Earlier today (11/17/12) John Piper, a theologian/pastor I respect immensely, tweeted: “If you’re not living by the joy of the Holy Spirit the only category you have for spiritual disciplines is legalism.” I think Piper is wrong on this.
I don’t make a habit of calling out pastor’s/theologians when I disagree with them. And let me say again, John Piper is someone I have tremendous admiration for. He, maybe more than any other contemporary writer, has shaped my theology and understanding of the Christian life. I read Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist right out of seminary. I’ve never been the same since. I know I’ve drifted away from his influence some over the years as I’ve read more confessional writers, and this may or may not be good.
So, I’m calling out a man I respect greatly, and I don’t do it lightly.
Because I think his tweet is highly discouraging for many believers who aren’t being legalistic in their use of the disciplines but don’t experience they joy they long for. I’m positive that’s not what Piper is aiming to do, and certainly a tweet isn’t a good tool for offering subtlety or nuance. But, I know I’m not alone in the fact that I often lack the joy that I desire – the joy I know is glorifying to God. Should I (or you, if you’re in the same boat) stop singing songs of worship till we feel the joy? Should we stay off our knees till the joy of the Lord drives us to them? Should we cease reading the Bible out of fear that we’re simply doing it out of a sense of obligation – that legalism is wrapping it’s tentacles around our heart and squeezing the life and joy out of it?
I remember preaching a sermon on this topic several years ago when I was going through it. Ministry was discouraging. My joy was slipping away from me. My advice? In the desert ‘Joyless’, keep going back to the places you know you’ll find the waters of joy. Spend even more time reading in faith trusting that the Bible opens up God’s heart to you. God reveals himself in those pages. He is the source of joy. Read and get to know God better. Dig. Dig. And pray. Pray the Spirit will guide you to joy. Pray he’ll open your eyes to what is right there before you! Meditate. Worship. Go to church, for in the presence of God’s people, maybe God will remind you of your’e glorious destination and kindle the joy again (kinda like the psalmist in Psalm 73).
So brother Piper, I love you, but you’re wrong. Please be more tender to us bruised reeds in the future.