Being Hedonistic about God – Desiring God Review

The terms “Desiring God” and “Christian Hedonism” introduced in this book have intrigued me since a long time ago and put a lot of questions in my mind. What does it mean to desire God? Can we even desire the God who is holy and righteous, while we ourselves are prone to sins? How can there even be a kind of hedonism that is by nature Christian, when the object itself – “hedonism” by its most general definition, is a term for the pursuit of joy to fulfill one’s desire by any means possible – is contradictory to the explaining adjective (“Christian”)?

These questions are – obviously – answered in the book. However, before I delve deeper into the content, I would like to give my opinion on this book in general. For me, Desiring God is more than a mere signature book – a book that can be easily identified to the author – by John Piper. It is not due to it being the first book he published that gained recognition, nor to the density and richness of its content, and it does not owe to the so-called controversial term of Christian Hedonism in its subtitle. The reason is because it is so saturated and filled by the Word of God that every page is full with God-glorifying sentences and thoughts.

To make it clear, Desiring God is not the Bible, and it can never be. It does not have the authority and infallibility as the Holy Scriptures. It does, nonetheless, point to the Bible and, most importantly, to God. I have read a few books that really do that. You can feel that the words are so infused by the idea of Christian Hedonism, which turns out to be so rooted in the Bible and God.

I would prefer to leave the details of the reasons why John Piper named this philosophy of life “Christian Hedonism”, which he explained himself in the appendix. But, to give a glimpse to what he thought about it, here is the reason, in my own words. As mentioned earlier, hedonism is defined as “a pursuit of joy to fulfill one’s desire by any means possible”. From this statement, we can derive a fundamental question: What is it that humankind desires? Or, to put it better, What can fulfill our desires? Here I quote C. S. Lewis’s words from his book Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” I do not know whether John Piper has read this sentence or not – as a fellow Lewis fan, I believe he has – but this is exactly what Desiring God captures. It emphasizes that God is the only one that can truly satisfy our desire. God Himself decrees in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Our lives, then, are to be lived in the pursuit to find our joy in God. This pursuit for joy, in its widest application, can be considered “hedonism” of some sort. But since it is the only and true hedonism that can be in the world, because the object and the motivation is God, it is the Christian way of living, hence the term “Christian Hedonism”.

Now, at this point, you may take it all wrong. “How can a Christian pastor teach his readers to be so worldly hedonistic? Even if it is true, we cannot treat God like He is a genie that we can call as we wish to fulfill our desires,” you might think. I also initially denied the term “Christian Hedonism” because of similar rationales. However, do not get John Piper wrong. There are two reasons why we cannot reject this term right away before we read the book (and hence get Pastor John’s full explanation). First, our beforehand knowledge about God might be wrong. I found myself corrected time over time by this book, because its content is derived from the Bible so much that I understand the Bible – and hence, though never completely, God – better. It encourages us to know God more through the Bible, and in fact it is so driven by the Word of God there is a chapter that focuses only on the Scriptures! Secondly, there are many things about God and ourselves that we take for granted. This book helps us to open our eyes to the things that we may consider as miscellaneous, such as prayer.

The book, consisting of ten main chapters, outlines the principle of its main idea, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever”, in fundamental areas of our lives. It first gives the background of how Christian Hedonism came into shape at the first place. Then, it explores the happiness of God – a surprisingly new topic for Christians who have not yet read and understood about it – as the foundation of Christian Hedonism. In the next chapter, it exposes the total depravity of humankind and how God, being full of grace and mercy, has given us salvation through Jesus Christ that our desire may now be directed to the true Object and Person: the LORD Himself. Chapters 3 through 10 redefine the significant matters in our lives in light of Christian Hedonism: worship as our feast, where we praise God in spirit and truth; love as our labor that we receive from God joyfully and share to others to fulfill others’ needs; Scriptures (that special chapter on the Bible!) as the kindling of our joy in God; prayer as our source of power from God to always seek our joy in Him; money as our currency and tool that we use to glorify God (this is definitely not prosperity gospel, but you need to read to not misunderstand what the book really means by having money as the currency of Christian Hedonism); marriage as one of Christian Hedonism’s matrixes where Christ’s joy and His church’s joys are manifested through the relationship between husband and wife; missions (John Piper has frontier mission in mind when he wrote “missions”) as our battle cry to share the Gospel and Good News to the people around us; and suffering as our sacrifice to gain what we cannot lose.

After reading this summary of Desiring God’s content, you must have been intrigued more than I had. That is what I mean to do: to wake your interest up that you will want to read this book, and hopefully be blessed as much as – or even more than – I do. After I read it, my perspective on a lot of things are changed. A good example is on prayer. My view of prayer, now corrected by the corrective lenses of the Bible, changes how I pray. I realize that I am a sinner who has no right to be before Him. Yet, I come to His presence to ask for His mercy and grace to be poured upon the people and matters I pray for. And this is not self-centered, because God receives all the glory by being the all-satisfying Giver who seeks to be known and praised by all people. I am pursuing my joy by seeking that God does everything He wants to make His name be glorified!

John Piper describes, explains, recounts stories, and argues so interestingly that this book serves its main purpose: to share and to prove to people this idea from the Westminster Catechism, that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever”. For my last remark, I do not think this is one of many ways that Christians can live. There is no other way for us but to see that God is glorified in our satisfaction in Him. I would prefer not to call “Christian Hedonism” by its own name, but simply “Christian”. This owes to the fact that this book describes truthfully our original design to be in fellowship with God and satisfied in Him only; our failure to do so; our punishment for rebelling against Him; His grand salvation on the cross through Jesus Christ; and His restoration at work through the Holy Spirit in His church, preparing His people to have fellowship again with Him in full.

