When I Don’t Desire God

Part 6

Desiring God 2005 Regional Conference | Greenville, South Carolina


6. Resolve to fight every known sin in your life.

I don’t say that you will triumph in this life over every known sin perfectly. You won’t. I do say you must fight. Resolve to fight every known sin. All sin comes from perceiving something as more delightful, precious, beautiful, attractive than Christ. All sin comes from that. Therefore, when you’re in a sin, doing a sin, you’re in darkness. In darkness, you can’t see the beauty of Christ as clearly. Sin comes from blindness and keeps you in blindness. Therefore, do whatever you can to go on the warfare against all known sinning.

If you have a little pocket of sin in your life, this little thing you know is wrong and you cherish it and over here you just want to be happy in Jesus, “Oh please, make me happy in Jesus,” and it’s not working, there’s a reason. There’s a reason. God is saying, “Kill that. Fight that. I hope you fight that. As you fight it, more light will go on in your sight of my glory.”

7. Tell someone about Jesus.

I’m going to add number seven here from a conversation with my dad, whom I’ll get to see this afternoon. My dad is over at Shepherd’s Care in Greenville. I asked my dad a couple of years ago, “I’m writing a book on fighting for joy. Daddy, what would you say to somebody? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind in how to fight for joy?” My dad’s 86. He’s been an evangelist all his life. Without hesitation, he said, “Tell them to share their faith.” You’d expect this from an evangelist, right? But it’s way deeper than that, isn’t it?

A spring cannot be pure and refreshing until it creates a stream. It’s called the Dead Sea if it doesn’t create a stream. What are streams? Telling people about this precious Christ, commending Christ with your life and your lips. You’re commending Christ.

“A spring cannot be pure and refreshing until it creates a stream.”

I have my own little way I call jogging evangelism. I carry this booklet, “The Quest for Joy.” I carry two of these in my sweaty back pocket as I run three miles three mornings a week. Before I get them all wet with sweat, I stop and I talk to people. There’s a guy sitting on his chair. I walk up and I say, “Hi, my name’s John.” He says, “Hi, I’m Bob.” Sometimes they don’t say, “Hi, I’m Bob.” Sometimes they look up and say, “You’re not going to preach at me are you?” Those are two of my most recent experiences.

Bruce was reading the newspaper in the park. He said, “You’re not going to preach at me are you?” I said, “Not if you don’t want me too, to but I did write something I’d like you to read.” He’s reading the newspaper, so I said, “You like to read?” He said, “Yeah, I like to read.” I said, “Well, this is about finding joy in Jesus and that’s as much preaching as I’ll do, if you don’t want me to do more.” He said, “I’ll take it. That’s enough.”

Now, the reason I mention this is because I come home really happy. I come home really happy. It’s not just because of endorphins. That’s another point — get the right exercise. I come home happy because I have had the awesome privilege of spilling over onto a stranger some of my pleasure in God. Thank you, Daddy, for that answer. That helped me.

8. Spend time with God-saturated people who will help you see God and fight the fight of faith.

I just love the story of Jonathan and David. First Samuel 23:16: “Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God.” Do you have people in your life like that? This is what small groups are about at our church: strengthening each other’s hands. God has ordained that the word of God come to us in reading the Bible, that the word of God come to us through the preached worship context, and that the word of God come to us in friendships and small groups. That’s essential according to Hebrews 3:13: “Exhort one another every day as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hang out with people who can get in your face with promises.

The main way we encourage each other is by calling our sins into question, that’s the negative side. You know, “Your attitude has not been real pretty in small group lately. Can we talk about this?” Or, “Can I share a promise with you that helped me with that attitude once that gave me hope and got me above my self-centeredness.” We need to be in each other’s lives. All the churches represented here should work at that. We’re constantly working at it, never doing it as well as we’d like.

