Live for Your Greatest Desire

Jesus

Passion 2020 | Atlanta


For over twenty years, the flag that has flown over the Passion Conferences is a declaration from the prophet Isaiah. If you go to the Passion 2020 website and click “more information” and scroll down, this is what you see from Isaiah 26:8 (fading from yellow to magenta to red):

Yes Lord, walking in the way of your truth, we wait eagerly for you, for your name and renown are the desire of our souls.

This has never changed — ever since the beginning of Passion. Your name, O God, and your renown, your fame, are the desire of our souls. So yes, Lord, we wait for you. We long for you. You are our greatest desire.

Name Above Every Name

The reason I say “you, Lord” and not just “your name” is our desire is not only because the text says “we wait eagerly for you,” but also because that is what “your name” means: Your name is the essence of you — who you are. You said your name is Yahweh, “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). So, when we say his name is our desire, we mean his being is our desire.

And now, on this side of the incarnation, we know you by another name: Jesus, who said, in the most outrageous, glorious, true statement that a man ever made: “Before Abraham was, ‘I Am’” (John 8:58). So, Jesus is “I Am.” Jesus is Yahweh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word was Yahweh, “I Am Who I Am.” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). And of this great, incarnate “I Am,” the angel said, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

“Our greatest desire is you, God, ‘I Am,’ the one who absolutely is.”

So, for over twenty years, there’s been no doubt and no change. This is the flag flying over Passion. Our desire, our greatest desire, is you, God, “I Am,” the one who absolutely is — no beginning, no ending, no becoming. You, Yahweh. You, the incarnate God-man. You, Jesus, the only person in the universe who can save us from our sins — because you are God and man. You are our greatest desire.

For the Fame of God’s Name

But not just you privately, God. No. We desire your renown — your fame. “Your name and your renown are the desire of our souls.” We desire you — to be famous! We desire you to be known, and admired, and loved, and worshiped, and treasured by all the peoples of the world, all the cities, all the campuses — all the churches.

No Competing Kings

And when we say that you are our desire — your name, your fame — we don’t mean, someday, maybe. Maybe you will be famous. Maybe not. That’s not what Isaiah 26:8 means. It’s not what we mean. Never has been. Never will be. The fame of God is not a maybe. It’s coming. It is more sure than the rising sun.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27–28)

This is not a maybe. The gospel of your name, your Son, your salvation, will reach the nations. He will gather his sheep. He will build his church. “For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.” Jesus did not die in vain! He has bought his people. He will have them — from every people. His blood was not wasted.

You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9)

They are ransomed. They will come. The global glory of Jesus Christ is not a maybe.

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

There is no maybe. There will be no competing kings. His name and his fame will be supreme and universal. And every contender for his throne will be cast down.

The haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
    and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
    and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. (Isaiah 2:17)

Your Greatest Desire

And all the humble and lowly, whose greatest desire was the name and fame of Jesus, will receive their desire in full. We will be with him. And he will be with us. And every hindrance to our enjoyment of his presence, his name, his fame will be taken away.

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3–4)

“God offers himself to us as the infinitely valuable, infinitely beautiful, all-satisfying treasure of the universe for our full and everlasting enjoyment.”

This is coming. This fame. This name. This God-man, Jesus, Yahweh, is coming. To call this the desire of our souls does not mean uncertain desire, uncertain fulfillment. No. We can already taste it. Indeed, if we could not taste it, we would not desire it. And if we do not desire it, we will not have it (1 Peter 2:3). To be born again is to taste that God is more to be desired than anything else. And this God you desire is Jesus.

Nothing is more important in your life than the awakening of this desire. The triumph of this desire over all other desires. If the name and fame of Jesus, the Savior, the Son of God, the King of kings, does not become your greatest desire, you will not only waste your life; you will lose it.

Desire: Friend or Foe?

Which leads me to two questions, or two objections. And my hope and my prayer is that by answering these two questions, I would persuade you to give yourself no rest until Jesus — personally precious, and globally famous — is your supreme desire.

1. Doesn’t all this emphasis on desire really backfire in the end? Even if you say, the name and fame of God is your desire, you’re still making so much of your desire — the state of your own heart — you wind up making a god out of your desire. If I give my life to pursuing my desire, am I not making myself, my desire, the ultimate thing, not God? And so the whole thing backfires. Doesn’t it? That’s one question.

