God’s Passion for Our Joy

Engage 2011

Katoomba, Australia

I cannot overstate the preciousness of memorizing Scripture. So if you get anything from these two recitations, get the incentive: “I’m going to do that.” Go learn a whole chapter. If you want to learn a book, learn Philippians. Most of you think it’s totally impossible. It’s not impossible.

Here’s how you do it. Every day, read a verse 10 times, close your eyes and say it 10 times and stop. The next day, recite that verse and read the next verse 10 times and close your eyes and say it 10 times. And you’re done. The next day, recite those two verses and go to the next one and read it 10 times, and say it 10 times with your eyes closed. You can memorize an entire book that way. It will take you a couple of months to do that for Philippians, and your life will never be the same again.

God Made us for God

I took a walk this morning and there’s a connection with what I’m saying here. It was called a bush walk by the guy who took me. Bush is an adjective in my vocabulary; it means bad, but this was really good. We drove as far as we could go along that little strip of road that rides along the rim, and then we walked for another half hour and we walked through bushes. And then we got out on the rock where you made my knees wobble.

The connection is this: Last night’s talk made the point that God’s aim in all that he has ever done and will ever do is to lift up, to make plain, to display, to vindicate, to honor his worth, his glory, his beauty, and his excellence. The universe is about God. The heavens and those blue mountains out there are declaring the glory of God. This is about God. Now, that was the point last night. And then I went further, using C.S. Lewis I said that his summons for us to praise him is not egomania; it is love.

God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest virtue and the most loving act. Because what satisfies the human soul, what you were made for, is not mountains and chips and cookies and fellowship — ultimately, you were made to see and savor God. All those other things are good. Food is good. Mountains are good. Fellowship is good. But all of them are like springboards to the ultimate reality that satisfies, and that is God.

And so for God to lift up that reality for you to see and then summon you to complete your joy, not just express, by praising him is what love is. Christians have to work hard in this world, I think, to define love in a way that is biblical. And the world doesn’t get it at first.

Longing for Insignificance

Here’s the connection with the walk this morning. When I say the world doesn’t get it at first, I mean that there are things written on the hearts of the people you work with, who are not Christian — things that link in with what I’m saying. God’s God-centeredness may feel so high and so distant and so lofty from where they live their lives that you may say, “There’s just no way I could make a connection between what he said in Katoomba and what these people live for on the weekend. I can’t build that bridge.” Yes, you can. And my walk this morning proved it.

I brought along a page that I tore out of a magazine. I tore this advertisement out and this advertisement has a picture almost like what I saw this morning, and it’s selling granola bars. It’s Nature Valley Trail Mix Fruit and Nut Granola Bars. I don’t know if you know those, but that’s the picture of the granola bar there. I assume you know what a granola bar is.

And here’s the picture. This is Yosemite National Park in America, and there’s a peak right there. At the top of this peak, over this magnificent Vista, are two human beings — little teeny specks up there. And one of them has his arms stretching out, so I did that out on the rock this morning. And he has ropes hanging there. They climb this thing, which looks impossible to climb, and they’re standing there. If a little wind came along, they’re dead. I mean, they’re going to get blown off. It makes my knees watery just to look at it.

Now, this is selling granola bars. What do you think is written at the top of the advertisement? We shot a little video out there to capture this, and we’re trying to make it work so you can see it online, maybe. But anyway, here’s what’s written at the top of this advertisement. And this is the bridge to your unbelieving friends from this talk and this event to them. In order to sell granola bars, it says:

You never felt more alive. You never felt more insignificant.

Now, I picture these advertising gurus sitting around a boardroom, trying to think of how to sell granola bars, and one of them says, “Why don’t we appeal to the universal desire for insignificance?” They must’ve said something like that. This is really strange. As soon as I saw it, I said, “This is gold.” I mean, this is just gold for sermons. I assume it’s gold for granola bars because they’re smart. These are not stupid people. They’re appealing to something. What is this? What is going on here?

This is the secular magazine trying to sell granola bars and they say with a mountain and a vast terrain, a beautiful lake down here, and a fragile human being, “You never felt more alive. You never felt more insignificant.” My point is that that’s written on your friends’ hearts. What is that saying? That is saying, whatever language they use, there are moments in life out in the blue mountains, or on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or looking out of an airplane window during a lightning storm, when you feel unbelievably small, fragile, temporary, and gloriously alive.

Terrified and Safe

Written on your heart is the truth that you’re made for God. You are made not to be big, but to see big. You’re made to be a little, infinitely happy worshiper. You’re not made to be God. God is God. And we know it. They know it. Why do they go to the movies they go to? Why do they buy the big, glossy books with rivers and mountains and animals? They never get to go there so the best they can do is put them on their little tables in their apartment and look at these mountains.

