Desiring God by John Piper
Christian Hedonism is much aware that every day with Jesus is not
“sweeter than the day before.” Some days with Jesus our disposition is
sour. Some days with Jesus, we are so sad we feel our heart will break
open. Some days with Jesus, we are so depressed and discouraged that between
the garage and the house we just want to sit down on the grass and cry.
Every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the day before. We know it from
experience and we know it from Scripture. For David says in Psalm 19:7, “The
law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” If every day with Jesus were
sweeter than the day before, if life were a steady ascent with no dips in our affection for God, we wouldn’t need to be re-vived.
In another place, David extolls the Lord with similar words: “He leads me
beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2–3). This means David must
have had bad days.
There were days when his soul needed to be restored. It’s the same phrase
used in Psalm 19:7: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” Normal
Christian life is a repeated process of restoration and renewal. Our joy is not
static. It fluctuates with real life. It is vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.
When Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:24, “Not that we lord it over your faith,
but we work with you for your joy,” we should emphasize it this way: “We work
with you for your joy.” The preservation of our joy in God takes work. It is a
fight. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8),
and he has an insatiable appetite to destroy one thing: the joy of faith. But the
Holy Spirit has given us a sword called the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17) for
the defense of our joy.
Or, to change the image, when Satan huffs and puffs and tries to blow out
the flame of our joy, we have an endless supply of kindling in the Word of God.
Even on days when every cinder in our soul feels cold, if we crawl to the Word
of God and cry out for ears to hear, the cold ashes will be lifted and the tiny
spark of life will be fanned. For “the law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the
soul.” The Bible is the kindling of Christian Hedonism.
My aim in this chapter is to help you wear the sword of the Spirit, the
Word of God, and wield it to preserve your joy in God. There are three steps we
need to climb together:
First, we need to know why we accept the Bible as the reliable Word of
Second, we need to see the benefits and power of Scripture and how it
kindles our joy.
Third, we need to hear a practical challenge to renew our daily meditation
in the Word of God and to bind that sword so closely around our waist that we
are never without it.
HOW TRUSTWORTHY IS THE BIBLE?
Almost everybody in the world would agree that if the one and true God has
spoken, then people who ignore His Word can have no lasting happiness. But
not everyone really believes that the Bible is the Word of the living God. Nor
should someone believe it without sufficient reasons.
Some who read this book will share my persuasion that the Bible is the
Word of God. They will want to get on with the use of it. Others will be struggling
with whether to give the Bible such a powerful place in their lives. They
may want to hear me give a reasonable account of my persuasion. I feel deeply
the duty to honor this request for the ground of my confidence in Scripture. So
I have added appendix 2, “Is the Bible a Reliable Guide to Lasting Joy?” I hope
it will help some to stand confidently on the Scriptures as the very Word of
If our quest for lasting happiness is to succeed, we must seek it in relationship
with our Creator. We can do that only by listening to His Word. This we
have in the Bible. And the best news of all is that what God has said in His
book is the kindling of Christian Hedonism.
THE BENEFITS AND POWER OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
In the Bible are many confirmations that its purpose is to kindle, and not kill,
our joy. We find them when we set our sights on the benefits of Scripture,
which sustain and deepen our true happiness.
The Bible Is Your Life
Moses says in Deuteronomy 32:46–47, “Take to heart all the words by which I
am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that
they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for
you, but your very life.” The Word of God is not a trifle; it is a matter of life and
death. If you treat the Scriptures as a trifle or as empty words, you forfeit life.
Even our physical life depends on God’s Word, because by His Word we
were created (Psalm 33:6; Hebrews 11:3) and “He upholds the universe by
the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). Our spiritual life begins by the Word
of God: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (James
1:18). “You have been born again…through the living and abiding word of
God” (1 Peter 1:23).
Not only do we begin to live by God’s Word, but we also go on living by
God’s Word: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes
from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). Our physical life is
created and upheld by the Word of God, and our spiritual life is quickened and
sustained by the Word of God.
