The Pursuit of Joy in Life and Ministry

Session 3

Desiring God

We’re going to do a John Calvin conference in September because this is his 500th birthday this year. The theme of it is called With Calvin in the Theater of God. I mention it only to put that picture in front of you. For him — and I think he’s right — the universe is the theater of God. It’s where the drama is enacted that’s all intended to display the glory of God. And God has two books, therefore, two scripts. That’s the way I’ve set up some of the lectures. The Bible is the authoritative one to tell us what we know is true. The rest of the world is another book. It’s not the authoritative one because it’s ambiguous, but you can read off of it a lot of things about God.

Tuned in to God’s World

I don’t know if you saw them, but on the way here this morning I saw the sun dogs. It’s an incredible thing. This was about 35 minutes ago. The sun was coming up, and then on either side there were these golden parentheses. That happens very rarely. I’ve only seen it twice in my life. Nathan commented that the Lord is bracketing the sun. It’s like, in case you didn’t notice, there’s the sun in between these two parentheses of gold. Awesome. One of the points that I’m going to make later is that we stir up joy in our lives by attending to the witnesses in the world to God’s glory, not just the natural world but the social, political, human, cultural world.

I wrote something in the Taste and See article this week called The President, The Passengers, and the Patience of God because frankly, I cannot get over that plane crash. I mean, it’s just taken me. I can’t believe that this plane, going at 300 miles an hour at this angle and these geese flying at this angle should find that exact millisecond where one goes into both engines — that’s impossible — and shuts them down totally. Then, the plane lands of the water and floats. Seventy-seven tons of steel with its belly full of fuel was floating long enough for every person to get out with a scratch on a few legs. I mean, this is God. From beginning to end, God is speaking if you have ears to hear. He is saying, “I can take planes down, and I can belly planes up. I can take you out, and I can save you, Mr. President. Wake up, America. Repent while there’s time. I’m a God of great mercy and great power.”

I’m just giving the illustrations of how I think watching the world stirs you up. I don’t know what news services you use but when mine came up this morning I was just so moved by this model in Brazil who died yesterday. Does anybody know about this? Her name was Mariana Bridi, and it’s just as well that I don’t know her because I’m sure she didn’t have her clothes on most of the time. She was 20 years old, and she’s dead.

She got sick in December, and they amputated her hands and her feet a few days ago. She went into the hospital on January 3. She was a runner-up for Miss World from Brazil twice, so you’re talking a gorgeous body, right? She’s dead after her hands were taken off and her feet were taken off because of a bacterial infection they couldn’t get under control at age 20.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
     but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30).

How vain it is to live for external beauty. I mean, it’s nice, right? It’s nice to have it. It’s nice to see it, but it’s not the point. It will do you no good when you’re 20 and they’re taking off your hands. When that happened, she probably just said, “I’m out of here. I’m going. I’m not going to live.”

So, you read the news. You watch the news. You look at the sun dogs. You just stay alive to this theater of God, and then, you put it all through the sieve of the Bible so that you make sure you’re interpreting it correctly, and you let it have its appointed effect.

Then I will go to the altar of God,
     to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
     O God, my God (Psalm 43:4).

Isn’t that a great phrase? It says, “I will go to God, my exceeding joy.” That’s what I want for you so much. I want that for you when I’m dead and gone. There are a lot of young people here. You’re going to live 40 or 50 years after I’m in heaven, and my great desire would be, if I’m allowed to just peek down, to see some of you in 30 years standing in front of somebody or talking to your kids and saying, “God is my exceeding joy.”

The Grand Obligation: The Pursuit of Joy

We have two units to move through, and we’ll do them in three sections or more, depending on how we cut it up. Number six and number seven in your outline is where we are. This is focused on the grand obligation of the pursuit of joy, arguments that it is biblical, and how then we should fight for joy.

I don’t think in the times I’ve taught this seminar I’ve ever finished it, and oh, how I’d love to finish it, but that’s a lot. You can see on the sheet there, that’s a lot of pieces to get through. They’re all so juicy that it’s hard for me to pass over them too quickly. So, here we are at number six, the grand obligation.

