Happy Being Miserable

The later we get into John Piper’s Desiring God, it seems the book becomes easier to read and all the more convicting.  It may be easier for me to read at this point simply because I have become so frustrated by the pairing of the words “Christian” and “Hedonism” that my mind is now able to ignore them.  For me, this pairing is as awful as when people connect the words “holy” and “crap.”  I have been guilty of saying these words without thought, but the more I hear them and think about what each of them mean apart, I am ashamed that I have ever used them together.  I am not sure the word “crap” can ever be cleansed.  I would say the same for “hedonism.”
The good thing about this chapter is that Piper doesn’t really get into that whole confusing argument of why seeking joy in missions is not self seeking, but that seeking joy in the self is really what we should be doing because the only joy we will ever be satisfied with is joy that is found in God.  At least I think that is what he has been trying to say.  Instead, with this chapter he cuts right to the chase and tries to, “Kindle a desire in your heart to be part of the last chapter of the greatest story in the world (231).”  Piper says that he would “like to believe” that as we read this chapter we are on the brink of becoming frontier missionaries.  He thinks we are reading his book, cruising through life, as bankers, preachers, lawyers, house wives, students, and regular middle classers; and in the next moment we will be bankers, preachers, lawyers, house wives, students, and irregular middle classers who now have a bold new purpose and direction.  If we bank here, perhaps we will finish this chapter and find a way to help the economy of a third world country.  If we preach here, that we will think of a way to preach where there is little to no preaching.  If we are lawyers here, then after reading this book we will find ways to be advocates for the innocent where people are truly oppressed.  “I want to push you over the brink.  I would like to make the cause of missions so attractive that you will no longer be able to resist its magnetism (232).”
What he then shares is page after page of stuff he has read in books about missions and quotes from missionary journals and diaries.  He weaves a thread between the dire need for missions in the final pockets of the planet (the 10/40 window), what God has promised to do in reaching these final pockets of people with the gospel, and the firsthand accounts of inexplicable joy that suffering missionaries have found in giving themselves to this cause.  The words of David Livingstone speak for all of the missionaries who have lost children, left home, ate very little, and saw relatively few results, “I never made a sacrifice (243).”  Remember, Piper opened his book with this line on page 9,
“The heroes of this book are Jesus Christ, who ‘endured the cross for the joy that was set before him’; and St. Paul, who was ‘sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’; and Jonathan Edwards, who deeply savored the sweet sovereignty of God; and C.S. Lewis, who knew that the Lord ‘finds our desires not too strong but too weak’; and all the missionaries who have left everything for Christ and in the end said, ‘I never made a sacrifice.”
If I were to put my pen down right here, which I can’t because there is at least one more chapter to go, I would say that everything Piper has said thus far was just the preface to chapter 9 on missions.  If you have read only a few of his books and listened to his sermons, you have probably noticed this recurring theme of life sacrificing missions.
My question is, are we as close to the brink as he would imagine us to be, or are we happy being miserable?  I would not be so naïve to think that Piper is advocating that the only people who are happy are those who are on the missionary frontiers of the 10/40.  Yet he is parading before us a group of people we would categorically think should be most miserable, but in actuality they have found a joy in God that is foreign to most of us.  Who is miserable?  None of the people Piper quotes are miserable.  They have lost children, lost life, lost health, lost luxury, lost almost everything and yet there is no misery in them.  At least this is the Piper edited version of what they have said.  Piper has not said that you must go to a certain geographical longitude and latitude to be happy.  What he has said is that we should look at the joy that those with less “creature comforts” have found and examine what this joy has caused them to do.  They see life differently because they have found joy in God.
Are we happy being miserable?  Are we content having never found the only joy that can completely satisfy our souls?  If we do not find this place, I would not think that any of us who are reading his book are on any sort of “brink.”  If we are trying to satisfy our soul with money (chapter 7), 10/40 offers no prospects of joy.  If our joy is not being fulfilled in marriage, a casual conversation about missions will be nothing but “crazy talk” for couples.  If we cannot survive marriage, Asia is not on the radar.  Yet if we are not happy being miserable, but have an insatiable appetite for God, then we are on the brink.  Our vocations, marriages, purses, wallets, homes, hobbies – all of us, becomes nothing more than a thirsty vessel poised to be filled by an aggressively happy God. 
Maybe Piper has paraded the happy missionaries before us so that we may make a comparison.  Who, us or them, is miserable?  Why are they so happy and we are not?  Perhaps we are closer to the brink than I originally thought.  Perhaps this parade was to show us that we are not happy being miserable.  Over the brink we go.


I've read through your posts on Desiring God. It seems you are struggling (admirably) with the limits of the Life Way materials. For my class, I just ditched the whole Masterwork book and we are using the DG group study guide and the full book. If you click through my profile to my blog, you'll find my resources I've used and encouraged class members to use. The sermons on DG by Piper are so helpful. I've encouraged the class to listen and read.

BTY, I have the same struggle with the term "hedonism." But it does have the effect of "shocking" the reader into focused attention on what he is getting at: finding soul-resting joy in God and God alone. Cheers,

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