Desiring God by John Piper
“There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious.”
C. S. LEWIS
The Last Battle
This is a serious book about being happy in God. It’s about happiness
because that is what our Creator commands: “Delight yourself in the
LORD” (Psalm 37:4). And it is serious because, as Jeremy Taylor said,
“God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.”
The heroes of this book are Jesus Christ, who “endured the cross for the joy
that was set before him”; and St. Paul, who was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”;
and Jonathan Edwards, who deeply savored the sweet sovereignty of God; and
C. S. Lewis, who knew that the Lord “finds our desires not too strong but too
weak”; and all the missionaries who have left everything for Christ and in the
end said, “I never made a sacrifice.”
Seventeen years have passed since Desiring God first appeared. The significance
of a truth is judged in part by whether over time it has transforming
power in very different circumstances. What about the message of this
book? Since its first edition in 1986, my body has passed from a forty-yearold
body to a fifty-seven-year-old body. My marriage has advanced from a
seventeen-year-old marriage to a thirty-four-year-old marriage. My pastorate at
Bethlehem Baptist Church has persisted from six years to almost twenty-three
years. My oldest son has grown from thirteen and single to thirty and married,
making me a grandfather twice over. In a few months all of our four sons will be
out of the teenage years. In 1986 there were no daughters. Now there is Talitha
Ruth, whom we adopted at nine weeks in December of 1995.
In other words, things have changed. But not my commitment to the message
of this book. It is my life. That God is most glorified in me when I am most
satisfied in Him continues to be a spectacular and precious truth in my mind
and heart. It has sustained me into my second half-century, and I do not doubt
that it will carry me Home.
I have added a chapter called “Suffering: The Sacrifice of Christian
Hedonism.” The reason is partly biblical, partly global, and partly autobiographical.
Biblically, it is plain that God has appointed suffering for all His children:
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts
14:22). “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”
(2 Timothy 3:12).
Globally, it is increasingly plain that a bold stand for the uniqueness of
Christ crucified, not to mention the finishing of the great commission among
hostile peoples, will cost the church suffering and martyrs. The post-9/11 world
is marked with terror. If Christian Hedonism is to have any credibility, it must
give an account of itself in this world of fear and suffering. Increasingly, I am
drawn to the apostle’s experience described in the words “sorrowful, yet always
rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Autobiographically, the years since the first edition of Desiring God have
been the hardest. The body ages and things go wrong. Marriage, we found,
passes through deep water as husband and wife pass through midlife. We made
it. But we will not diminish the disquietude of those years. We were not
ashamed to seek help. God was good to us. Moving through our sixth decade of
life and our fourth decade of marriage, the roots are deep, the covenant is solid,
the love is sweet. Life is hard and God is good.
The other “marriage” in my life (with Bethlehem Baptist Church) has been
a mingling of heartache and happiness. Can so much devastation and so much
delight coexist in one community and one soul? It can. The apostle Paul spoke a
deep pastoral reality when he said, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and
salvation” (2 Corinthians 1:6). But there is a joy without which pastors cannot
profit their people (Hebrews 13:17). Mercifully, God has preserved it for
twenty-two years. And the truth of this book has been His means.
During these seventeen years since Desiring God first appeared, I have been
testing it and applying its vision in connection with more of life and ministry and
God. The more I do so, the more persuaded I become that it will bear all the
weight I can put on it.1 The more I reflect and the more I minister and the more
I live, the more all-encompassing the vision of God and life in this book becomes.
The older I get, the more I am persuaded that Nehemiah 8:10 is crucial for
living and dying well: “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” As we grow older
and our bodies weaken, we must learn from the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter
(who died in 1691) to redouble our efforts to find strength from spiritual joy,
not natural supplies. He prayed, “May the Living God, who is the portion and
rest of the saints, make these our carnal minds so spiritual, and our earthly
hearts so heavenly, that loving him, and delighting in him, may be the work of our
lives.”2 When delighting in God is the work of our lives (which I call Christian
Hedonism), there will be an inner strength for ministries of love to the very end.
J. I. Packer described this dynamic in Baxter’s life: “The hope of heaven
brought him joy, and joy brought him strength, and so, like John Calvin before
him and George Whitefield after him (two verifiable examples) and, it would
seem, like the apostle Paul himself…he was astoundingly enabled to labor on,
accomplishing more than would ever have seemed possible in a single lifetime.”3
1. If you wish, you can test this for yourself by consulting the books in which I have tried to apply the vision of this book to the nature of God (The Pleasures of God, Multnomah, 2000); the gravity and gladness of preaching (The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Baker, 1990); the power and the price of world evangelization (Let the Nations Be Glad, Baker, 2003); the meaning of marriage (What’s the Difference?