Here’s the idea. We’ve just made the case partly, or at least we’ve tried to explain, that Christian Hedonism is the truth that since God is most glorified in us when we are deeply satisfied in him, therefore, pursuing satisfaction in him is a duty. It should govern all of our lives because that’s the way he’s glorified.

Far Too Easily Pleased

Now, we have not looked at very much Bible. We’ve looked at Edwards and Lewis and my pilgrimage, but now, from here on out, it’s all Bible with a few quotes sprinkled in. Because the question is, is all this talk about the pursuit of our joy and God being glorified in our joy really in the Bible? I mean, that’s all that matters in the end. My opinions don’t matter and my pilgrimage doesn’t matter, but God’s word matters infinitely. So, what we’re going to do is look at texts, but I can’t help but start again with another Lewis quote:

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.

That is taken from The Weight of Glory and other addresses. I should have brought the book along so you’d actually see the very book. It was 1968 in the fall, during my first session of Fuller Seminary. I was madly in love with Noël Henry and engaged, and we were to be married on December 21 of that year, but then it was September. I was in Pasadena, and she was near Chicago. She was finishing school so we could get married and not have school in front of her. I was lonely and moody and walking Colorado Avenue, and I walked into Vroman’s Bookstore and went to a pile of books in these special tables, and this book, The Weight of Glory, was lying there. I had never seen it. I knew C. S. Lewis and had read Mere Christianity, but that was about all in college.

I picked up this blue book and opened it to the first page, which includes the quote I’m reading. My life has never been the same since. This is what he says. I couldn’t believe it:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing (I certainly felt that way), I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics (isn’t that interesting) and is no part of the Christian faith.

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Biblical Arguments for Christian Hedonism

That was gold. Amen. That’s Christian Hedonism. Is it biblical? That’s the question. Is it biblical? The answer is yes, but arguments matter. I remember Dr. fuller who was helping me see these things in those days had a great point. He said, “Read commentaries and read books, but don’t pay any attention to their conclusions. Only assess their arguments. Anybody can draw a conclusion. It could be false, true, or crazy. If you just read a book for conclusions, if you collect opinions, what are you going to do? Base opinions on counting noses? Arguments are what matters, not conclusions.” So, I’m giving you arguments here, about 15 of them. I forget how many there are.

1. Commands to Pursue Joy in God

Number one: there are biblical commands to pursue our joy in God.

Delight yourself in the Lord,
     and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
     and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11).

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! (Psalm 33:1).

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy! (Psalm 67:4).

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).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4).

These are not suggestions. These are commands, which is why Christian Hedonism is both liberating and devastating.

2. A Threat Against Joyless Service

Number two: there is a biblical threat if we will not pursue our joy in God.

Deuteronomy 28:47–48 says:

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 . . .

I remember reading — I think it was quoted in Lewis — a quote from Jeremy Taylor. He said, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” I read that and I thought, “That’s clever.” And it was years before I saw this sentence in the Bible. Then I said, “It’s not clever. It’s biblical.” God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy. He says to a pastor, “You’re supposed to serve the Lord with gladness” (Hebrews 13:17). If you go moping through your ministry, saying, “Oh, it’s hard to be a pastor. Oh, there’s so much sacrifice in the ministry. Oh, what a burden I carry for all of you people,” eventually, you’re all going to be sick. You’re going to be psychologically sick. That’s what pastors who feel like that do. They produce sick churches. If you want a church to be healthy, according to Hebrews 13:17, you have to be happy in the ministry.

Of course, if you’re not happy and you try to look happy, then you produce a hypocritical Church, which means reality has to happen. I mean, you either fish or cut bait. You’re out of here, or you love God.

3. The Essence of Evil

Number three: the essence of evil and sin is to pursue satisfaction outside God.

Jeremiah 2:12–13 says:

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.

Here’s a great definition of evil. If somebody says, “Okay, you Christians, what do you think evil is?” They think we might say, “Well, homosexuality, abortion, etc.” That’s what they think. We should say, “No. Evil is being offered a fountain to drink from and turning from the fountain and putting your face in the dirt and licking the dirt. That’s evil.” That’s what it says.

