I think God is taking me to a new level on the whole surrender issue–you know, that issue that I keep coming back to over and over again. This time, He’s not doing it through having me actually surrender one thing or another, which is a bit unusual in my walk with Him. This time, I think He’s showing me what my motivation should be for the surrender itself, a motivation I’ve often left out of the equation.
Recently, I began reading John Piper’s book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. I’m not quite finished with it, but I’m on the last chapter. I chose it because my pastor loves Piper, and unfortunately, I tend to be a bit of a hedonist myself, but not always in the good way Piper describes. I sometimes find a bit too much joy in a big slice of chocolate cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory or nice sliver of aged gouda cheese melting on my tongue. I thought, Maybe this book will help me become a good hedonist instead.
The whole premise of the book is that our motivation for loving God, loving people, missions, or pretty much anything in life should be to find joy for ourselves. To a girl well versed in surrender, hard work, and checklists (not that I always live that way–I can’t live up to it, so I go back and forth between gluttony and deprivation), this kind of talk raised my hackles. What? Find joy for ourselves? I thought, That’s called selfishness. Yes, we will end up with joy after we do the hard deed, but we don’t do the hard deed for the sake of joy!
It’s a fairly fat book. It took Piper about five long chapters to win me, but after many examples and Scripture to back himself up, I think I see his point. He says, “If the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever, human life should be a ‘living for pleasure’ ” (p. 365). Gaining pleasure from or enjoying God, he argues, is the best way to glorify Him. In addition, I would add that the greatest commandment is to love God (Matt. 22:37), and what is loving God without enjoying Him? Piper says Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of pleasure; instead, whatever we take the most pleasure in (or love), will be our god (p. 367). We humans are naturally bent to seek after our own pleasure. Therefore, we’d better take this desire and seek after pleasure in God Himself!
I found another argument he used to be convincing. If a husband takes his wife out on a date out of a sacrificial love for her, as a duty that a good husband must do, and the wife finds out, she will be deeply hurt. It is much better if a husband wants to spend time with his wife for the pleasure of being with his wife. It will give his wife much happiness to know her husband takes pleasure in her company. As Piper writes, ” ‘It’s my duty’ is a dishonor to her. ‘It’s my joy’ is an honor” (p. 94). I can easily see how the same would hold true of our worship of or service to God. We do it out of the joy we gain in worshiping or serving our worthy Father, not out of duty.
He gives arguments from Scripture. I find three to be the most persuasive. First of all, the Bible is filled with promises of reward, although not always in this life. If we are not to seek our pleasure in this life or the next, why would God even give us these promises? Second, II Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Piper writes about this, “…God is not pleased when people act benevolently but don’t do it gladly. When people don’t find pleasure (Paul’s word is cheer) in their acts of service, God doesn’t find pleasure in them” (p. 120). Not far before this verse, the Macedonians are described, people who were moved to be generous out of the overflow of joy in the grace of God (p. 121). God wants us to seek to have joyful hearts as we serve Him.
Finally, and I find this to be the most persuasive example from Scripture, Hebrews 12:2 describes how Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before Him. His purpose was the joy. The joy was over us being reconciled with Him and Him being glorified, but the purpose was that joy.
I said Piper had convinced me, and I’m giving my best argument on Piper’s side (in 910 words), but to be honest, even as I write, my mind whirls with “but what about…” or “I don’t know about…” or “maybe it’s partly that…” I still need to wrestle with this and talk it over. Maybe somebody reading this wants to talk it out with me? I do know that sacrifice for God without seeking the joy in it can cause me to go right back to the gluttony I mentioned earlier.
If all this intrigues you, I recommend you read the book yourself. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all he writes. In the meantime, I think the best question you can start asking yourself is Do I find pleasure in God and in serving Him?