John Piper, George Mueller, and The Pleasures of God
Since reading John Piper’s book Desiring God the month it came out in 1986, I became interested in everything he writes. In 1991, the year after we started Eternal Perspective Ministries, he came out with The Pleasures of God, which was updated in 2000. This is a truly great book that I highly recommend. Here’s a portion I want to share with you.
Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth…I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. (Isaiah 65:17-18, RSV).
I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and with all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:39-41).
On February 6, 1870, George Mueller’s wife, Mary, died of rheumatic fever. They had been married thirty-nine years and four months. He was sixty-four years old. Shortly after the funeral he was strong enough to preach a “funeral sermon” as he called it. What text would he choose when God had taken his best beloved? He chose Psalm 119:68, “You are good, and do good.” His three points were:
- The Lord was good, and did good, in giving her to me.
- The Lord was good, and did good, in so long leaving her to me.
- The Lord was good, and did good, in taking her from me.
But the promise is greater yet. Not only does God promise not to turn away from doing good to us, he says, “I will rejoice in doing them good” (Jeremiah 32:41). “The Lord will again take delight in prospering you” (Deuteronomy 30:9). He does not bless us begrudgingly. This is a kind of eagerness about the beneficence of God. He seeks us out, because it is his pleasure to do us good. God is not waiting for us, he is pursuing us. That, in fact, is the literal translation of Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.”
…God is like a great Niagara—you look at it and think: surely this can’t keep going at this force for year after year after year. It seems like it would have to rest. Or it seems like some place up stream it would run dry. But, no, it just keeps surging and crashing and making honeymooners happy century after century. That’s the way God is about doing us good. He never grows weary of it. It never gets boring to him.
God has overcome every obstacle that would keep him from lavishing kindness on us forever.…Christ was bruised to bear the condemnation that stood like a dam between the desert valley of our lives and the trillion-ton, cool, clear, deep, fresh-water reservoir of God’s goodness.
He carried our griefs and bore our sorrows and triumphed over death “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). The Watergates of the dam are opening wider and wider—up to our ability to bear the blessing of God’s glory.
His exuberance in delighting in the welfare of his servant is the measure of the immensity of his resources: “My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory (Psalm 149:4).
God says his joy over his people is like a bridegroom over a bride. He is talking about honeymoon intensity and honeymoon pleasures and honeymoon energy and excitement and enthusiasm and enjoyment. He is trying to get into our hearts what he means when he says he rejoices over us with all his heart.
And add to this, that with God, the honeymoon never ends. He is infinite in power and wisdom and creativity and love. And so he has no trouble sustaining a honeymoon level of intensity; he can foresee all the future quirks of our personality and has decided he will keep what’s good for us and change what isn’t; and he is infinitely creative to think of new things to do together so that there will be no boredom for the next trillion ages of millenniums.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will be quiet in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17).
I say this is almost too good to believe—that when the father calls the minstrels to sing at the banquet, it is he himself that leads the singing, and the song has to do with how glad he is that we are there. In fact, it is too good for some people to believe, and they, tragically, cannot believe it. But Zephaniah labors under the wonderful inspiration of God to overcome every obstacle that would keep a person from believing—really feeling and enjoying—the unspeakable news that God exults over us with singing.
I ask “Can you feel the wonder of this today—that God is rejoicing over you with loud singing?”
“No,” you say, “I can’t, because I am too guilty. I am unworthy. My sin is too great, and the judgments against me are too many. God could never rejoice over me.”
But I say, “Consider Zephaniah 3:15. God foresees your hesitancy. He understands. So his prophet says, ‘The Lord has taken away the judgments against you!’ Can you not feel the wonder that the Lord exults over you with loud singing today, even though you have sinned? Can you not feel that the condemnation has been lifted because he bruised his own Son in your place, if you will only believe?”
“No,” you say, “I can’t, because I am surrounded by enemies. Obstacles press me in on every side. There are people at work who would make my life miserable if God were my treasure. There are people in my family who would ostracize me. I have friends who would do everything to drag me down. I could never go on believing. I would have too many enemies. The oppression would be too much to bear, I could never do it.”
But I say, “Consider Zephaniah 3:17, ‘The Lord is a warrior who gives victory’; and verse 19, ‘Behold, at that time I will deal with your oppressors [says the Lord]’; and verse 15, ‘He has cast out your enemies.’ Can you feel the wonder that God is doing everything that needs to be done for you to enjoy his own enjoyment of you? Can you see that the enemies and the oppressors are not too strong for God? Can you feel the wonder of it now? Can you believe that he rejoices over you?”
“No,” you say, “still I can’t, because he is a great and holy God and I feel like he is far away from me. I am a nobody. The world is a huge place with many important people. There are major movements and institutions that he is concerned with and happy about. I am too small. God is like the president. He is far away in Washington, busy with big things.”
But I say, “Consider Zephaniah 3:15, ‘The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst’; and verse 17: ‘The Lord, your God, is in your midst.’ He is not far from you. Yes, I admit that this staggers the imagination and stretches credibility almost to the breaking point—that God can be present personally to everyone who comes to him and believes on him. But say to yourself, again and again, He is God! He is God! What shall stop God from being close to me if he wants to be close to me? He is God! He is God! The very greatness that makes him seem too far to be near, is the greatness that enables him to do whatever he pleases, including being near to me. Has he not said, for this very reason, ‘I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit’ (Isaiah 57:15)? Can you not then feel the marvel that God makes merry over you—even with loud singing—when you come to him and believe him?”
Excerpts from John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2000).