It says, “My people have committed two great evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain, and are trying to make broken cisterns hold water, but they won’t.” They are scratching the dirt, saying, “Oh, where’s the water? Where’s the water? Where’s the water?” That’s the world going after everything but God. They’re thinking, “It’s got to be here somewhere. Happiness has got to be here somewhere. Maybe it’s found in lot of money?” And there’s God, holding out his hands, full of the everlasting, satisfying water of life.” So, mark it. The definition of evil in the Bible is to forsake the joy God offers and find it elsewhere. That’s the definition of evil.

All have sinned and lack the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

That’s the literal translation of Romans 3:23, and I take lack to be a reference back to Romans 1:23, which says we have exchanged the glory of God for the glory of the creature. That’s the definition of sin — to be offered God, like Adam and Eve were, and to choose independence and self-assertion over the enjoyment of our Father’s provision in the garden. That’s sin.

So don’t define sin in terms of do’s and don’ts. Define sin in terms of anything you find pleasure in more than God, and most of them are innocent idols. Most sin is not adultery, drunkenness, and stealing. Most sin is delighting in innocent things more than we delight in God, and thus, making idols out of them. This is why this is so devastating.

4. Affections Are Biblically Essential

Number four: the affections — which is the old-fashioned, 18th century word for the emotions — are biblically essential to Christian living.

I’m responding here now to those who say, “This Christian Hedonism stuff elevates the affections, or the emotions, to a place where the Bible doesn’t take them. The Bible talks in terms of service, duty, sacrifice, self-denial, and obedience, and you’re now talking about all these emotions, which are neither here nor there. They rise, they fall. They don’t count. That other stuff is what really counts.”

Let me tell you a story. I was a junior at Wheaton College in a class on apologetics with Millard Erickson. Millard Erickson was at Wheaton in those days. This was been the fall of 1967 probably, and we read Joseph Fletcher’s book Situation Ethics. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of that book. It’s an old book. It’s not a good book, but we had to read it and then argue with it. One of the arguments I can remember in the book was that love cannot involve the emotions because it’s commanded in the Bible, and you can’t command the emotions. Therefore, love is willpower. You can command the will, but you can’t command the emotions. That was the argument.

I remember at the time I didn’t have a lot of theological understanding, but I grew up in a Christian home and I absorbed Bible. It’s just so wonderful to absorb a lot of Bible because if you raise a kid to absorb a lot of Bible, and he’s not a theologian but he’s still just oozing Bible, things will smell wrong even when he can’t articulate why they’re wrong, which is very good because that will help your kids avoid a lot of stuff. He’ll go with his nose if he can’t articulate it with his mouth. He’ll think, “This smells wrong. What’s wrong with this?” And so, I thought, “There’s something wrong with his argument. I’m not buying this argument,” though I couldn’t quite figure out what’s wrong with the argument.

Now I know what’s wrong with that argument; one of the premises is false. The argument goes like this.

Premise 1: Love is commanded. Premise 2: You can’t command the emotions. Conclusion: Therefore, love is not an emotion.

That’s good logic with a false premise. The second premise is false. Emotions are commanded all over the Bible. That’s where I said, “Oh, of course. I’ve been reading this Bible for years and years, and this man’s saying you can’t command the emotions?” Watch.

Emotions Commanded in the Bible


Don’t have any covetousness is right at the heart of the law. Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.” Well, what’s covetousness? It’s bad desire. It’s desiring wrong stuff in the wrong way. Don’t have it. Stop having that emotion. That’s the law.


Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have . . . (Hebrews 13:5).

This is saying, “Are you anxious? Discontent? Stop it.” What? You’re telling me to stop it? This is a feeling. Contentment is a feeling. You might say, “How can I stop being discontent? You’re just telling me to do this?” Yep, he’s telling us to stop. He’s commanding.

Fervent brotherly love

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart . . . (1 Peter 1:22).

He’s not just saying, “Exert the willpower of doing good things to people, and we’ll call it love.” He’s saying, “Love fervently from the heart. Feel it.” That’s what he’s saying.


Why are you cast down, O my soul,
     and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God (Psalm 42:5).

That’s commanding hope for your soul.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you . . . (1 Peter 1:13).

There’s a command to hope. Hope is an emotion. It’s not just a conviction, like, “I know Jesus is coming, and I feel zero hope for it and zero desire for it and zero expectation of it, but it’s a knowledge thing.” That’s not hope. The devil knows the Lord is coming. He doesn’t hope in it.