What is that? And these movies where everything is this big and blowing up and fire everywhere, why do people go to those things and get the hell scared out of them? What is that? It’s because we’re made to fear God. There are these tinges down inside. We’re made to be afraid and secure. We want to be in the theater when it’s blowing up, not in the car. So we don’t want to go to hell, but we want to see this kind of justice and this kind of power.

My point is, don’t you think that these truths, insofar as they’re biblical, are stamped on the hearts of every unbeliever you know? You just need to live into their lives and speak with enough earnestness and creativity and authenticity that they say, “Yeah, I can taste a little of that, maybe,” and then maybe you can take them on up. That was still just drawing a conclusion to last night.

Our Joy, His Glory

The second issue now is not just that God is doing everything he’s doing in order to show his glory, though that’s good news because God is our joy and God is our satisfaction. We were made for God. Our hearts were not made to dwell on ourselves. They’re made to forget ourselves and be thrilled with the mountain. I mean, just imagine yourself standing out there in the best promontory you can find this afternoon, then looking out over these vast stretches and these cliffs and worrying about whether the jeans you have on are the right ones for the people around you. Just think of that.

Wouldn’t that be an absolute tragedy? But that’s the way we are. We live most of our lives keying off what others are thinking about us. And the goal of life is to forget me and be thrilled with him and all that he’s done in history, including those mountains.

Well, here is the second point now. Beyond the fact that God is my satisfaction and he means to lift himself up as that, he has created a universe and set up the human soul in such a way that when we find satisfaction in him, he is glorified in that very happiness. Or the way I put it is that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. That’s today’s thesis, and the implications are dramatic.

If that’s true, if I can show you that from the Bible — that God is most glorified in you when you were most satisfied in him — then you dare never choose between glorifying God and being happy. You may never think of the world that way. You may never think of God that way. You may never think of church that way. You may never think of eternity that way, thinking, “I’ve got to choose between glorifying God and being happy.” You cannot. If you think that way, you sin. That’s my thesis today.

You are most happy when you see him and he is most glorified when you are satisfied in seeing him. And therefore, you should pursue your joy in him all the time to the max.

Full and Forever

Here’s a verse. I’ll do this again like last night. This is Psalm 16:11, and it’s one of the most important verses in my life:

You make known to me the path of life;
     in your presence there is fulness of joy;
     at your right hand are pleasure forevermore.

Nothing can be fuller than full, and there isn’t anything longer than forever. So I would dare to say that if you can show me any religion that can beat that, I will stop being a Christian and go with that religion. Come up to me afterward and show me a religion that can beat full happiness forever. If anybody can beat that, I’ll take it. This is why I’m a Christian. It cannot be beaten. By definition, it can’t be beaten. Full is full, and forever is forever. There isn’t anything longer, and there isn’t anything fuller. You can’t offer me anything better.

What I’m arguing in this session is that when you experience that, God is magnified. When you experience that in God’s presence because of God, when your joy is in God and it’s full and in God and it’s forever, he is shown to be magnificent. That’s today’s effort.

All we’re going to do is go to the Bible and show you verse after verse of where this is coming from. I’ve been trying to make this plain since 1971 or so, and I have found that lots of people, when they hear that they should pursue their joy all the time and that God is dishonored if they don’t, they are kind of shocked and they need a lot of proof. So that’s what I’m going to show you.

Christ Magnified

Let’s go to the text that was recited, which is Philippians 1. If you have a Bible, look at it with me. If you don’t, listen carefully. Philippians is a little four-chapter book, full of joy and full of pain because the two often go together in the Christian life. These are key verses for me, and if you were in Sydney at the event on Wednesday night, I gave you a brief unpacking of this. I will do a little more detail now.

Here’s what I’m after. This text, these several verses, are, in my mind, the best place to go in the Bible for an explicit defense of the statement God is most glorified in you, or Christ is most magnified in you, when you are most satisfied in him. That’s what I’m looking for here. Is it here? If it’s not here, well, it better be someplace else because I don’t want you to believe it if it’s not in the Book. Philippians 1:20 says:

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 (megalynō) in my body, whether by life or by death.

The Greek word there is megalynō. You can even hear it in English — it means to magnify, to make something be shown to be mega, shown to be great, or shown to be magnificent. Paul’s goal in life is that he wouldn’t be ashamed of Jesus, but on the contrary that in his body, Christ would always be shown to be magnificent. That’s why you’re on the planet. That’s why you live in Australia. That’s why you exist. You exist so that off of your life could be read, “Christ is magnificent.” That’s what bodies are for.

I just read again this morning 1 Corinthians 6:20, where Paul says, “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” And it’s the same thing in 1 Corinthians 7. You were bought with a price. So now, why were you bought? To make Christ look great with your hands, your tongue, your eyes, your arms, and your legs. Everything you have regarding your body is designed to make Christ look great.

