– Seeing the Measure of This Mighty Weapon –
When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper
The fundamental reason that the Word of God is essential to joy in
God is that God reveals himself mainly by his Word. And seeing
this revelation of God is the foundation of our joy. As it was in the days
of Samuel, so it is today: “The LORD appeared . . . at Shiloh, for the
LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD”
(1 Sam. 3:21). When it says, “The LORD appeared,” it says something
amazing. God was seen not with the eyes of the head, but with the eyes
of the heart, for God is “the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only
God” (1 Tim. 1:17). And though it may seem strange, this seeing at
Shiloh happened “by the word of the LORD.” As the Word was heard,
the Lord was seen. In the hearing was the seeing. The spiritual hearing
of God’s Word becomes the spiritual seeing of God’s glory.
HOW IS GOD SEEN TODAY?
So it is in the gospel today. Paul says that becoming a Christian means
“seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). The
gospel is news about the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
It is a word to be heard. And in this hearing there is something to be seen:
“The light . . . of the glory of Christ.” In the hearing is the seeing. The Lord
opens the eyes of the heart to see the glory of Christ in the Word. God has
chosen in this age to reveal himself to the world mainly through the incarnate
Word, Jesus Christ, by means of the written Word, the Bible.2
The reason this is so crucial in the fight for joy is that God himself is
the ultimate object of our enjoyment. But God “reveals himself . . . by the
word.” Oh, how precious is the Bible! Here is where we see God most
clearly and most surely. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and grants us to see
the beauty of Christ (Matt. 16:17; Acts 16:14). If there were no Bible, there
would be no lasting joy. Even those who yet have no Bible in their language
depend on the Bible for the Christ-revealing, saving knowledge of God.
God can and does show himself in other ways, especially through
the works of believers (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12; 1 Cor. 12:7). But none
of them reveals God with the clarity and fullness of the Bible. All of them
orbit around the sun of God’s written Word. And if the central gravitational
power of the sun is denied, all the planets fly into confusion.
To be sure, in the fight for joy we will not kneel forever over our
Bibles. We will get up and walk with Jesus onto the Calvary road. And
there, in the risks and the afflictions of love, we will see the Jesus of the
Word in the manifestations of power. This too is part of our joy.
Sometimes it will be extraordinary, miraculous power. More often it will
be the supernatural grace of self-denying sacrifice, unwavering faith, and
the conversion of sinners into lovers of Christ. In all this we will see the
Lord and rejoice. But all these manifestations of Christ would be vague
and blurry without the written Word to guide our understanding and
guard our hearts. We need the Word of God not only to see God in the
Word, but to see him rightly anywhere else.
ADMITTING THE SIN OF RELUCTANCE TO READ THE BIBLE
A thousand interesting things compete for our attention to the Word of
God. I confess that after fifty years of loving and reading and memorizing
Scripture, I can be lured away from appointed times in the Word by
something as insignificant as a new computer device. The illusory pleasure
of newness can temporarily trump the far superior benefits of keeping
my appointment with the Word of God.
This is evidence in me of what Paul calls indwelling sin (Rom. 7:17,
20, 23). It is part of the remaining corruption lingering after the death
of the old self (Rom. 6:6). I am not proud of it. It grieves me. At times
it frightens me. It is part of the reason I speak so much of the fight for
joy. I know this sinful inclination must be fought to the death. It is this
fight Paul has in mind when he says, “Put to death therefore what is
earthly in you” (Col. 3:5). We will speak shortly about how the Word
helps us do that. But first we must fight just to keep our appointments
with the Word.
One of the ways we can fight against the inclinations that lure us
from the Word of God to computers or television or any other substitute
pleasure is to remind ourselves often of the immeasurable and superior
benefits of the Word of God in our lives. We must put the evidence
before us that reading, pondering, memorizing, and studying the Bible
will yield more joy in this life and the next than all the things that lure
us from it.
There are many different reasons why the Bible has this joyproducing
effect. I don’t want to minimize this diversity or belittle the
range of benefits that the Bible has in our lives—more than any of us
realizes. But I want to stress that ultimately, in and through all its benefits,
the Bible leads us to superior and lasting joy because it leads us to
Christ, especially to see his glory and enjoy his fellowship. All the varied
benefits are beneficial finally because they show us and bring us more
of Christ to enjoy.