2. Here’s the other one: What if I urge you not only to desire the name and fame of God above all things, but also to make that desire the motive of everything you do — the sustaining force of every good deed? Every act of love? Which in fact I do. Would I not then contaminate your love for others by turning love into self-seeking? I will have my desire satisfied in doing good for you. And thus, I ruin the moral beauty of selfless love, by turning it into self-seeking — the pursuit of my desire.

If I thought that these two fears — the fear of making a god out of desire, and the fear of ruining love by seeking my desire — were only a threat to a Passion Conference, or a Passion flag, I probably wouldn’t bring them up. But my sense is that hundreds of thousands of people around the world are lamed in their relation to God by the suspicion that desire is a dangerous ally in worship. And my sense is that hundreds of thousands of people are hindered in genuine love for others by the suspicion that pursuing my desire is a defective motive for any good deed.

So, what should we do? My suggestion is this: Before you get entangled in psychological or philosophical or ethical arguments, look to Jesus in his word. And ask: What did he say about this? And when he acted in love, how was he motivated? What was the role of desire in the teaching and acting of Jesus?

Let’s measure the force of these objections by looking at Jesus.

Deepen Your Denial — and Desire

Perhaps the person who objects that we make a god out of desire when we put so much emphasis on it — even if God is our desire — perhaps this person would take me to Mark 8:34 and say this: Your emphasis on pursuing your desire contradicts Jesus’s emphasis on denying yourself and following him. Jesus said,

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

But you say, Piper, “Don’t deny your desires, pursue them! Glut them! Intensify them!” Which is true — if you desire God.

My response: “You need to look more carefully at what Jesus actually said and how he argues in this text. It’s not what you think. In fact, this text not only is not a problem for what I’m teaching; it’s the basis of it.”

I know this sounds backward. How can Jesus’s teaching, that we should deny ourselves, actually teach that we should indulge our desire — for God? But that is exactly what Jesus teaches. We’ll see it in just a minute. All Christian self-denial is for the sake of ultimate, eternal satisfaction in God. In fact, the effort to deny yourself God as your supreme desire is idolatry, and blasphemy.

Pursue Real Pleasure

God offers himself to us as the infinitely valuable, infinitely beautiful, all-satisfying treasure of the universe for our full and everlasting enjoyment. That’s what it says in Psalm 16:11.

In your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Full and forever. That cannot be improved on. There is nothing fuller than full, or longer than forever. And if we turn away from that offer — away from the everlasting pleasures in the presence of God as the fulfilment of our lifelong desire, by saying: I must deny myself that full and everlasting enjoyment of God — we are blasphemers and idolaters, and have rejected the word of Jesus. Listen to Jesus again:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

“I must daily count myself dead with Christ. There is real self-denial. Christianity is costly.”

So, make no mistake about it. There is real self-denial. There is a real cross. Real suffering to endure for Jesus. A real death to die. The old John Piper must be crucified. I must daily count myself dead with Christ. There is real self-denial. Christianity is costly. It will cost many of you your lives — literally.

But! How does Jesus argue in the very next verse to motivate us to live this way — this sacrificial way? Here’s what he 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. (Mark 8:35)

Do you see how he is arguing for self-denial? Why should we not try to save our lives in the service of Jesus? Because if we do, we will lose our lives — forever. Why should we be willing to lose our lives in the service of Jesus in this world? Because if we do, we save them — forever.

Joy at Any Cost

So, what does the argument assume? It assumes that no true disciple will throw away eternal joy in God for a mere eighty years of comfortable, worldly self-indulgence. Disciples of Jesus are not idiots. Jesus is assuming that a true disciple desires joy in God forever more than we want all that this world can give. That’s the assumption. That’s the basic premise. That’s how the argument works.

If pursuing our desire — eternal joy in God — costs us everything here, then we will deny ourselves everything here. That’s how the argument works! This is how bold Christians are born. This is where risk-taking missionaries come from. This is where your world turns upside down.

No. No. No. We are not making a god out of our desires. Our desires make clear what our god is: this world, or God; our name, or his name; our fame, or his fame. Our desires are not what we worship. They are our worship. And what we desire most is our God. If you belong to Jesus, you say from the heart,

Your name and your renown are the desire of our souls. (Isaiah 26:8)

What Sustains Real Love

But someone else objects: “I can see where this is going. You are leading us from saying that we should desire the name and fame of Jesus above all things to saying that this desire should be the motive, the sustaining force, of all we do. Correct?” Yes. “Which means that every act of love becomes a pathway to the satisfaction of your desire for God. Is that right?” Yes. “And the satisfaction that you are hoping for in God enables you to bear the painful costs of love now. Right?” Right.

