The following is a lightly edited transcript.
I said in the beginning that my church’s mission statement is that we exist to a spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. And so, the driving force behind my being here and my messages is to do that: to spread a passion, to try to kindle and reconfirm, strengthen, a passion for the supremacy of God in you, for the joy of your parishes, and for the joy of the peoples of Australia, and the unreached peoples of the world.
There’s another driving force in every human heart. And that is the longing to be happy. There are two great passions in the universe: God has an infinite zeal and longing to be glorified, which we saw the first time together in Isaiah 48:9–11: “My glory I will not give to another.” And every human being, including me, has a tremendous and unstoppable longing to be satisfied. And the thesis that drives my whole theology and my life is that God is most glorified in you and me when we are most satisfied in him. And therefore, these two great passions in the universe — God’s to be glorified and mine to be satisfied — are not at odds. Which is why, ultimately and theologically, the lifestyle that will bring God most glory is a lifestyle flowing from a heart of satisfaction in God.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about that text in 1 Peter 3:15 where it says “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” — have you ever asked why they’re asking about hope and not faith or other virtues? What do they see? What does a Gentile see? What prompts the question to you at your work, or your ministry, What are you hoping in? What prompts that? And the answer is: a lifestyle that flows from hope. You are an alien in the world when you hope in God. If you hope in money, if you hope in sex, if you hope in prestige, if you hope in power, if you hope in ease, comfort, retirement, nobody’s going to ask you about that; they know that. That’s the way everybody lives. All the Gentiles seek those things.
The only reason anybody’s going to perk up their ears and say, “Tell me a reason for your hope,” is because they see you acting out of values that are so contrary to ordinary human values, which is what we’ve been talking about. If you are satisfied, hoping in, resting in, trusting in, leaning on all that God is for you in Jesus (future grace), your life is going to be such a life that people will see the difference and wonder about hope, and God will get glory because he’s seen as the value in your life. He is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.
So, the mission of my church — John Piper, go to Australia and spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things — is accomplished only to the degree that in increase your satisfaction in God, only to the degree that you leave this place more bent on the Christian Hedonist goal of being ravished but God, so completely taken up and satisfied and contented in God that you can let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, and give your life away in love to other people who don’t know Christ and the sustaining of a parish that needs to be built up week in and week out. So that’s my goal and that’s what we’ve been doing.
Another way to say the challenge is that all sinful states of the human heart are owing to unbelief in future grace. If love and virtue flow from a being satisfied with all that God is for us — that is faith, if it flows from faith, if it’s faith that works itself out in love — the absence of love is owing to unbelief in future grace. And I would generalize to say: all sinful states of the human heart are expressions of unbelief in future grace.
Faith in Future Grace for Ministry
So, what I want to do this morning is take two or three sample states of unbelief that every one of us in the ministry struggles with, and analyze its origin and show its antidote. Its origin will be unbelief; its antidote will be faith in future grace. So, what I’m doing is simply driving home the points I’ve already made with example after example of the challenges of holiness and love and virtue and ministerial faithfulness in our lives.
How to Battle Impatience
The first state of unbelief that imaginary world anything to talk about is impatience. Let me define what I think impatience is, or what patience is.
Unplanned Pace and Place
In the ministry (and it’s true for everybody whether in the ministry or not), we are often forced into an unplanned place of obedience. We didn’t plan it, we didn’t want to be there: this wasn’t the place we meant to have the flat tire, this wasn’t the place we meant to wind up this afternoon or this time — an unplanned place of obedience. I call it a place of obedience because every place is a place of obedience. Some of them are planned, some of them are unplanned. And when they are unplanned, the challenge of impatience is very great.
The other side is that we are often compelled against our original planning to go at an unplanned pace of obedience. (They rhyme just to help you remember them: place and pace.) An unplanned place of obedience and an unplanned pace of obedience. “I meant to have this job done in two days and it’s been five days. And I’m getting very impatient.” Or “I meant to be at the meeting by 12:00, and I’m in a traffic jam and it’s now 12:15.”
Murmur, Murmur, Murmur
There are hundreds of instances in the Christian ministry where we are tempted to be impatient, and thus, to murmur. And we are not to murmur according to Philippians 2:14–15:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.
