God’s Passion for Our Joy

Rezolution Conference | Johannesburg, South Africa

The reason you exist is to share in and to share God’s passion for God’s glory. Last night, we tried to unpack what I mean by God’s passion for his glory, and now we turn to your sharing in it. God is infinitely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity, and he has always been so from eternity. The sheer, absolute, eternal existence of God is a breathtaking idea. That he is happy in the fellowship of the Trinity from all eternity is an even more breathtaking idea. That he would then, in his overflowing fullness, create a universe and people in his own image destined by his grace to share in his happiness and his own perfections is the most breathtaking of all.

I’m going to unpack this in two steps. The first is to try to explain that the reason God has destined you to share in the joy that he has in himself is that your joy in him magnifies his worth. The way I say it is that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. So, you never have to choose between being happy and honoring God; you dare not choose. If you choose, you blaspheme and perish. If you would honor God, you must enjoy God. And if you enjoy God, enjoying him honors him. And if you enjoy him above all things, you honor him above all things. I want to show you that, that’s step number one.

Then the implication, step two, is that if that’s true, the staggering implication is you must devote yourself through all the rest of your life to being happy. You must not let a moment go by where you are not striving, even if it costs you your life, to be maximally happy. So those two things, let’s take number one.

Enjoying God Glorifies God

You glorify God the most when you’re most happy in him. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. Would you take your Bible, if you have one and can see it in the dark, turn to Philippians 1? This text, which I return to in my life over and over again, has been decisive in settling for me whether it’s true or not that God is most glorified in you when you’re most satisfied in him. So look for that truth and see if you see it even before I point it out.

Let’s start at Philippians 1:20: “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body.” So, his supreme passion is that Christ would look good in his life, be honored, be magnified, glorified. “Whether by life or by death,” if he lives, he wants Christ to look good by the way he lives. And if he dies, he wants Christ to look good in the way he dies. That’s his passion, that’s why he’s alive. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phillippians 1:21).

Now, the connection between verse 21 and 20 is all-important in my life. The little word “for” that begins verse 21 shows that he’s explaining, supporting what he just said about life and death. Notice the pair: there’s “life” at the end of verse 20, and there’s “to live” in verse 21. And there’s “death” at the end of verse 20, and there’s “to die” in verse 21. So you see the pair. So he’s unpacking life and death in verse 20 with “live” and “die” in verse 21. What does he say about them?

In verse 20, he says, “I want my Christ to look magnificent in my bodily living and my bodily dying.” That’s what 21 says. I hope you feel that way. If you’re not, I hope you’re praying that God would make you feel that way. “I want Christ to be magnified in my living and my dying.”

Now the question is, from verse 21, how would that happen? How do you make Christ look most glorified as you die? Let’s just talk about the death half of this pair. Well, because he says, “I want Christ to be honored in my body by death. For to me to die is gain.” You get it? Can you finish this point? How does that work? Christ be seen as magnificent in my dying because as I die I say, “Gain!” Does that make sense to you? It’s my life. This verse is all I want to do and be. It’s all I want to teach.

Here’s what it means: I’m 64, and if I were to die, I would be losing my wife, my 15-year-old daughter, my 12 grandchildren, my sons, my church, my retirement, the dreams of three more books I have in my mind, opportunities to talk to you, travel, and the things I haven’t experienced. I would be losing it all, and if I were to say at that moment because I’m getting Christ, “Gain!” who looks good at that moment? Jesus looks good. He looks infinitely better than my wife, my children, my church, and my ministry, my books. Because it’s gain! I’m losing everything and I’m calling it gain because I get Jesus. And all I do is make it rhyme.

God, Christ, is most magnified in me and my dying when I find him most satisfying in my dying. That didn’t rhyme — I was just making it up as I go along. Christ is most magnified in me when I am most satisfied in him — especially in death, especially in suffering. I mean, it’s easy to be happy when all’s going well. It’s impossible to be happy when everything’s going wrong, except Christ. Unless he’s your all.

So there it is, that’s my first point, and that’s the Bible verse I would take you to. If that doesn’t do it, I can’t do it. It does for me totally. Christ is most magnified in you when you are most satisfied in him, especially at those moments when you’re losing everything but Christ.

