Friday, September 14, 2007

God is a Refuge For Us

Psalm 62:5-8
“My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be moved.
In God is my salvation and my glory;
The rock of my strength,
And my refuge, is in God.

Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us.”

When I first decided to plunge in and read the book Desiring God by John Piper and saw the subtitle, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, I made the decision to order and read this book because I’ve heard so many people I respect talk about what a good book it is. I have to confess, that, at first, I was a little nervous about this book because, well, it’s all about joy. Joy is something I don’t think I have understood very well. I’ve heard all the words about how joy is deeper than happiness, but, somehow, I still couldn’t get my mind around what it really means to be joyful, to count it all joy even when I may not feel happy. I’m getting there, but I’m still learning on this one, and I appreciate Piper’s desire to search the scriptures to understand joy. I can’t begin to define what John Piper means by the term “Christian Hedonist” in a short blog post, but I can say that I am really glad I picked up this book and am reading it. I’m beginning to understand a little better about joy and about finding it in my Savior and about what this means.

On Sunday we were singing the song, “At the Cross,” with the chorus that goes like this:

“At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.”

I’m not criticizing this song, but this is where I was on Sunday. When we got to that last line, I thought, deep down where I wouldn’t have told anyone, “But I’m not happy all the day. In fact, today, I’m crying and feeling very blue over something I’m praying about and I don’t feel happy at all at this moment.” Positionally, I’m happy, because I know that I have been made right with God through the blood of Jesus shed for me, but experientially, I wasn’t feeling all that happy right then. I have a deep and abiding peace and joy to know that I belong to Him and that He is Lord over all, even the thing I was feeling blue about that Sunday, but even so I was feeling rather blue sitting there in the pew.

Then later, I read one of the most shocking things I think I have ever read in a Christian book, and it was this passage from Desiring God:
“Christian Hedonism is much aware that every day with Jesus is not ‘sweeter than the day before.’ Some days with Jesus our disposition is sour. Some days with Jesus, we are so sad we feel our heart will break open. Some days with Jesus, we are so depressed and discouraged that between the garage and the house we just want to sit down on the grass and cry.

Every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the day before. We know it from experience and we know it from Scripture. For David says in Psalm 19:7, ‘The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.’ If every day with Jesus were sweeter than the day before, if life were a steady ascent with no dips in our affection for God, we wouldn’t need to be re-vived.”
I can’t tell you how shocked I was when I read that first sentence of the quote. I had to read it again to be sure what he was saying was actually what I read. It’s one of those things you just don’t say out loud. We sing that song all the time, and all the time we’re reinforcing a false sense of what joy really is. It isn’t a sentimental thing that life is just peachy from here on out, but it is something to be cherished and sought after as a treasure. The reason we (I) get confused, I think, is that we often mistake momentary happiness for joy, and we often seek to find our deepest joy in our circumstances rather than learning to wait on God and to rest in Him in spite of our circumstances. God is the ultimate source of joy. To think we can be satisfied by anything less is to be far too easily satisfied and to settle for too little.

I’ve felt guilty for much of my life because I struggle with something of a melancholy personality. I slump into the blues sometimes and I tend to have a fairly serious disposition. Bet you couldn’t tell that if you’ve been reading for a while. (Smile) I have often felt that something must be wrong with my faith because I could never truly relate to the sentiment that every day is sweeter than the day before. Imagine my surprise to read this passage in a book that is all about joy – desiring it and finding it in God.

The very freeing thing I’m seeing here is that, though melancholy days may come, though trials may come, God is the restorer of my joy. He is the lifter of my head. Just the fact that I feel melancholy or even downright sad at times does not mean that my faith is weak. By faith I look to Christ and get into His Word and pray and fight for the joy that is in Him. And He restores my joy and lifts my head. And, you know, I have seen this in my own life. When those melancholy times come and when times come that leave me on my face in tears before the throne of God, whether by circumstances beyond my control or because of an awareness of the awfulness of my own sin and hypocrisy, there is joy in waiting on God and trusting that through Christ I shall not be moved and seeking Him as my refuge, and pouring out my heart before Him. Even through tears, there is a deep joy in knowing that He knows me and loves me because I am His. Because of Jesus and His blood shed for me, I belong to Him. Think about that for a minute. The Creator of the universe is not a far-away God. He knows your name!