By Life or By Death

He says what costs to be honored or magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. Now, notice the one pair, life and death, because he’s going to pick it up in Philippians 1:21. Paul is saying, “I want to make him look good in my life and I want to make him look good in my death.” Then Philippians 1:21 says:

For to me to live (that corresponds with life) is Christ, and to die (that corresponds with death) is gain.

What he’s doing in connecting Philippians 1:20 with Philippians 1:21 is using this little word for, which can be support, ground, or explanation, and it’s showing how Christ is made magnificent in life and in death. Philippians 1:21 is the explanation or the support. It’s how this happens, and it’s the reason why you can say what Paul said. That’s what I hope you would want to know right now. Because you want your life to make Christ look great and you want your death to make Christ look great. Let’s just take the death half.

Let me read it like that: “My expectation is that Christ would be magnified in my body by death, for to me to die is gain.” That’s the argument. I could have said, “I want Christ to be magnified in my life, for to me to live is Christ,” but I’m just leaving out the life half, and I’m going with the death half because it’s more vivid in what the answer is as to how you make Christ look magnificent. Paul says, “I want Christ to be shown to be magnificent in my body by death for” — here’s how it works — “to me to die is gain.”

Far Better Where He Is

Now, if you were to turn that into a syllogism, there are some premises missing. Why does that work? Why does my death being gain make Christ look magnificent? The missing premise is given in Philippians 1:23. You have to add this or it doesn’t make any sense. Paul says:

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ (that is, to die), for that is far better.

Now we’ve got the premise. When he said gain back in Philippians 1:21, we asked, “How is death gain for goodness sakes? You lose everything, don’t you?” No, you do not — not if Philippians 1:23 is true. To die is to be with Christ, so there’s a more intimate, immediate experience of the risen Christ after I die than I have now. I do see Christ now. I see him in his word. His Spirit applies the word to my life. I see echoes of his excellence out in the blue mountains. I do have access to Christ now, but nothing like I will have the minute I die. There will be the risen Christ in his body, visible to me, welcoming me into his presence, and I will know why Paul wrote far better.

Do you think this is good? Do you think life is good? It’s not good compared to what’s coming, and getting that straight makes all the difference. So now let’s go back and see if we can understand how the logic works.

The Logic of Superior Satisfaction

Philippians 1:20 says:

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, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

He is saying, “For me to die is to have more of Christ.” Now, I assume that the word gain is a positive thing. When I gain, I gain joy, I gain satisfaction, I gain peace, and I gain contentment. Gain is not negative. It’s positive. And I gain all that because I gain Christ. He is that satisfaction. He is that joy. He is that peace. I gain more of him.

So here you are. Put yourself in the place of a young woman in our church right now who’s in her mid-twenties and we don’t know if the bone marrow transplant is going to take. She is on day 70 right now, but you need to have 100 days with no graft rejection. And we’re praying earnestly for her life. Suppose it doesn’t take and the doctor says, “We did our best.” And she says, “How long do I have?” And the doctor says, “Six months.”

Now, if she is into it with Paul, she’s going to be saying, “All right. If that’s what you have planned for me, Lord, I want in my body, now this dying body, to honor you, magnify you, and make you look great as I die.” How would she do that? She’s lying there in her hospital bed eventually and she’s surrounded by all her friends. She works for Desiring God, and we would get around her, wouldn’t we? And we would stand by her, we would sing to her, we would pray with her, and we’d read Scripture to her.

And if God were merciful and gracious to her, she would look all of us in the face and say, “I love you. I love you. You’re precious to me.” Her dad went down to be with her and she moved in with her parents, so she’d look at them and say, “You’ve been good parents. I love you.” And then she’d look up and say, “But you know what? In a few hours, I’m going to see him. And when I lose you, and I lose the next 50 years of my life, which I had planned on, and when I lose the marriage that just came unglued with my fiancé a few months ago, it will be gain.”

Now, at that moment, with the nurses standing around and all of us standing around, Christ is going to look unbelievably valuable. Christ will be made much of at that moment. If she is so satisfied in Christ that she can look at each one of us, look at a life being lost and everything she knows on the earth going away, and say, “Gain,” Christ is magnified. And that’s my argument.

That’s the way Paul thinks here. That’s the basis of my statement, Christ is most magnified in you when you are most satisfied in him, and I would add, especially at moments of suffering and death. If at the moment when everything that you enjoy in this world is being taken away from you, you say, “Gain,” Christ looks really good. Yes, he does. That’s where I want to be, and that’s the way I want to help you to be. That’s my biblical defense of the statement God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. You make him look really good when you count him to be gain and everything else to be loss.

A Relentless Pursuit of Satisfaction

Now, if that’s true, then you should pursue that satisfaction all the time. The glory of God and that satisfaction in God are never alternatives — never. Therefore, you may never say, “Well, I have to choose the glory of God this time and not my satisfaction in him.” Never can you say that, because satisfaction in him is the way he is glorified.