Ten Arguments for Pursuing Happiness in God

Now, if that’s true, the second point follows: If Christ is most magnified, glorified, looks best, and shines forth most clearly in his infinite value when I am most satisfied in him as I lose everything else, then my vocation in life becomes to pursue that satisfaction. That’s my second point. This is why I said, all the rest of your days, not an hour should go by when you are not riveted on the purpose of being happy, even if you have to cut off your hand, gouge out your eye, or lose your life to get it in God.

So for the rest of these minutes I have with you, I’m going to walk you through seven, eight, nine, or ten Bible verses—whatever we have time for—that prove that. Because over the years, I have found that people grew up like I did: namely, being told, “Do God’s will. Don’t seek your own happiness.” And I would sit there thinking, “Is there another possibility? Could those go together?” I have ten arguments to try to help you get on a personal crusade to seek your deepest, highest, fullest, longest happiness in God, no matter what it costs. And it may cost you your life.

1. God Commands the Pursuit of Joy

God commands you to do it:

  • “Serve the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:2). That’s a command.
  • “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). That is a command. These are the best commands in the world.
  • “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). That’s a command.

One time, a seminar leader and I were having a little conversation in front of a crowd. That person said to me, “I think you should pursue obedience, not joy.” To which my response was, “That’s like saying, ‘I think you should eat fruit, not apples.’” You get it? The Bible commands the pursuit of joy. Obedience is doing what the Bible commands. One of the things commanded is to pursue joy: “Rejoice! Serve the Lord with gladness! Delight yourself in the Lord!” If you are indifferent to your happiness, you are sinning.

2. Pastors Work for the Joy of the Flock

The Bible teaches that pastors should work with their people for their joy. Second Corinthians 1:24 says, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy.” Paul defined his ministry, both here and in Philippians 1:25, as coming alongside people and working with them for their joy. If you say you shouldn’t pursue that, you strive against the apostolic mandate. That’s why he wrote his books, and that’s why pastors preach. They come alongside their people and fight with them against all other satisfactions to fix people’s joy wholly on God.

3. Faith Pursues Joy in God

The Bible shows that the nature of faith, saving faith, teaches us to pursue joy in God. The very nature of what it means to believe teaches us that the essence of the Christian life is the pursuit of our joy in God.

John 6:35 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” Now, do you hear the parallel in the verse? You’ve got two halves of this verse, John 6:35. “I,” Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Not a stone to carry around, I’m your bread.” So, “Whoever comes to me,” he says, “shall not hunger.” And then, he parallels coming to him to eat and be without hunger with this next phrase, “Whoever believes.” Now, these two halves define each other. Belief, “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” So how would you define faith based on that verse?

Here’s how I do it. “I’m the bread of life, he who comes to me will not hunger.” “I’m satisfied, I’m not hungering anymore.” “And he who believes in me will never thirst.” “I’m not panicked after every satisfying drink that comes along, I’ve got it.” So, faith is coming to Christ so as to be satisfied in him. That’s my paraphrase of John 6:35. So, faith is not some intellectual decision in which you assess evidence, draw conclusions, affirm truths, and feel nothing. That’s not faith. Faith is coming to a fountain and drinking. Faith is coming to bread and eating. Faith is finding Christ to be such that it is true I do not hunger for sin anymore.

That’s why I said, “This is a battle until the end of your life, and it may require you to cut off your hand.” Because you wake up every morning hungering for sin, probably, if you’re like me anyway. Which means that every day I have to set out again on this quest and go to my Bible and say, “Show me your supreme value so that my heart will be satisfied in you and stop going after these other things that are making me such an idolater and so cruel, and crabby, and mean, and frustrated, and angry.” That’s number three. The definition of faith itself, the nature of faith itself, teaches us to pursue joy.

4. Forsaking Joy in God Is Evil

The nature of evil shows that we should pursue joy in God all the time, the nature of evil. So what is evil? There are probably a lot of different ways to define evil. I’ll give you one from Jeremiah 2:12–13. Listen to the prophet speak of evil:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
     be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
     the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
     broken cisterns that can hold no water.

