for all other pursuits of pleasure.

Notice it says, "We work for your joy."  The NIV says, "We are coworkers." But I think it's not co-working with the Corinthians, but with Timothy and Silvanus.  The point is that it's work.  Did you think you were gonna get joy sitting passively on the hillside, strumming your guitar, listening to Chris Tomlin on your iPod (and I love him!)?  Or did you think you'd get it here in MN in the cold winter, that you might brush up against John Piper and some joy might rub off on you like pixie dust? Remember Philippians 2:12-13: "Work out your salvation in fear and trembling," because, to paraphrase, "God is always the antecedent."

One of my favorite prayers is Romans 15:13:  "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."   What's amazing is that he suspends the experience of peace and joy on belief.  I think he's saying here, "May God fill you as you believe or because you believe." In other words, believing in the Word of God as he's given it to us in scripture.  If you think it'll come any other way, you're wrong.      

Consider 1 Peter 1:8: "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory." There is the essence of loving, trusting, and enjoying Jesus. I think Peter is saying, "Though you don't see him, you believe. Therefore rejoice in him." 

Glorified Joy

People say everywhere, "This belief stuff, this knowledge is really a detriment to your joy in Jesus.  You should soft peddle it a bit."  Peter's joy here is the essence of joy from the red-hot depths of the glory of God.  This is not an infatuation.  This is so profound that human words will fail.  Human words have not been perceived, human tongues cannot articulate this kind of joy.  It's inexpressible.  It's full of glory. It's glorified joy, the shekinah glory brightness of joy. This is joy that is shot with glory through and through, permeated with and radiating the glory of God.

So many people want this joy, but they kind of have an expectation for it or sense some entitlement to it and they're disappointed when it doesn't happen. A lot of things come quite instinctively to me, but joy in Jesus isn't one of them.  Joy in the splendor of God doesn't spring spontaneously from your souls. It isn't produced like bile in your belly. It comes from fellowship with God.  There's no way that you and I can make the aim of our ministry joy in God unless it's operating in our own hearts.

Paul had no reason for joy.  Everything was stacked against him.  There were countless things working against his joy.  Paul would be a fool for experiencing joy.  No one would fault him for dismissing these folks and getting out of town. 

The True Basis for Joy

Most people think praise from others and appreciation of our efforts is the basis for joy.  But Paul was attacked, and lacked articulate words; he was weak in body and wasn't a good-looking man.  If Time Magazine had a 100 Sexiest Men of 1st Century Palestine, Paul would not be in there. "Well maybe money and success, that's the key!"  No! Paul was poor and needed help to live.  He endured sleepless nights and a thorn in the flesh and was cast into prison.  They called him a hypocrite.  Yet Paul was energized by a joy in Jesus.  That's why he said in 2 Corinthians 10, "We are sorrowful yet always rejoicing."

Maybe you're thinking that this kind of pursuit leaves you selfish, indifferent to neighbors, neglecting friends and family, etc.  That's not what Paul is talking about.  This is a deep, durable delight in the splendor of Jesus Christ that stokes the white-hot flames for the nations, that helps a man and woman to persevere in their marriage, that empowers the soul to overcome addictive behaviors, that enables a weak soul to persevere in the loss of a job or the death of a child.  It encourages a timid heart to engage a lost world with the light of the gospel.  And it encourages a church to be sustained through hard financial times as they lose much of their material possessions.

Why did God make us?  To glorify himself by making us immeasurably happy in himself. Why are you in pastoral ministry?  To lead your people into the enjoyment of God for the glory of God.