If your satisfaction in him begins to diminish, his glory in your life will cease to shine proportionately. As your satisfaction goes up in your toys, in your health, in your spouse, or in your job, and that’s starting to be your treasure, the glory of God is just going to start going down. The sun is going to set over here while this wonderful treasure of your health and your looks and your job and your success are shining as your treasure. God will just kind of be fading away.

But as your satisfaction is found in God, you’re treasuring God and your other treasures are down where they’re supposed to be, and God is supreme, then his glory shines in your life. So to me, the Christian life is really a pretty simple affair. And when I say simple, I don’t mean simple as opposed to easy, I mean simple as non-complex. It’s not complex. The battle is every morning to get up and open this Book and be satisfied with God, and then go down to the breakfast table or off to work with my heart profoundly restful in God.

He has loved me. He has cared for me. He has protected me. He has promised to be with me and help me. He has satisfied the ache of my soul, and now I can be a man for others and can forget about myself. That’s a simple and impossible calling. So that’s what I do with most of my life. That’s why I’m here in Katoomba — to try to show that to you and help you experience it,

Biblical Basis for Pursuing Joy in God

Here’s the way we’re going to do it next. We’re going to go to texts. I have eight of them, but one of them is tonight’s message so we’ll skip it, and then there will be something to say tonight.

If there’s time, I’m going to give you seven texts, or points, and all these points are meant to defend biblically the statement that you should pursue your joy in God all the time, and never, ever relent from that pursuit. You should be thinking while you’re up in the morning, midday, evening, always, with your teeth grinding, “I am going to get this joy if it kills me. I’m going to get it.” And it might. That’s what a lot of martyrs have chosen because the pursuit of maximum joy in God has led to circumstances that cost them their lives.

1. The Command to Rejoice in God

Here we go. These are my seven arguments. Number one: You are commanded by God through the Bible to rejoice in him, to delight in him. Philippians 4:4 says:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

He had a chain around his leg when he said that. So in the Lord, we are to rejoice. This is a command. This is not a suggestion. Or consider Psalm 100:2, which says:

Serve the Lord with gladness!

Don’t serve him any other way. Serve him with gladness. Don’t think that your gladness in service is optional. Don’t think that it’s negligible. Don’t think it’s icing on the cake. It’s the cake. If you leave it out, what you have is legalism, gutting it out, and merely doing your Christian duty — but for what? The response some might have is, “I don’t know, but I’m supposed to do it. And I do what I’m supposed to do because I’m a good, solid Christian.” The Bible says:

Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
     It is he who made us, and we are his;
     we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
     and his courts with praise (Psalm 100:2–4).

Psalm 37:4 says:

Delight yourself in the Lord.

Joy and Obedience

Those three passages, among many, give commands to rejoice in God. I was with a woman one time in a panel and we were sort of debating. We were really just sharing. And I made the case that you should go into missions to maximize your joy in God — later I’ll show you why that is biblical — and she didn’t like that. So she said, “No, John. I don’t think you should constantly tell people to pursue their joy. You should tell them to pursue obedience. The joy may or may not come. Pursue obedience.”

And my response to that was and has been ever since, “That’s like telling people to pursue fruit, not apples. Obedience is what? Doing what God tells you to do, right? If God says to do something, you do it. And what did he tell you to do? Rejoice. So, ma’am, I’m just telling them to obey that command. Is that okay?”

I mean, I’m just being specific. We should be specific. There are lots of commands in the Bible, and you say pursue obedience. I say, ‘Amen!’ I’m totally for pursuing obedience, but I just think it helps to be specific. When the Bible says, “Rejoice,” I think you should obey that, which is way harder than obeying, “Don’t kill,” “Don’t commit adultery,” “Don’t lie,” and “Don’t steal.” Those are easy because they all involve muscles, and I can control my muscles. I won’t stick you. I won’t do that. That’s easy. I have self-control. But be happy? I think Christianity is impossible. I think it’s a miracle. I don’t think you can do it. I think you have to be born again to be a Christian.

2. Warnings Against Unhappiness

Argument number two: God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy. The text for that is Deuteronomy 28:47–48, which goes like this:

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart…therefore you shall serve your enemies …

That’s the threat. God is saying, “You have to serve your enemies because I called you to serve me with gladness and you don’t love me. You don’t delight in me. You don’t find my way pleasant. You just want to do your own private thing without any regard for me. And therefore, I’m going to let you serve your enemies. You’re going to treat me like an enemy, so I’ll let you serve your enemies. I want you to serve me like one who is serving you.”

Let the one who serves serve in the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11). God is the supplier when we serve. We’re not supplying him with anything. The service of God is not hard labor. Jesus says:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart … (Matthew 11:28–29).

