When I Don’t Desire God

Part 5

Desiring God 2005 Regional Conference | Greenville, South Carolina


I said last time that the fight for joy is mainly a fight to see because that corresponds from our side to God’s purpose to display his glory. And when you see the glory of God with the eyes of your heart, there’s a taste that happens. In fact, it’s just like the song says, “Taste and see, taste and see.” It’s a remarkable juxtaposition, isn’t it?

Jonathan Edwards has helped me a lot in pointing out that you can conclude that honey is sweet, or that this is honey by a series of arguments like it’s brown, it’s viscous, it’s got some honeycomb in it, so this must be honey. That’s a totally different experience than putting a little bit on your tongue and saying, “Oh, I see. Oh, I really see.” With my tongue I see? There’s an eye in my tongue? I see that’s honey because there’s an immediate experience of sweetness, and that’s a picture of seeing the glory of Christ in the gospel.

Eyes to See Glory

Second Corinthians 4:4 has become, in my experience in recent years, one of the most important passages for understanding our experience. It says, “The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” What an amazing verse. The devil’s main business is to keep you from seeing glory in the gospel. The gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ. When you look at the cross, or when you read the story of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and all of its interpretation in the Bible, what must happen is that something in your heart perceives — apprehends — gloriousness.

“Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22–23). For the one, it’s a stumbling block. For the other, it’s foolishness. But to those who are called, that divine call is like, “Lazarus! Come forth!” For those who are called, the cross is beauty, wisdom, power. One day you looked upon the things of the Spirit and the things of God, and they were boring. They were foolishness. They were not attractive in the least. And then, late one night, listening to a radio, reading your Bible, talking to a friend, suddenly God was true. He was beautiful. He was compelling.

“The Christian life is growing in our biblical understanding of the miracle that happened to us.”

You couldn’t resist anymore, and you embraced him. You saw, you saw, for the first time your life, this is real. This is absolutely necessary. This fits who I am. This makes sense out of the universe. There was an intuitive, self-authenticating experience with the living Christ in and through the gospel, and you saw glory. You may not have used that language. You didn’t know 2 Corinthians 4:4. It just happened to you. God is so merciful to do wonderful things in our lives when we can’t put words on it. And the Christian life is growing in our biblical understanding of the miracle that happened to us.

And it might have happened in a totally theologically deranged church. And little by little you discover, “Well, this is what really happened to me. This makes sense out of my experience — this biblical understanding. I saw glory in the gospel with the eyes of my heart.”

So, that’s where we ended last time that the battle for joy is the battle to keep on seeing glory, more glory than you find in sports. And there’s glory in sports. Isn’t it interesting that the most religious section of the newspaper is the sports section? All the religious language is there. Glory is all over the sports section. But more than you find glory in food, more than you find glory in relationships, more than you find glory in creation, you find glory in Christ through the gospel.

Fourteen Strategies for the Fight for Joy

This is as close as I get to being practical. I’m going to try my best to be practical with my experience taken from the Bible, and my walk with God.

So, these are strategies for the fight. Now, this has been a conference on the fight for joy. “Well, tell us how to do it, for goodness’ sake. You made all these foundations, and all these clarifications, and you couldn’t tell us how to fight.” Well, here we go.

1. Meditate on the word of God day and night.

I mean this book, the black one, or burgundy, or white, or red, or little or big, whatever version you have. I like the English Standard Version, which has just come out in the last five years. I recommend it. But this is not a conference on Bible translation.

“The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” Here it is! And God said so. “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8). “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became a joy and the delight of my heart for I am called by your name” (Jeremiah 15:16).

Eat Bible

Eat Bible. It’s more important than breakfast. I promise you. Eat Bible. “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. And therefore, he becomes like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:2–3). So that when there’s drought, fruit still happens because its roots are down in word. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). They’re all life giving.

“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith, has joy all woven into it. Faith comes by hearing. That’s not just at conversion. That’s every day of your life. When you get up in the morning, my guess is — unless you’re a very different person from me — you must get faith again. And you get it from the Bible. “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the word.” So, you go to your Bible every morning to have faith set aflame and ignited again.

“Whatever was written in former times was written for our instruction, in order that by the steadfastness and encouragement of the Scriptures we may have hope” (Romans 15:4). And who could say that joy could survive without hope? Therefore, if you’re going to have joy, you have to have hope, and hope so clearly comes from the Scriptures. “Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Holiness is a fancy word for somebody who is so happy in God, sin has no appeal anymore. That’s holiness. And that happens by the truth. The sword of the spirit is the word of God.

