When I Don’t Desire God

Part 1

Desiring God 2005 Regional Conference | Greenville, South Carolina


I have a kind of person in my mind, and I do so because of a recent conversation at my church. And this is such a typical conversation. There’s nothing extraordinary about it. Any pastor in the room has had it. Most of you have walked through it. A woman who comes into my office and says, like many of you feel, “It feels, Pastor John, as though the distance between my head, which is totally affirming of everything you preach, and my heart, is about a 1000 miles.” That’s why I wrote this book, and why we named this conference that. It’s called “When I Don’t Desire God: How To Fight For Joy” because there are a lot of people like that, there are a lot of people who think that doesn’t matter, and there are some people that state the way it does matter in totally misleading ways. We want to work on this together.

On a Mission for Your Joy

I am on what I consider an apostolic mission. Jon Bloom, my partner for ten years, who was at the piano before I came up here, asked me at the airport as we were flying down here today, “How do you feel? How do you feel about tonight?” I said, “I feel like I’m on an apostolic mission. I feel like I have the authority of Jesus Christ behind me, because of 2 Corinthians 1:24, which says, and I say this to you now, “Not that I lorded over your faith, but I am a worker with you for your joy.”

Worker with you for your joy. Isn’t that an amazing statement? “I’m an apostolic workman,” Paul says, for what? Happiness. If you’ve ever thought about the apostolic mission of Paul on planet Earth, “Not that I lorded over your faith, Corinthians, I am called to work with you, alongside you, for your joy.” That’s the mission I am on here. I am a worker with you for your joy in these few hours that we have together. He said it in another place, lest you think that was kind of an isolated, exceptional statement. You remember in Philippians 1:22–25 where he’s struggling: “Am I going to live, or am I not going to live?” He settles it, “Yes, I believe I probably will live. Convinced of this, I know I will remain, and continue with you all, for your progress and joy of faith.” Yes, the Lord is going to leave me a little longer on planet Earth so that I might advance your joy of faith.

Isn’t it amazing? Second Corinthians 1:24 and Philippians 1:25, two apostolic mandates to me to get down there to Greenville and work for your joy, so that’s what I said, in a shorter form, to Jon in the airport this morning.

What We Aim to Do and Don’t Aim to Do

Let me give you four things I’m not coming to do. It helps to clarify what you do do when you decide what you don’t do.

1. I am not coming with a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, or on a health, wealth, and prosperity mission.

I am not bringing the message that Christ will make you healthy, Christ will make you wealthy, Christ will make you prosperous in this life so that you can have joy. That’s not my message. I am bringing you a message that Christ will give you himself so that you don’t need health, wealth, and prosperity in order to be happy, but can have so much invincible joy in the durable Christ you can give up health, wealth, and prosperity in the sacrifices of love if God so calls.

This is a very dangerous conference. If you catch on to what I’m saying, or if any of you parents brought your kids, that’s risky. I get in trouble with a lot of parents because of what kids do when they listen to messages like this. They do crazy things for Jesus after they learn that their joy can be rooted in something absolutely higher, more sure, more satisfying than the American dream, which dad had for them and now dad is really mad at me because they’re in Afghanistan.

“If all you have is a decision for Christ and no delight in Christ, you don’t have Christ.”

2. I am not on a mission to add happy icing to the cake of your decision for Christ. I am on a mission to show you from Scripture that if all you have is a decision for Christ and no delight in Christ, you don’t have Christ.

We are not saved by mere decisions. We are saved by the sovereign work of God by his Spirit causing us to be born again, which brings into being a new creature who has new affections for God and less affection for the world. That’s salvation.

Salvation is not my brain doing what it can do by itself. My salvation is a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit upon me doing what I cannot do for myself, bringing into being a new John Piper who has affections for God and is falling out of love with the world. I’m not bringing you a message of happiness as the icing on the cake of decision, but rather, I want to persuade you that if you understood saving faith aright, then delight in God would be a part of the cake, not just the icing, not the caboose at the end of the train, and not just something dispensable for stoical personalities.

3. I am not on a mission to put your happiness above God’s glory.

I am on a mission to put your happiness in God’s glory. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.