SEEING THE WORTH OF SCRIPTURE
In this chapter, then, consider with me just ten of these benefits, and as
you read them, ask God to give you eyes to see the worth of Scripture
and to waken in you an unyielding desire for the Word of God. This is
a fight for joy, and the weapon in this chapter is a fresh sight of how the
worth of God’s Word surpasses all things on this earth.
1. The Word of God awakens and strengthens faith.
The Holy Spirit does not awaken and strengthen faith apart from
the Word of God. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the
word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The reason for this is that the Spirit has
been sent into the world to glorify Christ. But Christ would not be glorified
if the Spirit wakened faith in the absence of the revelation of the
glory of Christ in the gospel.
“When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus said, “he will glorify me”
(John 16:13-14). If the Spirit brought us to faith in the absence of the
proclamation of Christ in his Word, our faith would not be in Christ,
and he would not be honored. Therefore the Spirit binds his faithwakening
ministry to the Christ-exalting Word. Which means that
when we go to the Word of Christ, we put ourselves in the path of the
Spirit’s willingness to reveal Christ to us and strengthen our faith. And
in this faith is the taste and the seed of all our joy. Therefore, the Word
that wakens our faith works for our joy.
2. Through hearing the Word, God supplies the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God produces both a subconscious influence bringing
us to faith, and a conscious experience of power and personal fellowship
that come through that very faith. This explains two things: 1) This
is why the Bible can speak of the Spirit blowing where he wills and having
merciful effects in our lives before we were able to choose them (John
3:6-8; 6:36, 44, 65). In other words, by his unconscious influence he
works in us to enable us to hear and welcome the Word. And 2) this is
also why the Bible speaks of the Spirit coming through our hearing the
Word of God. In other words, conscious fellowship with the Spirit is
given when we hear the Word of God with faith.
Thus Paul says in Galatians 3:5, “Does he who supplies the Spirit
to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by
hearing with faith?” The answer, of course, is “by hearing with faith.”
Notice the word hearing. It implies that words have been spoken. Paul
has preached the Word of God. Now he reminds them: “Hearing that
Word with faith was the means by which the Spirit was given to you.”
So the Spirit comes (unconsciously) before we trust him and thus enables
us to believe in God’s Word; and the Spirit comes (consciously) in
response to our trusting him and gives us the conscious experience of
his fellowship through God’s Word—the experience Paul calls “the joy
of the Holy Spirit.” “You received the word . . . with the joy of the Holy
Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6).
This remains true even after we become Christians and have the
Holy Spirit in us. If we want more of the Spirit of God, we must hear
more of the Word of God with faith. We must hear his promises, see
their blood-bought certainty, value their goodness, and bank on them.
That is the way God supplies more of his Spirit. The command in
Ephesians 5:18-19, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” is parallel with the command
in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching
and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and
hymns and spiritual songs.” Being filled with the Word of Christ and
being filled with the Spirit of Christ are almost the same, because the
Spirit comes with joy where the Word is embraced with faith.
In other words, not only does the first act of faith come by hearing,
but all subsequent acts of faith come by hearing. And since God supplies
his Spirit through this “hearing with faith,” the fullness of the Spirit
comes by the ongoing hearing of the Word of God. And when the Spirit
comes, he comes to make much of Jesus. Which means he comes to
ignite joy in our hearts over the glory of Jesus. Which means the Word
of God is worth more than anything this world can offer.
3. The Word of God creates and sustains life.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”
(John 10:10). To that end he taught many things, and then gave his life
so that we might have life, eternal and abundant. We are born again into
new life by the Word of God. “You have been born again, not of perishable
seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word
of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you”
(1 Pet. 1:23-25). God makes the preaching of the gospel the occasion for
creating new life in the soul of man. “The words that I have spoken to
you,” Jesus said, “are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Therefore when John
had finished recording the words and works of Jesus in his Gospel he
said, “These are written so that you may . . . have life in his name” (John
20:31). The words of John’s Gospel—and all the Scriptures—lead to life.
Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word
that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Oh, how easily we are
deceived into thinking that better life, or more life, comes from things that
lure us from the Word. But, in fact, it is the Word itself that gives us life
abundantly. The life we get from bread is fragile and short. The life we
get from the Word is firm and lasts forever. That life is created and kept
by the Word of God. And with that life comes the light of life, by which
we see the glory of Christ. “With you is the fountain of life; in your light
do we see light” (Ps. 36:9). Or as Jesus said, “Whoever follows me . . .
will have the light of life” (John 8:12). In other words, the life that comes
from the Word is a life of joy, because the Word brings us from the darkness
of impending sorrow to the light of the glory of Christ.
4. The Word of God gives hope.
In more ways than we can imagine the Word of God gives and
strengthens our hope. We get a glimpse of how many ways the Bible
gives hope when we hear Paul’s astonishing assessment of the Old
Testament alone: “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” (Rom. 15:4). Not just part of the
Old Testament, but all of it—“whatever was written in former days”—
was written with the divine design to give us hope.
One of the things this teaches us is that we have not begun to know
all the ways it is possible to get hope. We have very small experience in
life compared to God’s wisdom. There are a thousand ways that God
has designed to give us hope. Most of them we have not yet tasted or
even conceived. Yet how often we murmur that the few proven ways we
get hope are missing! We do not realize that there are ways to get hope
that we have never thought of. How small-minded of us in our hopelessness
to look at our closed Bible and say, “What I need is _____, and
this is not in the Bible.” How do we know we need ______ and not some
utterly unexpected hope that the Bible will awaken in us when we read
it in faith?
Indeed, we may lack hope because we think we need something we
do not need. It may take the Word of God to show us what we really
need, and then to give us the power to get it. In the end what we really
need is Christ. He is the sum of all our hopes. Paul commends the
Thessalonians for their “steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”
(1 Thess. 1:3). He says that our “blessed hope [is] the appearing of the
glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). Therefore
we are to “hope in Christ” (Eph. 1:12) and rejoice in the mystery of the
gospel, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
Sometimes what we need from the Bible is not the fulfillment of our
dream, but the swallowing up of our failed dream in the all-satisfying
glory of Christ. We do not always know the path of deepest joy. But all
Scripture is inspired by God to take us there. Therefore Scripture is
worth more than all this world can offer.
5. The Word of God leads us to freedom.
Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”
(John 8:32). The truth of God’s Word works freedom in many ways and
brings joy in all of them. But Jesus signals his focus in verse 34: “Truly,
truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” The freedom
he has in mind here is freedom from the enslaving, destructive effect
of sin. The truth sets us free from this. So Jesus turns this truth into a
prayer in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Sanctify means to make holy, or free from sin.
This freedom is essential in the fight for joy for two reasons. One is
that the guilt of sin would bring down the wrath of God on us if the truth
of the gospel did not set us free from condemnation through the blood
and righteousness of Christ. That’s what we focused on in Chapter Six.
The other reason this freedom is essential in the fight for joy is that
sin so defiles and corrupts our lives that we cannot see or savor what is
best. Therefore, the corruption of sin is a great joy-killer. Jesus said,
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). We
devoted Chapter Five to the way that seeing God functions in the fight
for joy. Here, suffice it to say that the impurity of sin so distorts our perception
that we cannot see God as desirable. Therefore sin makes the
greatest joys impossible.
SIN’S SUBSTITUTE PROMISES: DECEITFUL PLEASURES
Of course, sin provides deceptive substitutes. The Bible calls them
“deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22), because they lie to us about the superiority
of their outcomes. They call sweet sour, and sour sweet. They turn
everything upside down. And those who believe them become more and
more like them. “Their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame,
with minds set on earthly things” (Phil. 3:19). Oh, how many people in
our world glory in their shame and relish poisonous pleasures!
“Deceitful desires” can trick us into feeling that sinful thoughts and
acts will be more satisfying than seeing God. This illusion is so strong it
creates moral confusion, so that people find ways to justify sin as good,
or, if not good, at least permissible. How many marriages have been
destroyed by the self-justifying arguments that flow not from the truth
of God’s Word, but from “deceitful desires”!
