Desiring God by John Piper took me over a year to read. In part, because I read very slowly. Also in part due to (in my humble opinion) that this book is a little complicated. I needed to read much of the book several times in order to understand. Also, I read a couple different books, depending on my mood.
[ As an aside to this …. I spent many years having a short attention span with reading. A few years ago, I had a coworker – a boss, actually – that gave a review of Deep Work by Cal Newport.
I read the book as a result…. One of the main premises of Deep Work is the need to train your brain to do intentional, focused work – much like a muscle (my interpretation). With this comes much value.
I hear a lot of people nowadays saying they “don’t read” and cite having trouble doing so. My un-expert opinion is that with television and smart phones, reading (and the peace that comes from reading) has gone by the wayside. The time of my boss reviewing this book was a time in my life where my brain was going way faster than I could control. Forcing myself to turn off the television and consequently sitting and reading – along with learning how to pray – has slowed down my brain considerably. With that has come much more peace.
The point of my aside here is that if your brain is going 90mph all the time, there is hope that comes from intentional action. Alright, Public Service Announcement over.]
The author of Desiring God is John Piper. Piper is affiliated with Bethlehem Baptist Church out of Minnesota. I would describe Piper… well, he kind of reminds me of Doc Brown from Back to the Future. I mean absolutely no disrespect by this…. He has a passion, a burning fire, for Christ that is so visibly apparent. Very often when I listen to his sermons or podcasts I need to step back and really think about the point he is making. I love the man. I love his heart and his passion and his wisdom.
Desiring God made me step back more times than I can count.
My quick summary of the book, the message I believe Piper is working to get across… Christians can and will get such immense joy in their works and their faith and even in their suffering and persecution. The latter part of this statement is much more complicated than the first part.
Piper uses the term Christian Hedonism to describe this joy in the carrying of our crosses. I believe this term was used in order to provide shock value. I am okay with that, but it would not be my style. Another example of prophetic teaching with shock value is the Savage Jesus series by Steven Furtick; again, I love the message, just not my style.
From Desiring God:
The hardened disobedience of men’s hearts leads not to the frustration of God’s plans but to their fruition.
God was doing so much work in my life as I was reading this book (not just in the reading of the book but in the events of my life) and prior to reading this book. The wisdom of this statement has so much more meaning now than ten years ago. My own disobedience to God ultimately led me down a path into his arms. Crazy stuff. This book is full of such wisdom.
Piper uses much literature from a man named Jonathan Edwards. Edwards was a theologian in pre-Revolutionary War America:
… To put it in my own words, he said that the infinite complexity of the divine mind is such that God has the capacity to look at the world thru two lenses. He can look through a narrow lens or a wide-angle lens.
When God looks at a painful or wicked event through His narrow lens, He sees the tragedy of the sin for what it is in itself, and He is angered and grieved: “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 18:32)
But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through His wide-angle lens, He sees the tragedy of the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and everything flowing from it. He sees it in relation to all the connections and effects that form a pattern, or mosaic, stretching into eternity. This mosaic in all its parts – good and evil- brings Him delight.
Wow… the ultimate purpose of drawing us to his Kingdom from this broken world. Maybe losing a job led to more trust in God… maybe leaving a dysfunctional relationship gave your kids the opportunity to break generational chains … Drawing closer and closer to God provides this vision…
The book goes on to discuss sanctification (the process of drawing near to God – my definition), love, worship, prayer, family, etc….
Last chapter goes over suffering. I say that describing the impact of suffering for the greater good …. for the glory of God … is not Kindergarten Christianity. This kind of stuff is graduate level. I often see the cynical millennial say there is no God because there is childhood cancer and murder. The answer to this question does not fit on a bumper sticker or on an abbreviated social media post.
Thus, all suffering that comes in the path of obedience is suffering with Christ and for Christ – whether it is cancer or conflict. And it is “chosen” – that is, we willingly take the path of obedience where the suffering befalls us, and we do not murmur against God. We may pray – as Paul did – that the suffering be removed (2 Corinthians 12:8) but if God wills, we embrace it in the end as part of the cost of discipleship in the path of obedience on the way to heaven.
