– Using All Five Senses to See the Glory of God –
When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper
In this chapter we wrestle with the relationship between physical
causes and spiritual effects. If that sounds vague, consider some
examples: Can physical sounds (like music or thunder) cause spiritual
effects (like joy in Christ or fear of God)? Can deep ravines produce reverence
for Christ? Can a sizzling steak produce satisfaction in Jesus?
Everybody knows that music and thunder can cause joy and fear. But
can they cause spiritual joy and spiritual fear? Can cliffs and food waken
the joy of faith?
Usually the word spiritual in the New Testament refers to something
or someone that is brought forth by the Holy Spirit, controlled by the
Holy Spirit, and directed to the goals of the Holy Spirit, especially the
adoration of Christ. But music and thunder and ravines and steak are
not the Holy Spirit. They are natural parts of the material creation. What
is the relationship between them and spiritual joy?
Or to ask the question another way: In the fight for joy in God can
we use physical means? The answer is not easy. That’s why I said we
would “wrestle” in this chapter. Not all joy exalts Christ. Joy exalts
what we rejoice in. If we rejoice in revenge, then we exalt the value of
revenge. If we rejoice in pornography, we exalt the value of pornogra-
phy. Those are clearly sinful. But what about innocent pleasures? If we
rejoice in a beautiful sunrise, what do we exalt? The sunrise? Or the
Creator of the sunrise? Or both? And what makes the difference in our
hearts and minds?
Many unbelievers are deeply moved to rejoice in the beauty of a sunrise.
They do not have the Holy Spirit and do not adore Christ. What is
the difference between their joy and spiritual joy? Is the experience the
same and only our knowledge different? Or is the joy itself different? If
IS PATIENCE A FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT OR OF SLEEP?
I take up this question because our everyday experience, as well as the
Bible itself, demands it. We know from experience that our spiritual and
physical life are intertwined. Losing sleep increases our impatience and
irritability, but the Bible says that love is “patient . . . it is not irritable”
(1 Cor. 13:4-5), and it calls love and patience fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
So are love and patience fruits of the Spirit, or are they the fruit of sleep?
Even in the Lord’s work no one would deny that a rush of
adrenaline may accompany some great challenge and give wakefulness
and energy for some God-ordained task. But the apostle Paul says, “I
toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me”
(Col. 1:29). What is the difference between Paul’s physical adrenaline
and the powerful energy he feels from Christ? Are they totally separate?
Or does Christ somehow work through adrenaline?
THE WORLD OF SIGHT AND SOUND
To grasp the scope of this issue, think of your five senses and the
countless sensations they bring and how these affect your emotions
and your spiritual life. You have the sense of sight, and you see the
sky with its clouds and its shades of blue and its horizons of red and
orange and its nighttime of moon and stars. You see the earth with
its thousands of species of birds and land animals and fish and trees
and plants, and its varied terrains of deserts, fields, mountains, plains,
forests, hills, canyons, and ravines with rivers. And you see human
beings, male and female, short and tall, thin and heavy, with countless
hues of skin, no two alike. And you see all that man can make:
paintings, sculptures, dramas, movies, machines, buildings, roads,
computers, planes, clothing, electrical generators, nuclear plants,
artificial hearts, microwave ovens, cell phones, air-conditioning,
antibiotics, universities, and governments.
And you have a sense of hearing. You hear the sounds of animals:
the bird singing, the cat meowing, the dog barking, the snake hissing,
the mosquito humming, the frog croaking, the horse neighing and clipclopping,
the pig oinking, the cow mooing, and the rooster crowing.
And you hear the sounds of inanimate nature: the ocean waves crashing,
the dead tree falling, the landslide plunging, the frozen lake cracking,
the volcano exploding, the stream rippling, the thunder rumbling,
the rain pounding. And you hear the sounds of man: talking, laughing,
whistling, humming, clapping, crying, groaning, screaming, stomping,
singing, playing on a hundred instruments, pounding nails, revving
engines, operating machines, scraping old houses, thumping along with
crutches, cooking sizzling hamburgers on a grill, tearing open an envelope,
slamming a door, spanking a child, breaking a dish, and mowing
THE WORLD OF TASTE AND SMELL AND TOUCH
And you have a sense of taste. You taste hundreds of foods and drinks:
sour lemons, sweet honey, sharp cheese, tart grapefruit, salty chips, hot
salsa, tangy punch, and countless unique flavors of bananas, milk, nuts,
bread, fish, steak, lettuce, chocolate, coffee, green peppers, onions,
vanilla ice cream, red Jell-O, and a range of medicines you would rather
swallow than taste.
And you have a sense of smell. You smell roses, honeysuckle, apple
blossoms, lilacs, bread baking, bacon sizzling, toast browning, pizza
warming, coffee percolating, clove spice, spilled garbage, raw sewage,
paper factories, hog farms, favorite perfumes, newly mown grass, gasoline
fumes, pine forests, old books, and cinnamon rolls.
And you have the sense of touch and inner sensations. You feel cozy
heat curled by a fire, warm flannel sheets on a cold night, a cool breeze
on a sunny day, the silk edge of an old blanket, a dog’s fur and soft
tummy, a foot rub, a shoulder massage, sexual stimulation, the resistance
of weightlifting, the pounding of jogging, the dive into a cold
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mountain lake, the hammer landing on your thumb, the ache in your
lower back, the migraine headache, the nausea of seasickness, the kiss
of a lover.
PHYSICAL SENSATIONS AND THE SWEETNESS OF GOD
Any one of these five senses, or any combination of them, can give you
emotions. And some of these emotions feel virtually the same as the spiritual
emotions we are commanded to have in the Bible: joy (Phil. 4:4),
delight (Ps. 37:4), gladness (Ps. 67:4), hope (Ps. 42:5), fear (Luke 12:5),
grief (Rom. 12:15), desire (1 Pet. 2:2), tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32),
gratitude (Eph. 5:20), etc.
Not only do our senses produce emotions, but the proper or
improper use of our bodies can have a huge effect on the way we experience
spiritual reality. Rejoicing in the Lord is different when you have
nausea than when you are well and singing in a worship service. Proper
eating and exercising and sleeping has a marked effect on the mind and
its ability to process natural beauty and biblical truth.
So the question must be faced: How do we use the created world
around us, including our own bodies, to help us fight for joy in God? In
God, I say! Not in nature. Not in music. Not in health. Not in food or
drink. Not in natural beauty. How can all these good gifts serve joy in
God, and not usurp the supreme affections of our hearts?
Our situation as physical creatures is precarious. The question we
are asking is not peripheral. It addresses the dangerous condition we are
in. We are surrounded by innocent things that are ready to become idols.
