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God’s Glory & Our Joy

Note: The following is the last article (#31) in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series is available here.     

The last chapter in Future Grace Piper entitled “The Debt I Owe to Jonathan Edwards.” For people unfamiliar with Piper and his ministry, Piper considers the theology and writings of the 18th century pastor philospher and theologian Jonathan Edwards to be a vital, if not central, contributor to his understanding of the nature of God and our relationship with Him.

Piper’s landmark book, Desiring God, brought to the forefront some aspects of Edwards’ understanding of the relationship between God and His children.  Foremost is that (as Piper puts it) “God is most glorified by us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  One of Edwards’ most seminal quotes is at the front of the chapter:

God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.  When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it.  His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.  God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might be received both by the mind and heart.

Although Piper develops this theology and the reasons behind it in more detail elsewhere, this chapter is a short summary of what he calls Christian hedonism— the belief that not only is it not wrong for us to pursue our own happiness and joy, but that it is commanded by God.  The critical proviso, however, is that the highest and truest joy we must pursue is the joy of God Himself, which is the reason for which we were created and the way that we most glorify our Lord.  Piper states:

It follows from all this that it is impossible that anyone can pursue happiness with too much passion and zeal and intensity.  This pursuit is not sin.  Sin is pursuing happiness where it cannot be lastingly found (Jeremiah 2:21), or pursuing it in the right direction, but with lukewarm, halfhearted affections (Revelation 3:16).  Therefore, the cultivation of spiritual appetite is a great duty for all the saints… The breadth and depth of our pursuit of joy in God is the measure of his worth in our life.

To pursue God & be delighted with God above and beyond all else… what nobler goal, what richer treasure can there be?  As Edwards wrote,

True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God.  And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures.

And yet it is so hard some days, to lift our eyes beyond our present pleasures and pains, to be truly “satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.” Even so, it must be our aim, for only that pursuit can give us the power and the joy and the peace and the fulfillment to live as Christ would have us to live.  Only that pursuit will last eternally, for when this heaven and earth is passed away, we will still have Christ to desire & to love and to be satisfied with.

I end these series of reflections as Dr. Piper ends his book:

“Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) is not a secondary suggestion.  It is a radical call to pursue your fullest satisfaction in all that God promises to be for you in Jesus.  It is a call to live in the joyful freedom and sacrificial love that comes from faith in future grace.  Then will come to pass the purpose of God who chose us in Christ to live “to the praise of His glory.”

The Rebirth of Creation

Note: The following is article #30 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.    

In Chapter 30 of the book Future Grace John Piper looks at the final future grace that we set our eyes toward, that of the rebirth of creation.  Before he looks at heaven, though, he once more talks about what the purpose of living by future grace is.  Living by God’s grace is to show God’s glory.  Specifically, living by grace allows us to live lives that, “show that our treasure in God is more precious than the fleeting attractions of sin.”

What does such a changed life consist of?  First, we will be noted for what we don’t do:

We don’t yield to the sinful pleasures of the moment. We don’t devote our best energies to laying up treasures on earth.  We don’t dream our most exciting dreams about accomplishments and relationships that perish.  We don’t fret over what this life fails to give (marriage, wealth, health, fame).

Second, Piper states what we will be seen to do:

We savor the wonder that the Owner and Ruler of the universe loves us, and has destined us for the enjoyment of his glory, and is working inallibly to bring us to his eternal kingdom.  So we live to meet the needs of others, because God is living to meet our needs.  We love our enemies, and do good, and bless those who curse us and pray for those who despise us…

All of this we can do through grace, through faith in what God has in store for us.  And that brings us to the final grace that God will one day bestow upon us, the rebirth of creation.

God has not told us every detail about the new heaven and the new earth, but he has revealed to us what is important, and what is glorious for us to keep in our hearts.  The first thing God has revealed is that we will be raised and we will be changed.  Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:52 that, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

We will be raised to inhabit our body, and yet it will not be the frail body subject to sickness and death such as we have now, for it will be imperishable.  It will be a body that reflects the glory of God and that we will be able to use to glorify God for all eternity, no longer subject to the curse of sin.