How many stories could be gathered to bear witness to the life-giving power
of the Word of God! Consider the story of “Little Bilney, an early English
Reformer born in 1495. He studied law and was outwardly rigorous in his
efforts at religion. But there was no life within. Then he happened to receive a
Latin translation of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament. Here is what happened:
I chanced upon this sentence of St. Paul (O most sweet and comfortable
sentence to my soul!) in 1 Timothy 1: “It is a true saying, and worthy
of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to
save sinners; of whom I am the chief and principal.” This one sentence,
through God’s instruction and inward working, which I did not then
perceive, did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the
guilt of my sins, and being almost in despair, that…immediately
I…felt a marvelous comfort and quietness, in so much that “my
bruised bones leaped for joy.” After this, the Scriptures began to be
more pleasant to me than the honey or the honeycomb.1
Indeed, the Bible is “no empty word for you”—it is your life! The foundation
of all joy is life. Nothing is more fundamental than sheer existence—our
creation and our preservation. All this is owing to the Word of God’s power. By
that same power, He has spoken in Scripture for the creation and sustenance of
our spiritual life. Therefore, the Bible is no empty word, but is your very life—
the kindling of your joy!
Faith Comes by Hearing
The Word of God begets and sustains spiritual life because it begets and sustains
faith: “These are written,” John says, “so that you may believe that Jesus
is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his
name” (John 20:31). “Faith comes from hearing,” writes the apostle Paul,
“and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The faith that
starts our life in Christ and by which we go on living comes from hearing the
Word of God.
1. From a letter cited in Norman Anderson, God’s Word for God’s World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1981), 25.
And there is no true joy without faith: “May the God of hope fill you
with all joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). “I know that I shall abide
and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith” (Philippians
1:25, KJV). How else can we sustain our joy in dark hours except by the
promises of God’s Word that He will work it all together for our good
A great testimony to the power of the Word to beget and sustain faith is
found in the story of the conversion and execution of Tokichi Ichii—a man
who was hanged for murder in Tokyo in 1918. He had been sent to prison
more than twenty times and was known for being as cruel as a tiger. On one
occasion, after attacking a prison official, he was gagged and bound, and his
body was suspended in such a way that his toes barely reached the ground. But
he stubbornly refused to say he was sorry for what he had done.
Just before being sentenced to death, Tokichi was sent a New Testament by
two Christian missionaries, Miss West and Miss McDonald. After a visit from
Miss West, he began to read the story of Jesus’ trial and execution. His attention
was riveted by the sentence “Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not
what they do.’” This sentence transformed his life.
I stopped: I was stabbed to the heart, as if by a five-inch nail. What did
the verse reveal to me? Shall I call it the love of the heart of Christ?
Shall I call it His compassion? I do not know what to call it. I only
know that with an unspeakably grateful heart I believed.
Tokichi was sentenced to death and accepted it as “the fair, impartial judgment
of God.” Now the Word that had brought him to faith also sustained his
faith in an amazing way. Near the end, Miss West directed him to the words of
2 Corinthians 6:8–10 concerning the suffering of the righteous. The words
moved him very deeply, and he wrote:
“As sorrowing, yet always rejoicing.” People will say that I must have a
very sorrowful heart because I am daily awaiting the execution of the
death sentence. This is not the case. I feel neither sorrow nor distress
nor any pain. Locked up in a prison cell six feet by nine in size I am
infinitely happier than I was in the days of my sinning when I did not
know God. Day and night…I am talking with Jesus Christ.
“As poor, yet making many rich.” This certainly does not apply to
the evil life I led before I repented. But perhaps in the future, someone
in the world may hear that the most desperate villain that ever lived
repented of his sins and was saved by the power of Christ, and so may
come to repent also. Then it may be that though I am poor myself, I
shall be able to make many rich.
The Word sustained him to the end, and on the scaffold, with great humility
and earnestness, he uttered his last words, “My soul, purified, today returns to
the City of God.”2
Faith is born and sustained by the Word of God, and out of faith grows the
flower of joy.