9. Read biographies of great Christian saints.

Now I mention this because it’s biblical. Hebrews 11 is all about heroes of the faith that we’re supposed to know about and be inspired by. “And through Abel’s faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4). You can take that sentence from Hebrews 11 and put it on Jonathan Edwards or most recently for me, William Tyndale. I’m going to lecture on Tyndale in January at the Pastor’s Conference. I’m reading Tyndale, and I just read a magnificent biography. I’d put it in the top five of biographies. It’s called, guess what? William Tyndale is the name of the biography.

It’s a demanding biography, but those that are worth their salt are not just little hagiographies, just celebrating the saints. They don’t have any warts. They don’t have any problems. That’s not the kind of biography that’s going to do you any good. You need substantive biographies that probe into the sins and the virtues and the conflicts of people’s lives who have walked with God long and deep.

“Sin comes from blindness and keeps you in blindness.”

Here’s the way it works. I finished William Tyndale just a few weeks ago. I read most of it on vacation last May. I come away loving the doctrine of justification by faith more because it was the center of the biblical message and Tyndale gave his life to translate this Bible. I come away loving that I have an English Bible — that I can open the Bible in front of a thousand people, and they have them in their laps. I can quote verses. They can read them. Then I read that in 1536, the hierarchy of the church hated people who wanted the Bible in English. Burned them alive at the stake for wanting the Bible in English. I love Tyndale. I love my Bible. I love the gospel. I want to be bold and be willing to burn to make the gospel known. That’s what a biography will do for you. If you watch television and don’t read biography, you’re making a mistake.

10. Read the great books about God.

This not biography now. This is theology. I’m directing you towards substantive books like Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God or John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion or Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections or Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. These are substantive books. These are books that, on every page, when you prick them, they bleed Bible, God, cross, Christ.

If you want to read contemporary books that are just mainly stories and anecdotes, then you’re going to be a thin Christian. If you want God, there are hundreds of great books. I thank God for the Banner of Truth Trust, and Soli Deo Gloria, and some other publishers that are putting the old, rich Bible saturated books in print.

Here’s the quote from C.S. Lewis that reflects my experience and his. It’s the difference between reading a devotional book where you go to the bookstore and say, “Can you recommend something for my devotions,” and they give you this you utterly content-less little thing. Lewis said this:

For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down or kneel down to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden. sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hands.

That’s true for me. That’s true for me. If I try to take up some little, thin, story-oriented, lightweight book, the kinds of emotions that God is worthy of and that I long for don’t generally happen. If I tackle Edwards or Charnock or Calvin or Luther or Spurgeon — he’s a little more accessible — amazing things go on in my heart.

11. Get the rest and exercise and proper diet that your body was designed by God to have.

That is not number one. That’s number 11. I will say it because you all are embodied human beings. God has ordained in his strange providence that how we rest and how we exercise affects our emotions. I have a whole chapter on the mysteries of the interplay of body and soul in my book. All it is a wrestling because these are mysteries to me as to how a spiritual reality, which I will have in heaven when I don’t yet have my body.

Right now, my mother is in heaven and her body is over at Woodlawn Cemetery. She’s filled with emotions toward Jesus right now without a body. I know that bodily feelings, trembling, the kinds of excitements that you associate with the body are not equal to spiritual affections. But, oh, are they interwoven. You can hardly tear it apart.

I’ll give you an example. It’s the fall of 1971. I’m sitting in a pantry, which I turned into a study on the third floor Munich, Germany where I was studying for three years. I read the most obvious sentence in Galatians. “The fruit of the Spirit is patience” (Galatians 5:22). “Okay, Holy Spirit please, I’m not a very patient person. Would you please grant me to be more patient with Noël, more patient with bus drivers and other people.” Then I discovered this very paradoxical, contradictory, frustrating reality. My patience level rises and falls with how much sleep I get. I got really scared. Now, which is it? A fruit of sleep or a fruit of the Spirit? That’s a very profound question. If patience is a fruit of the Spirit, how come mine is going up and down with how much sleep I get? I’m crabby with no sleep. I’m a relatively easy-going, long-suffering person when I get enough sleep.

