Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths
When I Don't Desire God
by John Piper
I realized recently that I was capable of preaching the Gospel, teaching the Bible, and even ministering to people in need without having a very close relationship with God... or even desiring one. All of a sudden I became aware of this lackadaisical connection with God.
While looking for John Piper's recommended book on fasting (something I've never done), I stumbled over this book and immediately the Holy Spirit convicted me. This is what I was suffering from. I was not desiring God. Well, if I'm not desiring God, then what am I desiring? Stuff. Entertainment. There's that word again. I wonder how many
of us are addicted to "entertainment" and just have no clue. I know it's a problem for me. But where to start to do battle, right? Well, by God's grace, while I was ordering this book, I stumbled over another book that addressed THAT problem as well!! You'll see it's the next book I'm reading. That's how God works in me. He just does stuff for me because He knows that out of all His sheep, I'm the dumbest.
Anyway, I'm ready for this season of slacking off to be over. I want how Jesus describes in Revelation... to find my first love. When I was first saved, I was on fire. When I went to San Diego for discipleship training with Jake McDonnell, he and that class set me on fire. Leaving Denslowe Community Church to come out here to Cold Springs Valley Church, knowing that God had placed a very specific calling on my life... set me on fire.
I want that fire back. It's great to be on fire when I'm on stage and when I'm praying with people to accept Jesus, but what about the rest of the time when I'm supposed to be engaging God and enjoying my close relationship with Him... taking in that constant communication, guidance, and closeness. I want that. I don't know if I ever really had it, but by golly I'm gonna start praying it right now and Lord willing, I'll read through this book and discover some things about Him and myself that will help bring me to that place of having joy in this relationship with God Almighty. It sounds ridiculous when I say that, right? Stupid humans. We really are dumb sheep. How awesome is God that He is patient with me and loves me anyway.
These study notes are designed only for me to extract as much useful and beneficial knowledge as possible from the book. I have found that I learn and grow more when I reflect and write often, so periodically through a chapter, when I feel challenged, or I feel myself caught up in thought... I write. If the author asks questions, I will answer them. You're welcome to read my notes and comment on them or simply ignore this section.
Father, I pray that you would make me grow. I know that there are many things in this world that I desire. The American dream is not lost on me, and I have thus far been caught up in consumerism and a selfish lifestyle of entertainment and comfort. I pray that I would begin to develop a hunger and thirst for You that would never been satiated until the day Your Son returns to take me home. I want to be the kind of man who walks with you daily, and all day, not just a few times a day. I know that at the end of my life, I want for you to look at me and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant," but I pray, Lord, that You would make me the kind of guy who greatly desires to hear You say that to me at the end of each day You have me still here. Please, speak to me through this book, and although John Piper is a phenomenal teacher, I pray that it would be You who teaches me to seek You, desire You, and pant for You as the deer pants for the river. Help me to pursue you like the lion pursues the gazelle. In Jesus' name, amen.
I do my very best to pray every time I pick up this book. I pray that God would work this out and fix this broken thing in me. I pray that God would draw me close to Him and restore a right and honoring relationship with Him. I pray that I would learn and grow because of Him teaching me through John Piper. I don't want John as much as I want God.
I also am chewing through this book slowly. I pick it up for 15-20 minutes a day, read a paragraph or maybe two and then reflect, writing out my thoughts and reactions. This is literally the growth happening right here on my site. If God should decide to work outside of this, I am sure that I will include that in here somewhere so that readers will know. I have no problem taking forever to finish this book, and if I'm still broken or partially broken when we are finished here, then we will move on to the next one and the next one. We will continue the fight until we find victory in Him.
Chapter 1: Why I Wrote This Book
Sustaining the Sacrifice of Love
Okay, first thing. What is Hedonism? Hedonism is defined as "the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence". Therefore, "Christian Hedonism" just doesn't sound right... right? How could you possibly pursue pleasure and indulge yourself... while chasing God at the same time? That makes NO sense.