In other words, “I’m summoning you to come to me so I can lift your burden and lighten your yoke.”

My Yoke Is Easy

About 25 years ago, I threw it out to the church, “Would somebody draw this for me? Would somebody send me a painting of this text? And here’s what I want you to draw: Jesus summoning me to take on his yoke. All right?” It says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.” Now, you know what yoke is. They’re big, wooden things that go onto cows or bulls or whatever you put in them. And they’re heavy.

And Jesus is saying, “Come on, mine is really easy. It’s a yolk, but it’s easy.” So he puts it on and he stands behind me and there’s a plow. This is old-fashioned, okay? We don’t have tractors. This is 2,000 years ago. And we have a plow here and I’m in the yolk ready to pull the plow. And here’s my picture. Here is Jesus and that’s me in the yolk, and we’re going to plow this field together. And he takes the handle of the plow and lifts the ox off the ground and he pushes it.

Will somebody draw that for me? It’s not quite like that. I mean, we do have our feet on the ground, and we should make effort. But somehow, he says, “My yoke is easy. My burden is light. I want you to put it on. And we’re going to work together to get at whatever.” But these folks in Deuteronomy 28:47–48 did not serve the Lord with a glad heart, so he gave them over to serve their enemies.

They started thinking, “Oh, these commandments; they’re just so heavy. And to serve God and to know God and to worship God is just so weighty and heavy and boring.” And God says, “If that’s the way you feel, you can just go serve the Babylonians.” In other words, God threatens terrible things if we won’t enjoy him and his way.

3. The Nature of Faith

Number three: The nature of faith teaches us to pursue our joy in God. I have a few texts for this. John 6:35 goes like this:

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, notice the first line, which says, “whoever comes to me will not hunger.” That word come is a geographic motion in the sense that I’m here and you’re there and I come to you. And if you come, you won’t hunger anymore because he is the bread of life. So come to him. But then he shifts off of the metaphor of coming in the second half and he says, “Whoever believes…” Now believe stands in the place of coming, as he says, “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” So hunger and thirst are stilled, or satisfied, in motion toward Jesus. He’s bread, and by implication, he’s the living water, and you are coming to him in the first half of the verse, and you’re believing in the second half. So I think that you have to interpret what faith is in light of this.

Here’s my definition of faith on the basis of John 6:35: Believing in Jesus is a spiritual — not a geographic or physical — coming to him to have your soul satisfied in him. That’s what faith is in the gospel of John. My definition of saving faith, not some kind of extra, second faith, but the basic faith that brings us into union with Jesus, is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. In other words, “I’m coming to you, Jesus. Why? Because you are the place where everything that I’ve ever wanted is. You are it. God in you is it. That’s what I was made for.” Faith comes for that.

Receiving Christ as Treasure

Or go back to the beginning of John. It says:

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God …

Notice the two things again — receive and believe. They interpret each other. So what is believing? It’s a receiving of Jesus for all that he is. We say, “Receive him as Savior,” and, “Receive him as Lord.” And I always add, “And receive him as treasure.” We’ll get to that in just a minute, but my point so far is that biblical saving faith is not merely a notional idea that you approve of, and it’s not merely volitional; it is affectional also.

It isn’t in place of those other things. It is notional. You have to have the right thoughts about him in your head or you don’t know who you’re trusting. And it is volitional — you’re saying yes to his call for a decision. And it is affectional as well, in that you’re saying, “You’re my treasure. I’m not coming to you because you’re boring. I’m not coming to you because you’re ugly. I’m coming to you because you’re my king and my satisfaction, my food, my water, my friend, my shepherd, my pearl, and my treasure.” And where that’s missing, you don’t have faith. I don’t care what decisions you make for Jesus, and I don’t care what thoughts you have about Jesus; it’s not saving faith.

Saving faith is rooted in the new birth that creates new affections. And we see Jesus in new ways. We come to him as Savior, as Lord, and as the supreme and satisfying treasure of our lives. And the rest of Christianity is the battle to keep that alive and to grow in it.

Come, Everyone Who Thirsts

Here’s another text on that point. Hebrews 11:6 goes like this:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Notice the word must. Without faith, you can’t please God. Well, what should I believe? What does faith embrace? Answer: He is. If you don’t think he is, you don’t have faith. And also, you must believe he is a rewarder when you come. If you go to God in some kind of high-minded way that says, “I will do you the service of my coming,” or, “I will benefit you,” or, “I will be your benefactor,” that’s blasphemy.

You come to get because you’re bankrupt, you’re desperate, you’re hungry, and you’re thirsty. You’re not wise; you’re a fool. You need God, you need help, and he’s everything you need. And you come to him for the reward, and the reward is not the prosperity gospel. I abominate the prosperity gospel. I’ll say more about that this evening, probably. The reward is Christ. The reward is God himself. Isaiah 55:1–2 says:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
     come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
     come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk
     without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
     and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

God is saying, “Come to me, not stuff.” So faith is a coming to God for the satisfaction that he offers because he is everything. God is for us, in Jesus, all we need. So be careful about treating faith as some simple little decision that leaves you just the same as you were. You aren’t the same. You have been awakened and born of God when you have faith in Jesus.

