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not prayer, but the Word of God: and here again not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.… I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow-believers to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways than I had ever had before; and after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials and the temptations of the day come upon one! 6
6. Autobiography of George Müller, comp. Fred Bergen (London: J. Nisbet, 1906), 152–4.
O ne common objection to Christian Hedonism is that it puts the interests of man above the glory of God—that it puts my happiness above God’s honor. But Christian Hedonism most emphatically does not do this.
To be sure, we Christian Hedonists endeavor to pursue our interest and our happiness with all our might. We endorse the resolution of the young Jonathan Edwards: “Resolved: To endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.”1 But we have learned from the Bible (and from Edwards!) that God’s interest is to magnify the fullness of His glory by spilling over in mercy to us. Therefore, the pursuit of our interest and our happiness is never above God’s, but always in God’s. The most precious truth in the Bible is that God’s greatest interest is to glorify the wealth of His grace by making sinners happy in Him—in Him!
When we humble ourselves like little children and put on no airs of selfsufficiency, but run happily into the joy of our Father’s embrace, the glory of His
1. Edwards’s resolutions have recently been published in a booklet: Stephen J. Nichols, Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions, and Advice to Young Converts (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2002).
grace is magnified and the longing of our soul is satisfied. Our interest and His glory are one. Therefore, Christian Hedonists do not put their happiness above God’s glory when they pursue happiness in Him.
WHY HEDONIST IS HIS KNEESTHE ON One piece of evidence that the pursuit of our joy and the pursuit of God’s glory are meant to be one and the same is the teaching of Jesus on prayer in the Gospel of John. The two key sayings are in John 14:13 and 16:24. The one shows that prayer is the pursuit of God’s glory. The other shows that prayer is the pursuit of our joy.
In John 14:13, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” In John 16:24, He says, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” The unity of these two goals—the glory of God and the joy of His children—is clearly preserved in the act of prayer. Therefore, Christian Hedonists will, above all, be people devoted to earnest prayer. Just as the thirsty deer kneels down to drink at the brook, so the characteristic posture of the Christian Hedonist is on his knees.
Let’s look more closely at prayer as the pursuit of God’s glory and the pursuit of our joy, in that order.
PRAYER PURSUIT GOD’S GLORYAS THE OF Once again, hear Jesus’ words in John 14:13: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Suppose you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed done.
How could you glorify your friend if a stranger came to see you? Would you glorify his generosity and strength by trying to get out of bed and carry him?
No! You would say, “Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me?” And so your visitor would learn from your requests that you are helpless and that your friend is strong and kind. You glorify your friend by P R AY E R needing him and asking him for help and counting on him.
In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” So we really are paralyzed. Without Christ, we are capable of no good.
As Paul says in Romans 7:18, “Nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” But according to John 15:5, God intends for us to do something good— namely, bear fruit. So as our strong and reliable friend—“I have called you friends” (John 15:15)—He promises to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.
How then do we glorify Him? Jesus gives the answer in John 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” We pray! We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can’t do for ourselves—bear fruit. Verse 8 gives the result: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” So how is God glorified by prayer? Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.
IF YOU KNEW HIM, YOU WOULD ASK!
In another text in John that shows how prayer glorifies God, Jesus asked a
woman for a drink of water:
The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (4:9–10) If you were a sailor severely afflicted with scurvy, and a generous man came aboard ship with his pockets bulging with vitamin C and asked you for an orange slice, you might give it to him. But if you knew that he was generous and that he carried all you needed to be well, you would turn the tables and ask him for help.
Jesus says to the woman, “If you just knew the gift of God and who I am, you would ask Me—you would pray to Me!” There is a direct correlation between not knowing Jesus well and not asking much from Him. A failure in our prayer life is generally a failure to know Jesus. “If you knew who was talking to you, you would ask Me!” A prayerless Christian is like a bus driver trying alone to push his bus out of a rut because he doesn’t know Clark Kent is on board. “If you knew, you would ask.” A prayerless Christian is like having your room wallpapered with Saks Fifth Avenue gift certificates but always shopping at Goodwill because you can’t read. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that speaks to you, you would ask—you would ask!” And the implication is that those who do ask—Christians who spend time in prayer—do it because they see that God is a great Giver and that Christ is wise and merciful and powerful beyond measure. And therefore their prayer glorifies Christ and honors His Father. The chief end of man is to glorify God. Therefore, when we become what God created us to be, we become people of prayer.