Oh, how urgent the battle becomes when the “deceitful desires” are
the strongest. Jesus uses his most violent language for the frontline battle
against deceitful desire. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it
out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members
than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29). Jesus
calls for violence against our own lust because he loves our true and lasting
joy. Sexual desire is one of the most powerful deceivers about where
that joy can be found. Even pastors by the thousand have been turned
into fools who cannot tell their right hand from their left because of a
THE CHRISTIAN “MEAN STREAK” IN SELF-CONTROL
Ed Welch has written powerfully about the “all-out war” demanded
against deceitful desires:
. . . there is a mean streak to authentic self-control. . . . Self-control is
not for the timid. When we want to grow in it, not only do we nurture
an exuberance for Jesus Christ, we also demand of ourselves a
hatred for sin. . . . The only possible attitude toward out-of-control
desire is a declaration of all-out war. . . . There is something about
war that sharpens the senses . . . You hear a twig snap or the rustling
of leaves and you are in attack mode. Someone coughs and you are
ready to pull the trigger. Even after days of little or no sleep, war
keeps us vigilant.3
Yes, there is a mean, violent streak in the true Christian life! But violence
against whom, or what? Not other people! It’s a violence against
all the impulses in us that would be violent to other people. It’s a violence
against all the impulses in our own selves that would make peace
with our own sin and settle in with a peacetime mentality. It’s a violence
against all lust in ourselves and all enslaving desires for food or caffeine
or sugar or chocolate or alcohol or pornography or money or the praise
of men and the approval of others or power or fame. It’s a violence
against the impulses in our own soul toward racism and sluggish indifference
to injustice and poverty and abortion.
Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-theway-
it-is kind of religion. When Jesus said, “the truth will set you free”
(John 8:32), he didn’t mean without a battle. He meant that truth would
win the war of liberation in the soul. Christianity is war. It is a declaration
of all-out combat against our own sinful impulses. The apostle Peter
said, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the
passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).
To become a Christian is to wake up to the reality that our soul—the
eternal joy of our soul—is at stake. Therefore, Christianity is mortal
combat for true and lasting joy.
THE LIBERATING POWER OF THE WORD IS THE POWER OF PROMISED JOY
Jesus would set us free from the deadly illusions of worldly satisfaction.
And he would do so by the truth of his Word. “You will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.” So how does the truth of the Word set
us free from deceitful desires, so that we can have deeper, stronger,
sweeter, higher, longer joy than anything Satan or this world can offer?
Some Christians take the path of stoicism in the fight against sensuality.
It doesn’t work. It’s not biblical. It is hopelessly weak and ineffective.
And the reason it fails is that the power of sin comes from its
promise of pleasure and is meant to be defeated by the blood-bought
promise of superior pleasure in God, not by raw human willpower.
Willpower religion, when it succeeds, gets glory for the will. It produces
legalists, not lovers. Jonathan Edwards saw the powerlessness of this
approach and said:
We come with double forces against the wicked, to persuade them to
a godly life. . . . The common argument is the profitableness of religion,
but alas, the wicked man is not in pursuit of profit; ’tis pleasure
he seeks. Now, then, we will fight with them with their own
In other words, a passion for blood-bought, everlasting pleasure in
God is the only power that can defeat the lusts of the age while producing
lovers of God, not legalists who boast in their willpower.
This is how the truth of God’s Word sets us free. It gives us the
weapon with which we kill deceitful desires. Just as Jesus spoke of violence
in the battle against desire, so does Paul: “Put to death therefore
what is earthly in you . . . evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry”
(Col. 3:5). And in another place he says, “If by the Spirit you put
to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). The fact that
one text says put to death desires and another says put to death deeds
simply shows that behind evil deeds are evil desires. It would do no good
just to kill the deed and leave the desire. That is not the way of Jesus.
Jesus’ way is: Put to death the deed by putting to death the desire.
Strangle the deed by cutting off its air supply—namely, the deceit that it
will bring us lasting joy.
Both Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5 say, “Kill!” This is mortal
combat, and our lives—not to mention our joy—hang on it. Jesus and
Paul agree: This is war. Christianity would look very different in many
places if Christians pursued the joy of seeing God with this life-anddeath
seriousness and felt a deadly urgency in fighting the desires that
deceive us and blind us to the all-satisfying glory of God.