4. The Nature of Evil

Here is argument number four. The first one was that we’re commanded to pursue satisfaction. Second, God threatens terrible things If we don’t pursue and get that satisfaction. Third, the nature of faith tells us to pursue our satisfaction in God. And number four: The nature of evil tells us to pursue our satisfaction in God. The text that is most helpful for me in this regard is Jeremiah 2:12–13, which says:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
     be shocked, be utterly desolate,
     declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils …

Alright. Now, what are they? God is talking, and he is saying that his people have committed two great evils. I want to know the definition of evil. What is evil in God’s mind in Jeremiah 2:12–13? The passage continues:

My people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
     the fountain of living waters,
And hewed out for themselves,
     broken cisterns that can hold no water.

So what is evil? Evil is turning away from the all-satisfying fountain of life and saying, “Yuck!” And turning to the desert of the world, whatever it is, and digging and clawing and sucking on rocks, trying to find that. That’s evil. And I don’t care what it is. It could be as innocent as you like. It could be marriage. It could be children. It could be preaching.

All My Fountains Are in You

I took an eight-month leave a year ago to find out if that was the case. That was one of my four goals. Do I love preaching about God more than I love God? How do you find out? Stop preaching and see what happens — stop blogging, stop tweeting, stop writing books, stop everything and just hold onto him and see what happens. It’s called fasting, only you’re doing without other stuff besides food. That’s the function of fasting.

So when he says, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have hewed out for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water,” it does not mean that sin consists of a particular cluster of things you shouldn’t do that with; you shouldn’t do it with anything. The way life should work is that we’re right here and God is our water and our satisfaction. We are lying down by this spring and drinking and drinking and drinking until we’re satisfied. We’re saying, “Ah” — and that “ah” is called worship.

And then we’re turning toward this needy world and walking into it, not to suck on it, but to tell them, “There’s a fountain. Stop sucking on the rocks. There’s a fountain.” That’s your job every day — to so live as a satisfied, restful person in Jesus that they look at you and say, “You’re not sucking on the same things we are. What’s the deal here?”

I love that definition of evil. Evil is the abandonment of your joy in God and the attempt to find it elsewhere. That’s evil. That’s the definition of sin, I think, from Romans 3:23.

All have sinned and fall short of (or lack) the glory of God.

There it is. The glory of God is a fountain of living water, ready to satisfy your soul, and you exchange it for other things. And I don’t care what that is. I don’t care if it’s preaching, ministry, serving the poor, or whatever. It’s wicked. It’s evil if it’s not flowing from satisfaction in that fountain.

Do you remember what Romans 14:23 says? It says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Building hospitals would be sin, going as a missionary would be sin, marrying would be sin, raising children would be sin, and serving the poor would be sin if it weren’t flowing from faith; that is, being satisfied with all that God is.

It’s about glorifying God. It’s not just about do-goodism. The world is just fine at do-goodism. We don’t need to improve upon the world’s do-goodism. We need to display the all-satisfying excellence and worth of God.

5. The Nature of Conversion

Number five: The nature of conversion shows us that we should pursue our pleasure in God. What happened to you when you got converted? Well, here’s a little one-verse parable that describes what happened to you. And don’t panic if you didn’t know this, because you don’t know half of what happened to you when you got converted. That’s why you need to read your Bible. God is so merciful to save sinners who know a teeny weeny fraction of the Bible, right? If you have to know the whole Bible to be saved, nobody would ever get saved.

Maybe you got converted when you were little, or when you were 19 or 25 or whatever, and you may have known a little bit or a lot. And of course, there’s an infinite amount to know. If I tell you something that you hadn’t thought of as the meaning of your conversion, don’t panic. Just add it to the repertoire of your understanding of what happened to you. I’m always learning from the Bible what happened to me.

What happened to me yesterday I learned from the Bible. What will happen to me tomorrow I’ll learn from the Bible. I’m interpreting my life constantly from what God tells me life is like and what the human soul is. I don’t know my soul. Nobody knows himself. The human heart is corrupt and desperately wicked. Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9). God can, so he tells us all about ourselves and what happened to us when we got born again, when we got saved, and when we got sanctified. And then we think, “Oh is that what happened to me?” And it’s so great to learn what happened to you because then you can worship him, glorify him, thank him, and understand yourself so much better.

Hidden Treasure

So here’s how you got to saved. This is Matthew 13:44:

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.

