“Love is helping people toward the greatest beauty and the highest value and the deepest satisfaction and the most lasting joy and the biggest reward and the most wonderful friendship and the most overwhelming worship- love is helping people toward God. We do this by pointing to the greatness of God. And God does it by pointing to the greatness of God.” John Piper- Let the Nations be Glad, p. 28
“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love that we may rejoice and be glad all the days of our lives.” (Psalm 90:14)
Last month at our graduation ceremonies, we gave some of our students an opportunity to share one important truth they had discovered in their two year study at Action Malawi School of the Bible. One young man, a fairly new believer, discovered this life changing truth. He said, he grew up hearing that God was to be feared and that Christianity was all about keeping laws to avoid punishment and hell. But, he said in his classes, he learned that at the center of Christianity is a rejoicing over the glory of God. We are created, and called and redeemed to be able to see and savor and share the beauty of God. As I sat there I rejoiced in my heart, and said to myself: “He got it!”
That is why Give Me that Book, Action Malawi Trust Ministries, and Mudzi Owala have this banner flying over all we do: “Displaying the beauty of Jesus by serving the most needy of Malawi through words of truth and works of love.” It is why the Westminster Confession answers the question, “What is the chief end of man?” by answering, “To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” And, it is why John Piper added this tweak to that statement: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God by enjoying him forever.” Then, it is why he goes even further and higher: “What is the chief end of God? The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever.” David also “got it!” Throughout the Psalms you will hear him say things like, “May all who take refuge in you be glad; may they ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may rejoice in you,” (Psalm 5:11) and, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11) And of course, Paul “got it” too, when he admonished us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
To be sure, God is to be feared. In the Second Law, Moses commanded the new generation to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) Then, just a few passages later he warns them to, “Fear the Lord God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name…for the Lord your God who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you.” We are told that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10) Even the fear we have is a God-glorifying one, a reverence that acknowledges and worships “the splendor of his holiness.” (Psalm 96:9) But, fear is just the beginning. When we come to live in God and God lives in us, “love is made complete.” (1 John 4:16-17) There is then no fear in God’s love for “perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” In Jesus, our sins have been covered and we are safe in him for eternity. Praise God!
Someone might ask, what about obedience? Doesn’t this emphasis upon finding our happiness in Jesus take away from our call to be obedient to God’s commands? My answer is this: obedience is birthed and motivated out of our joy in Jesus. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my command.” On one hand obedience may be seen as a proof of our love for Jesus. It may also be seen as a reason for our obedience. It is our love for Jesus, our joy in Jesus, that motivates us to obey him. We love God because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) In fact, if we sin, it is because we don’t find our joy, our satisfaction, our greatest treasure in him. When the eyes of our heart have been opened, we are more than willing to sell all we have, to stifle all other passions, for the most precious of all treasures: Jesus Christ. (Matthew 13:44-45)
So, how do we grow in our enjoyment of this God? Where do we go to see this glory that is so satisfying to our souls? Certainly, when we gaze upon a deep red and golden Pacific sunset; or enjoy a double rainbow hanging over Lake Malawi; or are awed by millions of stars that sparkle in the darkness of a Patagonia night, you can sense something of the majesty and artistry of this glorious One, who we call Lord. But, that is not where his beauty is most clearly seen. The “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is seen “in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) No, not in the sunset, not in the rainbow, not in celestial bodies, but in a Person, Jesus Christ. And, he comes to speak to us in a Book we call the Bible.
I learned this truth late in life. I am a slow learner. As a minister I would certainly have affirmed this affirmation. But, it was not until the age of 62 that I experienced the sweetness of his presence as he spoke to me through His words. For one whole year I devoted myself to Psalm 27. Each morning I would take my Bible to the shoreline of Santa Barbara and there read, meditate, memorize and write about what he was saying to me through that precious Psalm. I did this for one year! Those times in Christ’s presence, experiencing a deep and profound joy not only brought deep change within my heart, it altered the whole direction of my ministry. At the end of that year, the Lord yanked me out of my pastorate, and sent me to minister to a congregation around the world. I thought I would die a pastor. He had other plans.
It is for that reason that I direct my students to the Word. There, they too will find the joy of hearing Jesus speak to them, sharing his secrets, directing their steps, bringing unspeakable joy to their souls. It won’t happen without discipline. But, by the grace of God, that discipline will turn into the delight of their soul.
So, I have taught them that there are three joy producing disciplines that will change their lives like it did mine and bring gravity to their ministry. They are: Meeting. Beating. Repeating. 1. Meeting: Getting alone with Jesus early in the morning with Bible opened and a soul hungry and expectant. There Jesus waits to have fellowship with us and share his beauty with us. (Rev. 3:18-20) 2. Beating. I urge my students to choose one passage and dig on it until they get the gold; and squeeze it until they get all of the honey God has hidden in that word. Raking gets leaves but digging uncovers diamonds of joy (Psalm 119:97). 3. Repeating: The head is not the end, but it is the means to the end. The words of Jesus must be in our heads before they can bring joy to our hearts. Meditation on God’s Word, pondering over what he has said, praying over what he has promised, preparing to do what he has commanded, makes his joy our joy. Memorization makes the words of Jesus available all day and all night. Communion with him becomes the delight and the passion of the soul. (Psalm 119:97)
I have had wonderful churches and enjoyed sweet fellowship with my friends in ministry. Much of our support in finances and prayer comes from the precious lives we had the privilege of pastoring. But, I think that I am living in the most productive years of my life, now, in Malawi, an old man. I get to point these precious people to a vision of Jesus Christ they never imagined. I get to see them “get it” and nothing could be more satisfying or rewarding to a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am of all men most blessed.