Everybody grumbles. A non-grumbling person sticks out like a star in the night sky. And people ask, “What are you hoping in that you could be so late and not be grumpy?” “What are you hoping in that you could be in the hospital with a broken leg instead of on your skiing trip and not be murmuring against God and circumstance?” “What makes you tick anyway?” Now, let’s do with this word of patience what we did with love. It’s in the list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, right? Galatians 5:22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience . . . ” And so it’s clear that a patient person — a non-murmuring, non-grumbling, contented person to go at an unplanned pace of obedience in an unplanned place of obedience — is being massively worked on and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
And if you ask then, Well what can I do to become that kind of person? we saw last night that you go to Galatians 3:5 where it says,
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles [like patience] among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
And the answer is: hearing with faith. And so, the key to patience is hearing a promise and believing it. And we want to talk about some of those.
Believe the Promises
I brought along a little booklet here just to show you some of the things we do at our church. My associate, who has been with me now 16 years, Tom Steller, turned 40 a year and a half ago. And for his birthday, I put a booklet together. I love computers and laser printing because I can make my own books now. So, I put a little book together for him, formatted it, printed it, stapled it. And it’s called “40 Promises of God for Tom Steller on his 40th Birthday.”
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
I married Tom and his wife, and that was my wedding text. Well, how do you not murmur when you have tribulation in the world? You believe the promise: I’ve overcome the world. You believe it. And if you murmur, you’re not believing it; you’re falling into a brief lapse of unbelief when that happens. And then I sorted them into four categories of promises. And he knows why I did this: this is the way we live the Christian life: by memorizing promises and using them against the temptations of unbelief. Colossians 1:11 is Paul praying for the church,
being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.
So now Paul is praying that they’ll be patient and endure hardship, and not murmur, and not grumble in the midst of their setbacks and their unplanned pace in their unplanned place in life. He’s praying, “O God, grant that they would be strong for patience.” But he says, “May you be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might.” That means that, out there in the future — it might be five minutes from now, it might be five years from now, fify years from now — there’s going to be a strength that accords with the glorious might of God available to you that will enable you to be patient.
So how do appropriate it? It’s going to be the power of the Holy Spirit, and you appropriate it by hearing that promise with faith. So, it’s the same key here, and I want to illustrate it for you from some biblical stories and some contemporary stories or historical Christian stories.
Batch of Setbacks
The story that has helped me as much as any in the Bible with patience is the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. You all the know the story, so we don’t need to read it in detail. But let’s rehearse it together. Because it’s an amazing thing, and I have found it, pastorally, unbelievably helpful in people’s lives. Because people seem to experience setbacks in batches. Have you ever noticed that? Setbacks are not spread over the congregation uniformly. They hit a family over, and over, and over again. We have one family that has lost two children, one in childbirth, one in crib death a year later — a year-old child. And the dad lost his job. And now a year ago the mom was found to have a massive lump and cancer. She had a mastectomy. They thought they had it beat, and just two months ago they found spots on her lungs. They’ve got four kids. And I want to cry out to Lord and say, “Would you spread that around a little bit?”
Well, Joseph got his batch, right? He’s hated to begin with because of his prophecy that they’re going to bow to him. It might not have been smart on his part to tell them about that dream. But they don’t like him; he’s disliked, and that’s a hard place to be. And then they decide they’re going to kill him. And he gets thrown in a pit. And a few hours later he’s being drawn up out of the pit, and he says, “Oh good, there’s hope.” And instead of hope they sold him to the Midianites, who take him away to Egypt. And he’s down in the pit again, as it were.
And when he gets there, he’s sold into the house of Potiphar. And God blesses him and he starts to gain some credibility and have a nice job. And he feels, “Oh good, I’m up out of the pit.” And next, Potiphar’s wife lies about him and his virtue. And he’s down into the jail now. So he goes from being disliked, into the pit, into slavery, up, and then down into jail.
And in jail, he prospers again, because he’s faithful. And he begins to have responsibility there, and it’s not so bad as it might be. And then along comes the butler and the baker. And he interprets their dreams for them. And one of them thanks him. And he goes back into the court of Pharaoh. And he says, “By the way, remember me.” And he forgets him for two years. So was thinking, “There’s some hope there. I’m going to be remembered and brought out of this. And I did a good deed, and I’ll be helped.” And then two years.
This is now a period of about 17 years, right? About 17 years of setbacks, unplanned places, unplanned paces. Would you not if you were Joseph be tempted to lift your fist into God’s face and say, “How much faithfulness do I have to show under how many circumstances for you to begin to treat me right?” I mean, that’s the way a lot of people talk when they have setbacks. And then after 17 years, he gets the chance to predict or interpret Pharaoh’s dream, and Pharaoh makes him the vice-president of Egypt. And he gives a wise scheme about how to prevent devastation from famine. The brothers eventually come down, and it all falls into place. “Aha, I see what you were up to.” Genesis 50:20 says,
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Now that story is in the Bible for the sake of your people’s patience. That’s why it’s there. All things are written, that by the steadfastness and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope that all of our setbacks are designed for our glory. And so, believing that is the key to not murmuring.