That’s evil: the essence of evil is being offered a fountain of life and joy called God, tasting it, turning away from it, and scratching at the earth, hoping I can find a better fountain; eating the dirt and calling it good. All sin is suicidal, all sin is poison. The Devil makes it taste so good to foolish, fallen hearts who have turned away from the fountain.

The Devil tries to define evil as finding more pleasure than God. He’s been a liar from the beginning, so don’t let him do that to you. He’s a liar, and he crawls right inside your guts and your brain, and starts telling you, “This is better. This is more pleasing. This is more satisfying.” And you look at the fountain of life and say, “Looks boring to me.” Then you turn and agree with the liar. That’s evil. Forsaking your joy in God is the essence of evil (Jeremiah 2:12–13).

5. To Convert Is to Pursue Joy in God

The nature of conversion shows that we should pursue our joy in God all the time. The shortest parable, I think, that Jesus told, one verse in Matthew 13:44, goes like this. It’s a description of conversion. I hope it’s happened to you. If it hasn’t, I hope it happens to you now. Come, Lord Jesus. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” That’s what conversion is.

So you’re stumbling along through life, thinking, “It’s all together. I’m healthy and strong, got a girlfriend, boyfriend, got a job, got a dream, passed the test.” And you stub your toe on something. And you uncover and lift the chest. It’s a chest with a million, million dollars in gold. You thought you had been rich. Now you know. “If I could have this. If this were mine.”

So you cover it over, lest anybody else finds it. Don’t press every detail in a parable, right? And you go and buy the field. Because evidently the law was, if you had the field and you owned the field, what you found in it was yours, evidently. So you buy the field. To buy the field, you sell everything. Sell your wedding ring, sell your grandmother’s grandfather clock, sell your house, sell your car, sell your computer. Piper sold his books. And you buy that field. The key word is, “Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has.”

Remember David Livingstone, a big name in Africa, I hope. He said at the end of his life to the Cambridge students, who admired the pains he had gone through at that stage, “I never made a sacrifice.” How could he talk like? He had suffered greatly. Because he knew this parable, that’s why. I mean, if you watched this man getting rid of everything, you’d say, “Whoa, that’s a huge sacrifice, just to go follow Jesus?” But if you saw things the way he saw things, you wouldn’t call it a sacrifice.

Of course, that requires that you see Jesus this way, doesn’t it? Do you? I mean, compared to a career, compared to a girlfriend, compared to books, compared to your computer, whatever you like, is Jesus billions of times more valuable? Well, he is. And all I’m saying is that you should pursue that feeling. Your heart should be there. Which is why I prayed at the beginning, “I can’t make this happen.” You can’t make this happen. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. For you to walk out of here treasuring Christ a thousand times more than you treasure anything, that’s a miracle. It’s called conversion.

6. Terrible Things Come to Those Who Will Not Be Happy

The Bible threatens us with terrible things if we do not pursue our joy in God. I read once from Jeremy Taylor, who lived hundreds of years ago, “God threatens terrible things to those who will not be happy.” And I thought, “That sounds so clever. I love that sentence. I wonder if that’s in the Bible.” I’ll read it to you from Deuteronomy 28:47–48: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart . . . therefore you shall serve your enemies.” God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.

I’m a serious guy, and I agree with C.S. Lewis that the pursuit of happiness is the most serious business in the world. We’re not playing games here. You’re going to perish if you don’t get happy in Jesus. That’s really scary for most of us because some of us have real wintry personalities. You know, there are springy personalities, and then there are wintry personalities, and I’m a wintry guy. That’s why I write all these books about pursuing happiness because I’m not happy. You laugh, but I want to be what I ought to be. I know what the book says, I know what I’m called to do. I’ve tasted the fountain, I’ve tasted the bread. I know where my treasure is, and getting this heart to be fully satisfied with that is my life’s purpose. And it’s a daily battle. I’m just pointing out how serious it is because God threatens terrible things if we continue to find television, video games, pornography, or drugs more valuable than Christ.