“How does that not contaminate love for others by turning it into self-seeking? You are going to get your desires satisfied supposedly in doing good for me. So, you ruin the moral beauty of love, by turning it into self-seeking. It’s all about you and your desires.”

No Greater Sacrifice

So, again, let’s measure the force of this objection by looking at Jesus. Let’s look at Hebrews 12:1–2.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The writer pictures your life as a marathon. You see that in the first seven words: “Let us run with endurance the race.” You don’t need endurance for a 100-meter dash. You need strength. But for a marathon you need endurance. And the Christian life is a lifelong marathon of costly love. Paul said, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Life is one long race of love.

Jesus’s marathon lasted 33 years. And he ran the final hours of the race with a crown of thorns on his head and nails in his hands and his feet. And he finished. And, O God, I could wish that even in a group this large (believers and unbelievers) that we would all agree that there was not, nor ever will be, a greater act of love than the Son of God’s willing sacrifice of himself to save his enemies.

All for Joy

So, the question is: What was the sustaining force that enabled Jesus to keep running in love to the end, even with nails in his feet? The answer of the text is clear. You see it in the middle of the text.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

“For the joy that was set before him” on the other side of suffering and death and resurrection. Which he could taste (see Hebrews 11:1). So, he considered the shame. (Criminals were crucified naked and reviled.) And he despised the shame. What does that mean?

He pictured shame as a kind of tempter. And he said, “Shame, I know what you are trying to do. I know the power you have to turn people away from the path of obedience and love. I know how you create in the human soul an almost irresistible desire not to be embarrassed or shamed. But listen to me, shame. I taste, right now, a joy ten thousand times greater than I would have by fearing you. Shame, I despise what you are trying to do — to create a desire in me stronger than my desire for the joy awaiting me on the path of this obedience. Be gone, shame. This joy, set before me, is too great. And my desire for it is absolutely invincible.”

And with that he endured the cross, and threw shame to the wind, and died for sin, and rose from the dead, and reached the joy that was set before him in the presence of his Father (John 17:5, 24). So, mark this! The greatest act of love that was ever performed was sustained by the desire for joy in the presence of God.

Look to Jesus

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus . . . who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

And when the text says “looking to Jesus,” it does not mean: “Don’t act like Jesus. Don’t be motivated the way Jesus was. Don’t let your love be sustained by the desire for joy in God’s presence.” No. “Looking to Jesus” does not mean: “Watch out! If you’re motivated the way Jesus was, you’re going to turn love into self-seeking. You’re going to ruin the moral beauty of sacrifice by making it the path to satisfaction of your own desire. Don’t be like that. Jesus is not a good model here.” That’s not what “looking to Jesus” means.

It means: Don’t try to be motivated in a more noble, more virtuous way than Jesus was. For the joy set before him he loved at the cost of his life. Trying to be better than Jesus is blasphemy.

True Christian Love

So, if every act of truly Christian love is, in fact, sustained by our desire for the joy of God set before us — the experience of hearing Jesus say, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21); join me in my enjoyment of God, forever — if every act of truly Christian love is sustained by our desire and hope for that joy, then, why doesn’t that ruin every act of love, by turning it into self-seeking?

Or to put it crassly, since Jesus loved this way, why isn’t the cross of Christ mere selfishness? He died to have his own joy!

“To be born again is to taste that God is more to be desired than anything else. And this God you desire is Jesus.”

The answer is this: Selfishness is using or ignoring others to get your own happiness at their expense. But that’s not what is happening at the cross. Nor in any Christian act of love. Jesus is not using or ignoring others to get his own happiness. Jesus is suffering and dying precisely to include others in the very happiness he desires and hopes for — the joy set before him. It’s not called selfishness when you aim to increase your happiness in God by including others in it, especially when it costs you your life. This is not selfishness. It is love.

Desire of Our Souls

So, we circle back to the beginning. The flag waving over Passion 2020 is summoning you to experience a miracle in your life. The miracle of desire. A miracle because you can’t make it happen. It’s a gift. The flag of Isaiah 26:8 is waving. And the very Spirit that makes it wave is the Spirit that wakens your desire. God is calling you to embrace the miracle of saying from your heart,

Your name and renown [O Lord] are the desire of our souls. (Isaiah 26:8)

Nothing is more important in your life than the triumph of this desire over all other desires. If the name and fame of Jesus, the Savior, the Son of God, the King of kings, does not become your greatest desire, you will not only waste your life; you will lose it. But if Jesus becomes your greatest desire — though it may cost you your life — you will finish the race, take many with you, and together you will enter the joy of your master, forever.