But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:5).

So, you don’t fear God? You better, and that’s an emotion.


Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called . . . (Colossians 3:15).

Peace is an emotion, so feel it.


Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord (Romans 12:11).

If your spirit is lukewarm or languishing, stir it up. Start being fervent.


Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Be an empathetic person. If you’re a callous person and you get around people who weep and you don’t feel any empathy with them, start feeling it. Isn’t that amazing?

So, I’m just kind of wondering, where did Joseph Fletcher read? What did he read? There are so many theologians who write books without reading the Bible. They really do. You have to be really careful. I have a friend who got an M.Div., which is the terminal degree for pastors, and he did it at Yale Divinity School. He never took a New Testament course. I’m not talking about a Greek New Testament course, I’m talking any New Testament course. This was 25 years ago. I don’t know what they do today, but I heard that, and I thought, “Yep. Yep.”


Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk . . . (1 Peter 2:2).

So, desire is commanded.


Be kind to one another, tenderhearted . . . (Ephesians 4:32).


[Address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father . . . (Ephesians 5:19–20).

Our fighter verse for this week is, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

He says, “Be thankful in all circumstances.” This is s a command. Gratitude is a feeling. You know that, don’t you? I hope none of you is saying, “These things aren’t really emotions.” Well, wait a minute. When your mother gives to your child a gift at Christmas that he doesn’t like, like socks, and the child opens the box and pulls out the socks. At that moment, the child, having learned duty, will say, “Thank you, grandmamma.” But if it’s a firetruck, he will feel, “Thank you!” And there’s a difference between the words “thank you” and gratitude. Gratitude is commanded, and it is felt or it’s non-existent. Lowliness is another one.

So there’s the argument. Christian Hedonism, in taking the affections as high as it does, and in saying that they are mandated and they are what glorifies God, does not elevate them to a place beyond where the Bible takes them. The Bible commands emotions all over the place, which is why, by the way, all these are necessary to talk about later on regarding how in the world you pursue them. You might be sitting there, like I did so many times, feeling devastated that half of those emotions that I just listed, you aren’t feeling right now. You might wonder, “Well, does that mean I’m not a Christian? I’m not an emotional person. I’m a Minnesotan. You’re from South Carolina. You have Latin blood or something.” Those are real questions. When you read the Bible and you’re wired a certain way, you can feel devastated. So, we’ll get there. I’m just making it hard for you right now.

5. An Essential Element of Saving Faith

Number five: an essential element of saving faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us.

Let’s go to John:

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” (John 6:35).

Now, notice the parallel. Coming to Jesus and believing in Jesus are parallel here. I think they mean the same thing. This doesn’t mean you have to traverse some geography. This means right now, in your chair, you could come to Jesus. That is, your heart moves toward Jesus. So, the question would be, in what way? How? What is this believing? It is a coming to him for the satisfaction of your hunger. It is the believing in him for the slaking of your thirst.

So my definition of faith is a coming to Christ in my heart for satisfaction, rooted in all that he is and all that he does. I don’t want to leave out the cross. I don’t want to leave out his glory. I just mean that when I believe in Jesus, it doesn’t mean I just believe facts. It means I’m moving to him, coming to him, and I’m embracing him as my hunger-remover, as my thirst-satisfier. I think that’s implied in those words hunger and thirst. It parallels the words come and believe. So, I think if you study the nature of saving faith, you will find that it is not merely cognitive. It is affectional in that it rests in Jesus as our Savior and our treasure.

6. The Nature of Conversion

Number six: the meaning of conversion is the God-given awakening of delight in the glory of God.

I’m arguing that conversion in the Bible, getting started in the Christian life, is the awakening of desire for God above other things. Here’s the key passage. I’m just going to skip over the others and go straight to the key one, which is Matthew 13:44. It’s a one verse parable:

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.

