Live for Your Greatest Desire
2 Part Article by John Piper
For over twenty years, the flag that has flown over the Passion Conferences is a declaration from the prophet Isaiah. If you go to the Passion 2020 website and click “more information” and scroll down, this is what you see from Isaiah 26:8 (fading from yellow to magenta to red):
Yes Lord, walking in the way of your truth, we wait eagerly for you, for your name and renown are the desire of our souls.
This has never changed — ever since the beginning of Passion. Your name, O God, and your renown, your fame, are the desire of our souls. So yes, Lord, we wait for you. We long for you. You are our greatest desire.
Name Above Every Name
The reason I say “you, Lord” and not just “your name” is our desire is not only because the text says “we wait eagerly for you,” but also because that is what “your name” means: Your name is the essence of you — who you are. You said your name is Yahweh, “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). So, when we say his name is our desire, we mean his being is our desire.
And now, on this side of the incarnation, we know you by another name: Jesus, who said, in the most outrageous, glorious, true statement that a man ever made: “Before Abraham was, ‘I Am’” (John 8:58). So, Jesus is “I Am.” Jesus is Yahweh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word was Yahweh, “I Am Who I Am.” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). And of this great, incarnate “I Am,” the angel said, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
So, for over twenty years, there’s been no doubt and no change. This is the flag flying over Passion. Our desire, our greatest desire, is you, God, “I Am,” the one who absolutely is — no beginning, no ending, no becoming. You, Yahweh. You, the incarnate God-man. You, Jesus, the only person in the universe who can save us from our sins — because you are God and man. You are our greatest desire.
For the Fame of God’s Name
But not just you privately, God. No. We desire your renown — your fame. “Your name and your renown are the desire of our souls.” We desire you — to be famous! We desire you to be known, and admired, and loved, and worshiped, and treasured by all the peoples of the world, all the cities, all the campuses — all the churches.
No Competing Kings
And when we say that you are our desire — your name, your fame — we don’t mean, someday, maybe. Maybe you will be famous. Maybe not. That’s not what Isaiah 26:8 means. It’s not what we mean. Never has been. Never will be. The fame of God is not a maybe. It’s coming. It is more sure than the rising sun.
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27–28)
This is not a maybe. The gospel of your name, your Son, your salvation, will reach the nations. He will gather his sheep. He will build his church. “For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.” Jesus did not die in vain! He has bought his people. He will have them — from every people. His blood was not wasted.
You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9)
They are ransomed. They will come. The global glory of Jesus Christ is not a maybe.
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)
There is no maybe. There will be no competing kings. His name and his fame will be supreme and universal. And every contender for his throne will be cast down.
The haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. (Isaiah 2:17)
Your Greatest Desire
And all the humble and lowly, whose greatest desire was the name and fame of Jesus, will receive their desire in full. We will be with him. And he will be with us. And every hindrance to our enjoyment of his presence, his name, his fame will be taken away.
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3–4)
This is coming. This fame. This name. This God-man, Jesus, Yahweh, is coming. To call this the desire of our souls does not mean uncertain desire, uncertain fulfillment. No. We can already taste it. Indeed, if we could not taste it, we would not desire it. And if we do not desire it, we will not have it (1 Peter 2:3). To be born again is to taste that God is more to be desired than anything else. And this God you desire is Jesus.
Nothing is more important in your life than the awakening of this desire. The triumph of this desire over all other desires. If the name and fame of Jesus, the Savior, the Son of God, the King of kings, does not become your greatest desire, you will not only waste your life; you will lose it.
Desire: Friend or Foe?
Which leads me to two questions, or two objections. And my hope and my prayer is that by answering these two questions, I would persuade you to give yourself no rest until Jesus — personally precious, and globally famous — is your supreme desire.
1. Doesn’t all this emphasis on desire really backfire in the end? Even if you say, the name and fame of God is your desire, you’re still making so much of your desire — the state of your own heart — you wind up making a god out of your desire. If I give my life to pursuing my desire, am I not making myself, my desire, the ultimate thing, not God? And so the whole thing backfires. Doesn’t it? That’s one question.
2. Here’s the other one: What if I urge you not only to desire the name and fame of God above all things, but also to make that desire the motive of everything you do — the sustaining force of every good deed? Every act of love? Which in fact I do. Would I not then contaminate your love for others by turning love into self-seeking? I will have my desire satisfied in doing good for you. And thus, I ruin the moral beauty of selfless love, by turning it into self-seeking — the pursuit of my desire.
If I thought that these two fears — the fear of making a god out of desire, and the fear of ruining love by seeking my desire — were only a threat to a Passion Conference, or a Passion flag, I probably wouldn’t bring them up. But my sense is that hundreds of thousands of people around the world are lamed in their relation to God by the suspicion that desire is a dangerous ally in worship. And my sense is that hundreds of thousands of people are hindered in genuine love for others by the suspicion that pursuing my desire is a defective motive for any good deed.
So, what should we do? My suggestion is this: Before you get entangled in psychological or philosophical or ethical arguments, look to Jesus in his word. And ask: What did he say about this? And when he acted in love, how was he motivated? What was the role of desire in the teaching and acting of Jesus?
Let’s measure the force of these objections by looking at Jesus.
Deepen Your Denial — and Desire
Perhaps the person who objects that we make a god out of desire when we put so much emphasis on it — even if God is our desire — perhaps this person would take me to Mark 8:34 and say this: Your emphasis on pursuing your desire contradicts Jesus’s emphasis on denying yourself and following him. Jesus said,
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
But you say, Piper, “Don’t deny your desires, pursue them! Glut them! Intensify them!” Which is true — if you desire God.
My response: “You need to look more carefully at what Jesus actually said and how he argues in this text. It’s not what you think. In fact, this text not only is not a problem for what I’m teaching; it’s the basis of it.”
I know this sounds backward. How can Jesus’s teaching, that we should deny ourselves, actually teach that we should indulge our desire — for God? But that is exactly what Jesus teaches. We’ll see it in just a minute. All Christian self-denial is for the sake of ultimate, eternal satisfaction in God. In fact, the effort to deny yourself God as your supreme desire is idolatry, and blasphemy. (Part 2, conclusion, tomorrow)