Now here’s my best shot at an answer. One of the ways that the Holy Spirit works is by humbling me enough to realize I’m not God, and the world can get along while I sleep. You can make good enough grades with some sleep. You can be a good enough husband with some sleep. You don’t need to stay awake and run the world. Just become unconscious one-third of your life. That’s a very humbling reality that God would ordain that human beings are unconscious on a third of their life is just mind-boggling to me. There’s got to be a strong theological meaning for that. The meaning is You’re not God. I’m God, and I never sleep (Psalm 121:3).

The Holy Spirit gets at my patience, not just directly and he can do that for a doctor who has to stay up three days in a row. He can make a doctor patient after two nights with no sleep. He can do that. Ordinarily, the Holy Spirit says, “Quit playing God and playing fast and loose with your body. I made you do need a certain number of hours sleep. I’m going to humble you until you acknowledge that.” He can come at it indirectly as well as directly. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Same thing with eating. Same thing with exercising.

“One of the ways that the Holy Spirit works is by humbling me enough to realize I’m not God.”

I got all kinds of practical things here about eating and exercising, but that would get nitpicky, wouldn’t it? You need to discover what your intake of food should be and what your exercise should be. If you have a very sedentary job like mine, you just got to build in an activity that uses your muscles for what they were made for. God made muscles to be used not to just kind. I’ll just close this section with this amazing quote from Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s worth gold just about every time you touch him. The only problem Spurgeon is he’s so good that he discourages you when you read him. If you can get over your pride, which is what it is, then you can enjoy geniuses like Spurgeon. They come along once every century or two. He wrote,

Sedentary habits have a tendency to create despondency. To sit long in one posture pouring over a book or driving a quill is in itself a taxing of nature, but add to this a badly ventilated chamber, a body, which has long been without muscular exercise, a heart burdened with many cares, and we have all the elements for preparing a seething cauldron of despair, especially in the months of fog,”

Try Minnesota in February. Now get this. Let this land on you as a gift of God concerning what you should do when you walk out of here into the trees, the breeze, the green, the yellow, the blue, wake up Christian to the health-producing effects of nature that is about to be described to you here.

He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood pigeons in the forest, the songbirds in the woods, the rippling of reels among the rushes, the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy. A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills or a few hours ramble in the beach woods calm would sweep the cobwebs of our brains away and the toiling ministers who are now but half alive would have life. A mouth full of sea air or a stiff walk in the wind’s face would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is the next best thing. The furs, the rabbits, the streams, the trouts, the fir trees, the squirrels, the primroses, the violets, the farmyard, the new-moon hay, the fragrant hops, these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary for lack of opportunity or inclination. These great remedies are neglected and the student becomes a self-immolated victim.

Wow, I think there’s one mistake in there. I think when he says that “a mouthful of sea air and a stiff walk in the wind’s face would not give grace to the soul,” he’s wrong. He’s probably meaning something different than what I’m accusing him of. I think they do give grace for the soul. In fact, I wrote a whole chapter in the book to ask how can something like music be a spiritual benefit. Music is only vibrations. That’s all it is. It’s physical vibrations in the air. How does that produce nonmaterial, spiritual effects? The same thing would be true of wind in the face, birds singing on a limb, blue sky, all these things are there for your health. If God pleases, they can mediate common grace, and they can point you to saving grace. Point you — they’re not saving grace. They can point you there. Maybe that’s what he meant, so I shouldn’t accuse him wrongly.

12. Make proper use of revelation in nature.

You know what? I collapsed 11 and 12. Rest, exercise, proper diet, and number 12 was going to be to make a proper use of revelation in nature. The heavens are telling the glory of God. Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap. Consider the lilies of the field. I put all the bodily things that you need to do take care of this house. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and somehow in the care for that body, you experience more of God. That was 12.

13. Do the hard and loving thing for the sake of others.

I’ll read one verse to explain what I mean. I have a section, I think, in the book on how Bill Leslie became a watered garden. He’s gone to be with the Lord now. He used to be a pastor in Chicago. He came to our church, and he gave a talk one time on this text that stuck with me now twenty years later. Isaiah 58:10:

If you for yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday and the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail.