ROBINSON CRUSOE’S TEXT Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon on this very topic and called it “Robinson Crusoe’s Text.” He began like this:
Robinson Crusoe has been wrecked. He is left on the desert island all alone. His case is a very pitiable one. He goes to his bed, and he is smitten with fever. This fever lasts upon him long, and he has no one to wait upon him—none even to bring him a drink of cold water. He is ready to perish. He had been accustomed to sin, and had all the vices of a sailor; but his hard case brought him to think. He opens a Bible which he finds in his chest, and he lights upon this passage, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” That night he prayed for the first time in his life, and ever after there was in him a hope in God, which marked the birth of the heavenly life.2
2. Charles Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on Prayer (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1971), 105.
Robinson Crusoe’s text was Psalm 50:15. It is God’s way of getting glory for Himself—Pray to Me! I will deliver you! And the result will be that you will glorify Me!
Spurgeon’s explanation is penetrating:
God and the praying man take shares.… First here is your share: “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” Secondly, here is God’s share: “I will deliver thee.” Again, you take a share—for you shall be delivered. And then again it is the Lord’s turn—“Thou shalt glorify me.” Here is a compact, a covenant that God enters into with you who pray to him, and whom he helps. He says, “You shall have the deliverance, but I must have the glory....” Here is a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and all that God getteth is the glory which is due unto his name.3 A delightful partnership indeed! Prayer is the very heart of Christian Hedonism. God gets the glory; we get the delight. He gets the glory precisely because He shows Himself full and strong to deliver us into joy. And we attain fullness of joy precisely because He is the all-glorious source and goal of life.
Here is a great discovery: We do not glorify God by providing His needs, but by praying that He would provide ours—and trusting Him to answer.
IS PRAYER SELF-CENTERED?
Someone may say that this is self-centered. But what does self-centered mean? If it means I passionately desire to be happy, then yes, prayer is self-centered.
But is this a bad thing, if what I cry for is that God’s name be hallowed in my life? If my cry is for His reign to hold sway in my heart? If my cry is for His will to be done in my life as it is done by angels in heaven? If I crave the happiness of seeing and experiencing these things in my life, is that bad?
How is the will of God done in heaven? Sadly? Burdensomely?
3. Ibid., 115.
Begrudgingly? No! It is done gladly! If I then pray, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, how can I not be motivated by a desire to be glad? It is a contradiction to pray for the will of God to be done in my life the way it is in heaven, and then to say that I am indifferent to whether I am glad or not. When the earth rejoices to do His will and does it perfectly, His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.
But surely we should not call this pursuit of happiness in prayer selfcentered. It is radically God-centered. In my craving to be happy, I acknowledge that at the center of my life there is a gaping hole of emptiness without God.
This hole constitutes my need and my rebellion at the same time. I want it filled, but I rebel at God’s filling it with Himself. By grace I awake to the folly of my rebellion and see that if it is filled with God, my joy will be full. “Self-centered” is not a good way to describe this passion to be happy in God.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions [literally: on your pleasures]. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:3–5) So there is a kind of praying that is wrong because it makes a cuckold out of God. We use our Husband’s generosity to hire prostitutes for private pleasures.
These are startling words. James calls us “adulterous people” if we pray like this.
He pictures the church as the wife of God. God has made us for Himself PR AY E R and has given Himself to us for our enjoyment. Therefore, it is adultery when we try to be “friends” with the world. If we seek from the world the pleasures we should seek in God, we are unfaithful to our marriage vows. And, what’s worse, when we go to our heavenly Husband and actually pray for the resources with which to commit adultery with the world, it is a very wicked thing. It is as though we would ask our husband for money to hire male prostitutes to provide the pleasure we don’t find in him!
So, yes, there is a kind of praying that is self-centered in an evil sense. Now the question becomes: What keeps all of our praying for “things” from being adulterous?
ENJOYING CREATION WITHOUT COMMITTINGIDOLATRY This is really part of a much larger question; namely, how is it possible for a creature to desire and enjoy the creation without committing idolatry (which is adultery)? This may seem like an irrelevant question to some. But for people
who long to sing like the psalmists, it is very relevant. They sing like this:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25–26) One thing have I asked of the LORD
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD, all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.
If your heart longs to be this focused on God, then how to desire and enjoy “things” without becoming an idolater is a crucial question. How can prayer glorify God if it is a prayer for things? It seems to glorify things.