HOW DO YOU KILL A DECEITFUL DESIRE?
How then does the truth of God’s Word help us kill deceitful desires and
set us free for solid joys? One key is to notice that Romans 8:13 says
that the deceitful desires and deeds that threaten our life are to be killed
“by the Spirit.” How do you put to death a desire “by the Spirit”? First,
by noticing that the one and only offensive weapon in Paul’s description
of “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6:11-18 (the weapon used for
killing) is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” So when
Romans 8:13 says that we should kill sinful deeds “by the Spirit,” I take
it to mean, “Experience the deceit-destroying power of the Spirit by
believing in the Word of God concerning that deceitful desire.” Even
though we are mere humans and not God, we are to discharge (like a
cannon) the power of the Spirit against sinful desires. This deadly fire-
power (= the sword) is called “the word of God.” I take it that our way
of discharging this power is by believing this Word.
This is confirmed by Galatians 3:5: “Does he who supplies the Spirit
to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by
hearing with faith?” In other words, we bring the power of the Spirit
into vigorous, sin-killing action by hearing with faith. Hearing what?
The Word of God. Therefore, the way we destroy deceitful, joy-killing
desires that threaten to overwhelm us with destructive cravings is to hear
and believe the Word of God when it says that he and his ways are more
to be desired than all that sin can offer.
This is what Edwards meant when he said, “Now, then, we will fight
with them with their own weapons.” The power of sin is the promise of
deceitful desires? Then we will match promise for promise! Go ahead,
sin, put up your best promises! We will put God’s promises against
yours. Nothing—nothing in this world—can surpass in value and depth
and height and durability the pleasure that God promises. “Blessed
[happy!5] are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). “You
give them drink from the river of your delights” (Ps. 36:8). “In your
presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore”
(Ps. 16:11). “You have put more joy in my heart than they have
when their grain and wine abound” (Ps. 4:7). “Rejoice in that day, and
leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23).
Nothing surpasses the joy God promises.
The fight for joy is the fight to see and believe Christ as more to be
desired than the promises of sin. This faith and sight come by hearing,
and hearing by the word of Christ. We look to the Word, we ponder,
and we plead with God that the eyes of our hearts would be opened to
see the superior glory and joy. This pleading is so important we will
devote the whole of Chapter Nine to it. But suffice it to say for now that
we are utterly dependent on the Spirit to make the promises of God more
desirable to us than the promises of sin. And for that vital eye-opening,
heart-changing work we pray every day.
HOW THE CROSS OF CHRIST KILLS JOY-KILLING SIN
But let’s be even more focused in how the truth sets us free from deceitful,
joy-killing desires. Not only does the Word of God have promises
The Worth of God’s Word in the Fight for Joy < 105
perfectly suited to kill each deceitful desire,6 it also has a central message
designed to have special power in this battle. The central message
is the gospel of Christ crucified. We spent all of Chapter Six on this. But
I saved the witness of John Owen for this decisive place. Owen (1616-
1683) was probably the greatest thinker and theologian among the
Puritans in England. He combined deep biblical reflection with penetrating
One of his most famous works is but eighty-six pages long. It’s
called Mortification of Sin in Believers. “Mortify” means “kill” in seventeenth-
century English. The whole book is an exposition of Romans
8:13 (“If by the Spirit you put to death [kill] the deeds of the body, you
will live”). Owen put it like this: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”7
My mother wrote in my Bible when I was fifteen years old—I still
have the Bible—“This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you
from this book.” The point I am trying to make right now is that my
mother’s motto and Owen’s motto, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing
you,” are virtually the same. The Word of God is the instrument for
killing sin. The truth will set you free. For Owen the cross of Christ was
the central message and sin-killing power of the Word of God. It was
the central, liberating truth. To focus here, he said, is the main way to
kill the sin that kills our joy.