God Supplies the Spirit Through the Hearing of Faith
We are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit: “Do not get drunk with
wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
How does the Spirit come? In Galatians 3:2, Paul asks, “Did you receive the
Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” The answer, of course, is
“by hearing with faith.” Hearing what? The Word of God!
The Spirit inspired the Word and therefore goes where the Word goes. The
more of God’s Word you know and love, the more of God’s Spirit you will experience. Instead of drinking wine, we should drink the Spirit. How? By setting
our minds on the things of the Spirit: “Those who live according to the Spirit
set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).
What are the things of the Spirit? When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14,
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit,” he was referring to
2. The story is recounted in Ibid., 38–41.
his own Spirit-inspired teachings (2:13). Therefore, above all, the teachings of
Scripture are the “things of the Spirit.” We drink in the Spirit by setting our
minds on the things of the Spirit, namely, the Word of God. And the fruit of
the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22).
The Scriptures Give Hope
Sometimes faith and hope are virtual synonyms in Scripture: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). Without this hope for the future, we get discouraged and depressed, and our joy drains away. Hope is absolutely
essential to Christian joy: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering
produces…hope” (Romans 5:3–4).
And how do we maintain hope? The psalmist puts it like this: “He established
a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded
our fathers to teach to their children…so that they should set their hope in God”
(Psalm 78:5, 7). In other words, the “testimony” and the “law”—the Word of
God—are kindling for the hope of our children.
Paul puts it so plainly: “Whatever was written in former days was written
for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of
the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The whole Bible has this
aim and this power: to create hope in the hearts of God’s people. And when
hope abounds, the heart is filled with joy.
The Truth Shall Make You Free
Another essential element of joy is freedom. None of us would be happy if we
were not free from what we hate and free for what we love. And where do we
find true freedom? Psalm 119:45 says, “I shall walk in freedom, for I sought
your precepts” (author’s translation). The picture is one of open spaces. The
Word frees us from smallness of mind (1 Kings 4:29) and from threatening confinements (Psalm 18:19).
Jesus says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John
8:32). The freedom He has in mind is freedom from the slavery of sin (v. 34).
Or, to put it positively, it is freedom for holiness. The promises of God’s grace
provide the power that makes the demands of God’s holiness an experience of
freedom rather than fear. Peter described the freeing power of God’s promises
like this: “Through [His precious and very great promises] you may become
partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the
world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4). In other words, when we trust the
promises of God, we sever the root of corruption by the power of a superior
Therefore we should pray for each other the way Jesus prays for us in John
17:17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” There is no abiding joy
without holiness, for the Scripture says, “Strive…for the holiness without which
no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). How important, then, is the truth
that sanctifies! How crucial is the Word that breaks the power of counterfeit
pleasures! And how vigilant we should be to light our paths and load our hearts
with the Word of God! “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”
(Psalm 119:105). “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin
against you” (v. 11; cf. v. 9).
The Testimony of the Lord Makes Wise the Simple
Of course, the Bible does not answer every question about life. Not every fork in
the road has a biblical arrow. We need wisdom to know the path of lasting joy.
But that, too, is a gift of Scripture: “The testimony of the LORD is sure, making
wise the simple.… The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the
eyes” (Psalm 19:7–8; cf. 119:18). People whose minds are saturated with God’s
Word and submissive to His thoughts have a wisdom that in eternity will prove
superior to all the secular wisdom in the world: “Happy is the man who finds
wisdom, and the man who gets understanding” (Proverbs 3:13, RSV).
Written That You Might Have Assurance
Nevertheless, our perverted will and imperfect perceptions lead us time and
again into foolish acts and harmful situations. The day this happens is not
sweeter than the day before, and we need restoration and comfort. Where can
we turn for comfort? We can follow the psalmist again: “This is my comfort in
my affliction that thy promise gives me life.… When I think of thy ordinances
from of old, I take comfort, O LORD” (Psalm 119:50, 52, RSV).