Innocent sensations are one second away from becoming substitutes for
the sweetness of God. Should we use mood music and dim lighting and
smoke and incense to create an atmosphere that conduces to good feelings
and “spiritual” openness? You can feel the dangers of manipulation
lurking just below the surface.
But no one escapes the problem. Everybody uses physical means.
We all choose some kind of lighting. We all choose some kind of atmosphere,
no matter how stark. We all use some kind of music, even if only
voice. We all make choices about how we sleep and exercise and eat.
And presumably we are not acting like atheists when we make these
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choices; we believe they have something to do with God. There is no way
around the issue. We must all come to terms with how our physical, sensory
lives relate to our spiritual joy in God.
JOY WITHOUT BRAINS?
As much as we are sure that our joy in God is more than chemicals and
electronic impulses in the brain, we are also sure that, in this present
age, we experience this spiritual joy only in connection to a physical
body. And the interplay between the two is mysterious. There is, in
some strange way, an overlapping of spiritual joy and psychological
emotion and physiological event. They are not identical. We know this
because God has strong spiritual emotions, like anger (Ps. 80:4) and joy
(Zeph. 3:17), but he has no physical body. So there are spiritual emotions
that exist independently of physical bodies. And presumably,
redeemed people will have strong emotions of adoration and satisfaction
at God’s right hand after they die and before their bodies are raised
from the dead (see Phil. 1:23; Rev. 6:10). So we believe that joy in Christ
is not identical with physical brain waves but has an existence above
In spite of the theoretical popularity of naturalistic evolution, which
says all there is in the universe is matter and energy, almost nobody will
approve if you put their sense of justice in the same category as a dog’s
bark. So even those who have no conscious belief in God intuitively
operate on the assumption that their emotion of love and their sense of
justice are more than electrochemical events in the brain.2
Nevertheless, these supra-physical things are linked with our physical
brains. And so it is that our joy in God and its physical expression
in the brain are inseparable in this mortal life. Spiritual emotions (which
are more than physical) can have physical effects, and physical conditions
can have spiritual effects.
THE SPIRITUAL ORCHESTRA AND THE PHYSICAL PIANO
C. S. Lewis thought deeply about this issue and wrote about it in a sermon
called “Transposition.” His argument is that the spiritual life of
emotion is higher and richer than the material life of physical sensation
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in the way a symphony orchestra is richer than a piano. When the music
of spiritual joy plays in the soul, it gets “transposed” into physical sensations.
But since the spiritual “orchestra” is richer and more varied than
the physical “piano,” the same piano keys have to be used for sounds
that in the orchestra are played with different instruments. As physical
people with souls, we always experience spiritual emotions at both levels:
the orchestra and the piano.
There are at least four reasons why Lewis’s analysis is helpful. One
is that it explains the fact that introspection can never find spiritual joy
in God, but only its residue of physical sensation. The reason is that the
moment we turn from focusing on God to focusing on the emotion itself,
the emotion is no longer what it was. It leaves its trace only in the physical
sensation, not in the spiritual reality. The reality of spiritual joy
depends moment by moment on the steadfast seeing of the glory of
Second, Lewis’s analysis helps explain why the physical sensations
we find when we look behind the spiritual emotions of ecstasy and terror
seem to be identical. In other words, the physical trembling and the
queasy stomach seem to be the same for terror and ecstasy when we analyze
them by introspection. Lewis explains that this is what we would
expect when an orchestra of emotion is transposed down onto a simpler
instrument: Very different spiritual emotions must play on the same
If a good man looks into the face of his fiancée and feels the pleasure
of a warm love somewhere—he can’t tell if it’s in his head or chest,
or even more visceral—and then he turns from looking at his lover to
find the pleasure—wherever it is—what he will probably find is a physical
sensation indistinguishable from lust. The orchestra of love uses the
same physical note on the piano that lust uses to play her music, but
everyone knows that love and lust are not identical emotions.
But if they are the same at one level—playing on the same piano key
of the body—why then do we experience the spiritual emotions so differently
when they are actually happening—even differently in our bodies?
For we do indeed experience lust and love, or terror and ecstasy, as
physically different. We experience terror as unpleasant and do not want
to repeat it, but we experience ecstasy as pleasant and would like to have
SPIRITUAL EMOTION ENTERS AND TRANSFORMS PHYSICAL SENSATION
Lewis answers that in the transposition from the higher to the lower, the
spiritual emotion actually enters into the physical sensation so that the
sensation becomes part of the higher emotion.
The very same sensation does not merely accompany, nor merely signify,
diverse and opposite emotions, but becomes part of them. The
emotion descends bodily, as it were, into the sensation and digests,
transforms, transubstantiates it, so that the same thrill along the
nerves is delight or is agony.4
This is extremely important. It leads to the third reason why Lewis’s
analysis is helpful: It answers the materialist-skeptic who looks at the
brain waves for “delight” and for “agony” and argues that there can be
no reality to the so-called spiritual difference, since both are registered
in the brain with the same electrochemical reactions. So he concludes
that there is no such thing as spiritual emotions, but only physical sensations.
Tragically, that is what millions of modern people claim to
believe. But Lewis’s analysis shows that this mistake is exactly what we
would expect if “transposition” is true. The person who approaches it
only “from below” can only hear the piano.
The brutal man never can by analysis find anything but lust in love
. . . physiology never can find anything in thought except twitchings
of the gray matter. . . . [The materialist] is therefore, as regards
the matter in hand, in the position of an animal. You will have
noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a
bit of food on the floor: the dog, instead of looking at the floor,
sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. . . .
As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above,
even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to
talk of any final victory over materialism. The critique of every
experience from below . . . will always have the same plausibility.
There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to
show that religion is only psychological, justice only self protection,
politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral
Fourth, Lewis’s analysis helps us understand how to use the world
of physical sensation for spiritual purposes. From his contrast between
the spiritual orchestra of emotion and the physical piano of sensation
we are reminded not to equate spiritual emotion and physical sensation.
They are not identical. That is a crucial truth to keep in mind. On the
other hand, Lewis also reminds us that spiritual emotions, like joy in
God, are only experienced in connection with physical sensations. They
are not identical, but they are almost always inseparable. In this earthly
life, we are never disembodied souls with only spiritual emotions. We
are complex spiritual-physical beings who experience joy in Christ as
something more, but almost never less, than physical sensation. I say
“almost” to leave open the exceptional possibility that, contrary to his
usual way of working, God can do miracles in the midst of suffering,
such as ecstasy in the midst of flames, while burning at the stake.