Now there’s a picture of joy. The condition was if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted. Find a way to minister to the needy, the really needy. It doesn’t have to consume your whole life. Everybody’s not called to that. Find a way to bless a person with far fewer advantages than you have. Pour your life out. Give away, even when it’s hard, like late at night or when you think I’ve spent myself as much as I can spend and here comes another claim on my life, give and you will become a watered garden.

14. Get a global vision for the cause of Christ and pour yourself out for the unreached.

Get a global vision. Far too many Christians are trying to fight for joy within the tiny little sphere of their family or the tiny little sphere of their 14,000-member church. I mean that with no irony. The globe makes that church look like a tiny dot on the map. God is at work in every square inch of this planet. He’s at work in North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq. He is at work in post-Christian Europe. He is at work in worldly America sliding to who knows where morally. God is raining and working and spreading and conquering and building. “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). If you deny yourself an awareness of the global work of God, you’re cutting yourself off from some big emotions. You’re just living in the little cocoon of your family or your church and wondering, “Why do I only feel small emotions.” Says God, “Today with internet and magazines, you can find out about the triumphs of God among the suffering church.” Just type in persecution.org for starters, and find out the triumphs of God in the most suffering church. Get a global, big vision.

You were made to know and love and embrace a global God — a universal God — not just a little, teeny, intimate God. Those are precious emotions, so don’t let me mock them. Those are precious. But if all you want is, “Just want to rest in your arms, Lord Jesus, and feel your acceptance. Just that, no more. Let the world go to hell. Doesn’t matter what’s happening in Iraq or North Korea or China or Argentina or Brazil or Japan. It just really doesn’t matter. I feel so good.” Just break free from that limitation to intimacy, but love intimacy.

John Paton, the missionary to the New Hebrides was being chased by 1,500 people who hated him on the island of Tanna. To escape, he crawled into a tree while they ran underneath. He said, “the fellowship and the intimacy that I enjoyed with Jesus through the promise, ‘Lo, I will be with you to the end of the age’ was so sweet I would not trade that moment for any moment in my life.” Please don’t hear me saying that the sweet, deep, precious, personal, intimate fellowship of Jesus is a small thing. It just gets you to Tanna. It gets you to the island of Tanna. It gets you to the New Hebrides. Six months after you get there, you bury your wife. Then you bury your six-week-old baby. You say at the grave, “If it were not for Christ, I would go mad.” Then you give the rest of your life in the New Hebrides. That’s what joy is meant to do in this conference.

“In the darkness of your life, God is fitting you to bear more fruitful witness to his mercies when you come out.”

15. Be patient in the night of God’s seeming absence.

Last suggestion. This corresponds to the last and difficult chapter in the book. I think the chapter was called “When the Darkness Will Not Lift.”. In here I say, “Be patient,” this is my 14th or 15th suggestion for how to fight for joy. “Be patient in the night of God’s seeming absence.” I waited patiently for the Lord. Where were you waiting David? “He lifted me up out of the miry bog, out of the quicksand of my despair, he put my feet upon a rock. He made my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to my God, many will see him put their trust in the Lord.” Which means evangelism. Fruitful Evangelism resulted from a dark night of the soul. Do you follow that sequence of thought?

I waited in the mire. How long did he wait? He was patient. He was modest. He knew he couldn’t make joy happen. I waited and God came to me. He had gutsy guilt while he was there. God lifted him up and put him on rock, put a song in his mouth. He started to celebrate the mercies of God, and people put their trust in the Lord. One of the things the Lord is doing in the darkness of your life is fitting you to be able to bear more fruitful witness to his mercies when you come out.

I close with perhaps my favorite hymn. I have two or three. It’s a word that I hope those of you who came hoping for light and maybe it hasn’t gone on yet.

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs
and works his sov’reign will.

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 flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter.
And he will make it plain.

Be patient, be modest in the dark as you fight for joy.