Memorize the Mind of God

How do you kill the Devil? The Devil is real, and he hates you with a vengeance, and would do anything to get to you. He prowls around like a roaring lion eating Christians. You know what he feeds off of? Faith. The Devil has one appetite: faith. He eats faith, so that you can’t have it. He just claws at your faith, that’s the only thing he wants to destroy. He cares not one lick about whether you’re healthy or not. In fact, if he can get your faith by making you healthy, he’ll make you healthy. If he can get your faith by making you sick, he’ll make you sick. How do you fight the Devil?

“Eat Bible. It’s more important than breakfast. I promise you.”

There is one offensive weapon: the word of God And when you juke him with it, he flees. You should have short ones and long ones — long swords, short daggers. Whole chapters, and little teeny phrases. And they should all be stored up. So, let me expand on this meditate by just adding memorize. Oh, memorize the Bible. I’ve never met a weak Christian who memorizes the Scriptures. I’ve never met a person who is devoted to memorizing Scripture who doesn’t have the warfare wherewithal to fight the fight for joy. Memorize the scripture. We have a memory program at our church called the “Fighter Verse Program.” And our whole church, that is all of those who are willing to participate, is memorizing the Sermon on the Mount now in a year.

Memorize the scripture so that you can preach to yourself. And I’m getting ahead of myself there because that’s going to be a separate point. So, let me back up and just say a few more practical things about meditating, memorizing, musing over the Bible.

Plan Ahead

Pick a time of day when it is going to happen. Do not assume, “I’ll fit it in somewhere.” It won’t happen. Why? The Devil. He’ll just fill your life with so many good things. You know, the Devil is mainly into good things. He’s not mainly into bad things. We can spot bad things and avoid them. We don’t spot the good things that keep us from the best things, and so he’s really tricky. And so, get yourself a time. And if you say, “I don’t have any.” Then just set your alarm a half hour earlier.

And pick a place. Don’t leave that open like, “Wow, where should I go today? What chair should I sit in?” Because there’ll be laundry in that chair. And then the only other chair available is where the kid is playing. And then, you can’t concentrate and he’s got you because you didn’t pick a place. And then thirdly, pick a plan. Okay. You open your Bible and “Where should I read today? I don’t know.” And by the time you’ve settled anywhere, he’s got you again. Your mind’s all over the place. So, you see these little things sticking out the front of my Bible? That’s my plan. There are four of these. And there are four places where I’m reading in the Bible because I have a year through the Bible plan that I use. And so I read in four different places. And I like it that way. But my plan doesn’t have to be your plan.

So, I read through this book. I’ve read through this book every year as long as I can remember — at least twenty-five years, plus a lot of other meditation and memorizing. So get a place. Get a time. Get a plan. And then, learn how to meditate. One of the main functions of the pastorate, I believe, and I hope you’re in churches like this, is that preaching should model how to meditate. But that’s a sermon for pastors, not for you. That’s number one, and I put it first because I think it’s probably the most important, although some of the others are almost equally important. Meditate on the word of God and memorize the word of God.

2. In all your Bible reading, focus on the centrality of God — especially Christ.

In other words, have a goal in reading the Bible to say, “I want to see God. I want to see Christ. I don’t want to just get stuck on the genealogies or the five smooth stones, or whatever, five loaves and two fish. I want to know something about Christ from this event, something about God from this event because it’s seeing the glory of God that is the fire of our joy.”

See Jesus

So, when you read the Gospels, for example, and I think you ought to be reading the Gospels probably every day. Have you ever wondered, “Why are there four of them?” I think there are four of them just because the early church wanted to know, “Who is he!?” You preach this Christ. I mean, you go up to Antioch, or Rome, or Corinth, or Athens, and you say, “Jesus came, died, rose.” Jesus who? They don’t know anything. And so, the Gospels God ordained had to be four portraits of this Jesus, and we need to see him. And so, as you read them, ask, “Who are you? What are you like? What do you say?”

“Holiness is a fancy word for somebody who is so happy in God, sin has no appeal anymore.”