Moreover, Lewis reminds us to be amazed that the higher can actually
transform the lower. Spiritual emotions, which are more than physical,
can have chemical effects, and not just the reverse. It is true that
chemicals can affect emotions. But too seldom do we pray and plan for
the spiritual to have chemical effects. As legitimate as sedatives and antidepressants
may be in times of clear chemical imbalance, we should not
overlook the truth that spiritual reality may also transform the physical
and not just vice versa.
BEING INTENTIONAL IN HOW WE USE THE PHYSICAL FOR THE SAKE OF JOY IN GOD
But our main question in this chapter is how the lower can affect the
higher. That is, how can the physical world of sensation properly assist
our joy in Christ? What Lewis has shown us is that God has created us
in such a way that there is a correspondence in this life between spiritual
emotion and physical experience. God ordained that the brain and
the soul intersect and correspond. They are not identical. The physical
events in the brain and the spiritual events in the soul do not correspond
one to one. But they are interwoven in a way that encourages us to take
steps so that the influence flows in both directions for the glory of
That would mean, for example, that on the one hand we seek by
prayer and meditation on God’s Word to waken joy in Christ so that it
has a healing, strengthening effect on the body. And it would mean, on
the other hand, that we use the physical world, including our own bodies,
so that, according to the laws of God’s creation, joy in Christ will
be more intense and more constant. In other words, Lewis has helped
us see that there are some legitimate steps we can take at the physical,
sensory level in order to properly increase our joy in God.
I say this in spite of the danger mentioned earlier that we run the
risk of manipulation (mood music, smoke, and dim lighting) to create
“spiritual” emotions, which turn out not to be spiritual at all. There is
no running from the responsibility of using physical reality wisely for
spiritual ends. Our physical lives will affect our spiritual lives whether
we plan it or not. Better to think it through and be intentional.
THE BIBLE ITSELF SAYS: SEE GOD IN THE WORLD
Far more important than the wisdom of C. S. Lewis is the biblical wisdom
of God. The Bible gives us good evidence that we should indeed be
intentional about touching our joy in God with physical means. We have
already seen in Chapter Five that seeing the glory of God is the essential
and proper basis of our joy in God. We argued from 2 Corinthians 4:4
that the most central and controlling means of seeing God is by means
of hearing the gospel. “The god of this world [Satan] has blinded the
minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel
of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The deepest foundation
of our joy, as justified sinners, is that Christ died for our sins and
thus revealed the smiling face of God for all who believe. That’s the way
it is with all the Scriptures: They enable us to see, in them and through
them, the glory of God. “The LORD revealed himself . . . by the word of
the LORD” (1 Sam. 3:21). God himself stands forth to be spiritually seen
and enjoyed “by the word of the LORD.”
But the Bible tells us of other means of seeing the glory of God, and
therefore other means of wakening and intensifying our joy in him. For
example, Psalm 19:1-4:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims
his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night
voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
If seeing the glory of God is a proper spiritual cause of our joy in
him, then our physical gaze at the heavens—the sun and moon and stars
and clouds and sunrises and sunsets and thunderstorms—is a proper
means of helping us rejoice in God. So here we have a clear biblical warrant
for using the physical world (“the heavens”), by means of the physical
organ of sight, to pursue a spiritual effect, namely, seeing the glory
of God and experiencing our joy in it.
Other Scriptures make explicit the connection between the physically
visible work of God and joy. For example, Psalm 92:4, “For you,
O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands
I sing for joy.” I assume that this joy is not idolatrous—that is, I assume
it does not terminate on the works themselves, but in and through them,
rests on the glory of God himself. The works “declare” the glory of God.
They point. But the final ground of our joy is God himself.
LEARNING FROM LIGHT IN A TOOLSHED
C. S. Lewis, whose greatest gift was his power to see what few see,
described an experience that demonstrated how the physical world helps
us see the glory of God.
I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside
and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam.
From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust
floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else
was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by
it. Then I moved so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole
previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no
beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the
door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and
beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the
beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.6
So we can say that when we “look along” the heavens and not just “at”
the heavens, they succeed in their aim of “declaring the glory of God.”
That is, we see the glory of God, not just the glory of the heavens. We
don’t just stand outside and analyze the natural world as a beam, but
let the beam fall on the eyes of our heart, so that we see the source of
the beauty—the original Beauty, God himself.
This is the essential key to unlocking the proper use of the physical
world of sensation for spiritual purposes. All of God’s creation becomes
a beam to be “looked along” or a sound to be “heard along” or a fragrance
to be “smelled along” or a flavor to be “tasted along” or a touch
to be “felt along.” All our senses become partners with the eyes of the
heart in perceiving the glory of God through the physical world.
So on the one hand, Lewis has shown us that our more-than-physical
spiritual emotions are incarnated in our physical sensations, transforming
them so that they take on the quality of the emotion. And on the
other hand he has shown us that the physical sensations are partners in
perceiving the glory of God in the physical world and therefore are means
of awakening and shaping those very spiritual emotions. Specifically, joy
in God can be awakened by the physical display of God’s glory, and that
very joy enters and transforms the physical experience of it.
THE APOSTLE PAUL HELPS US USE THE WORLD IN THE FIGHT FOR JOY
Does the Bible itself give us any explicit help at this point to insure, as
much as possible, that our use of the physical world does in fact help us
perceive the glory of God, so that our awakened emotions are not simply
natural but spiritual? Yes, the apostle Paul addresses this issue in a
fairly direct way in 1 Timothy 4:1-5.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from
the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of
demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are
seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that
God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe
and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and
nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is
made holy by the word of God and prayer.
Notice that Paul predicts the coming of false teachers who have a very
negative view of the physical world, particularly sex and food (which
together involve all five of our senses). So these false teachers “forbid
marriage” and “require abstinence from foods” (v. 3). Paul regards this
as rebellion against God, because God’s purpose for his good creation,
Paul says, is that “nothing is to be rejected” (v. 4).
Instead of rejecting God’s creation, Paul says there are two things
we should do with it: receive it with thanksgiving (vv. 3-4), and sanctify
it (sanctify = make holy, v. 5). Consider how each of these connects the
physical world with our joy in God.
GRATITUDE FOR A GIFT INVOLVES JOY IN A GIVER
The sexual pleasures of the marriage bed and the culinary pleasures of
good food, Paul says, are to be “received with thanksgiving.” This is
directly related to joy in God because of what thanksgiving is. First, gratitude
is an emotion, not just a choice. You can make yourself say,
“Thank you” when you do not feel gratitude, but everyone knows the
difference between the words and the feeling. Gratitude is a spontaneous
feeling of gladness because of someone’s goodwill toward you. Their gift
may not even arrive. It may get lost in the mail. But if you know that
you were remembered, and that someone took the trouble to buy you
something that you would have enjoyed, and that they sent it to you,
you will feel gratitude, even if the gift never comes.
