There is an old computer acronym called GIGO, which stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out. It means no matter how good the computer program is, if you feed it the wrong data, you will get the wrong answer.
The GIGO principle works in our lives too. If we feed our minds and our hearts with “input” from a mixed up, self-centered world, we will end up thinking, feeling, and acting just as mixed up too. We wonder why we see so many young people getting in trouble, so many people getting divorces, so many struggling with addictions, and yet we never stop to consider whether thousands of hours consuming television, movies, books, & music that falsely glorify God-rejecting values & behavior might have anything to do with it.
But we have the option of using an even more powerful principle: God In, Garbage Out. The power & presence of God is far greater than any garbage in our heart, and it is only a love for Him that can rid us of a love for the world. The 19th century Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers taught this in his famous sermon titled The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. He wrote,
How impossible it were for the heart… to cast the world away from it; and thus reduce itself to a wilderness… the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.
In other words, simply telling yourself, I won’t sin, I won’t do this or that which I know is wrong but I desire to do, is doomed to fail because the human heart HAS to desire, has to attach itself to something. You can’t simply tell a wrong desire to go away, you have to overpower and overwhelm that wrong desire with something infinitely more desirable— the love of Christ. God In, Garbage Out. It’s the only way to change from the inside out.
I don’t like the taste of Powerade.
To me it’s just a disagreeably sicky sweet salty taste. I’ll drink water, or diet drinks (yes I know they’re not good for me), or even a chocolate frappacino once in a while.
But I never drink Powerade.
That all changed one Sunday morning.
A few miles into my half-marathon, I approached the first drink station. They were handing out cups of both water and Powerade. Normally, I would have reached towards the water without even a thought. But as I looked at both, suddenly my brain was swinging my arm towards the Powerade. I reached out and took a few swigs as I kept running.
Whoa. It tasted completely different than it had before. It tasted, like, really really good. It was six ounces of blue heaven in a cup.
What was going on? What happened? I couldn’t figure it out. The scientist in me kicked in, and I promised myself that I would run a test and drink water at the next station.
The next station came, and I got ready to enjoy some clean, cold, refreshing water. But instead I got this bleah stuff swirling in my mouth that I knew was water, but somehow it wasn’t refreshing. It didn’t seem to satisfy me. I was no longer thirsty for it.
Still not convinced, I decided to switch back to that drink I couldn’t stand at the next station. And once again, that revolting Powerade tasted like pure heaven to my taste buds.
What happened? Had they changed the taste of Powerade or of water? I knew the answer: the drink had not changed, but the drinker. I was losing calories and electrolytes in the run, and my body was automatically adjusting my taste buds to reflect what I really needed. Because I had changed, what I was thirsty for changed.
That little incident on a street in downtown Knoxville reminds me of one of the most sobering questions I have ever asked myself: What are you thirsty for, John?
This time, I’m not talking about a thirsty body, but a thirsty soul. I look at my soul straight in the face and ask it, “Soul, what are you thirsty for?”
The answer isn’t pretty. So often my soul thirsts for pretty useless stuff– the latest gadget, a little mindless TV, one more piece of pie. And the darker, soul-destroying thirsts of sin are ever present as well. Isn’t it strange that we so often want life out of what we know will actually kill us instead?
I know that if you take an honest look at your own soul you’ll see some ugly thirsts too. That’s part of belonging to the human race, my friend.
So what do we do? How do handle these thirsts within our soul?
There are three options, only three, open to you. The first is to try and quench your thirst with what your soul is thirsty for. Freely indulge that addiction, go for the gusto, live your life pursuing pleasure, or power, or prestige, or peace, or whatever your soul says it needs.
There’s one huge problem with that approach: your soul is not like my body was on race day: it doesn’t know what it should be thirsty for. Our souls have all been warped by our fallenness. If we are willing to take an honest look we can all see it: many foolish decisions, many mistakes, many lives hurt because of our souls being thirsty for the wrong things.
The second approach to the thirsty soul is to quiet it. This is the approach of some religions, that of realizing that soul thirst can never be fully quenched in a fallen world, and so they decide to try and kill thirst instead. If desire inevitably brings suffering, then they say we must eliminate desire.
The problem with this approach is obvious: convincing a man in a desert that he doesn’t need water doesn’t stop him from dying of thirst. Our souls are thirsty. They must drink. Pretending that we have no soul desires is both futile and deadly.