End of story. The kingdom is God’s saving rule. It is not a place in the New Testament; it’s mainly a reign of power and mercy and grace and salvation. So when the kingdom comes into a person’s life, into a church, or into a community, this is the way it looks. It’s like a man who is walking through a field and stubs his toe on something. He looks down, moves the dirt away, and sees that it’s a chest.

He’s surprised. He kneels down, digs around, and lifts the chest and it’s full of gold. It must be worth ten million dollars, or whatever. It’s full of treasure. And he closes it down and covers it over. I don’t know the culture except to read it from this verse. Evidently, the culture is if you own the field, you own what’s in it. So he went away and he didn’t have enough money to buy the field, so it says, “Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has.” He must’ve looked really strange. He’s selling his house, he’s selling his car — I mean, that’s anachronistic, but you get the idea. He’s selling his wedding ring, he’s selling his grandfather’s clock that his grandmother left him, and he’s selling his books. My goodness, he’s selling his books. He must be insane.

A lot of people have been accused of being insane when they started treasuring Jesus like this. And as he was losing all these things — his books, his house, his car, his wedding ring, his clock, and whatever else he sold to buy the field — it says he was doing it how? It says, “Then in his joy, he sells all that he has.” So this man is an utter paradox. He’s divesting and he’s thrilled. He’s just happy as can be.

His life is getting simpler and simpler and simpler, and things are going away rather than coming to him. And he’s thrilled because he knows something is coming to him. He’s thinking, “I’m going to buy that field, and in that field is a treasure that’s worth more than any of these things.” He’s not stupid. He looks stupid. I think when the Bible says that unless you hate mother and father and your own life also, you can’t be Christ’s disciple (Luke 14:26) it means that you act in ways that to the world look like you hate them.

People think, “You are going into Afghanistan with a kid, so you must hate the kid.” And you think, “No, I don’t hate the kid.” People think, “You’re crazy to sell all these things.” And you think, “No, I’m not crazy. You just don’t know the treasure I’ve found.” And so the man in the parable buys the field and he has the treasure, and the treasure is the reign of God in his life; that is, king Jesus has just come into his life.

True Conversion

That’s what it means to be converted. To be converted is to stumble upon the treasure. By grace, the Holy Spirit opens your eyes. You see Christ no longer as boring or mythological; he is self-evidently true. You embrace him. You trust him. All that he says about his word, embrace and he’s yours. And you don’t earn him by selling stuff. I don’t think you should press the parable like that. What it means is that now you count everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, your Lord (Philippians 3:8).

So to be converted is to be granted a sight of Jesus Christ that is so compelling that you embrace him at any cost. All of the things in your life go down in value as Jesus goes up in value. So I think the Christian life is a life of treasuring Christ.

I forget when it was, maybe 15 years ago or so at our church, we shifted our vocabulary. Now we have whole structures built around the new vocabulary. I began to pour into my people’s vocabulary the treasuring language. I used to use delight, satisfaction, joy, happiness, pleasure, and all those kinds of words, but now I’ve been pouring in the treasuring language in my preaching, saying, “Do we treasure Jesus?”

I’m so glad that in English treasure is a verb and a noun. It is unbelievably helpful to say we have in Jesus a supremely valuable treasure, and then to be able to say, “Do you treasure him that way?” And to summon us in that direction. We have Treasuring Christ Together as a ministry of our church, and we have Treasuring Christ Together as a church planting network.

One of the church plants in Charlotte, North Carolina, is called Treasuring Christ Together Church. I feel really good about that — that the language right out of this parable, and lots of other places, has been woven into the fabric of our church. Because I really think that until Christians get the treasuring dimension of faith and a walk with Jesus, life is pretty legal and pretty burdensome.

6. The Need for Self-Denial

Number six: The call for self-denial teaches that we should pursue our joy in God. It sounds like it’s the opposite. The most common objection to what I say is to quote to me verses like Mark 8:34:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it …

They say, “So Piper, you’ve been telling these people all wrong. They’re supposed to deny themselves. They’re supposed to take up their cross, which is an instrument of death. And they’re supposed to not save their life, for goodness sake, because they’re going to lose it if they devote themselves to saving their life. And you’ve been telling now for an hour and a half to save their lives and to avoid self-denial and glut themselves on God. So what do you make of that, Piper?”

And my answer is always the same: Keep reading. That’s good advice. Whenever anybody gives you a verse you should say, “Let’s make sure you read the verses before and after so you get the picture.” So I’m going to keep reading. Mark 8:35 says:

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’s the reasoning there? What does Jesus want for you? Does he want you to lose your life? No; he wants you to save it. So he says, “Here’s how you save it; lose it.” That’s what he says. It’s made really crystal clear what he means when this text is quoted in John 12:25 because he says those who hate their lives in this world will keep them for eternal life. So the losing he has in mind is the kind of loss that you have when you find the treasure hidden in the field.