Which means, secondly, that the emotion of gratitude is directed
toward a giver. Gratitude is occasioned by a gift, but is directed to the
giver. Third, gratitude is a kind of joy. It is not a bad feeling or a neutral
feeling. It is positive and pleasant. We do not regret feeling gratitude—
unless we were deceived, and the gift turns out to be a trap. Begrudging
gratitude is an oxymoron. There is no such thing. No one feels gratitude
out of duty when they really don’t want to. Gratitude is spontaneous and
pleasant. It is joy in the goodwill of the giver.
The dominant link in the Bible between our gratitude and God is
that God is good. “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his
steadfast love endures forever!” (Ps. 106:1). This link between our
thanks and God’s goodness is repeated over and over (Ps. 107:1;
118:1, 29; 136:1; 1 Chron. 16:34; 2 Chron. 7:3; 5:13; Ezra 3:11).
What is most significant about this link is that our gratitude is ultimately
rooted in what God is, not in what he gives. It does not say,
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he gives good things.” That is true. The
good gifts, like sex and food, are occasions for the gladness of gratitude.
But they are not the ultimate focus of our joy. The sensation of
pleasure runs up the beam of God’s generosity until it stops in the
goodness of God himself.
I stress this because it is very easy for us to say we are thankful for
the pleasures of sex and food, but never even take God into the picture.
When that happens, the joy of sex and food is not joy in God, and is not
spiritual, and is not an honor to God for his goodness. Enjoying God’s
gifts without a consciousness of God is no tribute to God himself.
Unbelievers do this all the time. Therefore what Paul is teaching us here
is that the proper use of physical pleasures in sex and food is that they
send our hearts Godward with the joy of gratitude that finds its firmest
ground in the goodness of God himself, not in his gifts. This means that
if, in the providence of God, these gifts are ever taken away—perhaps
by the death of a spouse or the demand for a feeding tube—the deepest
joy that we had through them will not be taken away, because God is
still good (see Hab. 3:17-18).
SANCTIFYING SEX AND FOOD
Then, after saying that gratitude connects the physical world with joy
in God, Paul goes on to say that this connection happens when the physical
creation is sanctified. “Everything created by God is good, and nothing
is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy
by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5).
The words “it is made holy” represent one Greek word (hagiazø),
which sometimes means to set apart for holy use, as when Jesus said,
“For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold
sacred?” (Matt. 23:17). Here the use of gold in the temple sanctifies it
(same word as in 1 Tim. 4:5). The gold is not itself changed, but it is
given a God-exalting function by the way it is made part of God’s temple.
Other times the word sanctify means to transform something into
a condition that will be suitable for God-exalting purposes, as when
Jesus prays for his disciples, asking that God would “Sanctify them in
the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). So when Paul says that sex
and food are sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, it probably
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means that they are transformed and made suitable for their purpose of
wakening and strengthening our God-exalting joy in Christ.
How do the Word of God and prayer bring about that sanctification
of sex and food? The most obvious observation is that the Word of
God is his speaking to us, and prayer is our speaking to him. So the general
answer is that sex and food are made useful for God-exalting joy
when we listen to what God has to say about them, and then speak back
to him our affirmations of his truth and our need for help.
SANCTIFYING PHYSICAL SENSATIONS BY THE WORD OF GOD
But we need to be specific. The relevant truth God speaks to us is 1) that
he created sex and food (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:24-25; 3:16); 2) that they are
good (Gen. 1:31); and 3) that they are intended not only to beget and sustain
life, but also for our enjoyment. Paul says to Timothy about the
wealthy in his congregation, “Charge them not to be haughty, nor to set
their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides
us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). 4) In addition God’s Word
tells us that the physical world of nature is declaring the glory of God (Ps.
19:1), so that the enjoyment it brings should rest finally in the beauty of
God himself. 5) And the Word gives us many particulars about the proper
use of sex (e.g., no fornication or adultery) and food (e.g., no addiction
or excessive asceticism) and other natural pleasures. 6) Finally, the Word
of God tells us that we are sinners and do not deserve anything but the
wrath of God (Rom. 1:18; 3:9), and therefore the joy of seeing the glory
of God in and through the pleasures of sex and food is an absolutely free
gift bought with the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:32).
Knowing and affirming these truths from God’s Word transforms
sex and food from mere physical pleasures into partners in revelation
and rejoicing. These physical sensations partner with the spiritual eyes
of our hearts to perceive the revelation of God’s glory in creation and to
promote our rejoicing in him. When Paul said in Titus 1:15, “To the pure
all things are pure,” he had something like this in mind. He contrasts
the pure with “the defiled and unbelieving.” That links Titus 1:15 with
1 Timothy 4:3 where Paul says that sex and food are “to be received
with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” In other
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words, sex and food are designed for believers, the pure in heart. For
“to the pure all things are pure.”
To those who submit gladly to the truth of God about themselves
as sinners, and about Christ as the Savior, and about the Holy Spirit as
the Sanctifier, and about God the Father as Creator—to them sex and
food are sanctified. That is, they are pure. They are not unclean idols
competing for our affections, which belong supremely to God. They are
instead pure partners in the revelation of God’s glory. They are beams
of his goodness along which the pure in heart see God (Matt. 5:8).
SANCTIFYING PHYSICAL SENSATIONS BY PRAYER
Thus sex and food and other natural physical delights are sanctified “by
the word of God” (1 Tim. 4:5). But the same verse also says they are
sanctified by “prayer.” One way that prayer sanctifies sex and food and
other physical sensations is by expressing to God our thanks for his
goodness. But prayer has another role. Prayer also means asking God
for the illumination of the eyes of our heart so that, in and through our
physical sensations, we would see the glory of God. Prayer acknowledges
that we cannot achieve our own purity. We cannot sanctify our
own sensations. We cannot open our own eyes. And therefore we cannot
enjoy God in all his gifts without the enabling grace that God gives
in answer to prayer. Therefore we pray that the truth will have its sanctifying
effect by the power of God’s Spirit.
Thus prayer and the Word of God together sanctify sex and food—
and every other good gift in this world. That is, the physical reality of
food and human bodies, along with their physical sensations, become
pure partners in the revelation of God’s glory and the wakening of our
joy in him.
THE DIRECT USE OF THE WORLD IN THE FIGHT FOR JOY
When we consider carefully how to use the physical world for the
advancement of our joy in God, we realize that there is a direct use to
be made of nature and an indirect use. The direct use is when we take
steps to see and hear and smell and taste and touch God’s creation (and
man’s representation of it in art) in order to perceive the glory of God
How to Wield the World in the Fight for Joy < 189
more fully. The indirect use is when we take steps to keep our bodies and
minds as fit as we can for spiritual use. Let’s consider these in turn.