4. I’m not on a mission to help you feel good about yourselves.

I am on a mission to help you feel so good about the greatness of God that you forget about yourselves and live a life of love, making others glad in God. I’m going to say that again because in our twenty-first century mold and time on the backend of the crest of the wave of self-esteem, it needs to still be said. I am not here to make you feel good about yourself. That’s a low salvation. That’s a low-level American gospel message. I am here to make you so happy in God — to help you feel so good about the glory, majesty, beauty, justice, love, truth, and power of God that in that you forget about yourself.

Some of you have heard me say, I like to say it, “Nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to increase his self esteem,” because on the edge of the Grand Canyon, as you feel your soul being drawn out into this vast opening, that’s not what happens. What happens is wonder, awe, which is what you were made for. Heaven will not be a hall of mirrors in which you like what you see. In fact, I just have the suspicion there won’t be any mirrors in heaven, because anything good and beautiful about you will be radiated back to you from the other people that you’re loving so much it just bounces back to you. But mainly it’s going to be about Jesus everywhere satisfying your soul, so thoughts about you, which in this world cause us so much grief.

We think that the solution is, “If I could just feel better about me, better about the way I look, better about my height, my weight, my complexion, my hair, my mathematical ability. If I could just feel better about me, I’d be healed.” You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t be healed. You’d have low-level, low-grade, non-satisfying measures of contentment. You were made to see God, love God, delight in God, and be stunned by God. So I’m not here to help you feel good about yourself. I’m here to help you feel good about God, and forget about yourself and give your life away in love to others. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Foundational Questions

The content of these several messages assumes now a foundation in another conference that I did, and a book that I wrote. And I have to resist continually not preaching all that stuff again, because I love to preach it. The conference I’m thinking about is “The Blazing Center.” It’s in a DVD. I’m going to assume that conference. The book I have in mind is either Desiring God or God’s Passion for His Glory. I’m going to assume that, but since I know I can’t assume it totally, I have to squeeze in a few minutes of summary. We are going to spend some time asking the foundational questions in this initial talk, so that those of you who are not familiar with what I’m building on might be a little bit up to speed. We got to ask some huge questions.

The biggest question I’ve ever asked, I think, is this: Why does God do everything that he does? I ask that because why I do things doesn’t matter at all. On the other hand, why God does things really matters, really, really matters. Why does God do everything he does? Is there a unifying motive for all that God does? There is. And all of you who’ve heard any of my talks ever would know the answer, because I say it over and over again, and I’ll say it now. God does all that he does to display his glory for the full and lasting enjoyment of all who embrace Christ as their highest treasure. God does everything that he does — everything that he does — in order to display his glory for the enjoyment of all those who find in Christ their highest treasure.

Everything for God’s Glory

Isaiah 43:6–7: “Bring my sons from afar, my daughters from the ends of the Earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” I know beyond the shadow of a doubt why you were made. You were made for God’s glory. Isn’t that amazing that I can stand in front of these people and say, “I know totally with confidence why every one of you in this room was created. You were created for the glory of God.” Now, that is an ambiguous statement, and I have thrown it around for years and realize how ambiguous for the glory of God is in people’s ears.

I’ve come up with this little analogy to clarify how you should not glorify God and how you should glorify God, how you should not magnify God and how you should magnify God. It’s the telescope-microscope analogy because magnify and glorify are very similar in their meaning biblically. Paul says, “My aim is to magnify Jesus Christ.” That’s the same as glorify Jesus Christ, but oh how ambiguous the word magnify is. Does it mean magnify God like a microscope magnifies or like a telescope magnifies? A microscope makes little teeny things look bigger than they are, and a telescope makes gigantic things that to the naked eye look little look more like what they really are.

Now, which way are you called upon to magnify God? The answer is like a telescope, not a microscope. It is blasphemy to magnify God like a microscope. “Oh, poor God, he is so teeny, and so small, I must now make him look bigger than he is.” That’s blasphemy. In fact, in this world after the fall, God to most people is either not on their radar screen at all, or a little tiny dot that might show through the smog of sin every two or three weeks. With just a little twinkle that you might say exists, but significance, zero. Your calling is you are on planet Earth to put a telescope to the eye of the world. That’s why you exist. By your behavior, your parenting, the way you do your job, the way you worship, and the way you handle your things in life, everyone should read off of your life: “God is great.” That’s why you exist.

“You are forgiven for God’s glory.”

Why are you forgiven? Isaiah 43:25: “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” I blot out your transgressions for my own sake, says the Lord. You are forgiven for God’s glory.