Now, the nature of parables, many of you know, is that you don’t press every detail to correspond to some reality; rather, you look for the thrust that corresponds to reality. So it would be a terrible mistake to say that you buy the kingdom. The point of this parable is that when King Jesus shows up, he appears to the converting person as so precious that everything else is worth losing to have him. That’s the point of the parable, and that’s what conversion means. When that happens to you, you’re converted. You become a Christian. We’ve intellectualized becoming a Christian to the point where the devil can do it. We make it all about decisions, decisions, decisions without heart, without treasure transfer in the emotions.

Everybody has a treasure. If you’re a non-believer, you treasure stuff besides Christ — hundreds of things. But this is called new birth resulting in conversion. When your eyes are opened to see Christ as a treasure hidden in a field, all these other things change — wedding ring, grandfather clock that your grandmother left you, home, family. Jesus said, “Unless you hate your mother and father, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Why would he talk like that? Someone could think, “Oh, it’s terrible to say something like that, isn’t it?” Look, he’s trying to get across that if you don’t love him more than you love mother or father, if you don’t make some moves in life that are going to be interpreted by the world as though you hated your family, then probably you don’t know him. You don’t love him. Being a Christian really is radical. Christ really is our supreme treasure, and so I think to try to define Christianity without the pursuit of joy in him is contrary to the nature of conversion.

7. Praising God is Prizing God

Number seven: Philippians 1:19–23 is probably the most important text for defending the sentence God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. That’s the banner that flies over Christian Hedonism. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If someone said, “Give me a text. Where do you get that thought?” Here’s the text. Let’s read it:

I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope (this is what Paul really wants) that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body . . . (Philippians 1:19–20).

That’s his goal in life. Is it yours? He desires that Christ be magnified — that means made to look magnificent. You don’t look magnificent. This is about making Christ look magnificent because of the way you live and die — “that Christ would be magnified in my body whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20).

There’s the goal set up. He is saying, “I want Christ to be magnified.” So we’re trying to find the sentence that Christ, or God, is most magnified in us when what? That’s the goal. I want him to be most magnified, most glorified. Paul is saying, “That’s my desire. I want my life, my body, my whole soul in life and in death to make him look magnificent.” And then he says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Live in that verse corresponds with life in Philippians 1:20. And die corresponds with death in Philippians 1:20, right? So what he’s doing in Philippians 1:21 is explaining and supporting that statement that he just made about his passion in Philippians 1:20, where he says, “I want Christ to be magnified in my body, by life or death.” And then, he explains how it’s going to happen. He says, “Because for to me to live is Christ and to die . . .” — and then here’s the key — “is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Christ Magnified in Our Dying

Now, just take the death pair and read it. It says, “I long for Christ to be magnified in my body when I die, for to me to die is gain.” Does that makes sense? Paraphrase it. Christ will be made to look magnificent in my dying when in my dying, he is experienced, not as loss of this world, but gain. That’s my basis. You will come to die, whether in the hospital, on the battlefield, on the mission field, or lying on the side of the road after a car accident. You’re going to die someday. You may or may not have any chance to think about it ahead of time when it happens. It may be so sudden that you’re gone. Most people have some time to think about it, whether for a few minutes or weeks or years. For Paul, he had his head chopped off by Nero, so he had some time. An hour or two as he was walking through the processes, going out into the place of execution, he had some time to think about this. He thought, “God, I want you to look good here. I want you to be seen as magnificent here.”

How do you do that? What would make God look magnificent? Answer: experiencing him as gain. So, if your whole orientation at that moment is, “I’m losing my wife. I’m losing my kids. I’m losing my stuff. I’m losing my health. I’m losing a retirement. I’m losing my fame. I’m losing everything. Wah, wah, wah,” how does Christ look? You’re just about to meet him. He looks like he’s not valuable, not magnificent. But if you’re satisfied in him, if you look at all the world, and say, “There’s my wife, and there are my kids, there’s the dream for retirement that’s not going to happen, and there’s the stuff that could have been written and the sermons that could have been preached, and it’s all gone in an hour, and there’s Christ,” what will the nurses see? What will the doctors see in you? Will they see you saying, “I count everything as loss for the surpassing value of going home to him. Gain. Gain. Gain”? That’s the argument.

So, my paraphrase is Christ is most magnified in my body when I come to die and I am most satisfied in this gain. I think that’s what’s taught in that text right there. Do you want Christ to look good in your dying? Experience dying as gain, not loss.