The direct use of the physical world in our fight for joy may be a
trip to the Grand Canyon, or rising early enough to see a sunrise, or
attending a symphony, or reading a historical novel, or studying physics,
or memorizing a poem, or swimming in the ocean, or eating a fresh
pineapple, or smelling a gardenia blossom, or putting your hand through
your wife’s hair, or watching Olympic gymnastics finals. All these and a
thousand things like them are direct ways of using the natural world to
perceive more of the glory of God.
THE GLORY OF GOD IS AN OVERWHELMINGLY HAPPY THING
And even though some encounters with God are terrible, it seems plain
from Scripture that God wants us to rejoice in the glory we see in
nature. I base this, for example, on Psalm 19. After saying, “The heavens
declare the glory of God,” David reaches for language to show the
joy being communicated by the heavens. He says in verses 5-6 that the
sun “comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a
strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the
heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden
from its heat.”
Clearly this poet wants us to see and to feel that when the sun pours
forth speech about the glory of God, the message is that the glory of God
is an overwhelmingly happy thing. Why else would he say it is like a
bridegroom coming out of his chamber? The point here is not merely
that the bridegroom is decked out in the finest clothes and surrounded
by his noble groomsmen. The point is that this is the happiest day of his
life. This is the fulfillment of dreams. This is the beginning of a whole
new kind of joy. That’s what the glory of God is like. That’s the message
we should hear when we see the sun rise with lavish red and gold and
lavender in the eastern sky. God’s glory is a happy thing—like the happiness
of a bridegroom on his wedding day.
This is even more explicit in the other picture David uses at the end
of verse 5. When the sun rises and pours forth speech about the glory of
God, it is like a strong man that runs his race with joy. How can we not
think of Eric Liddell in that great scene from the film Chariots of Fire as
he takes that last turn in the race for the glory of God, and his arms drive
like living pistons, and his head goes back in that utterly unorthodox
position, and every fiber in his body does just what it was made to do,
and the smile breaks out across his face, and everything in Eric Liddell
cries, “Glory to God!”
That’s what the glory of God is like—it’s like the happiest day of
your life; it’s like every muscle and every tendon and every ligament and
every organ and all your mind and your emotions working just the way
they were created to work on the day of triumph. The glory of God is
the happiest reality in the universe.
DON’T NEGLECT THE GIFT OF HUMAN REPRESENTATIONS OF GOD’S GLORY
In our fight for joy, we must not neglect the ministry of God to our souls
in the world that he has made. We should make direct use of the world
to see and savor the glory of God wherever he has displayed it. This
includes the efforts of man, by his design and art, to represent something
of God’s glory. Even those who do not believe in God often sense that
there is more to see in what they see. The Bible insists that every human
being, even when suppressing the knowledge of God, does indeed
“know God” and has “clearly perceived” his attributes in the things he
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has
shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal
power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the
creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are
without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him
as God. (Rom. 1:19-21)
This means that even the artistic works of unbelievers sometimes
penetrate through the commonplace to the outskirts of the glory of God.
Believers whose hearts are purified by the grace of Christ may see from
this vantage point vastly more than the unbeliever. So even the unbelieving
artist may unwittingly assist us in seeing and savoring the glory
of God in the world he has made.
THE POWER OF HUMAN WORDS TO MAKE THE WORLD A CAUSE OF JOY
It is not a mistake that so much of the Bible is written in poetry. Nor is
it a mistake that there are so many biblical metaphors and similes. The
lesson is that God has ordained for language to pierce and portray what
colorless language cannot do. The human heart moves irrepressibly
toward poetry because it knows intuitively that the natural world is not
all there is. The heart may not even believe that the heavens are telling
the glory of God. But it knows, deep down, that they are telling something
more than meets the physical eye.
Therefore, in our fight for joy it may often be helpful to read penetrating
literature and see powerful drama. Not because they can ever
rival or replace the Scriptures, but because they are part of the Godrevealing
creation and its reflection. God did not put us in the world to
ignore it, but to use it wisely. From the beginning, human beings have
discovered that the reflection of the world in human art wakens us to
the world itself and what the world is saying about God. Echoes can
waken us to the shout of reality, and poetry can give us eyes to see. If
we weren’t afflicted with persistent sleepiness of soul, we might see all
the glory there is in nature. But as it is, we need help from creative artists.
Richard Foster is justified in writing:
I am concerned that our reading and our writing is gravitating to the
lowest common denominator so completely that the great themes of
majesty and nobility and felicity are made to seem trite, puny, pedestrian.
. . . I am concerned about the state of the soul in the midst of
all the cheap sensory overload going on today. You see, without what
Alfred North Whitehead called “an habitual vision of greatness,” our
soul will shrivel up and lose the capacity for beauty and mystery and
transcendence. . . .
But it isn’t just the substance of what we say (or write or read or
hear or see) that concerns me. It is the way we say it. To write pedantically
about radiance or infinity or ubiquity stunts the mind and
cramps the soul. To find the right word, to capture the perfect image,
awakens the spirit and enlarges the soul. Mark Twain noted that the
difference between the right word and the almost right world is like
the difference between the lightning and a lightning bug.7 . . . The
ancient Hebrew prophets cared enough about their message that they
frequently delivered it in poetic form. May new prophets arise in our
day that will call us to faithful living in words that are crisp and clear
And when they arise, one way that we fight for joy in God is to read
what they write. The heavens are telling the glory of God. Seeing it is
the ground of our joy. And often reading what others have seen wakens
us to see what they saw, or even more.
FIGHTING FOR JOY WITH SIGHTS AND SOUNDS THAT HUMANS MAKE
And of course, words are not the only way that artists waken others to
the glory of what they have seen. There is visual art (drawing, painting,
sculpture, photography, film), and there is music. I will not say much here
because I am out of my element. What I know about art and music I know
from experience, not formal study. I am a witness, not a judge. And what
I testify to is the power of visual art, and especially music. As it is with creative
writing, so it is with these: They have the potential to awaken the
mind and heart to aspects of God’s glory that were not perceived before.
Paintings or photographs of mountains and streams can call forth a sense
of wonder and peace. If we are willing to “look along” (not just “at”) these
pictures, as Lewis taught us, our eyes will run up the beams to the Original
Glory, and the wonder and peace will rest finally in the wonderful and
peaceful mountains and streams of God’s power and mercy.
Music, it seems to me, is the most complex art of all. Who can really
explain what happens when music works its power? Its transforming effects
are documented in cases ranging from Parkinson’s disease9 to plants.10 As
with all things in nature and in the hands of fallen man, it can be used to
reveal or conceal the glory of God—to corrupt the mind or illumine the
mind. At its best, music echoes a true perception of some facet of God’s glory.