So, if our soul’s thirst can neither be quenched nor quieted, what can we do? The answer lies in what happened during my run: my thirst was changed. What my brain desired was shifted to what my body needed, and the result was a new thirst that was a positive force for my good.
So, how does that work on a soul level? What does my soul really need? What is its “Powerade,” and how can I change my thirst to match it?
Jesus answered this very question, while talking to a woman at a well…
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” ( John 4:10-14 )
It’s so simple: the thirst of our soul is meant to be a thirst for the presence of God. No other drink will do. And God in His grace gives us a new thirst for Him when He gives us a new life, and gives us a spring of water in the Holy Spirit.
Think about what the presence of God is for the soul. First, God’s presence is perfect: there is no better nourishment possible for our souls, because God created our souls to receive life from Him.
His presence is also pure: there is nothing evil, nothing harmful, nothing but good to be gotten from God. His presence is powerful: our lives are transformed as we live in Him.
Finally, His presence is permanent. As Jesus said to the woman, those who are Christ’s have a well that will never run dry. God is now always with us, always available to relieve our soul’s thirst, and we shall live in His presence for all eternity.
Perfect, pure, powerful, permanent: God’s gift of His presence in the Spirit is all these things, and a thousand more.
Since my soul is still fallen, I still have these other thirsts, other things that my foolish soul sometimes thinks will give me refreshment. But now I have an answer when I feel the thirst, when my soul asks “What am I thirsty for?”
I simply answer back, “Soul, what are you really thirsty for, down deep, in the spirit God gave you when He gave you a new life?” And I smile, and hear God say, “Drink, my son, drink deep and long of the fountain I have put within you, and be refreshed.”
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:
“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:
The 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.
||a requirement, necessary duty, or obligation: There is no need for you to go there.
||a lack of something wanted or deemed necessary: to fulfill the needs of the assignment.
||urgent want, as of something requisite: He has no need of your charity.
||necessity arising from the circumstances of a situation or case: There is no need to worry.
||a situation or time of difficulty; exigency: to help a friend in need; to be a friend in need.
||a condition marked by the lack of something requisite: the need for leadership.
It’s a common word, used in a lot of ways. But it’s a dangerous word as well, because whatever we view as a need steers our emotions, our minds, our actions, our very lives.
We are all barraged by supposed “needs” as we go about our lives- needs for relationship (I need a spouse, I need a friend, I need a lover, I need a child, I need a divorce, I need someone not to die) needs for significance (I need to be appreciated, endorsed, promoted) and needs for material things (I need a new house, car, raise, extra brownie today).
What do we really think we need, what could we not do without? In other words, what truly is the treaure that directs our hearts(Matthew 6:21)? In Christ’s interaction with the rich young ruler, Christ knew what the man’s treasure was, what he thought he could not part with. Instead of his need of riches, Christ offered him something better:
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)
Notice that Jesus did not ask him to say “I have no need, I have no treasure.” No, Jesus invited him to find his true treasure, for him to discover the only thing he really needed, by following Christ. Isn’t it sadly ironic, that the thing that this man thought he really needed ended up making him sorrowful? And yet that will be the end of treasuring anything but Christ.
So, what is it with you? What do you feel you could not do without? Are you willing to free your heart to treasure and need and love Christ? It is only by giving up what we think we “need” that we can fulfill the greatest commandment, to love God with all our heart and soul and mind(Matthew 22:37). May we be able to say with Paul:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
Say that word, and what comes into your mind?
Some would immediately think of desire in a godly way, to desire to do good, to desire to worship God. There are whole books and ministries about this kind of desire.
Others would think of desires that the Bible condemns, such as the desire for money (1 Timothy 6:10) or the desire for adultery (Matthew 5:28) in every human heart.
Perhaps a few would even think of desires that aren’t strictly good or bad in a moral sense, like the desire for food when one is hungry(Luke 15:16).
In reality, the words of God in the Bible wisely teach us that human desire can be good and holy, warped and evil, or simply human. We are a mixture of all these types of desires, and often every desire is a mixture itself of the selfish and unselfish, of loving God and loving our own way.
The Bible often refers to our evil, selfish desires as lusts of the flesh, from our old self. In Galatians 5 Paul says that our old self has been put to death, crucified once we come to Christ. Elsewhere (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5) he encourages us to put to death (old word: mortify) these desires.
