Friday, November 13, 2009

When I Don't Desire God - weapons for the fight

Here's where it gets practical. We're about to jump into Piper's chapters on the "means of grace", which is his old-fashioned (and preferable!) term for what we usually call the "spiritual disciplines". We're about to receive our weapons in the fight for joy.

If you were asked to list the "spiritual disciplines" which help you fight for joy, what would be on your list? Stop for a minute and think about it. What did you come up with? You can share your answer in the comments if you like!

How does your list compare with Piper's? Here are the "means of grace" he encourages us to use in the fight for joy:

1. the gospel - hearing it preached, preaching it to ourselves
2. the Bible - reading, memorising, musing, sharing it with others
3. prayer - when, how, where, praying the word
4. the world - creation and our bodies

Interestingly, he misses an important "means of grace": Christian community. While Piper makes it clear that the fight for joy isn't solitary, there's no chapter on how we help one another in the fight for joy. This seems like a significant oversight to me. God saves us to make us part of his people. I'm not sure where I'd be without Christian brothers and sisters encouraging me to seek joy in God alone!

There's also no chapter on holiness. Piper puts the focus where it should be: on the gospel and the Word. But I would have liked to see a chapter on repentance, godly living, and resisting sin and temptation. This is an essential part of our response to the gospel, and it's vital to the fight for joy.*

That being said, Piper's chapters on the "means of grace" are pure gold. They're rooted in the Bible and historical evangelical piety, and they're so practical and helpful that I follow Piper's advice every day.

As we read these chapters together, let's not forget that the "means of grace" are just that: means of grace. They aren't techniques which produce joy automatically, or disciplines which earn joy as a reward. Joy is a gift, and it's in the hands of God. I love Piper's reminder:

[T]he gift of joy remains a gift and remains spontaneous, even though we fight for it ... [B]elieving this truth will prevent our strategies in the fight for joy from degenerating into technique and legalism. Technique cannot be paramount because God is sovereign. There are things we must do in the battle for joy. But if joy is a gift, it can never be earned. So legalism that tries to earn things from God is excluded. Not only that, but knowing that joy is ultimately a gift, and not a mere human achievement, also protects us from elevating technique and willpower too highly. Our strategies must be humble and dependent, followed by "May the LORD do what seems good to him" (2 Sam 10:12). Our strategies to fight for joy are simply means of God's grace. And means of grace are always modest. ... The giver gets the glory. (pp. 41-42, 54-55, my emphases)

For discussion and reflection:
What "spiritual disciplines" do you find helpful in the fight for joy? Which of the "means of grace" on Piper's list do you need the most help with? As we look forward to Monday, what are some practical things you do to remember the cross of Christ that you can share with us?

* If you're interested in thinking about holiness as a "spiritual discipline", you might like to read Jerry Bridges' excellent book The Discipline of Grace.

image is from stock.xchng


Violet said...

Something that has transformed my life is preaching the gospel to myself everyday. Jerry Bridges has been a great proponent of this practice, and Milton Vincent in his book "A Gospel Primer for Christians" has made it so practical.

Vincent gives 31 reasons for rehearsing the gospel to yourself. I read a reason per day. Then he has written out the Gospel in both prose and poetry form (with Scripture footnotes). I read one of these each day as well. I finally am getting a handle on what the Gospel includes and why it is essential for me DAILY in living the Christian life.

Jean said...

Ooh, thanks Violet! I agree wholeheartedly about the importance of preaching the gospel to yourself. Listening to gospel preaching and preaching the gospel to yourself are what next Monday's post (and Piper's next chapter) are about, so what you say is very timely! Thanks so much for the suggestions - I'll chase them up. :)