The ambiguity of the medium itself, combined with cultural and social and
personal associations, complicates the display of that glory in sound.
I recall reading the story of a tribal person, with no exposure to
Western culture, being flown to Europe and taken to a performance of
Handel’s Messiah. He sat almost the whole time covering his ears with
his hands because, as he explained later, it was just so much noise to his
ears. That is an extreme illustration of the complexity of communicat-
How to Wield the World in the Fight for Joy < 193
ing with music. Nevertheless, the power is there, and it works every day
for good and for ill. My point is that in the fight for joy it is good and
right to pursue a deeper sense of God’s glory with the help of music.
WIELDING THE WEAPON OF MUSIC IN THE FIGHT FOR JOY IN GOD
If this were not right, the Bible would not command us so often to sing
(e.g., Ex. 15:21; 1 Chron. 16:23; Ps. 96:1) or to play on instruments
(e.g., Ps. 33:2-3; 57:8; 81:2; 150). Music seems to be woven into worship
and the world of nature. Among the many creatures that God has
made in his wisdom (Ps. 104:24) are the birds that God has taught to
sing: “Beside [the springs] the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing
among the branches” (Ps. 104:12). Surely God has not created music as
a pointless distraction from rational apprehensions of God. Surely, this
too is part of the creation that is “declaring the glory of God.”
To wield music well in the fight for joy we should be filled with the
Word of God, so that our minds are shaped by biblical truth. If our mind
and heart have been molded by the contours of God’s character and humbled
by the grace of the gospel, we will discern better what sounds reveal
and correspond to the varied glories of God. And since this depends so
much on cultural contexts and personal backgrounds, we will need not
only a grasp of musical richness, but also deep theological grounding in
God-centered truth, and cultural sensitivity, and an awareness of the
dynamics of the heart, and profound love for people of all kinds.
We must make it our aim that the joy awakened by music be joy in
God. Not all pleasures of music are pleasures in God. Then the effort to
delight in God through music will involve a prior shaping of the mind
by the Word, so that structures of sound that do not conform to God’s
character are not pleasing in the first place. Then the effort to delight in
God through music will also involve a thoughtful testing after the music
has already awakened joy. Is this joy, we ask, rooted in something good
about God? Is it shaping my emotions into a Christ-exalting configuration?
Is it stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more
and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort? So before and
after music has its immediate effect, we pursue the goal that music make
us more glad in the glory of God.11
FIGHTING FOR JOY WITH THE WONDER OF THE COMMONPLACE
I don’t want to give the impression that in our fight for joy one must
always make special plans to pursue such revelations of God’s glory—
like a trip to the mountains or a theater. Most of the time we should simply
open our eyes (and ears and noses and skin and taste buds). Not that
this takes no effort. Clearly human beings have a strange malady that
makes the ordinary glories of each day almost invisible, and certainly
less interesting than their imitations in theaters and television. There are
more ooooh’s and ahhh’s over the visual effects on a thirty-foot theater
screen than over the night sky and the setting sun. Why is it so hard for
us to feel wonder at the usual when clearly it is more spectacular than
the man-made imitation?
Clyde Kilby, a former literature teacher at Wheaton College, who
had a great influence on me when I was there, gave this answer:
The fall of man can hardly be more forcefully felt than simply in noting
what we all do with a fresh snowfall or the first buds of spring.
On Monday they fill us with delight and meaning and on Tuesday we
ignore them. No amount of shouting to us that this is all wrong
changes the fact for very long. . . . Only some aesthetic power which
is akin to God’s own creativity has the capability for renewal, for giving
us the power to see.12
This is a tragic condition captured by the proverb, “Familiarity
breeds contempt”—or breeds blindness to ordinary and obvious beauty.
But surely redemption through Jesus Christ means that we will be freed
from that proverb someday. And since our redemption has already
begun in this age, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians ought to
have better eyes than people in general for seeing the wonders that day
and night pour forth. We ought to be the kind of people who walk out
of the house in the morning with the same sense of expectancy that we
take into the theater—only more.
CHESTERTON’S ELEPHANTINE PURSUIT OF THE OBVIOUS
Once when we were discussing in class this issue of human blindness to
everyday wonders, Dr. Kilby recommended that we all read G. K.
How to Wield the World in the Fight for Joy < 195
Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy. He said it would do more to help us see
the glory of God in everyday life than anything he could say. I got it and
read it. I recommend it, not because its theology is always right (he is
Roman Catholic and does not like Calvinism), but because it holds out
hope of seeing the divine glory of the obvious better than any book I
Chesterton says of the book that “it recounts my elephantine adventures
in pursuit of the obvious.”13 He identifies one of the great causes
of our blindness as self-absorption. He says that a person who is becoming
morbid over fears and preoccupations about what others think of
him needs the liberation from his illusion that anyone gives a hoot!
How much happier you would be if you only knew that these people
cared nothing about you! How much larger your life would be if your
self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men
with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking
as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You
would begin to be interested in them because they were not interested
in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theater in which
your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself
under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.14
In other words, what we need is a kind of childlikeness. And romantic
tales are often used to awaken it.
When we are very young children we don’t need fairy tales: we only
need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is
excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon.
But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a
door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales—
because they find them romantic. . . . This proves that even nursery
tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement.
These tales say that apples are golden only to refresh the forgotten
moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run
with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that
they run with water.15
The point is that Christ frees us from self-preoccupation and gives us—
yes, only very gradually—a childlikeness that can see the sheer wonder
of the staggering strangeness of the ordinary. Chesterton said that this
discovery for him was captured in a riddle: “What did the first frog say?”
Answer: “Lord, how you made me jump!”16 In another place he says
that he came to the point where what amazed him was not the
strangeness of people’s noses, but that they had noses in the first place.
In becoming more childlike and more able to see glory in the wonder of
the ordinary and the routine, he points out that we are becoming more
[Children] always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does
it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong
enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to
exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do
it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.
It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may
be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of
making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy;
for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than
I linger over this point—that seeing the glory of God may not require
making a trip to the mountains or buying a ticket to the theater, but
only opening our eyes—because I believe untold resources for mental
health and spiritual joy in God lie all around us if we would but open
KILBY’S PRESCRIPTION FOR USING THE WORLD IN THE FIGHT FOR JOY
At the end of his life my teacher, Clyde Kilby, came to Minneapolis
and gave a lecture on how he intended to do just this. It was the last
time I heard him, and the message that bequeathed to us who listened
was the same legacy he had left to me when I was in his college
classes. He summed up his talk with eleven resolutions. I commend
them to you as one way of overcoming our bent toward blindness for
the wonders of the ordinary.