Frankly, sometimes it’s hard to sort out the selfish from the unselfish in our hearts. A young professional desires a promotion. A childless couple burns to have a baby to love. A spouse longs to have a truly intimate relationship with the one they married. We long to live a long, healthy life. We long for that cancer to be healed, or maybe we desire the loved one who has struggled so long with the pain to be at rest and go to Christ’s presence. You long for greater “significance” in your life, greater opportunity to serve Christ. It’s easy to see there are mixed desires in all of these longings.
So what do you do? We can bring all of our desires to the cross of Christ. Just like treasures we have buried in our hearts, we can come to the cross, and let the piercing word of God expose our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) and help show us what is there, and help us to put to death what is selfish, and fan the flame of what is pure and holy.
Why not pray a prayer like this: “Lord, you know what is in my heart. I lay it all at the cross of Christ. Take all my desires. Kill whatever is not worthy of you. Help strengthen my desires for You and your Kingdom. Make me into the person You want me to be. Amen.”
We are creatures ever seeking fulfillment.
It is the continual quest of our lives, from our first cries for milk to our last gasps for breath. We live to be fulfilled.
This continual longing takes many forms, all familiar to us. The apostle John divided them by three: the lusts of the flesh such as our desires for food, drink, sex, comfort, and drugs; the lusts of the eyes with all our devotion to materialism and possessions, and the pride of life with our searches for power, prominence, and significance.
We are all looking to all three daily to fulfill us. There’s only one little problem: they all fall short. Some turn out to be just temporary and fail us, and some turn on us and attack and enslave us, and some just fill us up part way or turn out to not be all that fulfilling after all. To some extent (take food, for instance), they can fail in all three ways.
Yes, every source of fulfillment we can possibly turn to will in the end be the “broken cisterns” that the prophet Jeremiah once warned us against. Every source of fulfillment that we can possibly go after is doomed at some time, on some level to disappoint us.
Except one. God.
God’s infinite wisdom guarantees that He knows what is best for His children. God’s infinite love guarantees that He will choose what is best for His children, and God’s infinite power guarantees that He will bring to pass without fail what is best for His children. And more than any other type of blessing God can bring to us, our most sweet and lasting fulfillment from God comes from God Himself, the gift of His perfect presence.
God is the one and only source of fulfillment that not only will not disappoint, but cannot disappoint by His very nature.
That is how God is fundamentally and supremely different and superior to any other source of fulfillment we can look to. God both is and will always be able “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)
If we know this to be the truth, then let us live it. Let us take every longing, every desire for fulfillment in our souls, and turn away from every broken cistern, turn away from every source that can only end up disappointing in the end, and turn toward our Loving Father in faith and trust that He will never disappoint.
Has it really been twenty years since John Piper first released Desiring God? I had been thinking recently about abiding in Christ and the nature of desire, as well as the upcoming Together for the Gospel conference which Piper will speak at, so I thought it would be a good time to re-read this modern-day classic.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, twenty years ago a relatively little known young pastor from Minneapolis published a book that sent shock waves throughout the evangelical world and became the springboard for a ministry that now encompasses books, sunday school curricula, a radio show, and countless speaking appearances. What was this radical message? That God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, that the chief purpose of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
This proposition, that God actually created us and commands us to seek pleasure in Him, is what Piper deemed “Christian hedonism.” Although there are certainly seeds of this truth in the writings of Augustine, Edwards, Pascal, and Lewis (to name a few), Piper developed and brought it out full force onto the modern evangelical scene. It brought him both acclaim and controversy, great joy and great conflict.
It is impossible to condense a 350+ page intense theological tome down to a few paragraphs, and I will not even try. The book begins with a chapter on how he developed his theology,and then outlines a theological basis for Christian hedonism. He next has chapters devoted to the transforming impact that desiring God has on worship, love, scripture, prayer, money, marriage, missions, and suffering. This is no touchy feely devotional book—it has 15 pages of chapter end notes annotating quotations from Baxter, Pascal, Henry, Packer, Edwards, Lewis, Bounds, Mueller, Barth, Murray, Polycarp, Augustine, and many more. It references over 700 separate verses from the Bible.
Every Christian needs to read this book and deeply think through its truths. Even if you end up not agreeing with all of Piper’s assertions, there is so much gold to be mined from the reading and considering that you will be richly blessed. And if you read it a few years ago, or twenty years ago, read it again! There was much gold that I had mined from the book years back but had frankly forgot; and there was much that I hadn’t seen or appreciated as gold that I saw anew with a fresh reading. If you can’t afford to buy it, then Piper has its entire contents available free online here. Read this book.
