Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
“God wants to give you the desires of your heart.” How often have you counseled someone with those words? And how often has someone counseled you with those words? I’ve heard it over and over again, usually in reference to finances, or relationships, or career path, all things that our hearts tend to seek after. What’s interesting to me is that I rarely hear counselors mention that first part – the part that says “Delight yourself in the Lord.” I’ve always loved to return the promise in this scripture to what I saw as its intended fullness, emphasizing a focus on the LORD, with a hope to help turn eyes away from “self” and place them squarely on the Lord.
This book, Desiring God, has been the Lord’s gentle nudge to me that there actually is even more to that verse than what I had credited to it. I was missing something – something vital. I’ve had the object of the desire in the right place – our focus is is always to be on the Lord. But there’s that little word at the beginning of the verse, a word that has been there the whole time. Previously seemingly hidden in plain sight, it is a word that is suddenly alive with meaning.
God doesn’t just want us to turn our eyes on Him and dispassionately focus on Him. Rather, He wants to be our DELIGHT. He wants to be the very fountain of joy that we drink from on a regular basis, the spring of life that we longingly seek after day by day by day. Our God calls, even commands, that we live our lives in blissful enjoyment of Him. His desire is for us to chase after the rewards the He offers, that we recognize that He is our greatest good, that eternity is our great and ecstatic reward, and that there is nothing that we could possibly desire that compares with what He offers. He wants us to seek Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, not out of obligation, but out of pure pleasure in Him.
Reconciling a Controversial Term
This chasing after God with our whole being is what Piper labels “Christian Hedonism”. Hedonism – the pursuit of personal pleasure. But what is an author with the reputation of John Piper doing promoting this concept of hedonism? Isn’t hedonism the equivalent of idolatry, festering with selfishness? Didn’t Jesus teach us to die to self, to take up our cross, to live for God and others with no regard for personal gain?
Piper takes what at first glance seems to be the height of heresy, the heart of the prosperity gospel, and the antithesis of sound teaching, and transforms it with such Biblical light that the indwelling Spirit of Truth rejoices at the restoration of the joy that had been stolen from Christians who seek to deny self for the sake of the Kingdom.
Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of pleasure. It says you have already made a god out of whatever you take most pleasure in.
With a skillful swing of the Sword, Piper rips open the lies of false teaching that has twisted the pursuit of pleasure into a focus on worldly things and exposes the emptiness that worldly pleasures offer. He then replaces that emptiness with a fullness of truth that touches every area of your life. Piper shares how to live out Christian Hedonism in worship, in your marriage, in your finances, in your dreams and goals, in the way you love others. And just as he has you convinced of the truths he presents and nodding your head in agreement and your heart in excitement, Piper goes deep. He causes you to rethink your priorities in life, displaying both with ancient scripture and modern biography the joy that there is in serving God through frontier missions and even in suffering.
Confronting a Foundational Truth
At the heart of Christian Hedonism is the truth that God seeks His own glory. And why shouldn’t He? He is truly is the greatest good, the most beautiful, the true majesty, the Highest of the High. His alone is the glory. Everything God does is centered around this great purpose, a fact which Piper establishes with unquestionable Biblical authority. God’s creation of man was for His glory. His salvation of man was also to display His glory. All that exists, exists for the purpose of God’s glory.
Further, not only does God seek His glory, but He finds enjoyment in His glory. Piper makes the case that because God is sovereign, and does all he pleases, ultimately He is a happy God. With nothing to frustrate Him, He pursues His own glory as He determines. Even in the midst of the existence of the pain and evil that He truly hates, ultimately He is working His purpose in displaying His glory. He will accomplish that end, and He is ultimately happy. And because God is happy in Himself, we also have a basis for being happy in Him.
Embracing an Essential Command
And if we will not be happy in God? What does that do to the heart of the one who created us for the purpose of His glory? What are we telling the world about the God we serve if we find our pleasure in anything but Him?How can we glorify God if we will NOT be happy in Him?
As you read and meditate through this book and as you examine the scripture that Piper carefully presents, you will see that Christian Hedonism is not only good doctrine, it is essential to salvation. Finding our joy and happiness in God is actually evidence of our conversion, of our repentance from chasing after worldly pursuits and turning toward pursuing God. In fact, if God is not our desire and our delight, are we truly saved?
Discovering Authentic Joy
The truth is, we all pursue pleasure. It is unavoidable. We long for joy, for satisfaction. When we are honest with ourselves, this pursuit of pleasure is at the root of all we do. How refreshing to hear that this pursuit of pleasure is not in itself a sinful pursuit. Rather, we have been designed by our Creator to pursue pleasure precisely because we have been designed to enjoy Him. Sin has distorted this pursuit and caused us to pursue pleasure in everything except God. What a beautiful truth it is that our redemption has at its heart the restoration of our joy in God! Our pursuit of pleasure in God brings Him glory!
The Westminster Catechism states “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. Without contradicting this centuries-old teaching, Piper changes just one preposition and clarifies the meaning greatly.
The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.
This is true joy, this is our purpose in life, and what a sweet one it is! Follow God’s example – enjoy God. Turn from pursuing the empty delights and desires that the world entices you with. Instead, pursue the Majesty on High as your delight and your joy. And when you do, He will grant your heart it’s desire, the greatest good that can ever be found. Himself.
What do you think?
If you’ve read Desiring God, let us know what you thought! How did it encourage you? What did you find to be challenging for you?
How has the Lord opened your eyes to new depths to a familiar verse in your life? What difference did that make?
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- Watch What is is like to enjoy God? by John Piper at Passion 2018.