1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and
remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet
How to Wield the World in the Fight for Joy < 197
traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above me and
2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary
change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall
suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said
of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle and an end. I think
this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell
before his death, when he said: “There is darkness without and when
I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness
anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”18
3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is
merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but
rather a unique event filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I
shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly
evil parentheses in my existence but just as likely ladders to be
climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.
4. I shall not turn my life into a thin straight line which prefers
abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I
abstract,19 which of course I shall often have to do.
5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I
shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social
categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself
and do my work.
6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply
stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned
at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I
shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what [C. S.] Lewis calls their
“divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in
childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of
Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming
eyes of wonder.”20
8. I shall follow Darwin’s21 advice and turn frequently to imaginative
things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as
Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.
9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp
all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill
the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now
because the only time that exists is just now.
10. If for nothing more than the sake of a change of view, I shall
assume my ancestry to be from the heavens rather than from the
11. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life in the
assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee
landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to
the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a
stroke made by the architect who calls Himself Alpha and Omega.
FIGHTING FOR JOY BY THE INDIRECT USE OF THE WORLD
I mentioned earlier that in our fight for joy there is a direct use to be
made of nature and an indirect use. We’ve been talking mainly about the
direct use—that is, when we take steps to see and hear and smell and
taste and touch God’s creation (and man’s representation of it in art) in
order to perceive the glory of God more fully. But with Kilby’s eleven
resolutions we have begun to cross over to the indirect use of nature.
What I mean by the indirect use of nature is the steps we take to make
our bodies and minds as proficient as possible in their role as physical
partners in perceiving the glory of God.
Keep in mind that when the Bible says that “the heavens declare the
glory of God” (Ps. 19:1), it is clear that the heavens are not the glory of
God. They “declare” it or display it. They are the beam along which we
look till our eyes run up to the spiritual beauty of God himself. Thus we
see the heavens with our bodily eyes, and we experience the sensations
of that sight in physical brains. Yet we perceive the glory of God with
our spiritual eyes.
Jonathan Edwards describes this kind of joy (through creation) in
God as he ponders what heaven will be like. Will we enjoy only God
there, or will we enjoy other things as well? What does the psalmist
mean when he declares, “I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have
no good apart from you’” (Ps. 16:2), or “Whom have I in heaven but
you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25)?
The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the
angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in
the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield
them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.22
This is what we pray toward even now—that all our joy in the things of
this world would be because, in and through them, we see more of the
glory of God. Spiritual beauty is perceived in and through physical
beauty but is not identical with it. This is why I call the body with its
sensations the physical partner in perceiving the glory of God in the natural
Edwards gives us an illustration of the indirect use of nature in the
fight for joy. He writes:
When the body enjoys the perfections of health and strength, the
motion of the animal spirits [= physical responses] are not only brisk
and free but also harmonious. There is a regular proportion in the
motion from all parts of the body that begets delight in the inner soul
and makes the body feel pleasantly all over. God has so excellently
contrived the nerves and parts of the human body. But few men since
the fall, especially since the flood, have health to so great a perfection
as to have much of this harmonious motion. When it is enjoyed, one
whose nature is not very much vitiated and depraved is very much
assisted thereby in every exercise of body or mind. And it fits one for
the contemplation of more exalted and spiritual excellencies and harmonies,
as music does.23
What this means is that there are conditions of the body and the mind
that are more conducive than others to the perception of spiritual
beauty. This is the main reason for trying to handle our bodies with a
wise measure of discipline. We want to see and savor the divine glory
that God declares in the heavens and on the earth and in food and sexual
intimacy and music and poetry and art. And Edwards is saying that
there is a condition of the body that hinders or helps the perception of
THE GRACE OF GLORY REVEALED TO SUFFERING CHRISTIANS
Immediately I feel a qualification rising in my own mind. Beaten and battered
prisoners for Christ often have extraordinary views of the beauty
and sustaining sweetness of Christ. They are without food or warmth
or cleanliness or any physical comfort. Yet they call persecution sweet
names and put to shame most of us who are fit and hardy. They often
have a superior spiritual sight in their broken health and simple meals.
So please don’t interpret this final part of the chapter as a kind of
chipper health and happiness regimen. The question is not whether God
can reveal himself in precious ways to those who suffer. He can and does.
It is possible, as the Bible says, to rejoice in tribulation (Rom. 5:3). “If
you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the
Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:14). The question
is what we should do during times when we can choose our own lifestyle
of eating and exercising and resting. In what indirect ways can we
improve the ability of our bodies and minds for their partnership in perceiving
the glory of God?
EATING RIGHT FOR THE SAKE OF JOY IN GOD
We have already touched on fasting in the previous chapter. There is a
paradox here. By saying “No” to a physical appetite we say “Yes” to
the body’s ability to help us see the glory of God. A full stomach may
say thanks for the food; but an empty stomach may see heavenly food
more clearly. That’s what Paul seems to imply about the sexual appetite
when he says to Christian husbands and wives, “Do not deprive one
another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may
devote yourselves to prayer” (1 Cor. 7:5). It really doesn’t take much
time to have sexual intercourse; so the issue is not to save time for prayer.
The issue seems to be that fasting from legitimate sexual pleasure tunes
the body in a unique way for communion with God. I say this even while
remembering how earnestly we contended earlier in this chapter for seeing
the glory of God in the very act of sexual intimacy and in the very
act of eating. Both are true.
Sereno Dwight tells us that Jonathan Edwards “carefully observed
the effects of the different sorts of food, and selected those which best
suited his constitution, and rendered him most fit for mental labor.”24
Thus he abstained from every quantity and kind of food that made him
sick or sleepy. Edwards had set this pattern when he was twenty-one
years old when he wrote in his diary, “By a sparingness in diet, and eat-
How to Wield the World in the Fight for Joy < 201
ing as much as may be what is light and easy of digestion, I shall doubtless
be able to think more clearly, and shall gain time.”25 Hence he was
“Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.”26
The point here is not to commend the particulars of Edwards’s eating
habits. The point is that we be intentional about how our eating
affects the ability of our body to be a helpful partner in seeing the glory
of God. We live in an era of eating disorders.27 I am not eager to create
another one. I commend balance. Put the following two texts beside
each other. On the one hand, Paul made food and drink clearly secondary:
“The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking
but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom.
14:17). But on the other hand, he said, in regard to food, “I will not be
enslaved by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). In the balance of those two truths
we can find a way to eat that will provide both the denial and the delight
that will fit us for seeing the glory of God in the Word and in the world.