Warfield and Patience
Let me give you a story. There’s a story about B.B. Warfield that very few people know about. I didn’t know about it until I was talking about his view of Scripture one time, and Mark Noll, the history professor at Wheaton, was in the audience. And he came up to me afterward, and he told me this story. And then I dug it out and read it for myself in the biography.
He was married to a young, beautiful girl named Annie Kinkaid in 1876. And they took a honeymoon to Switzerland to do some skiing. And on their honeymoon, on the ski slope, she was struck by lightning and paralyzed for the rest of her life — never got out of bed. Alright, now picture yourself in this situation: You believe in the sovereignty of God. And you just married a beautiful woman and anticipate a planned life of joy. And she’s paralyzed on your honeymoon. Thirty-nine years later, she dies.
Warfield never went more than two hours from his home, and always refused opportunities of ecclesiastical advancement and kept his post at Princeton Seminary, that he might go home at midday and care for her. And he did for 39 years. You talk about an unplanned place and an unplanned pace.
So when I read that, I said, “I want to hear the voice of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield on Romans 8:28. I want to hear what he says after 39 years of this.” So I took down the little book, Faith and Life. It’s a group of devotionals by Warfield. And I looked up his old devotional on Romans 8:28, which was written quite late in his life. And this is the key sentence:
God will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from what befalls us.
Now I don’t know to what degree he succeeded in not murmuring for 39 years, but I have very little evidence and record that he was a man of bitterness or a man of murmuring. I don’t think he was. He poured his life into his work, and he poured his life into his wif, and we have the benefit of his faithfulness in books today.
But the way you endure patiently in that situation is by believing what he just said there, that promise of future grace: “God will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from what befalls us.” The battle for patience — though it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit — is a battle for faith in future grace — namely, the grace of Romans 8:28: that God will work all things together for our good.
What God Meant for Good
The illustration that I was going to use that I made up was this. Suppose you were planning to take a ski trip. And you had been planning it for months. And you were in a car accident and broke your leg the day before you were to leave with your family to go to Aspen, Colorado. And you’re really tempted to murmur. “Oh man, this is just not the way it should happen. I’ve been serving as a pastor faithfully all these years, and . . .” And it’s a compound fracture. And the doctors, in setting it, find this strange lump in your calf. (I have a young woman in our church with a huge massive scar hole in the back of her calf. She was my secretary for a while, and she had major surgery at age 16 to remove a cancerous growth.)
So, they find this lump. And they take it and do a biopsy on it, and it’s malignant. And therefore, they do a big surgical removal, and the doctors say, “You know, if we had not taken this, it would have spread. And you’d probably be dead in two years.” Now would that not change your murmuring about the broken leg? If you knew that God was so ordering this accident that you would not die, just miss a ski trip, would you stop murmuring? The car hit, smash, feel the pain. The leg’s broken. And you knew, at that moment, it’s to help me find out I’ve got cancer and have successful surgery, and live another forty years to do what I need to do, would you not be revolutionized in your emotional response to that moment? You would be.
And that’s the way it is always, if you believe Romans 8:28. If you believe in the sovereign goodness of God to so order all things that only good comes from what befalls us, then you will not murmur; you will be patient. And you will go at the unplanned pace in the unplanned place of obedience.
Let me give you one of the most amazing illustrations that I ever found. This is a story about a young woman: she was a Huguenot, a French Protestant.
In the late seventeenth century in . . . southern France, a girl named Marie Durant was brought before the authorities, charged with the Huguenot heresy. She was fourteen years old, bright, attractive, marriageable. She was asked to abjure the Huguenot faith. She was not asked to commit an immoral act, to become a criminal, or even to change the day-to-day quality of her behavior. She was only asked to say, “J’abjure.” No more, no less. She did not comply. Together with thirty other Huguenot women she was put into a tower by the sea. . . . For thirty-eight years she continued. . . . And instead of the hated word J’abjure she, together with her fellow martyrs, scratched on the wall of the prison tower the single word Resistez, resist!