Next, God will bring forth a new heaven & a new earth that will be just as glorious:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Theologians differ on whether the new heaven & new earth will be entirely new, or just the renewal and recreation of our present planet.  In the final analysis, it won’t matter: it will be glorious beyond all our present imagination.

But even with glorious new bodies and a glorious new creation, the real glory will remain the same: the presence of God Himself, now in full view of His children for the first time. Experiencing God in His fullness, without sin, without sadness, without death, for all eternity, is the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams.  As Piper states,

Thus the purpose of God in creation will be fulfilled: the exhibition of his glory for the enjoyment of his people in the never-ending increase of infinite future grace.

Piper ends the chapter with a poem of praise and hope, which includes these words:

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass…
I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy…
The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart, and understand,
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That is should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me. 

 

The Future Grace of Dying

Note: The following is article #29 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.    

Dying.  It is something we will all face.  And like every other part of our walk with Christ, His grace can infuse all aspects of our death, from attitude to expectation to the actual experience.

In Chapter 29 of Future Grace Dr. Piper discusses grace & death.  He reiterates his aim for the entire book:

The aim of this book is to liberate people from fears and desires that enslave the soul and hinder radical obedience to Jesus.

Freeing us to live a radical life, doing whatever will advance the Kingdom and glorify Jesus– that’s why God gives us grace.  But fear often stops us from radical obedience to Christ, and fear of death is among them.  We fear the unknown, we fear the pain, we fear the disability, we fear the loss of death.

But if by faith we grasp that God’s grace will truly be with us, even in death, and if by faith we see beyond death to our eternal joy in Christ (Romans 8:18), then even death shall lose its power over us.  Dr Piper states,

There is only future grace in front of us….if we do not need to fear our last and greatest enemy, death, then we do not need to fear anything.  We can be free.  Free for joy.  Free for others… when the future grace of dying in Christ takes hold of you, it frees from fear and gives courage to live the most radical, self-sacrificing life of love.

We need to dwell on God’s grace in death, and let it empower us, let it embolden us, let it fill our hearts with joy.  We need to meditate on Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 now, when we are young and healthy, and not only when we are dying:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Grace can indeed give us courage in the face of death.  But grace does more. Paul saw that the actual process of aging and dying in itself was a means of grace:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Dr Piper comments that, “The unseen thing that Paul looked at to renew his inner man was the immense weight of glory that was being prepared for him not just after, but through and by, the wasting away of his body.”

As children of God, we can embrace all of life with grace, even death.  As Dr. Piper states, our new heart frees us to lie awake at night not fearing eternity, but looking for it:

But if you find, written on the tablet of your heart, the truth that there is a Creator, and that you are created to have a relationship with him, and that what separates you from whales and dophins and chimpanzees is not mutations and chemicals, but personhood in the image of God, then you will probably lie awake at night and think about eternity.

We can hope & pray, as Christians have for 2000 years, for eternity to come, either by death or by Christ’s return. Either way, come, Lord Jesus.

Grace & Suffering

Note: The following is article #28 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.    

“Grace in suffering”— it seems like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.  Yet experience affirms that people suffer, and the Bible teaches extensively about God’s grace in suffering.

Suffering Comes to Those Who Live By Grace
First, the Bible teaches that people who follow God, living by grace, will suffer in this life: 

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)

through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29)

John Piper in Chapter 28 of Future Grace goes so far as to say that “the way of life that comes from living by faith in future grace will very likely involve more suffering, not less.”  That is a very sobering conclusion, but history bears it out.  The first 300 years of Christianity were marked by intense persecution, and there are still tens of thousands of people who die every year due solely to their faith in Christ.  For many Christians facing death is the ultimate test of what they love more, life & comfort or God & His glory.

The more you are willing to forsake trust in yourself and the things of this world, the more you will open yourself up to situations where you may experience suffering for God.  Piper states:

When you know that your future is in the hands of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God who promises to work all things for your good, you are free to take any risk that love demands— no matter the cost…. In regards to spreading the gospel today, we talk so much about “closed countries” that we have almost lost God’s perspective on missions— as though he ever meant it to be safe.  There are no closed countries to those who assume that persecution, imprisonment, and death are the likely results of spreading the gospel.  And Jesus in Matthew 24:9 said plainly that these are the likely results.

