Book Review – When I Don’t Desire God (Brian Yuen)

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Book Review:

When I Don’t Desire God

by John Piper

(1) Summary

This book written by John Piper is meant to be a follow-up to one of his previous books, Desiring God. Piper wrote this book is to respond to those who basically agree with what Piper was trying to say about Christian Hedonism, but also didn’t feel that genuine joy in following Christ. This is the reality of all Christians living in this world: we are so mired with our own sin that we fail to see the joy God wants us to have. Fortunately, we don’t have to be burdened with forging godly joy all by ourselves, because God is the one who gives it to us, as a privilege. However, we ourselves also need to wield the Word of God and prayer as a light in order to find our way through the darkness of sin, in order for this joy to reach us. Overtime, we hope to fully accept this notion of joy, where we don’t need to rely on worldly possessions as a crutch for joy, but in God Himself. In fact, we are called to die to the world, and live in Christ, as Phil. 1:21 says: “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The journey to God is not an easy one: it will be a fight, but a good fight. God commands us to be alongside Him on this winning side, and He is glorified when we are all satisfied in Him alone. God also wants us to experience Him rather than just thinking about Him, by actively desiring and delight in Him with our fullest emotions. Joy is not something that can simply be forged by following a checklist, as real joy tends to be spontaneous. However, to experience that spontaneous joy with God, we need discipline. Like in farming, God uses discipline as part of the process for us to reap the rewards of spontaneous joy (p.116). Thus, further in this book, it basically takes all the concepts of the last book Desiring God and puts them to practical use, in real-life scenarios. It lists of practical reasons to be reading the bible, to pray multiple times daily, and to use the world itself as a means to experience God’s gift to His creation.

(2) Interaction – What I liked (or didn’t like)

What I liked:

The second half of the book is probably what engaged me more, since it aims to improve what we already know and enhance our fight for joy, in practical ways. The subjects are of Bible Reading, Prayer, and the World. In terms of Bible Reading, the book came with several tips to read and memorize the bible, as well as a way to schedule how to do so, in small methodical steps, borrowed from Andrew Davis’s method. Piper emphasizes memorization because having verses on hand would be able to “solve a thousand problems before they happen”, “heal a thousand wounds after they happen”, and “kill a thousand sins in the moment of temptation” (p. 123). For Prayer, the IOUS method of prayer is especially helpful, since it is the central point of the book. Often, we don’t even know what we are praying for, and just blurt out the first thing that comes to our mind. The 4 steps are Incline, Open, Unite, Satisfy. Sometimes, the hardest part is always the first step, and in this case it is to be inclined to even start the prayer and listen to what God has to say to us in the first place. The World itself can also be used for our fight for joy as well, even when sometimes it may not seem like it. Piper mentions a lot of interesting philosophical concepts, such as joy in Christ not being identical with physical brain waves, but having an existence above material reality. For example, C. S. Lewis talks about listening to piano music, where different spiritual emotions can play on a same piano key. (p.179- 180) The last chapter is the one that brings the grand fight for joy back to reality. It deals with depression, that sometimes medicine is needed to alleviate pain, but it mentions that in order to eventually get out of it, we need to involve other people too. Also in the chapter, it reminds us that at the end of the day, serving God at 50% is still better than not serving at all, but we should still continue working towards
100%. So overall, the chapter serves as a nice encouragement to end the book off.

What I didn’t like:

Piper seems to be a very experienced reader, and he might make reading, especially the harder books, look a bit too easy. It’s one thing to read at a consistent speed as he recommends, but it is another thing to comprehend everything, especially spiritual concepts that are more abstract and often up to interpretation by the reader himself.
In the same vein as reading advanced material, memorizing entire bible books is definitely a huge step up for newer readers, especially those who don’t have the time to do so. Piper also seems to have a bias against the newer, younger writers of doctrinal books, and deeply favours the older doctrinal books from past generations and centuries. He seems to be of the opinion that most devotional books that the younger generation are enjoying are simply “feel-good” reads with  less substance. I think the method in which people get their supplemental material of God from doesn’t matter, as long as they are able to apply it in their daily lives. There are too many books in the world, and not enough time to read all of them, so indulge in what works for you, as long as you experience God at the end.

As a personal recommendation, it would be more helpful to list key verses all Christians should memorize, to help assist readers in getting his point across. The average person is not a scholar, and he will not be able to memorize a book, much less even a chapter, effortlessly.

(3) Would you recommend it or not, and to who?

Would recommend to:

This book is for people who understand the concept behind books like Desiring God and now want more practical ways to apply this knowledge. This would imply relatively advanced knowledge of the Bible and experience in reading Christian books. This would probably be more suited for people who have a bit more time on their hands to ponder
about life and improve their spirituality, perhaps for those who may be facing a mid-life crisis, or are stay-at-home parents with kids. For people who are very busy, the best thing you can really do is spend a couple of minutes every day after work to read parts of a chapter, as it could take a week to fully digest one chapter.

Would not recommend to:

Like in Desiring God, this book would be tough on people who are new to the faith, as it will come with a couple of higher expectations of the reader. In a certain chapter, there is more of a focus of persuading the reader to pick up even heavier material from authors of past centuries. If the same reader already has trouble picking up concepts from books of this era, it will probably be a stretch to recommend books of probably greater difficulty. Again, it could be a difficult read if you are tired or not in the mood. This time, I think Piper organized the material a bit better for less experienced readers. However, it is impossible to remember everything in one go, you will need to go back and review many concepts because he usually comes up with long lists.

Book Reviewer: Brian Yuen

(Image credit: Desiring God)

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