Piper also makes an indictment of Western Christianity. Many of our lives are fairly comfortable. Seems that history has not been kind to comfortable societies.
The last chapter was Piper’s best stuff. He has a story that I am going to share, below:
“THANK YOU, NATASHA, WHEREVER YOU ARE”
One of the most moving and incredible accounts of suffering filling up what is
lacking in Christ’s afflictions is found in Sergei Kourdakov’s autobiography, The
Persecutor. Kourdakov was commissioned by the Russian secret police to raid
prayer gatherings and persecute believers with extraordinary brutality. But the
afflictions of one believer changed his life:
I saw Victor Matveyev reach and grab for a young girl [Natasha
Zhdanova] who was trying to escape to another room. She was a
beautiful young girl. What a waste to be a Believer. Victor caught her,
picked her above his head, and held her high in the air for a second.
She was pleading, “Don’t, please don’t. Dear God, help us!” Victor
threw her so hard she hit the wall at the same height she was thrown,
then dropped to the floor, semiconscious, moaning. Victor turned
and laughed and exclaimed, “I’ll bet the idea of God went flying out
of her head.”
On a later raid, Sergei was shocked to see Natasha again.
I quickly surveyed the room and saw a sight I couldn’t believe! There
she was, the same girl! It couldn’t be. But it was. Only three nights
before, she had been at the other meeting and had been viciously
thrown across the room. It was the first time I really got a good look at
her. She was more beautiful than I had first remembered—a very beautiful girl with long, flowing, blond hair, large blue eyes, and smooth
skin, one of the most naturally beautiful girls I have ever seen.…
I picked her up and flung her on a table facedown. Two of us
stripped her clothes off. One of my men held her down and I began to
beat her again and again. My hands began to sting under the blows.
Her skin started to blister. I continued to beat her, until pieces of
bloody flesh came off on my hand. She moaned but fought desperately
not to cry. To suppress her cries, she bit her lower lip until it was bitten
through and blood ran down her chin.
At last she gave in and began sobbing. When I was so exhausted I
couldn’t raise my arm for even one more blow, and her backside was a
mass of raw flesh, I pushed her off the table, and she collapsed on the
To Sergei’s shock, he later encountered her at yet another prayer meeting.
But this time something was different:
There she was again—Natasha Zhdanova!
Several of the guys saw her too. Alex Gulyaev moved toward
Natasha, hatred filling his face, his club raised above his head.
Then something I never expected to see suddenly happened.
Without warning, Victor jumped between Natasha and Alex, facing
“Get out of my way,” Alex shouted angrily.
Victor’s feet didn’t move. He raised his club and said menacingly,
“Alex, I’m telling you, don’t touch her! No one touches her!”
I listened in amazement. Incredibly, one of my most brutal men
was protecting one of the Believers! “Get back!” he shouted to Alex.
“Get back or I’ll let you have it.” He shielded Natasha, who was cowering on the floor.
Angered, Alex shouted, “You want her for yourself, don’t you?”
“No,” Victor shouted back. “She has something we don’t have!
Nobody touches her! Nobody!”
…For one of the first times in my life, I was deeply moved…
Natasha did have something! She had been beaten horribly. She had
been warned and threatened. She had gone through unbelievable suffering, but here she was again. Even Victor had been moved and recognized it. She had something we didn’t have. I wanted to run after her
and ask, “What is it?” I wanted to talk to her, but she was gone. This
heroic Christian girl who had suffered so much at our hands somehow
touched and troubled me very much.
The Lord later opened Sergei’s heart to the glorious good news of Jesus
Christ. As he later reflected on Natasha, whom he never saw again, he
And, finally, to Natasha, whom I beat terribly and who was willing to
be beaten a third time for her faith, I want to say, Natasha, largely
because of you, my life is now changed and I am a fellow Believer in
Christ with you. I have a new life before me. God has forgiven me; I
hope you can also.
Thank you, Natasha, wherever you are.
I will never, never forget you.17
To be clear…. the joy and peace that comes from Christ is worth it all. I can’t help but point out the wide-angle view here.
So there it is …. my book report on Desiring God. John Piper, if you read this, let me know…. love to have a cup of coffee with you.
Peace to everyone,