God Has Purposes in Suffering
Which brings us to the next great truth that the Bible teaches about suffering, namely that God has purposes that he intends to accomplish through suffering.  Piper states that we need to see suffering “not merely as a consequence of living by faith in future grace, but as another gift of future grace.”

How is suffering a gift? The Bible teaches us that:

Suffering Shapes an Unshakeable Faith—
There are many stories of amazing faith in the lives of the early church, faith that grew stronger in the face of suffering.  Paul recounts one of his experiences in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, and the purpose that he saw in it:

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

When we suffer, it turns our eyes away from the world and our own resources and focus on God.  When God “comes through” and brings us through the trial or gives us the strength to endure it, then our faith in His love and goodness increases.  The key, however, is understanding the nature of God and His purposes.  Piper states:

If you think your suffering is pointless, or that God is not in control, or that he is whimsical or cruel, then your suffering will drive you from God, instead of driving you from everything but God.

Suffering Shapes our Character
Paul had learned God’s purposes in suffering well, by both revelation from God and by intense personal experience.  In Romans 5:2-4 he states:

Paul mentions that suffering grows our endurance, our character, and our hope.  In the Greek the word “character” means “proven character”— when we endure suffering well, we prove that our faith is real. 

Although it seems paradoxical at first, suffering infused with God’s grace actually increases our hope.  Piper observes:

 The people who are most unwavering in their hope are those who have been tested most deeply. The people who look most earnestly and steadfastly and eagerly to the hope of glory are those who have had the comforts of this life stripped away through tribulations.  These are the freest of all people.  Their love cannot be daunted by threats or calamities.

Suffering Magnifies the Worth of Christ
Lastly, the Bible teaches that suffering magnifies the worth of Christ. Again here, Paul is our teacher:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Here God directly speaks to Paul and explains His reason for this instance of suffering in Paul’s life, and God specifically says that it is to show His strength on Paul’s behalf.  And Paul’s response?

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Let us, then, grow in grace so that we will be able to join Paul in being content in any suffering, knowing that Christ will be glorified as His power rests on us.

How Grace Triumphs Over Lust

Note: The following is article #27 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.   

There is much that has been said about the Christian and sexual lust.  We all face it, and we all know what the Bible says about it.  We’ve all felt its power in our lives, and we’ve all felt defeated by its power in some way at some time.  For some, its power enslaves their whole lives.

Dr. Piper makes several points regarding this very important part of our spiritual lives.  The first point is that we must take this battle with sin seriously:

Jesus says that if you don’t fight this sin with the kind of seriousness that is willing to gouge out your own eye, you will go to hell and suffer there forever.

Far too many Christians, under the influence of a culture where there is almost no acknowledgement of sexual sin and that is permeated by it, soften and even abandon God’s stance on the role of sex and the role of purity in our lives.  There are many who have decided “not to make a big deal” of infidelity or sexual media, knowing that God is “loving and gracious.” He warns:

There are many professing Christians who have a view of salvation that disconnects it from real life, and that nullifies the threats of the Bible, and puts the sinning person who claims to be a Christian beyond the reach of biblical warnings.  I believe this view of the Christian life is comforting thousands who are on the broad way that leads to destruction.

If we do not fight any & every sin in our lives, including sexual sin, with every ounce of our strength, we are fools to assume that we are truly saved. We must strive to live lives of holiness.

Dr. Piper’s next point is that God’s grace in our lives is sufficent for every battle, even the battle against lust.  Just like any other part of the Christian life, it is all about grace:

This is the grace we live under— the sin-conquering, not just sin-canceling, grace of God.  Triumph over the sin of lust is all of grace— past grace, canceling lust’s guilt through the cross, and future grace, conquering lust’s power through the Spirit.

Dr. Piper then moves onto the primary means through which grace triumphs over lust.  Willpower isn’t enough. Guilt won’t do the job.  Neither will a sense of duty.  The secret in triumphing over lust or any sin is God Himself seen by the eyes of faith:

When my thirst for joy and meaning and passion are satisfied by the presence and promises of Christ, the power of sin is broken.  We do not yield to the offer of sandwich meat when we can smell the steak sizzling on the grill. The fight of faith against lust is the fight to stay satisfied with God. (Hebrews 11:24-26)… It is the “precious and magnificent” promise that the pure see God that empowers our escape from lust. (Matthew 5:8)

He ends with a quote from a pastor who realized the power of treasuring God in the fight against sin:

I was limiting my own intimacy with God.  The love He offers is so transcendent and possessing that it requires our faculties to be purified and cleansed before we can possibly contain it.