Okay, so keep reading and Piper explains that Christian Hedonism is finding that pleasure and self-indulgence in God rather than other things. Makes sense, I guess. The world finds its pleasure and indulges itself in the things of this world. The world pursues those things. Christians SHOULD find its pleasure in God and we SHOULD be pursuing Him.
The Liberating and Devastating Discovery
"God is most glorified when I am the most satisfied in Him." How jacked up am I? I am the most satisfied with a beautiful girl who is mine. I am the most satisfied with a prime rib-eye steak. I am the most satisfied with a 2017 Chevy Tahoe Extended Cab... that's paid off. Those are the things that bring me the most satisfaction. Things. Stuff. Achievement. Acquisition. Movies. Video games. Electronics. Food. Relationships. Prestige. Attention. Adoration. If this is the condition of my heart... how am I bringing God glory? I'm not. Ouch.
"And then almost immediately, came the realization that my indwelling sin stands in the way of my full satisfaction in God. It opposes and perverts my pursuit of God. It opposes by making other things look more desirable than God." See? We just went over that, right? We have to be honest with ourselves. If we can't be honest, we'll never even understand the problem, let alone fix it. The truth of MY life is that I find these other things more desirable than God. Luckily, it appears that John came to the same realization, as did Augustine. That's good. There may be hope for me yet.
Wow. John says, "Manageable, duty-defined, decision-oriented, will-power Christianity now seemed easy, and real Christianity had become impossible." That's amazing. It's almost like John wrote this book for me. It's even more fantastic when you consider how few books I read. The odds that I would actually sit down to read a book under my own power, without a book report deadline for school, is so incredibly unlikely that I see the hand of God at work in this. John is describing two simultaneous things that were happening in him and are currently happening in me. Ministry had/has become easy and the joyful real relationship with God has become so much harder. Those pastors and ministers who complain about the long hours and constant needs of others... I don't suffer from that. I find joy in serving and being used by God. It fulfills me. It makes my life. But, in the realization that along with that growth came this other deficiency that I can't stand... it's crazy. It's the enemy and my own flesh at work, no doubt... but who saw this coming? I sure didn't
How Christian Living Became Impossible
Piper goes on to exclaim that he was sure the bar had been lowered when he found out that he was free to pursue God all he wanted and find all of his joy and self-indulgence in God with no repercussions, but afterward found it impossible to actually do. My realization is slightly different. I've know that I could have as much of God as want. Tozer taught me that. (He also taught me that I can have TOO much God and neglect my wife and children) My realization is that not only had the "Christian life" become easy, but it came with this crazy decomposing personal relationship with God... AND that I was fully capable of having a real and meaningful ministry while simultaneously having an almost non-existent relationship with God. THAT is what scares me. You wanna cheat on your wife? Spend less time with her. Talk to her less. Let your relationship fall away. You wanna let the enemy into your ministry? Spend less time with God. Talk to Him less. Let your relationship with Him fall away. THAT... scares me even more. So, no... the bar has not been lowered, but like John points out, it's been raised again. Higher... again. It's a good thing God shines through my weakness because here we are again... me being weak.
Piper is really focused on the negative here. I mean, I get it. It's a terrible thing that God created us, loves us so much that He sends His son to die for us, and STILL our hearts do NOT want Him back. That's true, but I tend towards the positive and find incredible refuge in the Scripture he quotes (Mark 10:27). ALL things are possible with God. After quitting smoking, I understand this truth better than some, I suppose. After attempting to quit for 9 years and failing to find success, no one around me believed that I would ever actually quit, least of all me. However, there was always this little part inside me that knew God could still do it. And He did. He even increased the difficulty and lowered the odds of it actually happening, and STILL did it. I mean, He took it all AWAY... all the cravings, temptations, everything... just gone. So I know full well that if there is something that seems impossible, it's not. It's TOTALLY possible with God.