Desiring God by John Piper is probably the most significant book I have read in the past few years, but its subtitle, “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist”, might lead you to wonder what’s coming. Is this a book about the Prosperity Gospel perhaps – if you give to God he will make you rich? Or perhaps Piper is saying that if you have faith all your problems will disappear and you will never be sick or in trouble every again and be happy every day?
Emphatically no! The clue is in the title – Desiring God. This is a book to stop you seeking pleasure anywhere else other than in God Himself. What Piper has discovered is a golden thread that runs through the Bible, through the life of Jesus and St Paul, the great theologians Augustine, the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards to C S Lewis and beyond
John Piper is pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and has been for almost 30 years. Before that he was a seminary professor, and he holds a PhD from the University of Munich. He is a passionate preacher, pastor and thinker.
But early in his career he was struggling with the fact that “if I did something good because it would make me happy, I would ruin its goodness.” He felt somehow, as C S Lewis explained it, that “there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing…” And yet other Christians across the ages had discovered something different:
Blaise Pascal wrote: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception.”
Jeremy Taylor: “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.”
Augustine: “If I were to ask you why you have believed in Christ, why you have become Christians, every man will answer truly, ‘For the sake of happiness.'”
We all desire joy, and happiness but somehow feel that these desires should be suppressed and that “to be motivated by a desire for happiness when [volunteering] for Christian service or [going] to church – that seemed selfish…” However hard we try, though, it seems we have “an overwhelming longing to be happy, a tremendously powerful impulse to seek pleasure.” Through the writings of C S Lewis, Jonathan Edwards and others Piper finally saw that “I must pursue joy in God if I am to glorify Him as the surpassingly valuable Reality in the universe.”
So through looking at Conversion, Worship, Love, Scripture, Prayer, Money, Marriage, Missions and Suffering, John Piper seeks to show that “the chief end [purpose] of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever” and that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
This brief overview cannot do the book justice. Piper does not avoid the hard questions. The chapter on Suffering is a real challenge to the comfortable Christianity of much of the Western Church. Occasionally Piper seems to stretch a point or over-complicate, and you might need to re-read the odd paragraph to get the argument, but these are small points. Overall the book creates a desire, at least in me, to pursue knowledge of God, delight in God and the glory of God more and more, which leads to the most radical Christian discipleship.
As a musician and “worship leader” (although I think only the Holy Spirit can truly lead us in Worship) I find Piper’s writing always creates excitement in me to see God worshipped and glorified in my life and in the Church. I cannot recommend this book too highly.