Worship, The Feast of Christian Hedonism
On Chapter 3 of John Piper's Desiring God
I once heard Pastor John Piper say in his lecture “Pastor as Scholar”, that he is a slow reader. He may read slowly but his writing pace is about a book a week. Yet his writing forces us to do as he does, read slowly. There is a lot to think about in every line, so many poignant paragraphs. In a book like this I bleed a lot of ink; and as I read, it sounds like someone is punching me in the ribs as I often utter guttural, “mmm”’s. Every “mmm” is a pause for the brain, a challenge to the soul, a moment of introspection.
This chapter is full of underline worthy material. Rather than cite it all I encourage you to get your own pen, your own book, and mark it up. This chapter is a great thought and deals with a pertinent issue to the argument for Christian Hedonism. What should I do with all that I feel? I feel lots of things. I can scratch them but they are destined to return. I can indulge them, but doing so in sinful things only serves to create an unfulfilled monster that doesn’t know what else to do but eat himself to death. What should I do with all that I feel? I feel alone, and excited, and joy, and pain, and anxiety, and curiosity. Some days I feel like learning. Some days I feel like teaching. Some circumstances are overwhelming. Others are empowering. I feel differently in the morning than I do at lunch. I feel. What am I to do with all of this?
Pastor Piper implores the reader to take all that he feels and allow those feelings to find their ends in God (90 - 92). This he says, is worship. With this chapter he revisits a problem he raised in the introduction or the preface, which of the two I can’t remember, but it is the problem that most people are given to believe that when we worship God it should be absent of any seeking of relief, satisfaction, pleasure, or feeling. It is the idea that worshipping God and seeking after joy is somehow selfish and irreverent. I would contend that indeed it could be in a certain context. Piper would agree and so he guides us in this so that we can avoid such danger.
He is intent to hold us to scripture, in particular the idea that true worshippers approach God with two plumb lines, spirit and truth. Preachers are usually good storytellers. Piper does a masterful job of exploring the themes of the woman at the well in John 4 and teaching us what Jesus means when he says, “spirit and truth.” I would be of the opinion that when Jesus says spirit that he is talking more about the Holy Spirit than the human spirit. I argue this because of the context. Jesus speaking of a new hour in which worship is not geographically localized, but personally localized, as in the indwelling of human souls with the Holy Spirit of God. Piper acknowledges that while this may be true, the interpretations are, in actuality, not that far apart (82). He says that the spirit of a Christian (Hedonist) is after all a Holy Spirit quickened Spirit. This simply means that the human spirit is now given life by the Holy Spirit. Piper teaches on page 89 that the result of the Holy Spirit giving life to the human spirit is, “The heart is changed. And the evidence of it is not just new decisions, but new affections, new feelings (89).” This being the case then worshipping God in spirit and truth is an affair of the heart (the human spirit quickened by the Holy Spirit) and an affair of the mind (the pondering of the reality of God as revealed in Scripture) (83).
Piper is not only concerned with what worship is but also with what worship does. As I have previously alluded, Piper is concerned in this chapter with what we do with our natural capacity to feel and our propensity to seek pleasure. He argues that both of these can be satisfied in the worship of God. “Strong affections for God, rooted in and shaped by the truth of Scripture - this is the bone and marrow of biblical worship (104).” So let me lay out, in order what I think Piper is saying:
1) God seeks His own glory because as the perfect/ultimate being He could do nothing less.
2) God’s creatures were designed to do what He does, bring Him glory.
3) Because God is satisfied in Himself it is only natural for all that He has created to also be satisfied in Him.
4) Because we have sinned, we no longer reflect God’s glory and that fact that we now seek to satisfy our pleasures in things other than God reveals that something is horribly wrong with our soul.
5) We need to be converted, born again, which happens when God brings us to the realization that we need to seek God’s glory and satisfy our pleasures in Him and results in new affections and desires to find pleasure in God and seek His glory.
6) As creatures with new affections we will be satisfied in God when we seek their end in Him (an affair of the heart) but do not do so thoughtlessly, but rather thoughtfully dwelling mentally on the reality of God and the truths about Him revealed in Scripture (an affair of the mind).
I think it is important, before we move further to say that worship is not a Sunday morning service with music (only or primarily). “The first thing we learn is that worship has to do with real life. It is not a mythical interlude in a week of reality. Worship has to do with adultery and hunger and racial conflict (77).” This means that the very real things I feel and face throughout the day can always find their end in God. This is the essence of the Psalms and probably why Piper quotes them so much. The Psalms are full of feeling. They are full of satisfaction and starvation, light and darkness, anger and joy, questions and answers, pleasure and pain. The Psalms are full of feeling and we cannot deny that most of the time they were also used as the anthems of worship. My day should be full of these anthems because my life is full of feelings that desire an end (satisfaction) and my desire is for God. My feelings should bring me daily into conversation with God. This is worship.
I believe Piper is right about this because it is the teaching of Scripture, after all much Scripture is born of these sorts of feelings in conversation with God, and it is the reality of human experience. I would agree with all of the balances Piper provides in this chapter, be careful to observe them. In worship, spirit without truth is shallow emotionalism and truth without spirit is dead orthodoxy (81). Worship with motion and emotion without agreement to truth is hypocrisy (88). People who express gratitude without feeling are ingrates (92). To worship God we need conversion and new affections because we are too easily pleased (99). If we worship God only as a matter of duty, it is not worship but duty (93). I would further argue that people that relate to God only out of duty will not last very long in His worship or service. This is why people who go to church, serve, or read the Bible only because they think they should; it is not long before they quit or endure in misery (which is something you would feel).
There is a lot here. Read slowly. Use ink. Use spirit. Ponder truth. Worship God.