May we all so grow in our vision of Christ and treasuring that vision that every other attraction fades from our view.

Spiritual Warfare: Faith vs. Sin

Note: The following is article #26 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.   

Spiritual Warfare.  The words conjure up many different images to different people, whether of fierce looking supernatural creatures locked in combat or demons vying to control or destroy unwary mortals.

But what does spiritual warfare mean to you & me, in our day to day lives?  Does a supernaturally evil Satan really expend any effort against “ordinary” Christians, and if so what does he do, and how do we respond?

The Bible is very clear that Satan indeed does try to destroy the lives of the people of God, that he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

But what is he doing?  What should we be on our guard for? How can we fight back?  In Chapter 26 of Future Grace Dr. Piper says that it is all about faith:

The number one aim of Satan is the destruction of faith (Romans 14:23)…[and] the way to thwart the devil is to strengthen the very thing he is trying most to destroy.

Whether it is a discouraging situation, a tempting thought, or any other kind of battle, the real target of Satan is always our faith.  Since without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), the destruction of our faith in God has been Satan’s plan since the Garden of Eden.  Piper explains:

All the sinful states of our hearts are owing to unbelief in God’s super-abounding future grace.  All our sin comes from failing to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.  Misplaced shame, anxiety, despondency, covetousness, lust, bitterness, impatience, pride— these are all sprouts from the root of unbelief in the promises of God.

Whenever we turn from faith (total trust and reliance) in God and turn toward anything else, we open the door to sin in our lives.  Piper uses Paul’s teaching about the love of money in 1 Timothy 6:10 to illustrate this battle in our hearts between faith and sin:

Money stands for what you can get from man instead of God…  So the heart that loves money is a heart that pins its hopes, and pursues its pleasures, and puts its trust in what human resources can offer.  So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy.  …  You can’t trust in God and in money at the same time.  Belief in one is unbelief in the other.

All of Satan’s attacks against us hinge on him saying (pardon the reference to 70′s TV), “Who loves ya, baby?”  Satan does all that he can to make us doubt God’s goodness, God’s power, and God’s love for us.  Our faith is the pillar by which we stand or fall.  Piper exhorts:

Where faith in God fails, sin follows.  Faith stands or falls on the truth that the future with God is more satisfying than the one promised by sin.  Where this truth is embraced and God is cherished above all, the power of sin is broken.

Do you feel embattled? Does your faith seem small?  Know that it is both your lifeline and that which the Enemy most wishes to destroy, and know that you can boldly go to your loving Father and receive the grace and mercy and faith that you need to win every battle in your life.

Enduring to the End

Note: The following is article #25 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.  

 

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

In Chapter 25 of Future Grace Dr. Piper looks at this passage from 2 Timothy.  Near the end of his life, the Apostle Paul in a few short words sums up his life.  Dr. Piper notes:

The criterion of success that Paul used to measure his life was whether he had “kept the faith.”  The criterion applies to us.  Will we be able to say at the end of our lives, “I have kept the faith”? Not just, have I held fast to a body of doctrines.  That is not all that Paul meant.  But more: have we lived by faith in future grace?  Not just for a moment, or a year, or a decade, but all the way to the end?

Paul uses two potent word pictures to describe what “keeping the faith” really means.  He describes it as a fight and as a race.  Piper notes we can conclude two things from looking at our life as a fight and a race:

  1. Enduring in faith for a lifetime must be hard.
  2. We must endure to the end.

But what about Matthew 11:30, where Jesus describes the life of a disciple as being easy?  Piper gives his own word picture, that of a monkey who has reached his hand into a narrow-necked bottle to grab a nut.  Fist clutched around the nut, he discovers he can’t pull his hand out of the bottle.  Opening his hand is easy, but wanting to let go of what he desires is not.  And so it is with us.  Faith that God is loving and kind and far superior than any pleasure of sin is easy, but actually letting go of our desires for sin and only loving God is often a hard fight.