As to the object of your affections, in an especial manner, let it be the
cross of Christ, which has exceeding efficacy towards the disappointment
of the whole work of indwelling sin: “God forbid that I should
glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is
crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). The cross of
Christ he [Paul] gloried and rejoiced in; this his heart was set upon; and
these were the effects of it—it crucified the world unto him, made it a
dead and undesirable thing. The baits and pleasures of sin are taken all
of them out of the world. . . . If the heart be filled with the cross of
Christ, it casts death and undesirableness upon them all; it leaves no
seeming beauty, no appearing pleasure or comeliness, in them. Again,
says he, “It crucifies me to the world; makes my heart, my affections,
my desires, dead unto any of these things.” It roots up corrupt lusts and
affections, leaves no principle to go forth and make provision for the
flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. Labor, therefore, to fill your hearts with
the cross of Christ . . . that there may be no room for sin.8
This is the heart of the battle in the fight for joy. You will know the
truth and the truth will set you free—free to see the surpassing glory of
Christ, free from the blinding, joy-killing desires that make war on the
soul. In the fight for joy, there is no replacement for the liberating power
of truth—the truth of God’s promises and the word of the cross, where
all the promises were blood-bought by the death of Christ.
6. The Word of God is the key to answered prayer.
Another benefit of the Word of God that wakens desire to read and
ponder and memorize Scripture is the role it plays in answered prayer.
Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever
you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). The words of
Jesus must abide in us if our prayers are to be effective.
The best way to see what it means for the words of Jesus to abide
in us is to look at what Jesus says about abiding a few verses earlier. In
verse 5 he says, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears
much fruit.” Notice the parallel. In verse 7 he says, “If you abide in me,
and my words abide in you,” and in verse 5 he says, “Whoever abides
in me and I in him. . . .” In verse 5 Jesus himself abides in us when we
abide in him. But in verse 7 his words abide in us when we abide in him.
I think the point of this switch is to show us how Jesus abides in us,
namely, by his words abiding in us.9
But this parallel also sheds light on what it means for the words of
Jesus to abide in us. Letting the words of Jesus abide in us means letting
Jesus himself abide in us, to us. It means that we welcome Jesus into our
lives and make room for him to live, not as a silent guest with no opinions
or commands, but as an authoritative guest whose words and priorities
and principles and promises matter more to us than anything does.
What that means for letting the words of Jesus abide in us is that
we do not just read or memorize or meditate or listen to the Bible the
way we would ponder the wise sayings from ancient teachers. Jesus is
alive today, but they aren’t. He does not intend for our thinking about
his words to replace fellowship with him through his words. He intends
for musing on his words to be fellowship with him. We hear the words
of Jesus as living words spoken by a living person. It is a spiritually intentional
act of relating to a living person when you take his words into
your mind. This is what it means for his words to abide in us.
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HOW DOES THE ABIDING WORD OF CHRIST LEAD TO EFFECTIVE PRAYERS?
The reason the abiding of Christ’s words in us results in answered prayer
is that it changes us into the kind of people who love what he loves, so
that we ask for things according to his will. This is not absolute. It is progressive.
The more we know the living Christ by communion with him
in his Word, the more our desires become spiritual like his desires,
instead of just worldly. This is what David meant when he said in Psalm
37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of
your heart.” The desires of the heart cease to be merely natural desires
when the heart delights above all else in the Lord. Delighting in the
Lord—in the hallowing of his name and the seeking of his kingdom and
the doing of his will—transforms all natural desires into God-related
desires. That is what happens when the Word of Christ abides in us.
Another way of saying it is, if you want God to respond to your interests,
you must be devoted to his interests. God is God. He does not run the
world by hiring the consulting firm called Mankind. He lets us share in the
running of the world through prayer to the degree that we live in fellowship
with him and are gladly shaped by his heart and goals and purposes.
One evidence for this is 1 John 5:14, “This is the confidence that we
have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears
us.” Prayer is not for gratifying our natural desires. It is for gratifying
our desires when those desires have been so purified and so saturated
with Christ and his Word that they coincide with his plans. This happens
more and more as the Word of Christ abides in us.
The words of Jesus abiding in us prepare us for fruit-bearing prayer.
