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.