A Book Review of John Piper’s Desiring God
Updated: Feb 22, 2019
To date, the best book I have ever read in my Christian life (next to the Bible) is Desiring God by John Piper. I did not always feel this way about the book. I was skeptical because of the subtitle, “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.” It kind of sounded to me like a contradiction, akin to “Christian Lust” or “Christian Adultery.” The language put me on my guard because this was not the way I understood the Christian life.
Piper wrote about the pursuit of our maximum pleasure and satisfaction, the kindling of our affections to a white-hot flame of passion for Christ. Even after reading the book, I still wrestled with his interpretation and application of certain passages. So it sent me, as Piper’s teaching often does, to my Bible with pen in hand to see if it was true, knowing that if it was, my life was about to change.
It did. I can never be different.
This single phrase arrested me and still holds me today: God will be most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.
Piper modifies the familiar Westminster Confession of Faith’s first question: What is the chief end of man?” which answers, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Piper tweaks one word, which opens to door to living the Christian life to the glory of God. He makes it read: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. Therein lies the application – we glorify God when He is the greatest source of our joy.
That statement is what Piper spends the whole book unpacking, explaining, and applying. In fact, every book Piper writes is an amplification of this one central truth. If he is right, and I believe he is, then God’s glory will be the most satisfying pursuit of your life. And when that’s your all-consuming passion you will not rest until you fully know that pleasure of pleasing Him. To say it another way, you will not be able to endure existence unless God is glorified in you.
What a life, to live in such a way that you will not find pleasure in anything other than that which honors God.
At first, it sounds selfish. Piper contends, however, is there any virtue or is it even possible to make a pretense to loving and worshiping God out of a sense of duty or drudgery? Is it not hypocrisy to claim to love someone and yet not take delight in him or her? He uses the scenario of a husband sending his wife “dutiful roses.” Imagine a husband coming to the door to meet his wife with an enormous spring bouquet of roses, mums, daisies, and sunflowers in a 2-foot tall vase, ringing the doorbell as if it was someone else, to surprise her when she sees that it is him. When she opens, he hands her the bouquet, and as she leaps for joy to hug his neck, he says to her in a monotone voice, “Really it was nothing. After all, it has been a long time since I have done it, and it is my duty to give you flowers – I mean, that’s just what husbands do…, right?” What do you think that does to the flowers in her mind? What do you think she thinks about every time she sees them? She feels belittled.
He should say to her, “Honey, these are for you to show you my deep love for you. You are to me the most wonderful, attractive, enjoyable person I know, and I am so grateful to be your husband. My relationship with you is so satisfying to me that I had to show you by getting you these flowers. I appreciate that you… You are to me… These flowers will fade in a few days, but I want you to know that my love for you will never fade. Thank you for being my wife and friend.”
What do you think that does for his wife? It sends her into space because she is so loved. Is that selfish to say that he finds great delight in her? Is he focused on himself because he is talking so much about himself? On the contrary, it proves that his love for her is sincere because he has internally exulted in her worth.
Piper writes, “God must love and delight in His beauty and perfection above all things. For us to do this in front of the mirror is the essence of vanity… Is not the essence of righteousness to place supreme value on what is supremely valuable, with all of the just actions to follow? And isn’t the opposite of righteousness to set our highest affections on the things of little or no worth, with all the unjust actions that follow? Thus the righteousness of God is the infinite zeal and joy and pleasure that He has in what is supremely valuable, namely His own perfection and worth. And if He were to ever act contrary to this eternal passion for His own perfections he would be unrighteous, He would be an idolater.”
Admittedly, it took me a very long time to wade through the first few chapters of the book, because the concept was so audacious. But back and forth between the book and my Bible, I began to see what the Bible writers found in God:
“O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14).
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God” (Psalm 42:1)
“Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:3-5).
I began a journey that day that has changed the way I read the Bible, pray, worship, love my life, use my money, preach the Gospel, say no to temptation, and treat other people. Without reservation I call everyone who reads this review to put down every book you are reading, run to your nearest bookstore, purchase this book, and join me in pursuing your greatest pleasure in the unfathomable riches of the glory of God spoken of by David in Psalm 16:11, “You will make known to me the path of life, in Your presence is fullness of joy, and at Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
Refuse to settle for the slums of sin’s passing pleasures when you can dine at the banquet table of God’s exquisite feast which satisfies forever. If you want the distilled version, it is titled, “The Dangerous Duty of Delight.” More simple and straight, less theological and difficult.
“O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places.
Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy;
And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God.”