EXERCISE AS AN INDIRECT FIGHT FOR JOY
The Bible has little to say about physical exercise, not because it’s not
important for modern sedentary people, but mainly because, in the biblical
world of walking and farming and manual labor, the lack of physical
exercise was not a problem. The call today is for spiritual wisdom
based on biblical principles and contemporary medical knowledge.
The biblical principles would include the following: Our bodies
belong to Christ and are meant to glorify him (1 Cor. 6:19-20); laziness
is wrong and self-destructive (Prov. 21:25); Christians should be free
from any enslaving habits (1 Cor. 6:12); hard work is a virtue and brings
rewards (2 Tim. 2:6); advance usually comes through affliction (Acts
14:22); and all Christ-exalting efforts to be healthy flow from faith in
the gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14). “No pain, no gain” is an idea that
could be documented from all over the Bible, especially the sacrifice of
Contemporary medical knowledge would include the fact that obesity
kills and contributes to dozens of ailments. Not all obesity is selfinflicted.
Some medical conditions make it virtually impossible to avoid
it. But most of it is self-inflicted, and this kind of self-destruction does
not enhance the ability of the body or the mind to see and savor the glory
of God in this world, or the glory of Christ who endured the cross by
postponing the feast till the age to come (Heb. 12:2).
Another aspect of medical knowledge that should shape our wisdom
about exercising is that consistent exercise has refining effects on
our mental and emotional stability. One medical report sums up the benefits
The psychological and emotional benefits from exercise are numerous,
and many experts now believe that exercise is a viable and important
component in the treatment of emotion disorders. A 1999 review of
multiple studies found, across the board, that exercise advances the
treatment of clinical depression and anxiety. . . . Yet another study
found that regular brisk walking cut the incidence of sleep disturbances
in half in people who suffer from them. . . . Either brief periods
of intense training or prolonged aerobic workouts raise levels of
chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and
dopamine, that produce feelings of pleasure. . . . Aerobic exercise is
also linked with improved mental vigor, including reaction time, acuity,
and math skills. Exercising may even enhance creativity and imagination.
According to one study, older people who are physically fit
respond to mental challenges just as quickly as unfit young adults.28
Again keep in mind that the aim of this chapter and this book is not
maximal physical health. Nor is it to help you find ways to get the best
buzz for your brain. None of that is of any interest to me. My aim is that
you will find a way of life that enables you to use your mind and your
five senses as effective partners in seeing the glory of God, and that you
be so satisfied in him that you are willing to risk your health and your
life to make him known. It may seem paradoxical, but that’s the way it
is: The right use of your body and your mind may enable you to see so
much of God that you would sacrifice your life for Christ.
REST AS A WEAPON IN THE FIGHT FOR JOY
Finally, if we would see the glory of God, we must rest. For all his talk
about spending and being spent, Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenthcentury
London pastor, counsels us to fight for joy by resting and
taking a day off and opening ourselves to the healing powers that God
has put in the world of nature.
For us pastors, he says, “Our Sabbath is our day of toil, and if we
do not rest upon some other day we shall break down.”29 Spurgeon himself
kept, when possible, Wednesday as his day of rest.30 More than that,
Spurgeon said to his students,
It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do
more by sometimes doing less. On, on, on for ever, without recreation
may suit spirits emancipated from this “heavy clay”, but while we are
in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the
Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure. Let no tender conscience
doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for a while.31
And when we take time away from the press of duty, Spurgeon recommends
that we breathe country air and let the beauty of nature do its
appointed work. He confesses that “sedentary habits have a tendency
to create despondency . . . especially in the months of fog.” And then he
He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing
of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods,
the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind
among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his
soul grows heavy. A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a
few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would
sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers
who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in
the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield
oxygen to the body, which is the next best. . . . The ferns and the rabbits,
the streams and the trouts, the fir trees and the squirrels, the
primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the
fragrant hops—these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the
surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary.
For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are
neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim.32
GETTING OLDER IN THE FIGHT FOR JOY
We must keep an eye on the apostolic command, “Keep a close watch on
yourself” (1 Tim. 4:16). One reason we must watch ourselves closely is
that we change over the years. What was wise eating and exercising and
resting in the early years is no longer wise. As I write, I am finishing my
twenty-fourth year at the church I serve. I am moving toward my fiftyninth
birthday. I have watched my body and my soul with some care over
these years and have noticed some changes. They are partly owing to
changing circumstances, but much is owing to a changing body.
I cannot eat as much as I used to without gaining unhelpful weight.
My body does not metabolize the same way it used to. Another change
is that I am emotionally less resilient when I lose sleep. There were early
days when I could work without regard to sleep and feel energized and
motivated. In more recent years my threshold for despondency is lower
on less sleep. For me, adequate sleep is not just a matter of staying healthy.
It’s a matter of staying in the ministry—I’m tempted to say it’s a matter
of persevering as a Christian. I know it is irrational that my future should
look so bleak when I get only four or five hours of sleep several nights in
a row. But rational or irrational, that is a fact. And I must live within the
limits of facts. Therefore we must watch the changes in our bodies. In the
fight for joy we must be wise in the adjustments we make.
Spurgeon was right when he said:
The condition of your body must be attended to. . . . [A] little more
. . . common sense would be a great gain to some who are ultra spiritual,
and attribute all their moods of feeling to some supernatural
cause when the real reason lies far nearer to hand. Has it not often
happened that dyspepsia [indigestion] has been mistaken for backsliding,
and bad digestion has been set down as a hard heart?33
I once struggled with the truth that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal.
5:22), because I knew from experience that it is also a “fruit” of a good
night’s rest. In other words, I was more gloomy on little rest and more
happy on good rest. What brought light to this perplexity is that one of
the ways the Spirit produces his fruit in our lives is by humbling us
enough to believe we are not God and that God can run the world without
our staying up too late and getting up too early. God has united the
body and the spirit in such a way that careless uses of the body will ordinarily
diminish our sight of the hope-giving glory of God. Not surprisingly,
therefore, our joy in God usually decreases with inadequate rest.
ALL THE WORLD A WITNESS TO THE GLORY OF GOD
Joy in God is not the same as joy in sex or a sizzling steak or deep ravines
or powerful music. But God’s will is that all these—and every part of his
good creation—declare the glory of God. All the world, and even the
imperfect representations of it in human art, is a witness to the glory of
God. That glory is the ultimate ground of all human gladness. Therefore,
the created world is a holy weapon in the fight for joy. But it must be
“made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:5). To help you
do that has been my aim in this chapter.
I waited patiently for the LORD.
P S A L M 4 0 : 1
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
P S A L M 3 0 : 5
Ah my deare angrie Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.
I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve:
And all my sowre-sweet dayes
I will lament, and love.
G E O R G E H E R B E R T
“ B I T T E R S W E E T ” 1