Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Word For Christian Hedonists

If you are a Christian hedonist, like I am, you believe that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him. You believe that joy is not peripheral in the life of the Christian. As John Piper would say, "It is not icing on the cake of the Christian life." Instead, it is the substance of our lives as Christians. The essence of the Christian life is joy in Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Philippians 4:4
Paul's command, and the frequency with which we are to keep it, is quite clear. But listen to God Himself speak to His covenant people in the Old Testament about the consequences of not rejoicing in Him:
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whome the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.
Deuteronomy 28:47, 48
As Jeremy Taylor, the 17th century minister in the Church of England says, "God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy in Him."

For me, what naturally follows from believing this biblical truth is that joy in God is the ultimate goal of all of my life because this is what it means to seek His highest glory, which is the end for which He created the world. And when I say joy, I'm talking about a feeling, an affection, something in my heart and not just my mind. I want the books I read to produce in me greater joy in God. I want my times in the Word to produce in me greater joy in God. I want my prayer times, my times of writing and reflection, fellowship with other believers, sitting under the preaching of the Word, listening to music, and everything under the sun that I do to produce in me ever-increasing affections of joy in and love for God.

But here's the problem. Though pretty regularly the affections are there, often times they are not. And when they are not, it makes me feel like something is wrong. It worries me. I know some will say that there's a difference between joy and happiness, that joy is deep and happiness is more superficial, that joy is constant and happiness is not. But whatever we call it, if we are not seeing ourselves affected with brokenhearted joy or awe-struck joy or sin-defeating joy that produces contentment in our hearts as we encounter the living God especially in communion with Him through prayer and Scripture, this is spiritual numbness that should scare us.

Some of us don't focus on our affections enough. But if you are like me, then often times you will focus on your affections too much. It shouldn't be any surprise, as with most things in the Christian life, that most people probably fall on one end of the spectrum or the other when the goal is to fall in the middle. In his book Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in All Cases and Conditions, Puritan Robert Asty provides this word of tremendous help and encouragement to those who, like me, are tempted to focus too much on their affections as they seek to rejoice in the Lord Jesus continually:
Darkness of evidence [of our fellowship with Christ] sometimes arises from peremptory [final, decisive] conclusions as to our state, upon the reports that sense makes when we look at our feelings.
The reason for our darkness [lack of evidence] is that we lay the stress of our condition upon sense, and upon what we can feel in ourselves, and not upon a simple venture upon Christ Jesus; not upon a gospel-throw upon Christ Jesus, whatever be the issue. The soul goes to its feelings, and makes a judgment of its state upon and from them. When a man can find his heart warmed for Christ, when he can find his spirit under any gospel enlargement for Christ, when he can find his graces begin to grow and thrive, and when he can find speedy returns made unto all his seekings after the Lord, then he concludes, "Now all is well; here is an interest, and behold the fruits of it." But now, when the soul's graces are a little clouded, when he misses that enlargement which sometimes he has experienced, when he comes under some difficulty, and when Jesus Christ is for a while silent unto his prayers, why, then, he concludes against himself: "Oh, there is no interest! Why, if I were in Christ Jesus it would be otherwise in me. Christ would answer me, Christ would enlarge me, and Christ would heighten and brighten my graces. Chris would not leave me in such an uncomfortable condition. He would fill me, lift me up, and set me on high! Oh, surely there is nothing of truth and reality that has passed upon my soul!"
Now, Christians, while you draw up peremptory [final, decisive] conclusions as to your state, upon the reports of sense in your hearts, you will never come to be settled and established while you are in this world. Conclusions drawn from changeable, mutable principles will never be relieving or comforting to you (Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in All Cases and Conditions, p.90-91).

Because, even after conversion:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9
So I think the key to rejoicing in the Lord Jesus always is not to focus on our rejoicing always, but to focus on the Lord Jesus, His person and His work, always. And by God's grace, the rejoicing will soon follow.

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