And when our failures and our afflictions threaten our assurance of faith,
where do we turn to rebuild our confidence? John invites us to turn to the Word
of God: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God
that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). The Bible is written
to give us assurance of eternal life.
The Evil One Is Overcome by the Word of God
Satan’s number-one objective is to destroy our joy of faith. We have one offensive
weapon: the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). But
what many Christians fail to realize is that we can’t draw the sword from someone
else’s scabbard. If we don’t wear it, we can’t wield it. If the Word of God
does not abide in us (John 15:7), we will reach for it in vain when the enemy
strikes. But if we do wear it, if it lives within us, what mighty warriors we can
be! “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God
abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14).
This has been the secret of God’s great spiritual warriors. They have saturated
themselves with the Word of God. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China
Inland Mission, sustained himself through incredible hardships by a disciplined
meditation on the Bible every day. Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor give us a
glimpse of this discipline:
It was not easy for Mr. Taylor in his changeful life, to make time for
prayer and Bible study, but he knew that it was vital. Well do the writers
remember traveling with him month after month in northern
China, by cart and wheelbarrow with the poorest of inns at night.
Often with only one large room for coolies and travelers alike, they
would screen off a corner for their father and another for themselves,
with curtains of some sort; and then, after sleep at last had brought a
measure of quiet, they would hear a match struck and see the flicker of
candlelight which told that Mr. Taylor, however weary, was poring over
the little Bible in two volumes always at hand. From two to four A.M.
was the time he usually gave to prayer; the time he could be most sure
of being undisturbed to wait upon God.3
The Sword of the Spirit is full of victory. But how few will give themselves
to the deep and disciplined exercise of soul to take it up and wield it with joy
An Earnest Exhortation
So the Bible is the Word of God. And the Word of God is no trifle. It is the
source of life and faith and power and hope and freedom and wisdom and comfort
and assurance and victory over our greatest enemy. Is it any wonder then
that those who knew best said, “The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the
heart” (Psalm 19:8)? “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word”
(119:16). “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97). “Your
testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart” (v. 111).
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name” (Jeremiah 15:16).
But are we to pursue this joy like Christian Hedonists? Are we to throw the
kindling of God’s Word every day on the fire of joy? Indeed, we are! Not only
every day, but day and night: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel
of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and
night” (Psalm 1:1–2). This delight is the very design of our Lord in speaking to
us: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your
joy may be full” (John 15:11). Not to pursue our joy every day in the Word of
God is to abandon the revealed will of God. It is sin.
Oh, that we might not treat the Bible as a trifle! If we do, we oppose ourselves
and despise the saints who labored and suffered for the Word of God.
Think of the courage of Martin Luther as he stood before the secular and eccle-
3. Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Chicago: Moody, n. d., orig. 1932), 235.
siastical rulers of his day, who had the power to banish and even to execute him
for his views of the Word of God. The Archbishop of Trier poses Luther the
question one last time: “Do you or do you not repudiate yours books and the
errors which they contain?”
Since, then, Your Majesty and Your Lordships desire a simple reply, I
will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by
Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and
councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive
to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to
go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do
otherwise. God help me.4
Luther disappeared abruptly after the edict of his condemnation was
released. The great artist Albrecht Dürer reflected in his diary:
I know not whether he lives or is murdered, but in any case he has suffered
for the Christian truth. If we lose this man, who has written more
clearly than any other in centuries, may God grant his spirit to
another.… O God, if Luther is dead, who will henceforth explain to us
the gospel? What might he not have written for us in the next ten or
He was not dead. And he did keep writing—for another twenty-five years.
And along with many other bold Reformers, he recovered for us the Word of
God from the bondage of ecclesiastical tradition. Oh, that we might wield it the
way they did! For them it was such a mighty sword against the enemy!