Finally, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist serves as one of the pointers to God, that we may live obediently before His eyes, seeking our satisfaction and joy only in His fellowship and presence, and hear Him saying these words at the very end, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). Hallelujah, amen!

There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious

C. S. Lewis in The Last Battle

Serving from Overflowing Joy

This quote is for any Christian leader in the world, taken from John Piper’s “Ask Pastor John” podcast episode “The Art of Motivation”.

People don’t get excited about burdens being laid on their back, they get excited about a burden-lifter. They get excited about a God infinitely worthy of their allegiance and their worship. So my counsel is, put very little emphasis on programs in the church. Rather, put a huge emphasis on heralding and exulting over the greatness of God, the unsearchable riches of Christ, the glories of our salvation, the wonders of the Bible, and weave into that a life of prayer for your people that God would give them a taste for this glory so that they don’t feel forced. You don’t want service because you have twisted their arm into it. You want service that is overflowing out of joy in God.” – John Piper

Grace Must Be Free

We walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Picture salvation as a house that you live in.

It provides you with protection. It is stocked with food and drink that will last forever. It never decays or crumbles. Its windows open onto vistas of glory.

God built it at great cost to himself and to his Son, and he gave it to you.

The “purchase” agreement is called a “new covenant.” The terms read: “This house shall become and remain yours if you will receive it as a gift and take delight in the Father and the Son as they inhabit the house with you. You shall not profane the house of God by sheltering other gods nor turn your heart away after other treasures.”

Would it not be foolish to say yes to this agreement, and then hire a lawyer to draw up an amortization schedule with monthly payments in the hopes of somehow balancing accounts?

You would be treating the house no longer as a gift, but a purchase. God would no longer be the free benefactor. And you would be enslaved to a new set of demands that he never dreamed of putting on you.

If grace is to be free — which is the very meaning of grace — we cannot view it as something to be repaid.

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The key to not view grace and “not be foolish to say yes to this agreement, and then hire a lawyer to draw up an amortization schedule with monthly payments in the hopes of somehow balancing accounts” then, is to be always content in God.

How? By always desiring Him more because we know that our joy reach its max in Him and that, as John Piper says it, “the chief end glory of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”

Let God gives you the heart that always longs for and is content in Him.

He Does All that He Pleases

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:3)

This verse teaches that whenever God acts, he acts in a way that pleases him.

God is never constrained to do a thing that he despises. He is never backed into a corner where his only recourse is to do something he hates to do.

He does whatever he pleases. And therefore, in some sense, he has pleasure in all that he does.

This should lead us to bow before God and praise his sovereign freedom — that in some sense at least he always acts in freedom, according to his own “good pleasure,” following the dictates of his own delights.

God never becomes the victim of circumstance. He is never forced into a situation where he must do something in which he cannot rejoice. He is not mocked. He is not trapped or cornered or coerced.

Even at the one point in history where he did what in one sense was the hardest thing for God to do, “not spare his own Son” (Romans 8:32), God was free and doing what pleased him. Paul says that the self-sacrifice of Jesus in death was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). The greatest sin and the greatest death and the hardest act of God was pleasing to the Father.

And on his way to Calvary, Jesus himself had legions at his disposal. “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord” — of his own good pleasure, for the joy that is set before him. At the one point in the history of the universe where Jesus looked trapped, he was totally in charge doing precisely what he pleased — dying to justify the ungodly like you and me.

So let us stand in awe and wonder. And let us tremble that not only our praises of God’s sovereignty but also our salvation through the death of Christ for us, hang on this: “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever he pleases.”

Devastated and Delighted

The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 7:6)

What would the doctrines of grace sound like if every limb in that tree were coursing with the sap of Augustinian delight (that is, what I call “Christian Hedonism”)?

1. Total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to God’s beauty and deadness to the deepest joy.

2. Unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed as the overflow of God’s joy in the fellowship of the Trinity.

3. Limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of the new covenant.

4. Irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights.

5. Perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God not to let us fall into the final bondage of inferior pleasures, but to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of fullness of joy in his presence and pleasures at his right hand forevermore.

6. Unconditional election delivers the harshest and the sweetest judgments to my soul. That it is unconditional destroys all self-exaltation; and that it is election makes me his treasured possession.

This is one of the beauties of the biblical doctrines of grace: their worst devastations prepare us for their greatest delights.

What prigs we would become at the words, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6), if this election were in any way dependent on our will. But to protect us from pride, the Lord teaches us that we are unconditionally chosen (7:7–9). “He made a wretch his treasure,” as we so gladly sing.

Only the devastating freeness and unconditionality of electing grace lets us take and taste such gifts for our very own without the exaltation of self.

6 Things It Means to Be in Jesus

Taken from Solid Joys for 29th August 2013

[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. (2 Timothy 1:9)

Being “in Christ Jesus” is a stupendous reality. It is breathtaking what it means to be in Christ. United to Christ. Bound to Christ.

If you are “in Christ” listen to what it means for you:

1. In Christ Jesus you were given grace before the world was created. 2 Timothy 1:9, “He gave us grace in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

2. In Christ Jesus you were chosen by God before creation. Ephesians 1:4, “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.

3. In Christ Jesus you are loved by God with an inseparable love. Romans 8:38–39, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

4. In Christ Jesus you were redeemed and forgiven for all your sins. Ephesians 1:7, “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.

5. In Christ Jesus you are justified before God and the righteousness of God in Christ is imputed to you. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6. In Christ Jesus you have become a new creation and a son of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Galatians 3:26, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.