As to point #2, the Bible is full of exhortations to endurance.  As Piper points out, you can run for five miles or ten miles or fifteen miles in a marathon, but if you don’t run to the very last yard you do not get the reward.  Verses such as Colossians 1:22-23, 1 Corinthians 15:2, Matthew 24:13, Hebrews 3:14 and Revelation 2:10 all speak of our need to endure.  Knowing that we are in a race and a fight helps us to endure when the way becomes hard.

Dr. Piper next gives three important points to keep in mind as we fight this fight and race this race.  The first is that this is a fight for joy, to keep ourselves joyful in God’s grace over and above any other joy in this life.  We can pray as David did in Psalm 51:12 for God to bring joy into our hearts.

The second point to remember is that even great men of God have struggled in this fight.  David Brainerd the early American missionary struggled to keep his faith and joy in the midst of horrible hardship for years.  His personal journal entries detail his fight:

Though my body was so feeble, and wearied with preaching… yet I wanted to sit up all night to do something for God.  To God the giver of these refreshments, be glory forever and ever… My soul was refreshed and comforted, and I could not but bless God, who had enabled me in some good measure to be faithful in the day past.  Oh, how sweet it is to be spent and worn out for God!

The final thing to remember about our fight is that our victory is assured.  As Piper states,

Our assurance does not lie in looking back to a momentary decision we made for Christ, but in looking forward to the certainty of God’s preserving grace, based on the all-sufficient atonement of his Son’s death.

We are promised over and over again in the Bible of the certainty of our perseverance.  In John 10:27-28 Jesus promises that His sheep will never perish.  In Philippians 1:6 and 2:13 we learn that it is God Himself who works in us, and in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 that He will confirm us to the end.  Whenever the race is long and aren’t sure we can make it to the end, we can assure ourselves with the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:24 that “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

Fighting Despondency with Faith

Note: The following is article #24 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here

Chapter 24 of Future Grace is entitled “Faith in Future Grace vs. Despondency.” Studies show that half of all people experience what doctors term clinical depression at some time in their lives.  For some it can be a lifelong struggle.  As a family physician I am well acquainted with these matters of the soul; the tissue boxes in my exam room get used nearly every day. 

There is much that can be profitably said about depression and faith, so in this short chapter Dr. Piper touches three main points: (1) The complexity of despondency  (2) Preaching the promises of God to yourself in despondency and (3) Christ’s response to despondency.

First, he discusses that despondency and depression is rarely a simple matter, but rather a complex intertwining of genetic/biochemical factors, conditioning/social factors, and spiritual factors.  But he correctly agrees with Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones that, “The ultimate cause of all spiritual depression is unbelief.”  Many things press against us, but they all ultimately try to undo our belief in God’s grace and goodness in our lives.  Ultimately we must see this as the central root in depression, and this is the root we must attack.

Next, Piper touches on a main theme in Jones’ book Spiritual Depression, that of realizing that re-orienting our thoughts with truth is a powerful weapon.  He quotes the book:

I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now [the psalmist's] treament was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why are thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks.  His soul had been depressing him, crushing him.  So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you… Why art thou cast down?— what business have you to be disquieted?… And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who He is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.  Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.”

Anyone, Christian or not, can utilize such “positive self-talk” with benefit.  But the child of God has more than mere wishful thinking at his disposal; he can call upon the promises of God with full confidence that what God has promised, that He will do.  Knowing what God has promised His children is a vital reason to closely study the Bible.  I have seen many who become disheartened because they are not aware of God’s promises, and others who become disheartened because they think God has promised them something which He has not.

The last area covered is an examination of how Jesus Himself dealt with despondency.  In Matthew 26 Jesus is contemplating His imminent death:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Notice that Jesus was facing a real, horrible situation.  On a human level he was emotionally in agony.  How did He choose to face this crushing weight?