“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John
15:5). If prayer is not for gratifying natural desires but for Christ-exalting
fruit-bearing, the major challenge in praying is to become the kind of person
who is not dominated by natural desires, but by spiritual fruit-bearing
desires. The aim is to become what Paul calls a “spiritual person,” as
opposed to a merely “natural person” or carnal person (1 Cor. 2:14-15).
The key to praying with power is to become the kind of persons who do
not use God for our ends but are utterly devoted to being used for his ends.
This is why Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in
you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” The words of
Jesus abiding in us make us the kind of persons who are not dominated
by merely natural desires, but are devoted to fruit-bearing for God’s glory.
If you ever longed for a life of deep and fruitful prayer, give yourself to
the Word of God. Read it. Think about it. Memorize it. Be shaped by it.
When saturated by the Word,
More surely will our prayers be heard.
And since one of those daily prayers will be, “Satisfy us in the morning
with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days”
(Ps. 90:14), the words of Jesus are more to be desired than all that this
world can offer.
7. The Word of God is the source of wisdom.
It is a great advantage to be wise. Wisdom is different from the mere
knowledge of facts. Some very wise people have little formal education.
And some very educated people, who know many facts, are not wise.
Wisdom is the insight and sense of how to live in a way that accomplishes
the goals for which we were made: the glory of God and the good
of man. And since glorifying God involves delighting in God, and the
good of man involves sharing our joy in God, therefore wisdom is the
only path to deep and lasting joy.
It won’t surprise us that this joy-producing wisdom comes through
the Word of God. We just saw in the preceding section that Christ himself
abides in us when his words abide in us, and Paul tells us that “in
[him] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
So by his Word he dwells in us, and with him come “all the treasures of
wisdom.” Paul says it more directly in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word
of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in
all wisdom.” The Word of Christ brings “all wisdom” into our lives so
that we can help each other know it and live in it.
One of the challenges I repeatedly hold out to the people of our
church—especially the women—is that they make it one of their aims
to age into a sage. I love the vision of older women full of seasoned spiritual
fruit that comes only with long life and much affliction and deep
meditation on the Word of God. So many younger women yearn for
older women, who are deeply wise, to share the wisdom God has taught
them over the years. The joy of giving and receiving this kind of gift is
great. It is joy that comes by the Word of God. There is no better joy
than what comes through wisdom. Therefore, the Word of God is more
valuable than anything on earth.
8. The Word of God gives us crucial warnings.
Psalm 19 celebrates the benefits of the Word of God as explicitly as
any other Scripture. It comes to a climax like this: “More to be desired
are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and
drippings of the honeycomb.Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward” (vv. 10-11).
If we had perfect sight of what is wrong and right, and if we could
know the future and the consequences of all behavior and all events,
then perhaps we would need no warnings. But we are blind to many
things and do not know the future, as God does. We need to be warned
often that the step we are about to take is folly. Oh, how many joykilling
choices we are spared when we heed the warnings of the Bible!
Mercifully God has given us a book that not only points us to the right
path but sounds warnings when we are about to take the wrong one.
Warnings are humbling. They save our lives at the cost of our egos.
My wife has saved my life several times. Once in Cambridge, England,
where cars drive on the left side of the road, I was crossing a city street
in front of our hotel. I made it to the middle of the street, and then my
alertness failed me, and I looked to my right to see if cars were coming.
All clear. Noël must have read my muscles, because in the split second
when I was about to make a dash, she called out in a voice that clearly
meant stop, “Johnny!” My body reacted instinctively to the warning as
a car passed from my left perhaps three feet in front of me doing maybe
thirty miles an hour. If she had not sounded the warning (firmly, with
no frills), I do believe I would be either dead today or crippled.
I was given my life by a warning. The Bible is full of life-giving, joypreserving
warnings. How many people with venereal diseases would
have been spared by heeding the warning, “Flee from sexual immorality”
(1 Cor. 6:18)! How many people with lung cancer would have been
spared by heeding the warning not to be enslaved by anything, including
nicotine (1 Cor. 6:12)! How many people would not be in prison if they
had heeded the warning, “You shall not murder,” or, “You shall not
steal,” or, “You shall not bear false witness” (Ex. 20:13, 15, 16)! How
many have ruined their lives by neglecting the crystal-clear warning,
“Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many
senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
. . . It is through this craving that some have wandered away from
the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:9-10)!