Martin Luther knew as well as any man that every day with Jesus is not
4. Quoted in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (New York: Mentor, 1950), 144.
5. Ibid., 149.
sweeter than the day before. And according to his biographer, Roland Bainton,
he wrote these famous lines in the year of his deepest depression:
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him—
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure:
One little word shall fell him.
TO WIELD IT, WE MUST WEAR IT
But if we intend to wield it, we must wear it. We must be like Ezra: “The good
hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the
LORD, and to do it and to teach his statues and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:9–10).
And we must get a heart like the saint who wrote the great love song to the law
in Psalm 119: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97).
Let us labor to memorize the Word of God—for worship and for warfare. If we
do not carry it in our heads, we cannot savor it in our hearts or wield it in the
Spirit. If you go out without the kindling of Christian Hedonism, the fire of
Christian happiness will be quenched before midmorning.
HOW GEORGE MÜLLER STARTED HIS DAY
I close this chapter with a testimony from a great man of prayer and faith.
George Müller (1805–1898) is famous for establishing orphanages in England
and for joyfully depending on God for all his needs. How did he kindle this joy
and faith? In 1841 he made a life-changing discovery. The testimony of this
from his autobiography has proved to be of tremendous value in my life, and I
pray that it will also bear fruit in yours:
While I was staying at Nailsworth, it pleased the Lord to teach me a
truth, irrespective of human instrumentality, as far as I know, the benefit
of which I have not lost, though now…more than forty years have
since passed away.
The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great
and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have
my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was
not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord;
but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner
man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the
unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve
the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it
becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the
Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day
by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit.
Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously,
as an habitual thing, to give myself to prayer, after having dressed
in the morning. Now I saw, that the most important thing I had to do
was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation
on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged,
warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, whilst meditating, my
heart might be brought into experimental, communion with the Lord.
I began therefore, to meditate on the New Testament, from the beginning,
early in the morning.
The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s
blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the
Word of God; searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessing out
of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word; not for the
sake or preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of
obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found to be almost
invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to
confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so
that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation,
yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.
When thus I have been for awhile making confession, or intercession,
or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or
verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the
Word may lead to it; but still continually keeping before me, that food
for my own soul is the object of my meditation. The result of this is,
that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication,
or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner
man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened and
that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not
happy state of heart. Thus also the Lord is pleased to communicate
unto me that which, very soon after, I have found to become food for
other believers, though it was not for the sake of the public ministry of
the Word that I gave myself to meditation, but for the profit of my
own inner man.
The difference between my former practice and my present one is
this. Formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible, and
generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer, or almost all the
time. At all events I almost invariably began with prayer.… But what
was the result? I often spent a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, or
even an hour on my knees, before being conscious to myself of having
derived comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etc.; and often
after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten
minutes, or a quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then
began really to pray.
I scarcely ever suffer now in this way. For my heart being nourished
by the truth, being brought into experimental fellowship with
God, I speak to my Father, and to my Friend (vile though I am, and
unworthy of it!) about the things that He has brought before me in His
It often now astonished me that I did not sooner see this. In no
book did I ever read about it. No public ministry ever brought the matter
before me. No private intercourse with a brother stirred me up to
this matter. And yet now, since God has taught me this point, it is as
plain to me as anything, that the first thing the child of God has to do
morning by morning is to obtain food for his inner man.
As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time,
except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the
morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for
that, as every one must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man:
not prayer, but the Word of God: and here again not the simple reading
of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as
water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering
over it, and applying it to our hearts.…
I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual
profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it
myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow-believers
to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode
the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace
through deeper trials in various ways than I had ever had before; and
after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in
the fear of God, commend it. How different when the soul is refreshed
and made happy early in the morning, from what is when, without
spiritual preparation, the service, the trials and the temptations of the
day come upon one!6
6. Autobiography of George Müller, comp. Fred Bergen (London: J. Nisbet, 1906), 152–4.
“Until now you have asked nothing in my name.
Ask, and you will receive,
that your joy may be full.”
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door
and pray to your Father who is in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!