The word is still seen and gaped at by tourists on the stone wall at Aigues-Mortes. . . . We do not understand the terrifying simplicity of a religious commitment which asks nothing of time and gets nothing from time. We can understand a religion which enhances time. . . . But we cannot understand a faith which is not nourished by the temporal hope that tomorrow things will be better. To sit in a prison room with thirty others and to see the day change into night and summer into autumn, to feel the slow systemic changes within one’s flesh: the drying and wrinkling of the skin, the loss of muscle tone, the stiffening of the joints, the slow stupefaction of the senses — to feel all this and still to persevere seems almost idiotic to a generation which has no capacity to wait and to endure. (Karl Olsson, Passion)
God Works for You
There are so many promises in the Bible to encourage us. Let me mention one or two more before we take up another sample sin of unbelief. Isaiah 64:4 is one of the most significant verses in my battle for faith and for the obedience of faith. It says,
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
So, you’re in some situation, your plan is shattered, you have to go at an unplanned pace in an unplanned place. And you’re tempted to murmur. And instead what you do is you take one of your memorized forty promises, one of which would be Isaiah 64:4. And you say, “No, he promises that for those who wait on him — whether a traffic jam, or a hospital bed, or beside a coffin, those who wait for him — he will work for them. God works for those who wait for him.
Or that great, great new covenant promise from Jerusalem 32:40:
I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
The new covenant is an awesome promise that God has made, never to turn from doing us good.
Fresh Courage Take
There’s a hymn that I love that captures the importance of trusting in God’s providence when things don’t go the way we think they should. It hangs above the mantle in my living room, just about the fireplace in cross-stitch, stitched by one of the young women of our church about ten years ago, during a sermon series on the Book of Ruth. I entitled the series, Sweet and Bitter Providence because Naomi means pleasant. And when they came back, having lost her husband, having lost two sons, having been forsaken by one daughter-in-law, and the one being left, a Moabite foreigner. When she came home she said, “Don’t call me Naomi, don’t call me pleasant; call me Mara, bitter. Because the Lord has dealt bitterly with me.” And she was right. He had dealt bitterly with her.
But the point of the book by the end is — same as Joseph, exactly the same point as the Book of Job, exactly the same point of the whole Bible — namely, that our God reigns in order to do good for his people. And she, through this foreign Moabite woman, was brought an heir who became the father of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David, the father of Jesus. This hymn became the theme song of that sermon series. And it goes like this:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
William Cowper struggled with depression, and suicidal attempts and thoughts, and insanity all of his life. And I praise God that God turned that man’s broken life into life-giving power for me in that poem that he wrote — just amazing.
God has this world so masterfully, artistically, under control, that we cannot begin to dream about how the pain of our lives is going to function for the good of ourselves and for other people. Oh, that he would teach us not to murmur, but to be patient. Because when that happens, people will say, “Tell me the reason for the hope that is in you. You must be finding satisfaction somewhere else than where I find it, because you don’t murmur at your unplanned paces and unplanned places.” I’m preaching above myself here, I want to assure you. I am not there yet at all in this murmuring issue.
How to Battle Covetousness
Let’s talk about covetousness as a state of unbelief in future grace. Here’s my definition of covetousness: covetousness is desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God. It’s an inappropriate level of desire. Have you ever noticed how the last of the Ten Commandments relates to the first of the Ten Commandments? Have you ever asked whether or not they’re the same commandment, as I think they are — one negative and one positive? “You shall have no other gods before me” is the positive way of saying, “Thou shall not covet.” And the textual warrant for that is Colossians 3:5–6 where Paul says,
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
Covetousness is idolatry. It is desiring something so powerfully that you lose your contentment in God. And thus, this thing begins to rise as God in your life. It could be anything. And most of them are good things; they just become idols. Now what do you do, how do you fight in your life?
What God Supplies
I want to show you something that has made a tremendous difference in my life because in my early days as a thoughtful Christian, I really misused a couple of texts in Philippians 4. And I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did. You probably have it worked out much better than I did in those days. But in Philippians 4:11–13 Paul says,
Not that I am speaking of being in need . . .
So he’s not murmuring about lack of things, not coveting.
for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. . . .
That’s the challenge of Christian Hedonism, of living by faith in future grace.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
When I taught Bible at Bethel College, I would use this for a devotional in every class somewhere through the semester. And I would say, without quoting the context, I would read the text (because this is a verse that many Christian kids grow up memorizing: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”), and I would ask people, “Now what do you mean? What sorts of things can you do?” Never did anybody say, “Hunger.” Never did anybody say, “Poverty.” Never did anybody say, “Sickness.”