Get to know him so that when you have the heart attack singing a hymn someday, and you meet him ten seconds later, he won’t be a surprise. You will have known him so well, it will be climax, it will be consummation. Yes! Yes! That’s the way I expected you to look because I heard you talk so often. I saw you do so many things. I made a list here of examples for me. This is the sort of thing I’m on the lookout for when I read the Gospels, or the Bible generally.

“All authority in heaven and on earth is mine.” “Before Abraham was, I am.” “Something greater than Solomon is here.” “Lazarus! Come forth!” And the dead man obeys. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” “Are you the Christ? Son of the living God? Son of the Blessed? I am.” That’s the clearest statement he ever made, at the most impossible moment to believe it. “I am.” “And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with glory.” Oh, what a word. I mean, you go to the Bible looking for statements and say, “That’s my Lord. That’s my Christ. That’s the way I want to be. That’s what I admire. That’s what thrills me about Jesus.”

No One Like Him

You just have to be on the lookout. I could just go on and on about the things he says, and the things he does that thrill me. You know, if I get interviewed on the radio, “Why do you believe the Bible is the word of God?” My short answer is, “I go to the Bible, and I meet a man who is self-authenticating. I cannot not love Jesus. If you don’t get Miss NPR, I’m praying for you. Just please, have you read the gospels? Ma’am, have you read about this man. Go read, and see if God doesn’t show you this man cannot be created by human ingenuity.”

“Let me ask you a question,” Jesus says. “The baptism of John, was it from man or Heaven?” They have a little consultation. “Now if we say from man, everybody’s going to get mad at us and stone us because they think he’s a prophet. And if we say from God, Jesus is going to say, ‘Why don’t you believe him.’ What are we going to do. Well, let’s say we don’t know.” Okay. “We don’t know.” And Jesus says, “I don’t talk to people like that.” He said, “Neither will I answer your question.”

I read that and chills go up and down my back. I say, “Yes! Whoa! I want to be like that!” Because he could see right through all their hypocrisy, all their manipulation. Jesus won’t talk to postmodern ignorers of the truth. He just won’t do it. What I’m saying is, in your fight for joy, you got to see Jesus as glorious. And the way to see him as glorious is by reading the Gospels on the lookout for things about Jesus. He is inimitable. There is no one like him — no one like him. Read to know Christ.

3. In all your Bible reading, don’t spare yourself the terrible glimpses of Gods wrath.

Now, that may surprise you. “You’re telling us to fight for joy, and now the third recommendation you’re making is that we not spare ourselves the parts of the Bible that describe his terrible wrath? I mean, there are some horrible parts of the Bible. And you’re saying go there and don’t skip those parts?” I’m saying absolutely. And you know why? I just read Nehemiah in my trek through the Bible. “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name” (Nehemiah 1:11). Delight to fear. Now, I like delight. I do not like fear. I don’t want to be afraid. Don’t skip the fearful parts of the Bible. There’s something about the way God made creatures like us that a component of our joy in God is trembling at his inscrutable power and wrath. It’s kind of like the Grand Canyon again.

You walk up, and how close can you get to this edge? How close can you get? “I’m starting to feel a little bit of ice in my legs, but this is beautiful. This is scary, and this is great.” I mean, why do people climb mountains? And get frostbite in their fingers? Why do people hang glide? I think it’s a sin to hang glide. It’s like jumping off the temple. And they do because fear is happy. Why do people go to these awful movies? I hardly go to any movies. There’s not enough movies out there that I could weather with my lust capacities. So, I hardly go to any, but I see advertisements, and they’re all scary. People pay ten dollars to have the hell scared out of them What is going on? It’s because there’s this echo in their heart. There’s this place for God and his terrible, terrible wrath and power. And they don’t know it’s about God.

So, they’ll pay ten dollars to be scared. They go to an amusement park and get taken up 400 feet, to be strapped into a chair that falls, and just races to the bottom. I don’t know how they pay enough insurance to cover the heart attacks that have got to happen when that thing falls. Don’t skip the terrible parts of Scripture. Inscrutably, paradoxically, they were made for your joy.

4. Learn to preach to yourself.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” Now, you got to be careful not to do this in public. I mean, people will think you’re crazy. But do this when you’re alone. Even do it out loud. “Soul, this morning, why are you down cast? Don’t be down cast my soul.” And then, preach to yourself. Preach to yourself the promises of God. Just let your mind start running through the Bible.

