Praying for Pleasure (2) (Romans 15:13)1
In an earlier post I explained why prayers such as Romans 15:13 are so important and instructive. In this one I want to unpack Paul’s petition with two of five observations.
First, God is no miser with his mercy. Note the words “fill”, “all”, and “abound”.
Paul prays that God will “fill” us with joy and peace, not simply “give” or “impart” or “enable” us to experience these blessings, but that he might “fill” us with them! His emphasis is on the effusive, generous, expansive abundant, overflowing, and measureless way in which God answers prayers (cf. Ps. 16:11). We don’t simply “have” or “possess” these blessings: we are “filled” with them, inundated and awash and overflowing with them.
Note also that it is not “some” joy or a “fraction” of peace or “a small measure” of hope. Paul prays that we be filled with “all” joy and “all”. Not just a little here and there but with the totality of joy and the entirety of peace.
Furthermore, we don’t simply “hope.” Far less do we hang on by our fingernails. Rather we “abound” in hope! Again Paul points to the lavishness of God’s grace. God is no miser when it comes to his mercy. This is no tentative, anxious, uncertain, doubt-filled wish. It is a prayer for the overflowing and effusive gift of God’s grace.
Second, Paul prays for joy and peace because he knows that pleasure in God is the power for purity.
In yet another passage Paul stated clearly that his motive for ministry was the joy of God’s people (2 Corinthians 1:23-24). Whatever decisions he made, whatever he wrote in his epistles, was always based on what he believed would best serve their joy! Paul had some harsh things to say to the Corinthians (deservedly so, I might add). His rebukes often stung. But his aim was always their joy! Paul didn’t discharge his apostolic calling to expand his personal power or to broaden his influence or to bolster his reputation or to increase his control but to intensify their joy in Jesus.
Paul can almost be heard to say, “Whether I’m rebuking you for sectarianism in the church (1 Corinthians 3) or laxity in moral conduct (1 Corinthians 5-6) or abuse of spiritual power (1 Corinthians 12-14), my aim is your joy in Jesus. Whether I appeal to you to be financially generous (2 Corinthians 8-9) or warn you of false apostles (2 Corinthians 11), my aim is your joy in Jesus.”
If Paul had been pressed for an explanation, he would have said: “I’m always aiming for your joy because apart from your souls relishing and resting in the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ, you don’t stand a chance against Satan.” I believe Paul would have answered like the good Christian hedonist that he was: “I aim for your joy because God is most glorified in you when you are most pleased and satisfied and at rest in the plenitude of his beauty that can be seen in the face of Jesus Christ” (with a little help from Piper!).
God’s commitment to our joy in Jesus is motivated, at least in part, by the fact that Satan is no less committed to our joy in the passing pleasures of sin (cf. Hebrews 11:25). The diabolical strategy of the enemy is to seduce us into believing that the world and the flesh and sinful self-indulgence could do for our weary and broken hearts what God can’t. This is the battle that we face each day. We awaken to a world at war for the allegiance of our minds and the affections of our souls. The winner will be whoever can persuade us that he will bring greatest and most soul-satisfying joy. That is why Paul labored and prayed so passionately and sacrificially for joy in Jesus in the hearts of that first-century church.
So, then, what precisely are “joy” and “peace”? I assure you it has nothing to do with the transient feelings of holiday euphoria experienced by those people in the shopping malls before Christmas. Joy and peace are not some superficial psychological giddiness that comes from reaping the material comforts of western society. There are countless feelings and passions and desires that arise in our hearts that are not the fruit of light in the soul. Paul wants nothing to do with them.
The joy for which he prays is a deep, durable delight in the splendor of God that utterly ruins you for anything else. It is deep, rather than the superficial so-called “joy” that only scratches the surface of your soul. It is durable in that it survives the worst of circumstances in life.
Joy is experiencing a spiritual taste for the glory of Jesus. This joy has an “expulsive” power: it drives out all competing pleasures and leads the soul to rest content with the knowledge of God and the blessings of intimacy with him and companionship with Jesus. This is the kind of joy that rather than being dependent on material and physical comfort actually frees you from bondage to physical comforts and liberates you from dependence on worldly conveniences and gadgets and gold.
There’s something a bit odd and even ironic about this joy. Although true joy is an experience, it is deep and solid and firm and substantive, not fleeting and flippant and superficial. We know this because the Bible describes joy as flourishing in the midst of suffering (see Rom. 5:3; 1 Peter 4; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Cor. 8:2).
My point is that there is a world of difference between joy in God and joy in the comforts God gives. We are grateful for the latter, but our joy is in the former!
True spiritual, biblical joy is not the product of the human will in response to pleasant circumstances. It is the product or fruit of the Holy Spirit, and that is why Paul asks God to generate it within our hearts.
So what about “peace”? The peace for which we are to pray is not the objective peace with God that Paul describes in Romans 5:1, but an inward, subjective, experiential state of mind and spirit. Peace is confident repose in the truth that what God has promised he will fulfill; it is the restful assurance that nothing can separate us from love of Christ.
It is that glorious work of the Spirit in my heart that says:
“A sudden tornado may sweep away my house and family, but nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus!”
“A terrorist may separate my head from my body, but nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
“An incurable disease may ravage my body, but nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
“An unfaithful spouse may walk out on me, never to return, but God will never leave me or ever, under any circumstances, forsake me.”
This is Christian Hedonism: a joy and delight and satisfaction in God so deep and unmovable and indelible that no amount of suffering can shake it or induce me to take offence at God!
To be continued . . .