The Blazing Center

Part 4

Bethlehem Baptist Church Youth Retreat | Minneapolis

The title of the book I gave you last night was The Dangerous Duty of Delight. I want you to make sure you remember that we are talking about delight in God.

Eight Reasons to Pursue Your Joy in God

Now I want to argue for that duty biblically. I want to bring up text after text. I want you to devote all your energies to maximizing your happiness in God. That’s a very controversial statement and we’ll be answering some of the objections in the next two sessions. But here come my arguments. So see what you think of these arguments.

1. God commands us to be happy and to pursue our joy.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
   Serve the Lord with gladness!
   Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1–2)

Everybody knows you’re supposed to serve Jesus. Do you know it’s a sin, that is it is a disobedience of Psalm 100, not to serve him with gladness? It’s sin. I mean I remember one time a person I was leading a seminar with said, “I don’t like the way you say it, Piper. I don’t think you should say to ‘pursue your joy.’ I think you should say to pursue obedience.”

“Devote all your energies to maximizing your happiness in God.”

Isn’t that like saying don’t pursue apples pursue fruit? Because what is obedience? Obedience is doing what the Bible says. And the Bible says, “Serve the Lord with gladness.” “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice” (Psalm 32:11). You can’t play obedience off against the pursuit of gladness. The Bible says, “Be glad in the Lord.” Do you obey that or don’t you? Don’t pit obedience over against that like, “I’ll obey, and if gladness happens, that would be nice. And if it doesn’t, I’ll just keep on obeying.” You can’t have it that way because the Bible commands you to delight in God.

These are commands. These aren’t suggestions. This is not like the icing on the cake of Christianity. “The cake is obedience and commitment and resolve and decision, and that’s our willpower religion called Christianity. And joy — that just may or may not come. It’s just nonessential. It’s fluff. It’s like foam at the top of a beer. You can blow it away and the beer will still be beer.”

2. God threatens terrible things if we will not be satisfied in him.

This gets a little more serious.

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. (Deuteronomy 28:47–48)

Did you catch that? Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy, you’re going to serve your enemies. God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy in him. And you begin to see why I just wrote that last book When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. It’s a very thick book compared to The Dangerous Duty of Delight, which you got last night, because this is dreadfully serious business.

I’m not here telling you: “let’s all be happy in Jesus because that would be nice. I want everybody to be happy in Jesus.” I’m saying, “You don’t want to go to hell, do you? Therefore, pursue joy in Jesus.”

3. The nature of faith teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

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. (Hebrews 11:6)

That’s amazing. It says you can’t please God without faith and then it defines faith with two things. Believe that he is and believe that he rewards those who come to him. You can’t please God without going to him to get reward. You can’t please him unless you go to him to get satisfaction. Isn’t that amazing? The very nature of faith requires that you pursue joy in him.

If you go to God saying something like, “Well, I will serve you.” You don’t use these words, but it it’s basically implied, “I will meet your needs. You have need of servants. You have need of missionaries. You have need of pastors and Sunday school teachers. Poor God has an employment problem and I will now solve his problem and become one of his employees so that his lack is supplied.”

That’s really dishonoring to the Lord to talk like that. The way to come to God is not to meet his needs, but to let him meet yours. The giver gets the glory. In Philippians 4:19, I believe it is where it says, my God will supply all your needs according to His riches and glory, in Christ Jesus through Jesus Christ, and then it’s followed by a doxology to God our father be glory forever and ever. Have you ever asked why the promise to meet your needs is followed by glory to God? Answer, the giver gets the glory. You get the help. He gets the glory. It’s the best of all possible worlds. Faith is a coming to God to have all of your needs met and trusting that he’ll be for you are unique.

4. The nature of evil teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Ask yourself now, What is evil? What’s a good definition of evil? Now let me read you Jeremiah 2:12–13 to see his definition 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.

So what is evil according to Jeremiah? Evil is standing at the fountain of living water called God or Christ and all that they are for us — this water that would satisfy our souls — tasting it, turning, and looking at the desert of the world, getting a shovel, and digging and digging and digging, and putting our mouth on the dry soil of the world saying, “Whoa, satisfy me. Satisfy me, broken cistern that can hold no water.” That’s evil.