They always said triumph things. But that’s not the text. The text says, “I know how to be abased. I know how to face hunger. I know how to not abound. I can do all these things through him who strengthens me.” So, the key to being content in the midst of abasement, hunger, poverty, brokenness, sickness, and by implication all the painful things that you experience, is to be content in him who strengthens you for that. The strength of the Lord is in suffering, not from suffering.
Now, that wasn’t the whole story. Look at verse 19:
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Well, how do you relate that to verse 13?
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
My God will supply all my needs.
And the answer is: your need is probably not what you think it is. It’s probably not escaping from abasement, it’s probably not escaping from hunger and want; it is probably being strong enough to glorify God in those circumstances. So, I don’t ever say to my church when we are running short of the budget, because of Philippians 4:19 God is obliged to meet our financial expectations. If we’re $400,000 short in November, say, of a $1.4 million budget, I do quote this verse. But I’ve taught the people that I mean what we need according to God’s reckoning of what will be good for us, he will supply. And therefore, we need not fear. And if we go bankrupt, we go bankrupt. If missionaries have to come home, they come home. If I have to take a cut in salary (which I did two years ago: we cut the whole staff’s salaries 5 percent and kept them flat another year after that because of how tight things were), so be it. God does what’s good for us not what our expectations are.
So, texts like these are tremendous resources of contentment against covetousness, which would say, “I’ve got to have X amount of dollars, or I’ve got to have X amount of food, or I’ve got to have X amount of clothing, or housing, or whatever.” And you don’t have to have it.
You’ve Been Warned
There are many warnings in the New Testament against covetousness. Have you ever asked the question, How do you believe a warning? Is believing a warning the same as faith in future grace? I’ve thought a lot about that. And I think it is a species of faith in future grace — that is, if God warns you not to do something because a terrible consequence will come, that’s a gracious thing for him to do. To believe it is to believe that he’s gracious in doing it. So, for example, take 1 Timothy 6:9:
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
So notice, if you desire to be rich, that’s covetousness. If you desire to be rich, what are the negative things that are going to come? It’s going to be a trap, it’s going to produce many other senseless and hurtful desires, they are going to plunge you into ruin and destruction; it’s suicide, in other words. Now, how do you believe that? You believe what God is telling you is a gracious thing to know. And therefore, you pull back from the desire to be rich, because you’re trusting God’s counsel that it’s going to go bad for you if you do. It’s going to kill you, it’s going to pierce you through with many pangs. And instead you put your trust that “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” One last text on covetousness: Hebrews 13:5:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.
So there it is. Don’t be covetous. Keep your life free from the love of money. And instead, be content. That’s the alternative to covetousness. And then come promises. You ask, What is the power to be free from the love of money — to be content and not to be covetous? It’s to believe these promises:
For he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
So, just take those two illustrations, the one about patience and the one about contentment and freedom from covetousness, or impatience and covetousness, and use them as illustrations for how faith in future grace, faith in the all-providing promises of God cut the nerve of impatience and cut the nerve of covetousness; and thus, free you not to murmur and not to be greedy, so that you lead a life of peace — not preoccupied with yourself, but preoccupied with others. And people see you and say, “What is the hope in you? I don’t get you.” And you then begin to tell them the glories of the future grace promised by the Lord, and purchased by the Savior, the Lord Jesus.
Job and Murmuring
How would I account for Job’s murmuring if he was not a man of unbelief? And I would say that Job repented in chapter 42, precisely for yielding to unbelief. Now see, when I use the word unbelief, I don’t mean it absolutely. I believe Christians rise and fall in the level of their faith in future grace, or in God’s promise to take care of them.
And so, if I were to go back to my study in a little while, and start going, “I can’t believe that camera, lousy no good thing. Why did I get stuck with this?” That would be a lapse of faith in future grace. It doesn’t mean I’ve become a pagan or an unbeliever. It just means that in my relationship with my Father, a cloud has come between us, and I’m not attending to the power and grace that he has offered to say, “Look, I will work this out and it was good for you that you ran out of film.” And then I will repent of murmuring. So, I think the point of the Book of Job is 42:5–6.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.
I think Elihu is absolutely right. Elihu nails everybody in the Book of Job. I think Elihu speaks for God; that’s my interpretation.