  • He pursues you with goodness and mercy.
  • No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
  • Great is your reward in heaven.
  • He will complete the work in you that he has begun.
  • My God will supply all your needs according to his riches and glory.
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
  • All things will work together for my good.
  • Nothing can separate me from the love of God.

Just let the promises pour out of your mouth to your own soul. Preach to yourself the gospel every day — the cross-based, blood-bought promises of God every day.

“Preach to yourself the promises of God. Just let your mind start running through the Bible.”

5. Pray earnestly and continually for everything you need to be happy in God.

So now, the word has been involved in the first four. And now, I’m saying add prayer to it. Word. Prayer. Word. Prayer. And probably the best way I can sum up all these texts that I have in my notes here on prayer is the acronym I.O.U.S. I pray this almost every day. I would say every day, in one form or another, but I actually use the acronym, and I have for several years, almost every day. And I’ll just give you the IOUS. These are all prayers from the Psalms on the way to joy.

I — Incline my heart to your testimonies.

“Incline my heart to you testimonies, and not selfish gain” (Psalm 119:36). Isn’t that an amazing prayer? Here’s David, the man after Gods own heart praying, “My heart is inclined away from God. Incline it toward you, Father.” See, it’s like a metronome — tick-tock, tick-tock. And over here is the world, and over here is God. And his heart is starting to go lean toward the world. What does he do? What does he do?

Well, after he does my first four things with the word, he says, “Incline my heart toward your word. Give me a desire for the Bible.” So, you get up in the morning, you don’t feel like having devotions, you got your place, you got your time, you got your plan? No desire. What do you do? You do what David did. “Oh God. I’m so scared. Don’t let me drift into days and days of disinterest in the Bible. Grant, O God, I pray, that I would have a heart that inclines to your word.”

O — Open my eyes.

“Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18). So, the Lord has given you the wherewithal to get you a little spot, your place, your plan, and you open the book and it’s just black marks on a page. Nothing is going on. What do you do? You don’t just say, “Well, I guess there’s no Holy Spirit today.”

No, you plead with the Lord, “Open my eyes. Open my eyes so that I see that when it says, ‘He who delights in the Law of the Lord is like a tree,’ I would say, ‘It would be a wonderful thing to be like a tree today that bears fruit at work, so that people can pick the fruit off my life, eat it, and have life.’” Pray that he would help you see wonderful things. Not boring things — wonderful things. It’s full of wonders if we have eyes to see. So, you pray, you pray for the miracle. It’s a gift. It’s a gift.

U — Unite my heart to fear your name.

“Unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). And the reason that’s so powerful to me is because my heart is almost never united. It’s fragmented. My heart comes in pieces. I don’t know about your heart. My heart comes in pieces. And there’s a piece that’s threatened about money, and there’s a piece that’s threatened about the car breaking down. There’s a piece that’s threatened about the children, and a piece that’s threatened about church, and a piece over here.

And here I am trying to read my Bible and see God, and my heart’s just going a thousand directions.

And so was David’s, otherwise he wouldn’t have prayed, “Unite my heart.” So, do you pray that? Do you fight that way? Or do you just throw up your hands and say, “Well, today’s a fragmented day. I just maybe it’ll be better later.” You fight. You don’t let go. You grab hold of his garment, “I won’t let you go until you bless me with a united heart this morning for your great, fearful name.”

“Don’t let me drift into days and days of disinterest in the Bible.”

S — Satisfy me with your steadfast love.

“Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love that I may rejoice and be glad in you all my days” (Psalm 90:14). Ask him for satisfaction. So many people come into my office, and they say, “I have no satisfaction in Jesus.” I say, “Well, tell me about your prayer life and how you fight for this. Tell me about have you prayed for inclination to worry? Have you prayed for seeing wonders there? Have you prayed for united heart? And have you prayed for satisfaction? And do you lay hold of him and fight for this?” And they don’t.

Americans have a notion about spirituality that because of its spontaneity, like if joy isn’t spontaneous, it’s not real. Therefore, laying hold on and fighting is simply contradictory. We’ve been over that. But that’s true. There isn’t a sense in which if I don’t have joy, there are things I must give myself to. We work really hard at our careers. We work really hard to make our house look nice. We work really hard to keep our kids clothed. But when it comes to the most important thing we say, “Well, if it didn’t happen, I guess maybe it won’t happen.” We have a kind of lazy orientation toward our spiritual walk.

So, there’s I.O.U.S., which is all prayer. Pray, pray, pray that God will do in you what you need done.