When I don’t desire God: How to Fight for Joy

A review of John Piper, When I don’t desire God: How to Fight for Joy, Crossway; Wheaton, Illinois, 2004

John Piper is well known for his books on the role of pleasure in the Christian life and desiring God.  This book deals with one of the obvious objections that must have often been raised: what if I don’t desire God and Christianity for me has become a joyless and humdrum occupation?  What if I know I ought to desire God but just don’t feel it?

What results from Piper is a book that goes through a number of concrete steps in order to increase your joy in the Christian life.  However, it also provides a spiritual health check useful for any Christian and is filled with practical advice on topics like prayer and Bible reading.  Interestingly, he reads the Bible through in a year but with a plan that only has 25 readings a month – an accommodation to realism and his sinful nature, he says.

The chapters proceed from defining the terms and concepts to the role of different disciplines and theological ideas in maintaining your Christian walk – God’s part and our part in the fight for joy (i.e. how can we do anything to increase our joy in God?  Isn’t it something that God chooses to grant?), justification, the value of God’s Word, the value of prayer, and how to do both of these practically.

If this is your first venture into Piper, it may take a chapter or two to get used to some of his core ideas, and I found that the first few chapters were harder going, with a dramatic increase in the practical nature of the book as it proceeded.  The final two chapters are both gems: the penultimate chapter on how to use the physical world (music, nature, medicine, etc) in your fight for joy in God will have much in it that even a mature Christian will have never heard, and the last chapter on “what if the darkness doesn’t lift?” is as helpful and balanced a treatment on suffering and spiritual experience as I have read.

This is probably what I would call a medium-depth Christian book.  It isn’t a few Bible verses, some stories and a few morals, but is a more thorough treatment of some of the themes it raises.  On the other hand, I found it very readable (wolfing through it in a few days), and found the deeper treatment of the issues it raises refreshing.  Surely, if those of us who are Christians know anything, it is that there is much more to our daily Christian walk than a few simple solutions, and this book does justice to the psychology as well as the theology.

So, I commend this to you if you feel spiritually dry and want an inspiring and passionate treatment of the basics to help get you back on track.  I also recommend it to anyone who is looking for some practical suggestions for their Christian life and how to experience greater joy from your relationship with God.

John Percival