  1. He chose some close friends to be with Him (Matthew 26:37)
  2. He opened His soul to them (Matthew 26:38)
  3. He asked for their partnership and their prayers (Matthew 26:39)
  4. He poured out his heart to His Father in prayer (Matthew 26:39)
  5. He rested His soul in the sovereign wisdom of God (Matthew 26:39)
  6. He fixed his eyes on the glorious future grace that awaited Him on the other side of the cross (see Hebrews 12:2)

When faced with despondency, we can do the same.  With the help of wise counsel we can search the various factors influencing our emotions, we can “tell ourselves the truth” with the promises of God, and we can emulate the steps of Jesus by actively involving good friends and our Father in our journey through the dark times.

Loving Ministry More Than Life

Note: The following is article #23 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here

William CareyWilliam Carey: tried to convince people for years that people in India needed to hear the gospel, founded the first missionary organization, sailed to India himself with his family against British law in 1793, lost his five year old son, lost two wives (one to insanity), worked for years translating the Bible only to see all his work lost in a fire, stayed in India forty years without furlough.

Adoniram JudsonAdoniram Judson: went to Burma 1814, lost infant son, lost wife, spent over a year in a “death prison”, after seventeen years had only ten converts in a country where converting from Buddhism carried a legal death penalty, yet when he died from infection at age 61 there were 100 churches with 8000 believers.

Evelyn BrandEvelyn Brand: went to India age 34, lost husband, suffered from recurrent malaria, sickness, multiple fractures, at age 67 after a broken hip her son asked her to retire for her health’s sake.  She replied, “Why preserve this old body if it’s not going to be used where God needs me?”  When her missions agency retired her anyway, she refused to go home, moving up into the remote hill country loving and serving people until she died at age 95.

What did these three people have in common?  They loved ministry more than life. They were convinced that fulfilling their ministry was more important than anything else in the world, even staying alive.

Oh, we say, that’s all well and good if you’re off in a foreign country somewhere, but I’m not really in “ministry” like they were.

But what is “ministry” anyway? Dr. Piper defines ministry as “a lifestyle devoted to advancing other people’s faith and holiness.”  Guess what? That’s everyone’s lifestyle if they are a true follower of Jesus Christ.  Doesn’t matter where we live, how we earn a living, what people we have contact with, we can still have a lifestyle devoted to advancing other people’s faith and holiness. And not only can we have such a life, we are commanded to live such a life.

How can we live such a radical life? Only by relying on God.  In 2 Corinthians 9:8 Paul says,

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Dr. Piper observes that this grace that “abounds” for “every good work” does not mean every possible thing that could be done, but that God will supply everything that we need for what God has individually appointed for us to do, day by day, moment by moment. 

Through faith we trust that God’s grace will be there when we need it, for what we need it. Dr. Piper cites Ephesians 4:29 (NASB), “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”  He notes that as we trust God and allow His grace to flow through us that we will be able to build each other up in grace.

He states in Chapter 22:

Before this day is done, there will be an occasion in your life which Paul calls “the need of the moment.” Someone will be positioned to benefit from your words. If you put your faith in future grace and serve in the strength that God supplies, you will become a channel of that grace. When it comes–to you and through you–the satisfaction is so deep, you will know why you were created and why you were called.

After I re-read that passage, I prayed for God to use me somehow, somewhere, to someone this very day as a channel of grace.  And he did, completely out of the blue, in a way I never imagined.  What if I prayed that prayer every day?  What if I humbly sought to be a channel of God’s grace, to structure my life so that my #1 priority was advancing others’ faith and holiness?  What would change in my life, and other lives? What would I have to look back on at the end of my life?  What is stopping me?

 

Desire Factory

Note: The following is article #21 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here

You’re chatting with a friend and the conversation takes a turn toward the issues of life.  You both mention happiness and fulfillment, and you hear him say:

conversation by rverspirit via Flickr

“I want to be happy and content with who and where I am in life.  I know I am not alone in that feeling and I am not trying to get sympathy, I just want to be at peace.  I don’t know that I will ever find that peace.  God is probably the answer but I don’t even know how to open myself up to “him”.”

What do you say?  How do you respond to honest wondering about the place of God in a person’s life?  I daresay that whipping out any canned questions or presentation will not bring this person closer to the Kingdom.  “But at least they will know the Gospel if I present it to them, and I’ll be planting a seed!”  Will you?  Really?  If that soil isn’t ready for the seed of a “here’s the facts, read them and weep!” presentation, are you planting anything? Or will it assuage your conscience of knowing that you did “your duty” and now “it’s their fault if they don’t accept Jesus?” 