7. Self-Denial Seeks Fullest Joy in God

Paradoxically, the Bible’s teaching about self-denial teaches us to seek our fullest joy in God. Now, at this point, I’m trying to answer an objection. Because over the years Bible people who hear me talk this way say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. You’re not owning up to all of Scripture. You’re kind of picking and choosing. What about Jesus’s words, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross [an instrument of execution] and follow me’ (Mark 8:34)? You go out there, tell all these people to pursue their happiness all their life, and don’t let an hour pass where they’re not pursuing happiness in God. How does that fit?”

My response to that is, “Just keep reading the verse. You say I’m picking and choosing? Just read the next verse.” So let’s do that. Mark 8:34–35 says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For,” now, how is Jesus going to give you incentives to take up an instrument of execution and deny yourself things? Here’s the way he motivates you: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Now, what kind of argument is that? The argument is, “You don’t want to lose your life, do you? No. So, lose it.” That’s exactly what he says: “Because if you lose it, you’ll save it. And if you save it, you’ll lose it. And I want you to save it, so lose it.”

And Jesus is not toying with words here. It is provocative. I do admit it is provocative. But you know what he means. He means, “Go for broke, get the big eternal full joy! Don’t settle for all the stuff the world offers. Deny yourself all that. Deny yourself tin so that you can have silver and gold. Deny yourself brackish water in the gutter so that you can have mountain springs. Deny yourself some kind of cheapo wine so you can have 100% proof wine.” Yes, there’s self-denial in the world. Deny yourself everything that will keep you from maximally enjoying God.

Oh, I believe in self-denial; it’s my daily bread, given the way my heart goes after other things. That’s why I said, “Better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell.” Where did Jesus say that? He said that in trying to help men and women stop lusting: “Gouge out your eye because it’s better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go to hell.”

Lust is a treasuring of what is low, and we need to treasure what is glorious and high. And if we have to gouge out our eyes or cut off our hands, that is what self-denial is. But you don’t deny yourself in order to find God unattractive. That’s blasphemy. Ultimate self-denial is blasphemy. It’s like looking God in the face, who offers himself to you as an infinite treasure and saying, “Yes, but your Son said I’m supposed to deny myself, so I’m not going to enjoy you.” That’s crazy. You don’t think that, do you? That’s ultimate self-denial. Self-denial is a strategy for enjoying God to the max.

Here’s the way Jesus put it in John 12:25: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” So obviously, the incentive is: you want eternal life, don’t you? Therefore, hate your life in this world. And that little addition, “in this world,” solves the paradox of Mark 8:34–35. He could have said it there, “Lose your life in this world, and you’ll save it forever.” But he didn’t; he left that out. However, here he puts it in: “Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it.” So if you genuinely love your life and want eternal maximum joy, go ahead and do things that look like you hate your life here. And that’s no small thing.

It’s kind of what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). It means doing things that, to the world, you hate them. Like going to Afghanistan with your wife and kids, laying your life down while your grandparents think you’re crazy, your parents think, “That’s hating my grandchildren.”

Man, I’ve had parents in my face. I had one parent of one of our missionaries say to me, “If my son doesn’t come home, I’m going to kill you.” And he wasn’t laughing, and I wasn’t laughing, and he meant it. His son spent nine years in a country I won’t name. And he did come home. And now he’s preparing to go back. I don’t know if his father’s still living. He lived in Mexico at the time. We’re not playing games here.

Hate your life in this world means you go where the world would say, “You’re just crazy. That is a crazy way to spend your life, absolutely insane. You’re hating your life. All I can tell is, you hate your wife, you hate your kids, you hate yourself because you’re going there when you could live in America or Johannesburg. It’s just so safe.” I mean, it doesn’t look that safe around here. But there are places a lot more dangerous. But I’m glad you’re here. I think you get it.

Self-denial is real. It is real. But it doesn’t mean denying yourself joy in God. It means denying yourself everything that keeps you from enjoying God. And God has appointed for some of you to find him most fully in the United Arab Emirates, or in China, or Nepal, or Thailand, or Indonesia, in northern India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia.

You know, I’m going down next week to the Lazon Missions Conference, and oh, how I pray that resounding out of those ten days to the whole global church will be the message: “People need the gospel. They’re perishing without the gospel. If they haven’t heard the gospel, they don’t have a chance of salvation. Let’s take the gospel.” And the fact is, most of the places that don’t have the church already indigenously planted are places that don’t want you to come. And the Bible didn’t say anything about only going where they want you to come. Paul wouldn’t have spent every other weekend in jail if he had followed that advice. He knew that in every city dangers awaited him. That’s why he didn’t marry, probably. You better marry the right person, or don’t marry.