You go and you sell your car. That is losing. You’re losing your car. You’re losing your clock. You’re losing your books. You’re losing, losing, losing. But it’s all with the sense, “I’m gaining, I’m gaining, because to let those things go and to have Christ is his gain.” Here’s my bottom line on self-denial. If somebody says, “Do you believe in self-denial? I mean, you’re a Christian hedonist,” I say, “I massively believe in self-denial. I believe you should deny yourself brackish water so that you can have a flowing stream. I think you should deny yourself mud pies in the slum, to quote C.S. Lewis, so that you can have a holiday at the sea. I think you should deny yourself tin so that you can have gold. I think you should deny yourself — I don’t know my alcohol well enough — so that you could have the best wine.” Do you get it?

Yes, there is self-denial, but no ultimate self-denial. Ultimate self-denial is blasphemy. It’s like God saying, “I’ll be here for you. In my presence is fullness of joy, and at my right hand are pleasures forevermore.” And you say, “No, thank you. I’m supposed to deny myself. I don’t want that.” That’s blasphemy. There’s no such thing as ultimate self-denial. The reason we do proximate self-denial, or penultimate self-denial, is that we want the treasure. We want him and all that he is for us.

7. The Glory of God

I’m just going to give you one more. Let’s skip one. I may bring it in tonight, and maybe I can do it best with a story. I’ll tell you the story because the guy came up to me. I was at Engage last weekend and a guy came up afterward as I was walking down there and he said, “That story made all the lights go on.” So I said, “Okay. It works in Australia, too.” I made the story up in America, for American audiences. Here’s the point I’m illustrating. Number seven: The reason you should pursue your joy in God is that it makes God look really good.

It’s all about his glory. That’s where we started with Philippians 1:21, and now I’m ending in the same place. I’m not going to give you a text. I’m going to give you a story because I’ve already given you the text. My point is that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. And here’s the story. My wife and I did act this out in Cambridge, England with my daughter. I think at the time she was probably 11 years old. And I said, “Talitha, you hide over there with the iPhone and record this.” I acted it out with Noël because I had the flowers behind my back.

Duty and Delight

We’ve been married 42 years, so it’ll be 43 years in December. Suppose I come home on December 21 — it will be bitter cold, obviously, in Minnesota — and I’ve got behind my back 43 daisies. Now, you just have to know Noël and me to know daisies. Daisies were our flower when we fell in love. They stayed our flower for years and years. I had to get rich and old to buy her roses. But suppose, for memory’s sake, I’ve got this big bouquet of daisies behind my back and I ring the doorbell, which of course I never do because it’s my house.

Noël comes to the door, looks kind of puzzled, and I pull them out, and I say, “Happy anniversary, Noël,” and she says, “Oh, Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why did you?” And I say, “It’s my duty. Yep. There it goes. I’ve read the book. This is what husbands do on their anniversary.” Now you’re laughing. I told that story in Russia, Germany, South Africa, Santo Domingo, and now Australia, and every time people laugh at the word duty.

Why are you laughing about duty? Why are you? I mean, you should. It’s a sign of heart health that you laughed. I would be worried about you or me or whatever happened if you didn’t. But if you’re laughing at duty, I want to know why. This is very profound. When I said, “It’s my duty,” duty is a noble thing. People have died for duty. People have won wars doing their duty. Duty is not a bad word, and yet you laughed. And you should have because it was just the wrong thing to say at that moment, and here’s why.

I’m going to replay the video and I’m going to say the right thing. Okay? I ring the doorbell and she comes to the door. I say, “Happy anniversary, Noël.” And she says, “Oh Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why did you?” And I say, “I couldn’t help myself. It makes me happy to buy you flowers. In fact, I’ve arranged for a babysitter and we’re going out tonight. So go change your clothes because there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend the evening with you.”

Now, not in a thousand years would my wife ever say, “Oh nothing you’d rather do. All you ever think about is you, you, you. There’s nothing you’d rather do. You are so selfish. You are so into you. You couldn’t help yourself. You just did what you wanted to do and bought these flowers.” And there you are just laughing away at selfishness. You know what’s going on here. She is most honored in me when I am most satisfied in her. That’s what’s going on here.

A Parable of Worship

It’s a little microcosm of worship. That’s the way I think about Sunday morning corporate worship. It’s the way I think about you in the workplace in daily 9:00 to 5:00 worship. Worship is making God look good. The word duty doesn’t make him look good. Why do you obey here? Why did you buy flowers for God today? If your answer is merely, “I’m supposed to. It says so in the Bible. I might go to hell if I don’t,” do you think people will be impressed with your God? No way.

Your answer has to be something like, “There’s nothing I’d rather do.” He’s just that kind of God, and she’s that kind of wife. I’d rather be with her than do other things. I’d rather be there. I would rather be happy with you, Noël, tonight. She would take my pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of my happiness in her, as a tribute to her, and so will God.