And, you know, these are things that are fairly obvious to an observant reader of the Psalms. Many, many of the Psalms start out melancholy and end up by looking for the restoration of joy that comes from loving God, seeking Him and knowing Him, thirsting for Him as the deer pants for the water. In the midst of trials, in the midst of melancholy slumps, I shall not be moved. This one thing I seek, to know God and to dwell with Him forever. May God continue to grant me the hunger and thirst for His righteousness that I might find my joy in Him, my Savior and Redeemer, my Lord and my King. I pray I will remember these things and live them out in my day to day life, for His glory.


Kim said...

I think you are exactly right when you say that positionally we can be "happy all the day." But the simple fact is that as Christians, we will suffer in our circumstances. Piper has quite a bit to say about that, too. The real joy is knowing the end, I think, and knowing the joy of the Someone who can soothe our wounds.

From one melancholic to another :-)

Kelly said...

Just wanted to add -- even sanguines like me need to learn this lesson. Happiness on a daily basis does NOT necessarily equal joy in Christ. Their source is different.

So it matters little what your natural temperament is; it matters greatly that you understand true joy stems from our hope and our home in Jesus.

Great post, by the way. Made me want to go dig up my copy of "Desiring God."

Heather said...

Alleluia and alleluia. For me, I'm learning that my joy comes from being content in all circumstances...and that I CAN be despite my experientail ickiness. God is good...and that's not just blowing sunshine.

Keep pondering, Beck~

Love ya!

Marcian said...

Wow, I can't even remember how I found this blog, but I can say that I relate to this post. I, too, suffer from a melancholy disposition, and seem to have a greater appreciation for sobriety than revelry. I think I find my greatest strength in those verses on sobriety and on Solomon's charge in Ecclesiastes (7:4) that the heart of the fool is in the house of pleasure, but the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. And like you, joy just seems to be something I am not quite sure how to understand or grasp. But God made all types, and I know He was good and kind to do so. Be encouraged. I enjoyed reading the "seriousness" of this post, and you've actually convinced me to consider blowing the dust off my copy of Piper's book and try reading it again.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

The utilitarian Christian life is nor our journey.

Rebekah said...


As respectfully as I know how, I must ask, how in the world do you get that I’m talking about a utilitarian life here? Have you ever read the book I’m referencing? Piper’s whole premise is that when we seek our joy in the things of this world we are far too easily satisfied and that there is no real joy there. Our joy is in loving and seeking God. When He prospers us, our joy is in living simply in this life so we can have more to give away for the cause of the Gospel, not in serving our fleshly wants. In fact, when we finally grasp that our greatest joy is in Christ, that joy begins to spill over into sacrificial love for others. Rather than me trying to gear up that love on my own it begins to characterize my life because I love God so much I want to share it with everyone I meet. There is a whole chapter on missions and how we find deep joy in seeing others come to faith in Christ.

If what you are implying is that I'm just seeking what I can get out of the Christian life for my own fleshly, selfish, materialistic satisfaction, this post and the book Desiring God are in no way about a utilitarian Christian life. That is not what I’m espousing, so please do not imply that I was. Of course we need revival. We need to repent and know that He is God. We need to learn to find our deepest hope and joy in Him alone. That was the point of this post. Sorry you missed that.

Sunny said...

I've had to read this post several times through just to make sure I don't miss anything. You've come to a pretty powerful realization, one that we all need to see. As you know, recent events in my life have been very upsetting and left me extremely weary. I have waivered in the amount of affection I feel for God at times. But, as you have pointed out, He is the restorer of joy. Through all of this, I actually have felt that deep joy. Not happiness, but joy in God. This joy has led to feelings of hope creeping back in, as well as feelings of peace. That would be impossible were it not for my relationship with God.

By the way, you sell yourself short. I like your serious side, and I have seen your happy, silly side come out on numerous occasions! :-)

Lisa writes... said...

Another melancholy here. I am reading Piper's "When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy." He makes the point that the fight for joy is the fight to see--beholding God's glory in the face of Christ. I am learning, like you, that my joy is found "in Him, my Savior and Redeemer, my Lord and my King"--amen, sister!

Rebekah said...

I just read the chapter on suffering and, wow. You're right, he does have some powerful things to say about it.

Kelly, Marcian and Sunny,
I'm glad the post was meaningful to you. I am really glad I read this book - it has made me do a lot of thinking and praying about some things I had not given careful enough attention to before.

That book is in my "to be read" stack. I have about 6 books there at the moment. :^)

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Rebekkah I was agreeing with what I perceived you were saying. You, utilitarian Christianity? Pleeeeaase.

Sorry for the confusion!

Rebekah said...

OH! Please forgive my misunderstanding. One of the biggest problems of blogging, I'm afraid is no facial cues or ability to acurately read tone. Thanks for clarifying!