Thursday, January 26, 2012

When I Don't Desire God

I've put off reviewing any John Piper books for a while for two reasons:
  • These books are already well-known, widely read, and widely reviewed.
  • I've found reading Piper's books to be a bit of a hard slog.
This book was given to me for my 23rd birthday and I read it right through for the first time in 2010.  So if you give me books it shows I will read them eventually ('eventually' being the key word here).  The title was what bumped this book up my reading list since I suspect I am not the only Christian who feels like I don't 'desire God' at times.  We all have times of spiritual dryness and I desperately wanted to see if there was a cure.

The quote I posted yesterday is one of Piper's most well-known ones.  It epitomises his theology - we are here to enjoy and love our Creator.  I really appreciated this reminder of what it means to enjoy God.  The problem is I often feel like I don't.

From the blurb:
For over twenty-five years John Piper has trumpeted the truth that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."  He calls it Christian Hedonism.  The problem is that many people after being persuaded, find that this truth is both liberating and devastating.

It's liberating because it endorses our inborn desire for joy.  And it's devastating because it reveals that we don't desire God the way we should.  What do you do when you discover the good news that God wants you to be content in Him, but then find that you aren't.

One of the main things I got our of this book was that joy is both a gift and a command.  We are commanded to fight for joy, yet God is the only one who can ultimately give us that joy (it is a fruit of the Spirit).  It sounds like a contradiction, but it is really just another example of the mystery of God (like prayer and the Trinity).

Piper goes into the difference between desire and delight, the role of God's Word and prayer in our fight for joy, and there is a very helpful chapter at the end entitled, When the Darkness Does Not Lift.  Despite what it may sound like from the blurb, this book is NOT a guilt trip.

The reason I don't find Piper so easy to read is that he is a bit more theologically 'hardcore' than some other authors and also because he lacks the easy readability and chatty style of authors like John Dickson, whose books I have greatly appreciated.  That doesn't mean that Piper is not worth reading.  He is definitely worth a go, but you have to pick your time i.e. I've found I need to read it when I have the time and space to concentrate well - it's not a book to read when you're tired.  For a long time I've felt like some kind of dummy because I haven't read and quoted Piper like older and more mature Christians I know, but now I realise that's ok.  Piper is helpful, but he is not the only helpful author out there.

I heard a sermon at my church recently about the difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is circumstancial; a person may feel happy when they are healthy, have friends, have employment etc, but that happiness is not sustained when these things are taken away.  Joy, on the other hand, is not based on circumstances but on what God has done.  I have joy in God because of who He is and what He has done, and this joy remains even when my personal circumstances are poor.  Piper urges his readers to fight for JOY, yet he doesn't seem to think there is a great difference in meaning between happiness and joy:
In this book I will use many words for joy without precise distinctions: happiness, delight, pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, desire, longing, thirsting, passion, etc.  I am aware that all of these words carry different connotations for different readers.  Some people think of happiness as superficial and joy as deep.  Some think of pleasure as physical and delight as aesthetic.  Some think of passion as sexual and longing as personal.  So I signal from the outset that the Bible does not divide its emotional language that way.  The same words (desire, pleasure, happiness, joy, etc) can be positive sometimes and negative sometimes, physical sometimes and spiritual sometimes.  That's the approach I take.  Any of these words can be a godly experience of the heart, and any of them can be a wordly experience of the heart.

Interesting.  I plan to look at joy and happiness more in another post, but would appreciate any thoughts you have on the two words.

This book is worth a read - particularly if you're going through a spiritual dry patch.  But read it slowly.  There's a fair bit to take in.

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