Crossway, 1990); the daily battle against unbelief and sin (The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace, Multnomah, 1995); the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer (A Hunger for God, Crossway, 1997), a hundred practical issues in life and culture (A Godward Life, Books One and Two, Multnomah, 1997, 1999), and the radical call to pastoral ministry (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, Broadman & Holman, 2002).
2. Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1978), 17, emphasis added.
3. J. I. Packer, “Richard Baxter on Heaven, Hope and Holiness,” in Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality, ed. J. I. Packer and Loren Wilkinson (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992), 165.
But not only does the pursuit of joy in God give strength to endure; it is the
key to breaking the power of sin on our way to heaven. Matthew Henry,
another Puritan pastor, put it like this: “The joy of the Lord will arm us against
the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those
pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”4
This is the great business of life—to “put our mouths out of taste for those
pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.” I know of no other way to
triumph over sin long-term than to gain a distaste for it because of a superior
satisfaction in God. One of the reasons this book is still “working” after seventeen
years is that this truth simply does not and will not change. God remains
gloriously all-satisfying. The human heart remains a ceaseless factory of desires.
Sin remains powerfully and suicidally appealing. The battle remains: Where will
we drink? Where will we feast? Therefore, Desiring God is still a compelling and
urgent message: Feast on God.
I never tire of saying and savoring the truth that God’s passion to be glorified
and our passion to be satisfied are one experience in the Christ-exalting act
of worship—singing in the sanctuary and suffering in the streets. Baxter said it
[God’s] glorifying himself and the saving of his people are not two
decrees with God, but one decree, to glorify his mercy in their salvation,
though we may say that one is the end of the other: so I think
they should be with us together indeed.5
We get the mercy; He gets the glory. We get the happiness in Him; He gets
the honor from us.
If God would be pleased to use this book to raise up one man or woman in
this line of serious and happy saints who inspired it, then those of us who have
rejoiced in the making of this book would delight all the more in the display of
4. Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, n.d., orig. 1708), 1096.
5. Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, abr. John T. Wilkinson (1650; reprint, London: Epworth, 1962), 31.
God’s grace. It has indeed been a happy work. And my heart overflows to many.
Steve Halliday believed in the book from the beginning. If he hadn’t asked
to see the sermons in 1983, there would be no Desiring God.
I remain ever in debt to Daniel Fuller in all I do. It was in his class in 1968
that the seminal discoveries were made. It was from him that I learned how to
dig for gold rather than rake for leaves when I take up the Scriptures. He
remains a treasured friend and teacher.
Carol Steinbach was willing again to tackle the indexes and give the book
her sharp editorial attention. I do not take the constancy of friendships for
The church that I love and serve heard the chapters in sermon form back in
1983. Of course the length has quadrupled since then. And they have not
begrudged my labor! The partnership that I enjoy with the elders and staff is
priceless. There is a chapter yet to be written. It is called “The Camaraderie of
Christian Hedonism.” May the Spirit Himself write it on the tablets of our
More than anyone else, under God, this new edition is owing to the labor
of Justin Taylor, who works side by side with me in Desiring God Ministries.
Justin combed the entire manuscript, making hundreds of suggestions for corrections,
updates, additions, subtractions, and clarifications. I could not have
done this without his help. And, lest it go unsaid from being obvious, nothing
happens without Noël. She supports in so many ways that I lean on her like
gravity and oxygen. We should give thanks for these more often.
Finally, a word to my father. The dedicatory words I wrote in 1986 are still
true seventeen years later. I look back through forty-five years and see mother at
the dinner table, laughing so hard that the tears run down her face. She was a
very happy woman. But especially when you came home on Monday. You had
been gone two weeks. Or sometimes three or four. She would glow on Monday
mornings when you were coming home.
At the dinner table that night (these were the happiest of times in my
memory) we would hear about the victories of the gospel. Surely it is more
exciting to be the son of an evangelist than to sit with knights and warriors. As I
grew older, I saw more of the wounds. But you spared me most of that until I
was mature enough to “count it all joy.” Holy and happy were those Monday
meals. Oh, how good it was to have you home!
“It was good of you to look for Quentin.”
“Good!” she exclaimed. “Good! O Anthony!”
“Well, so it was,” he answered. “Or good in you.
How accurate one has to be with one’s prepositions!
Perhaps it was a preposition wrong that set the whole world awry.”
The Place of the Lion