For Beat-Up Pastors
Second Corinthians has got to be one of the favorite books for beat-up pastors. I mean, it is one glorious book of suffering. Paul suffered incredibly, and was not naïve in describing his ministry and suffering as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). But with regard to his weaknesses, the thorn in the flesh passage talks about grace as power.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
That’s the end of the Lord’s words. And here’s Paul’s response:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Now notice, when you have a theological system you start seeing everything through the glasses of your system, and it’s very dangerous. But it’s also wonderfully encouraging when you see things like this. It says, “For the sake of Christ [that’s the glory that Christ is after], I am content.” He is most glorified in me, when I am most contented in him. You see it; you just start seeing it once you get it.
So, the beauty of the ministry is that you don’t have to be triumphalistic. Americans are very prone to put premiums on triumphs that are not calling any glory to God whatsoever. You can build a church without God; you know that. You can build a big, successful church without the Holy Spirit. And generally, you’ll get the glory if you do. But if you want God to get the glory, count on a lot of suffering. My Christian Hedonism is a call to suffer.
There’s a brand-new edition of Desiring God; it’s the tenth-anniversary edition. And if you say, “Well what’s new about it?” the answer is: there’s a new chapter. And do you know what it’s called? It’s called “Suffering: The Sacrifice of Christian Hedonism” because over the years of this book’s existence, the question comes back again and again: “Now, are you really part of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel? Are you really calling for everybody to be comfortable and easy?” And that’s exactly the opposite of my whole theology.
I’m trying to get people so happy in God they can die happily, give their lives away, suffer for needy people. And so, I decided, I’m going to add a chapter on this thing and settle this once for all. When you choose a word like Christian Hedonism you know you’ve got yourself in trouble anyway.
I certainly would prefer a righteous lament — that is, a lament coming from a righteous heart — than a stoic “buck-up” that isn’t leaning on God, but is doing what Marcus Aurelius did when he was struck on the cheek and somebody said, “Now what?” And he said, “What? I didn’t feel anything.” In other words, he was just filled spite towards his enemy. And he would put his enemy in his place by not feeling anything the enemy did toward him. That’s the essence of stoicism, and so far from Christian contentment. So, contentment in Christ in the midst of suffering does not minimize the pain, and the tears, and the agony, and the crying. Jesus wept and he sweat bled.
Now, I don’t want to overstate, I don’t want to create the impression that, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me,” is a real, genuine bona fide cry of agony. I said to a group the other night that that’s a hair’s breadth from blasphemy. But it’s not blasphemy. To accuse a holy and good God of forsaking a perfect and wonderful person would be blasphemy. But we all know that he’s quoting Psalm 22. And Psalm 22 ends with the triumph of the servant.
And so, without taking the heart and the agony out of what he was doing, I don’t think he was puzzled. I don’t think the Son of God was puzzled. He knew what was going to happen; he planned this thing.
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
When he was on the cross he didn’t say, “Oh dear, where did this come from?” Or, “What am I doing here?” Or, “What am I accomplishing?” He was not perplexed about how God would redeem his people. Therefore, he knew his Father would pour out his wrath upon him, and he knew that his Father would turn away, as it were, from sin.
So, my interpretation of those words are that they are an interpretation of what was happening, but really, powerfully from his heart. I guess the bottom-line question is: Is there a faith-filled way of complaining to God? Lament is different from accusation, isn’t it?
Empowerment to Obey
Are the paying of vows an example of the debtor’s ethic or of being motivated by gratitude? Listen to Psalm 116:12–13:
What shall I render to the Lord
for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
Here’s my interpretation of it: “What shall I render to the Lord for all of his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and let him fill it again — or toast him.” Whatever my response is to his blessing me infinitely is a drawing upon him of more blessing. That’s what I want to lay hold of.
I wonder if our language is so fuzzy here, that when we use the word motive, we mean something so broad that even I’m going to allow gratitude to stand as a motive. Because what we mean by motive is something that we experience that helps us obey. But we don’t account for the how it helps us, and we just leave it at that. If we leave it at that, I don’t think a person who is without gratitude will ever obey. Because if they are not thrilled with the goodwill of God in the grace of the past they’ll never bank on the it for the future. So, if they’re not grateful for what they see of God revealing himself and doing for them in the past and saying, “What a God! What a grace!” And then as they turn to the challenges of the future, they won’t say, “And therefore, what a grace is available here for me to live the life today!” So gratitude in that sense is a prerequisite of this obedience.
But if you take the word empowerment, enablement, and ask what enables the next step of obedience, there’s where I’m going to negate and say not gratitude. Gratitude is not the power, it is not the enablement today. New, fresh resources of power and grace coming from God are the enablement. And the past evidences and benefits are the guarantee that that will come.