“You can’t please God without going to him to get reward. You can’t please him unless you go to him to get satisfaction.”

It really helps to get a handle on what evil is because I think a lot of times we portray evil as a really happy thing and following God as a really boring thing. Jeremiah didn’t think so. Jeremiah says that evil is turning away from joy and embracing frustration. Of course, God has to do a miracle in this room for you to have eyes to see that pursuing money, pursuing popularity, pursuing power, making looks the be-all and end-all, or strength — to see all of that as a broken cistern that can hold no water takes a miracle.

Most kids your age, they see that and say, “That’s all. That’s my fountain. That’s my fountain. I’m kneeling down there. I’m drinking there. Church? My parents make me go. I’ll go, but I’m kneeling at the fountain of success in life and popularity and money and movies and music.” I pray that a miracle will happen in this room, that God will set you free and show you that evil is leaving the fountain of life and trying to get life from the broken cisterns of anything but God.

5. The nature of conversion teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Our text for this is the shortest parable in the New Testament:

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. (Matthew 13:44)

That’s a picture in a parable of what it means to get saved — to come to Christ as your treasure. I don’t know if you’ve noticed at Bethlehem in the while you’ve been here that when I talk about getting saved, I don’t just say receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior, which is absolutely true. That’s what getting saved means. Receiving, embracing, believing in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. I usually add a third one now, and I’ve been doing this for years. I don’t know if you’ve picked it up. I say to be a Christian is to embrace, believe, accept, receive Jesus as Lord, Savior and Treasure of your life because treasure gets at the issues of your affections, your emotions, your desires. What do you value? You’re not a Christian if you value anything more than Jesus.

Now there’s a battle. I don’t mean to say it’s absolute and perfect. Nobody’s perfect. We battle to keep our affections fixed on Jesus, but we need to say at any given moment, “Jesus is not only my Lord telling me what to do, he’s not only my Savior, forgiving me for all my sins and becoming my righteousness, he’s also my treasure. I put him above all things.”

Now that’s in this parable and what I want you to see is the little phrase “from joy over it.” So you find a treasure hidden in a field. That’s Jesus and all that God is for you and him and you quickly realize, “Whoa, I’ll give anything to have that treasure.” And for joy, for joy you sell your wedding ring, you sell your house, you sell every CD. My son Barnabas must have $10,000 worth of CDs. I say, “How in the world did you afford all those CDs over the last six years? You have so many CDs you could buy a house.” And this parable says you sell them all. Sell every book you have. If you want Jesus, be willing to sell your books, be willing to sell your house, be willing to sell whatever the treasure is in your life. It goes in order to have him.

But the key is it says with joy, despite all this loss. It might be good right here just to shift to argument number six, because what we have in front of us is not only a picture of becoming a Christian being the pursuit of joy in having the treasure, but something that touches on self-denial.

6. The call for self-denial teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Self-denial is one of the most common objections I get. “You’re talking about going out into the world and telling people everywhere you go, ‘Be happy. Pursue your joy above all things in God.’ Doesn’t the Bible say to deny myself and take up my cross. Doesn’t it say that, Piper?” All we need to do is see self-denial in full context:

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, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34–35)

And the argument is you want to find your life, don’t you? You want to have life, don’t you? Perhaps it’s even clearer in John 12:24:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

That’s you is what has to happen when you become a Christian. We’re going to talk about that tonight. It bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, but he who hates his life in this world keeps it for eternal life.

“The way to come to God is not to meet his needs, but to let him meet yours. The giver gets the glory.”

Do you see how he’s arguing? He’s not arguing against the ultimate pursuit of life. He’s arguing against ultimate self-denial. There is self-denial in this world. Yes, you let a lot of things go that might have seen immediately gratifying. You let a lot of things go. Maybe some of you walked to the front of the church a week ago to say, “I’m ready — God willing, God calling — to go to missions.” Many of those people have counted the cost dearly. They know the risk in Pakistan, they know the risk in Uzbekistan. They know the risk in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and they’re saying, “I’m going.”