Are we in the business of “doing our duty,” or are we here to make disciples, to help guide people into an ever fuller experience of Christ’s presence, starting with their entrance into the Kingdom as children of God through salvation and regeneration?  If our concern really is for them, then they need their head and their heart spoken to with much more than four laws.

That, strangely enough, is what I thought about as I read through Chapter 22 of Future Grace entitled “Creating Love in a Desire Factory.”  I thought, “Here it is! This is what I need to share with someone honestly searching for completeness in their soul, and how God is their answer.”

Jesus often started spiritual conversations with people on their own ground, with their personal “This is where I am now.”  With the woman at the well in John 4, he started with what she was doing, getting water. For a person wrestling with their desire to be at peace, why not start with talking about how our hearts naturally desire things?  In the chapter, Dr. Piper states that:

double fire by mixmaster via FlickrThe human heart produces desires as fire produces heat.  As surely as the sparks fly upward, the heart pumps out desire after desire for a happier future… the state of the heart is shown by the things that satisfy its desires.

He goes on to explain that we all start our lives with what he calls a “heart of works.”  He explains,

The heart of works gets satisfaction from the ego-boost of accomplishing something in its own power… scale a vertical rock face, or take on extra responsibilities at work, or risk life in a combat zone, or agonize through a marathon, or perform religious fasting for weeks— all for the satisfaction of conquering a challenge by the force of its own will and the stamina of its own body.

Ouch!  That hit really too close to home for me when I read it.  But it’s true— that’s how we all attempt to satisfy our hearts.  It can work, a little, for a while. But there will always be something missing, for our hearts were made for more.

Once our hearts are changed by faith in Christ, we can experience a whole new kind of both desire and satisfaction which Dr. Piper calls the “heart of faith”:

The heart of faith is radically different.  Its desires are no less strong as it looks to the future.  But what it desires is the fullest satisfaction of experiencing all that God is for us in Jesus.  If “works” wants the satisfaction of feeling itself overcome an obstacle, “faith” savors the satisfaction of feeling God overcome an obstacle.  Works longs for the joy of being glorified as capable, strong, and smart.  Faith longs for the joy of seeing God glorified for His capability, strength and wisdom.

Think about how “radically different” this new heart is.  It is still a desire factory, but its desire and its satisfaction is to experience God, and not experience as in some nebulous emotional feeling, but to experience God by seeing Him glorified in His working in the hearts and lives of people— truly changing them, bringing “the Kingdom of God” from abstract conception to concrete reality. This is similar to what Henry Blackaby describes in Experiencing God as “You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His work through you.”

How does this happen?  In Galatians 3:5 Paul links both the gift of the Spirit and even the working of miracles to “hearing by faith.”  Piper explains that “hearing by faith” means hearing God’s word, embracing it with deep satisfaction, and then by faith taking hold of the promises that Christ has given to us as His children.

This faith in God’s promises both expels old desires that hinder us and then gives us new desires that propel us to great acts of faith and love.  If we are stuck in feelings of guilt, fear, or greed, faith in God’s promises pushes those feelings out of our hearts and allows us to be bold, to risk, and to sacrifice.  And then faith creates something new: an “insatiable appetite” to experience God’s grace that will propel us to greet strangers when we feel shy, to tithe, to speak, to invite, to pray, even to cross cultures with the gospel?  Dr. Piper states that, “None of these costly acts of love just happens.  They are impelled by a new appetite— the appetite of faith for the fullest experience of God’s grace.”

This life-transforming faith and love and concrete experience of God gives soul satisfaction so far beyond any religion or achievement or pleasure— this new life which is soaked in the grace of Jesus and centered on seeing the glory of God is what I can offer to the soul who is seeking satisfaction.  I can pray for that soul as I pray for myself in Dr. Piper’s words,

O, that God would pour out His Spirit on us in extraordinary measure!  May He open our eyes to see the irresistibly attractive and overwhelmingly satisfying beauty of all that God promises to be for us in Jesus.