Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When I Don't Desire God - chapter 5 - the cross and joy

Every year I rediscover the gospel. Every year it sweeps over me again like a breaking wave. Every time it's startling, as if I've discovered it for the first time, so that I wonder if I could possibly have understood it before.

I hoard the memories like treasures cast up by the waves. A talk on Gethsemane which left me in tears. A mind-bending book on the theology of the cross. A realisation, late one night, that I'm free from the iron bands of legalism, loved by God and free to live in love.

What are your memories? What were the moments when the cross and resurrection of Christ impacted you?

There can be no joy without the cross. As Piper says, without it any happiness is self-deluded, small and shrunken, dancing before the Titanic crashes. With it, all obstacles to joy are removed and all joys are made possible.

I'd love to hear your reactions to chapter 5. The women in my Bible study group were either bored ("I've heard it before") or bemused ("What's he getting at?"). I think that's because it covers familiar truths in an unfamiliar way. Here's what it says in a single sentence:

The cross is the key to joy, for it both enables our joy and displays God's glory for our joy.

The way to our eyes is our ears. In eternity, we'll see God face to face. But during this life, we see and enjoy God's glory when we hear the gospel, the word about Jesus' death and resurrection, and taste Christ's beauty.

The gospel is both the source of our joy (the means by which God opens our eyes to see his glory) and the object of our joy (the place where we see God's glory most clearly). This is really important, because Jesus is glorified whichever way you look at it!

We're about to launch into the wonderful chapters where Piper unveils the practical strategies we can use in the fight for joy. But he's made it clear: these strategies are worth nothing if they don't direct our eyes to the glory of God in Christ.

All strategies in the fight for joy are directly or indirectly strategies to see Christ more fully. ... This is the most foundational strategy in the battle for joy - the strategic battle to see. In all the strategies commended in this book for how to fight for joy, this is always the aim of each. Directly or indirectly every strategy is a strategy to behold the glory of Christ and become enthralled with his beauty above all. (pp.60, 66-67)

If anyone suggests a spiritual practice to you, it's worth asking the question: does it direct your attention to the cross? Or does it add to or take away from the gospel? Only in and through the cross of Christ will you find true and lasting joy.

Questions for discussion and reflection:
What were the moments when the cross and resurrection of Christ most deeply impacted you? How did this help your joy? Thinking ahead to the next chapter, what are some practical things you do that help you to remember the gospel?

P.S. Observant readers may notice I haven't quite followed my plan. I was going to discuss chapters 5 and 6 together, but I'm leaving chapter 6 until next week, when we start exloring Piper's practical strategies in the fight for joy. (I'll introduce these practical chapters on Friday). I suggest that you at least read up to the end of chapter 6 - or even better, 7 - by next Monday, when we talk about practical strategies for remembering the cross.

images are from solcookie at flickr and stock.xchng

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