As a teenager and college student, I viewed living the Christian life with a sense of grim obligation. I knew that I should live for Christ, but I was not very excited to do so. John Piper helped me understand how living for Christ is both right (it glorifies God) and best (it maximizes my happiness). This material is adapted from my book, Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds (Crossway, 2008).
For years I struggled to understand the relationship between God’s glory and my happiness. To begin with, as a child and young person, I had the sneaking suspicion that a person really committed to God would serve Him out of some sense of duty. And I also assumed that dutifully serving would be a miserable task. Songs we sang at church, about missionaries packing everything into a metal container, like “So Send I You,” didn’t help. Think about these words:
“So send I you to labor unrewarded, To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown, To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing—So send I you to toil for me alone.
Kind of makes you want to sign up for missions, doesn’t it? Wow, did I respect missionaries, especially missionary doctors! They could have made a great living, but instead they sailed off to Kookamonga to be miserable (but dutiful!) servants of God.
I respected them. But I didn’t want to get on the boat with them. So I tried to live the Christian life on my own terms. That route, I found, was the truly miserable one.
Ever been there? Ever tried to do things your own way only to realize it doesn’t work very well?
Finally, as a graduate student, I began to really grow for Christ. To my surprise, I found far more joy in following Christ than I had known living on my own terms. And after a few years, my wife and I were leaving my first career and going off to seminary.
Yet even then, I did not really understand the relationship between all that the Bible says about God’s glory and my own desire to be happy. It was about this time that I came across John Piper and the central thesis of his life, ministry, and writings.
Piper says it this way. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Reading his books, I finally realized that there is no competition between God’s passion for His glory and our desire for true, lasting joy or happiness. It is not one or the other. It is both. Glory for God and real joy for us are not mutually exclusive possibilities.
Following Christ is right – – He is God and He deserves all glory. But following Christ is best – – there is no greater joy than following Christ whole-heartedly.
One of the goals of my book, Unpacking Forgiveness, was to apply this thesis—that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him—to the area of forgiveness. We should seek to glorify God in how we work through broken relationships, knowing that even as we glorify God, we will maximize our joy. Or to use my words, we ought to unpack forgiveness because it is both right (it glorifies God) and best (it maximizes my happiness).
You cannot “get” this truth just by reading it once over. Think about it more deeply. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. As Piper points out, this statement brings together two truths.
- The first truth is that God’s central passion is for His glory. Everything should be done for the glory of God. We are called to be mirrors which reflect the glory and the brilliance of Christ. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Co 10:31).” We are blessed so that we can praise His glory (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).
- The second truth is that all people pursue joy or happiness. This is true of all people in all places. The great thinker Blaise Pascal said:
All men seek happiness, this is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
People, by nature, go after happiness. They pursue it wherever they believe they will find it. Piper emphasizes that this striving after happiness “is a law of the human heart as gravity is a law of nature.” Think carefully about this point or, as Piper calls it, this “law.” You will pursue your own happiness.
Now here is the magnificent bringing together of these truths. We do not have to choose between one of the two, God’s glory or our happiness. In fact, we cannot truly have one without the other. Where forgiveness is concerned, if I do what is right (what glorifies God and is most Christ-like), then I will also do what is best (that which maximizes my own joy and happiness).
This is how we can understand what the Bible teaches about forgiveness and act (with determination) upon that understanding: not because unpacking forgiveness is a bitter pill you must swallow, but because you desire more than a grudge or long-term baggage from the past. You can be motivated to forgive because you long for God’s glory and because you long for a better country, a sweeter place.
 John Piper, God’s Passion for His Supremacy, Part I (Audio)(Desiring God Ministries, 2007, accessed March 17 2007); available from http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Radio/.
 Quoted in Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 16.
 Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 16.