8. The Bible Calls Us to Be Gladness in Our Weakness

The Bible teaches that our gladness in weakness magnifies the power of Christ and so calls us to find gladness in our weakness. We exalt Christ by being glad in the midst of our weaknesses. So I’ll read 2 Corinthians 12:9 to you: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” So, if you want to magnify the power of Christ and you are beset by weaknesses, the surefire way not to magnify him is to grumble and be angry and frustrated that you have these weaknesses. I have some weaknesses, they’re glaring. And I have wrestled long with being content with them.

I’ll give you one example: I am a painfully slow reader. Take heart, any of you who cannot read any faster than you can talk. It’s just a glitch in my brain. I took Evelyn Wood’s Reading Dynamics course when I was in the 11th grade in high school, desperate to be able to read faster because everybody read faster than I do. I was so embarrassed. My sister could read a novel in one night, you know, one of these teenaged girl novels, and I’d look at that and say, “How does she do that?”

I was a literature major in college. I skipped every novel class because you had to read six novels, and they’re all thick, and I knew I couldn’t do it. So, I put poetry classes in their place; poems are short. I can analyze, but I can’t read fast. It’s been like a claw on me all my life. And I’ve said to the Lord, “I could do so much more if I could read faster.” That’s a bad attitude. I mean, it’s okay to try to overcome a weakness when you’re in the 11th grade. Spend a few years trying to overcome your weakness. If the Lord finally says, “Look, you’ve got to stop trying to overcome this. I have appointed you to be weak in this, okay?”

So now, do this verse: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So all of you got some, you do, all of you do. Some of you are very strong in one area, very weak in another, and vice versa. And I would like you, after you do everything you can to discover the fullness of who you are, to rest. He made you. He didn’t make any mistakes, even those of you with disabilities. I mean, we’ve got a big disability ministry at our church, and we say really radical crazy things, like nobody’s a mistake. Nobody. Autism is not a mistake. Not having any elbows or shoulders is not a mistake. Come on, parents, this is the hardest thing you’ll ever do: to rejoice in this child. This is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. He’s a gift.

9. Generosity Must Be Motivated By Joy

The Bible commands that our generosity be motivated by joy, which means if you don’t pursue your joy, your giving will be displeasing to the Lord. Second Corinthians 9:7: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

So if I’m a pastor and I’m talking about giving, the last thing I’m going to say to my people is, “I don’t care how you feel, write the check.” I’m never going to say that, ever. Because that’s not what this verse says. “God loves a cheerful giver. Don’t give reluctantly or under compulsion.” So, what do I do as a pastor? I labor for their joy. And if they don’t have it, they can keep their money. I don’t want their money. I want their hearts. I want them to find Christ so fully as their treasure that these treasures just go. They just go freely.

So, if I were to say to you, “It doesn’t matter how you feel about giving. It doesn’t matter whether you have any cheer in it,” I’d be telling you to sin, wouldn’t I? “The Lord loves a cheerful giver,” not a giver legalistically under compulsion trying to impress people with his money or relieve a guilty conscience or whatever. He wants you free, doing what you love to do. Die, give, suffer, sacrifice, serve, love. That’s what he wants. The happiest people on the planet are the most sacrificial of all.

10. Joy in God Is Necessary for Acts of Love

Finally, the Bible shows that joy in God is the necessary motive for all acts of love. So I’ll stop here because that’s tomorrow morning’s message. You exist to share in God’s joyful passion for his glory. And you exist to share with others God’s joyful passion in his glory. That’s called love. And it’ll take a whole message to unpack the amazing life that that is.

What is love to people? I’ve been talking in the last 45 minutes about what love to God is. Love to God is being satisfied in God and treasuring God above all things. And you should pursue that joy, that satisfaction all the time. Not an hour should go by when you are not denying yourself lesser joys and pursuing the joy that comes from knowing, seeing, embracing, befriending, being saved by, justified by, cleansed by, adopted by, loved by, embraced by God.