Matthew 6:9–10: “Pray then like this, disciples, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done.’” The very first petition that Jesus teaches us to pray is, make your name great in the world. That should be the number one thing you pray for.

The number one prayer on your lips and springing from your heart, is “Hallowed be your name in my life, my family, my church, this city, this world. Oh, make your name holy, pure, righteous, set apart, valuable, big, one of a kind, magnificent. Show yourself to the world, God. Hallowed be your name.” Number one petition in the church from your heart every day, and God the Son taught you to pray that. Therefore, God is teaching you to pray for the glory of God.

First Peter 4:11: “He supplies strength to us for his glory. Whoever serves let him serve in the strength that God supplies in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” If you serve, you should serve in the strength that God supplies, so that he may get the glory, not you. The giver gets the glory. First Peter 4:11: “He leads us for his glory.”

Psalm 23:3: “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” God leads you for his name’s sake. Let’s sum it up with Ephesians 1:11: “God works all things according to the counsel of his will.” All things. That’s my question. Why do you do all things? God works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who first hoped in Christ might be for the praise of his glory.

For Us or For Himself?

If you get this right, almost everything else I say, I think, will follow. It’s getting this right. It’s loving the truth that God does everything for God that turns a person’s life upside down. I’ve preached messages that have gotten me emails from philosophy professors and theology professors. One of the messages was entitled, “Did Jesus die for us or for God?” Did Jesus die for us or for God? The answer is, “Yes,” and the word “for” means something different in each of those phrases. He died for us because we needed a substitute to bear our guilt and our wrath, and he died for God in that God needed to be shown vindicated, righteous, and holy in forgiving people like us. And so he had to put forth his Son as a propitiation by his blood, so that he could be seen to be just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.

Right at the center of the gospel, God is exalting God. So you get this amazing hammer blow from Isaiah 48:9–11, where God says,

For my name’s sake I defer my anger. For the sake of my praise, I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver. I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it. How should my name be profaned? I will not give my glory to another.

When Love Is Actually Love

That’s one of the big questions that is a foundation for these hours we have together. We have to build on that. God does everything for the glory of God. And then we have to answer this second question briefly. Is that love? Is that loving? If you lived that way nobody would call it love. If you went around doing everything for your glory, nobody would call that love. If you have something that you know will give others full, lasting pleasure and instead of showing it to them, you elevate and exalt yourself, are you a loving person? No. You’re most definitely not a loving person, and so it is with God.

“God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is synonymous with love.”

If God has something and he doesn’t show it to us, even though it would bring us full and everlasting pleasure, God’s not loving toward us. And so he must show us himself. There is no gift that God can give you that would make him a loving person if he withholds Himself. All the gifts that you think about — forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation — all the glorious gospel gifts, if God says, “You can have all that, but you can’t have me on the other side,” he’s not loving toward me. Therefore, God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation and self-presentation is synonymous with love.

You may not follow him in this, except like this. If you go through the world saying, “I’m going to exalt myself now, like God. We’re supposed to be like God, so I’m going to exalt myself, and that will loving.” It won’t be loving. It will be distracting. It will be distracting from what will satisfy their souls, because what will satisfy their souls is God.

So if you want to imitate God in God’s self-exaltation then you become God-exalting, not self-exalting, because what will satisfy people’s souls forever and ever and ever is seeing, knowing, loving, fellowshipping with God. Therefore, for God to be, loving must give himself. He must exalt Himself. He must commend Himself. He must call for praise and love. He’s the only being in the universe for whom such behavior is love. It’s the essence of love.

You can’t copy him in this. You’re not God. For you to be love is to call attention to him. For God to be love is to call attention to him and, therefore, in God’s case, he’s the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is identical to love. Here’s the way I would define love to you. If you were to ask me, “Now, okay, in view of that, what does it mean for God to love me? What does it mean for God to love me?” Here would be my answer. God loves you in that he does everything necessary in order that you might be enthralled forever, and increasingly, with what will bring you full and lasting happiness, namely himself.

Now, that was a long definition. Let me say it again. For God to love you is for him to do everything, even the death of his Son, even at the cost of his Son’s life, he will do everything he must do for his own in order that they might be enthralled with what will make them fully and eternally happy, namely himself. God must be bent on self-exaltation if he loves us.