How merciful are the warnings of the Word of God! They are the
source of untold joy for those who see in them the good heart of the
Great Physician. He knows the prevention and the remedy for every sorrow.
Does your desire goes deeper and last longer than what the world
can offer? Then go to the Word of God and get good warnings.
9. The Word of God enables us to defeat the devil.
The devil is real and terrible. He is much stronger than we are, and he
aims to deceive and destroy. Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning,
and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.
When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the
father of lies” (John 8:44). Yet he has been decisively defeated through the
death and resurrection of Jesus. The Bible teaches that Christ took on himself
human nature so “that through death he might destroy the one who
has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The destruction was
decisive, though not final. Because of Christ’s shed blood for our sins, the
devil cannot destroy those who are in Christ. The reason is that his accusations
are no longer valid. The only thing that could sentence us to eternal
destruction is unforgiven sin. But the cross obtained complete
forgiveness. Therefore, the devil can only kill us, but not damn us.
Yes, he has that much power. Jesus said to the church in Smyrna,
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to
throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days
you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the
crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Where is the victory in that? John tells us in
Revelation 12:11: “And they have conquered [the devil] by the blood of
the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their
lives even unto death.” By trusting Jesus’ blood to cover all their sins,
and by holding on to their faith even to death, they conquered the devil.
The devil is conquered wherever his design to devour faith is defeated.
That defeat is by the cross of Christ and the Word of God. John, who knew
the devil’s workings so well, said in his first letter, “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). The Word of God is the power
that overcomes the devil. So it was with Jesus in the wilderness. To every
temptation thrown at him by the devil, he quoted Scripture (Matt. 4:4, 7,
10). If Jesus was himself the Word of God, and could command demons
so that they obey him (Mark 1:27), and yet he depended on Scripture to
deflect the temptations of the devil, so should we.
It’s true, Paul says: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith,
with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph.
6:16). So faith is the great devil-defeater. “Resist him, firm in your faith”
(1 Pet. 5:9). But faith in what? The Word of God. The promises of God.
Therefore Paul instructs Timothy, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome
but . . . able to teach . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness.
God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge
of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being
captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Teaching is the most
common instrument that God uses to deliver “from the snare of the
devil.” Teaching what? “Knowledge of the truth”—the Word of God.
Therefore, if you would have power over the devil, and if you would
escape the snare of his deceit and the destruction of your faith, then do
what Jesus did and what all the triumphant saints have done: Treasure
up the Word of God, and wield it like a sword against your foe.
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath 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.
When the powers of darkness are arrayed against you, and aim to
destroy your joy forever, nothing is more precious than to have the Word
of God ready for the battle. The fight for joy is not for the unarmed.
10. The Word of God is, therefore, the source of great and lasting joy.
We have seen at least nine reasons why this is so. Now we see that
God, in the Bible, simply says it is so. The wise and godly man turns
away from the counsel of the wicked with all their promises of pleasure
and finds that “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he
meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that
he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:2-3). The lovers of God’s Word praise the
preciousness of the Bible and the pleasures it brings. They say that it surpasses
the most valuable earthly things, gold and silver; and they say its
taste on the tongue of the mind and heart is sweeter than honey, and that
its richness is like the finest food.
The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and
silver pieces. (Ps. 119:72)
I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. (Ps. 119:162)
I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my
mouth. (Ps. 119:103)
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have
treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
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,
O LORD, God of hosts. (Jer. 15:16)
The great conclusion is: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation
all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Which leads us to the question: If the
Word of God is this pleasant in itself, and if it is this crucial in the fight
for joy—if it is more valuable than anything on earth—how shall we use
it? That is the focus of the next chapter.
Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
P S A L M 1 1 9 : 9 7
I have thought I am a creature of a day, passing through life as
an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and
returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf, till a few
moments hence I am no more seen. I drop into an unchangeable
eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven—how to
land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to
teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath
written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price
give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough
for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book].
J O H N WE S L E Y
“P R E F A C E T O S E R M O N S O N S E V E R A L O C C A S I O N S , 1 7 4 6 ”
The Works of John Wesley1