Prayer, the Power of Christian Hedonism
On chapter 6 of John Piper's Desiring God
Piper often opens his chapters with an objection to Christian Hedonism. Here the objection is that Christian Hedonism, “puts the interests of man above the glory of God (159).” Logically, this could not be so for two reasons. One, our pursuit of happiness in God could never be greater than the pursuit of His own happiness in Himself. We could never want God to be glorified more than He desires the same for Himself. Secondly, our pursuit of happiness in God is something He is doing in us for His glory. Our happiness if found in only one place, in Him, not without Him. Our happiness in Him is a byproduct of His work , in us, to glorify Himself. Piper sums this up characteristic of his style that at times is less like a sermon and more like a debate by saying, “Therefore, Christian Hedonists do not put their happiness above God’s glory when they pursue happiness in Him (160).” The two are the same.
As evidence that his conclusion is correct, Piper serves up the evidence of prayer. He outlines the chapter by calling attention to the teachings of John 14:13 and 16:24. Prayer not only pursues the glory of God, but it also pursues the fullness of our joy. These are not separate ends, but the single destination of the vehicle of prayer. Piper teaches us some wonderful things about prayer. My advice would be to actually read his “Summary and Exhortation” before reading the chapter (182). That section is the cliff notes on everything he says about the relationship of prayer to Christian Hedonism.
For me, what stands out most in this chapter is the way Piper characterizes God as someone who is happy answering our prayer (168 – 172). He is happy and glorified when He answers prayer, therefore we should pray and seek His answer. We should be careful not to be adulteress in prayer, which means we only ask God to provide for us so that we may spend His provision in an affair with the world (164). Nor should we offer to help, to assist God with His answer. Instead, we are to acknowledge our helplessness and wait for Him (170). I think too often we feel prayer is a crapshoot, a game of chance, darts in the dark. God may answer, He may not, we can never tell, but it is worth a shot. There is nothing joyful about this approach. Instead, when I pray I should agree with the teaching of Scripture, that God is looking for me to seek Him. He is happy and glorified in answering my prayers. If He is happy in His answers, then I will be delighted and full of joy in Him as well.
In prayer, I must not only avoid being adulteress, but I also must be on mission. I think these thoughts on adultery with the world (164), and the thoughts on being on mission in prayer (177), are two sides of the same coin. This winter Dr. Allen Ross led a Bible conference at our church on The Psalms. In teaching on prayer, he asked a question that cut me to the core. If God answers your prayer, what are you going to do with the answer? What am I determined to do with what I may receive from God? Piper says that prayer is the fuel of our mission. We cannot be the fruit bearers that God has called us to be (176-177) nor can we fulfill the mission of love that He has called us to do (178-179) without God enabling power. I love Pastor Piper’s explanation for our weakness in prayer. He says that we often use prayer as a “domestic intercom for increasing our conveniences (178).” Instead prayer is to be for the purpose of empowering our mission. We will be in conflict. Prayer is not to afford us domestic comfort, but to help us attain decisive victory over evil.
There is not a problem in seeking God’s glory and the fullness of joy in Him. My pursuit of joy in Him does not make my needs greater than His glory. These are but mere threads of the same cloth. Prayer is the weave that binds them together.