And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva… (the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride)
So, what is this true love that everyone speaks about?
John Piper has an interesting definition of true love to which he devotes an entire chapter to in his book Desiring God:
Love is the overflow of joy in God which gladly meets the needs of others
Although this isn’t your average dictionary definition, let’s see if this pegs what true love really is about. This sentence describes the emotion of true love, the action of true love, and the power behind true love.
The emotion of true love is joy, the joy gained from seeing joy in others, not ourselves. I once read a woman describe how she first realized her future husband was “the one.” She saw him smiling at her and she realized that he was taking joy not in himself or his accomplishments but in her accomplishments, her joy.
The pursuit of this emotion of joy is the action of love, which means we pursue meeting the needs of others, doing good to them and increasing their joy. Jonathan Edwards once said:
In some sense the most benevolent, generous person in the world seeks his own happiness in doing good to others, because he places his happiness in their good. Thus when they are happy, he feels it; he partakes with them, and is happy in their happiness.
But critical to both the emotion and the action of true love is the power behind it. The power to sustain true love is the grace from God that Christians experience. As Piper states,
It is first a deeply satisfying experience of the fullness of God’s grace, and then a doubly satisfying experience of sharing that grace with another person
He describes it as God’s grace flowing through us to others. This is a supernatural grace, a supernatural love, and its strength and depth and purity will glorify God and will draw people to Him. Let us then love as God loves, pursuing the joy of others through God and rejoicing in it.
In this week’s Monday Media Meltdown, let’s talk about a recurring theme scattered among several dramas over the past years, that of dreams dying and being reborn:
In Under the Tuscan Sun, Diane Lane plays a woman with her dreams of success all in hand, until an unexpected divorce broadsides her. On a whim, she buys a run-down villa in Tuscany and has an entirely new dream of having the villa be the focus of her new life—with friends, cooking, children, a wedding. Everything seems to go wrong from the start—or does it? She has no friends to cook for, until she starts cooking for her Polish renovators and ends up becoming a great cook and an even better friend. She has no baby, but she gives of herself so her friend is able to have her baby in her villa. She loses her man to marry, but she helps two young lovers and sees their joy consummate in a wedding at her villa. At the finale, she looks back and realizes that she indeed gets all her dreams—but in a very different way than she first envisioned. After a friend points this out, she replies, “You’re right – I got everything I asked for.”
In Mr. Holland’s Opus, we find a man in his twenties taking a job as a high school band instructor to put food on his table. Over the next thirty-some years, he grows to care for his students and embrace this vocation, even though he still yearns to fulfill his dream of writing a great work of music. Although way over-dramatic at the end, a grateful former student sums up the movie’s message: “I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life. ”
In The Family Man, Nicholas Cage plays a stereotypical self-absorbed executive with absolutely no value for human relationships—until an “angel” strips away all his material success and plops him down as a tire salesman in Jersey. Although the ending of the movie stinks, we watch his progression as he realizes that the gift of relational intimacy is worth more than all the money and power of his dreams. When he is tempted to start valuing money and fame again, his wife tells him, “maybe I was being naive, but I believed that we would grow old together in this house. That we’d spend holidays here and have our grandchildren come visit us here. I had this image of us, all grey and wrinkly, and me working in the garden and you re-painting the deck. But things change. If you need this, Jack, if you really need this, I will take these kids from a life they love and I’ll take myself from the only home we’ve ever shared together and I’ll move wherever you need to go. I’ll do that because I love you. I love you, and that’s more important to me than our address. I choose us. ”
What can we learn from these movies? First, that dreams die in a fallen and imperfect world and that we cannot go on and grow and live until we let go of them. We see this in the Bible as well, from Joseph’s dreams dying when he is sold into slavery to David’s dreams of being King die when he has to flee from King Saul. Second, that dreams that are self-focused and value things over people need to die. I am reminded of Christ’s story of the rich man who built bigger barns, only to find out that something far bigger than his barns were at stake. Third, we need to learn that the dreams ought to be focused on community, on relationships, on what we can give to those we are closest to. God created us to live in community, with others and with Him. Fourth, we should remind ourselves that we serve a loving Father who delights to give us good gifts, but that we should have the humility and wisdom to let Him do the choosing, let Him bless us beyond all that we can imagine, in His time and in His way.