That’s self-denial. But it is not an ultimate self-denial because this is the most joyful, deeply satisfying path of life for them now. And even if they lose their spouse, their children, their wife, even their life, they will have God forever and that will be gain. So yes, I believe in self-denial: Deny yourself tin so that you can have gold. Deny yourself brackish water in the gutter so that you can have pure, mountain-spring, life-giving water.

C.S. Lewis was a huge influence on me here. He said, “We are like children fooling about with drink and sex and drugs like children making mud pies in the slums because they cannot imagine what a holiday at the sea is like.” This where most of the people you know live. Yes, I believe in self-denial. Deny yourself the gutter so that you can have the beach.

7. The demand to love people in the Bible teaches the pursuit of your satisfaction.

Now, that’s really hard to get. You think last night was hard. It was. A lot of people have just as hard a time saying, “Oh well, wait a minute. This makes no sense whatsoever. You’re telling me that if I pursue my joy all the time, I’ll be a more loving person? Won’t it be all about me? And if it’s all about me, I’m not loving others.” And that’s the question we have to struggle with tonight, but I’ll give you one text this morning:

You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:34–35)

Is that true? If that’s true, you should pursue that blessedness in giving. If you deny yourself the blessedness of giving, you cease to be a loving person. Or if you try to give an experience, no blessedness in it, you cease to be a loving person. When somebody does a nice thing for you, do you feel more loved when they do it begrudgingly or joyfully? If you feel more loved when someone serves you joyfully than begrudgingly, then they must pursue their joy in that love or they’re not as loving as they would be doing it begrudgingly. This is not a simple thing. That’s where we’re going tonight.

8. The demand to glorify God teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

The eighth argument is a story which I love to tell. I don’t know if I’ve ever told it. I think I’ve told it to teenagers one time in a Southern Baptist missionary convention about three years ago, because I’m usually talking to adults and college students. But let me just see if this works for you as well. Remember that this is about me and us trying to become joy-driven people, not duty-driven people.

This December will be my thirty-sixth anniversary I’m coming home, and I decided to do the unthinkable. I bought thirty-six long-stem red roses. That’s very expensive. I’ve got them behind my back. They’re big and heavy. I ring the doorbell. I never ring the doorbell at my own house. Noël comes to the door and looks puzzled. She opens the door, wondering why I rang the doorbell. I say, “Happy anniversary, Noël.” And she looks and exclaims, “Wow, Johnny they’re beautiful. Why did you?” And I say, “It’s my duty. I read the book. This is what husbands are supposed to do on their anniversary. I’m going to be a good husband and do my duty. I keep the rules”

That’s the wrong answer. So, let me replay the tape and give you the right answer, which I hope will make the point.

Ding-dong. “Happy anniversary, Noël.” “Oh Johnny, they’re beautiful. Why did you?” “Because I couldn’t help myself. Nothing makes me happier than to buy roses for you. In fact, I made arrangements for a babysitter for Talitha. You can go change clothes now because we’re going out tonight because there’s nobody I would more enjoy being with tonight than you.”

Not in a million years would she respond by saying “Nothing makes you happier. All you ever think about is you, you, you.” Why, why would my wife not take offense at my saying “nothing makes me happier than buying you flowers? Nothing makes me happier than spending the evening tonight with you”? Why would she not take offense at that radically hedonistic, selfish statement?

“Deny yourself brackish water in the gutter so that you can have pure, mountain-spring, life-giving water.”

Because it’s not selfish. It honors her, does it not? When you say to somebody, “There’s nobody I would rather spend time with than you, you honor them. You draw attention away from yourself. God has given us the capacity to delight in another so that we have the means whereby we can honor another. And guess who is the one who should be honored most? God.

So when you ring the doorbell of heaven and God opens the door and says, “Now why do you want to come in here?” If you say “It’s what humans are supposed to do; this is our duty to be in heaven, to believe on Jesus, to keep the ten commandments. It’s our duty. We have decided to keep the rules. This is why I’m here,” he will not smile because the right answer is, “There is no place in the universe I would rather be than with you because you have all that will satisfy my heart. You are my treasure.” Then he’ll smile just like my wife would smile.

So, my eighth argument is God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. That’s my argument. God gets glory by your not obeying him dutifully or worshiping dutifully but by delighting in him.