Yesterday I rode my bike past a church sign that said,
Happiness is not
the absence of difficulties
but the presence of God.
Typically, church signs are nothing more than clichés and sentimentality. Blah. But this one is pretty good. Yet we must ask, “If happiness comes from God’s presence, how do we get God’s presence?”
Tony Reinke wrote The Joy Project: A True Story of Inescapable Happiness to answer this question. The book was released earlier this week, and you can download the book free of charge, in three digital formats, at desiringGod.org/thejoyproject.
The book explores—no, celebrates!—God’s mission to bring his children infinite joy. And it does so through the theological framework called Calvinism or the doctrines of grace or the acronym TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). In fact, these five points serve as the scaffolding for the five central chapters of the book.
The Joy Project, however, is not a polemical fight. Rather, as I said above, it’s a celebration, and in this way it’s more in keeping with the Bible’s treatment of the subject—behold the beauty before bemoaning the controversies.
In the spring I read Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace by John Piper. It was a good book (and Reinke quotes from it a few times and Piper more than a few times), but I think The Joy Project is the book that I’d be more likely to give to the people in our church. I’m not saying it’s necessarily better, just perhaps more suited.
Reinke wrote on his blog, “The Joy Project…fulfills of a dream of mine to write and publish a full book free of charge to the world.”
Thanks, Tony, for livin’ the dream. And thanks, Desiring God, for making it happen. And now may God use this book as a means to completing his joy project.
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Below are a few of my favorite passages.
We conclude that the barriers to abiding joy are the unhealthy choices that clog our lives. The root problem, we think, is that we’re stuck in a rut of predictability and laziness, so we must unstick ourselves. We turn to self-improvement... We buy productivity apps for our phones. We resolve to become more “chill” parents, sexier spouses, better friend-winners, and more purposeful people-influencers. We need to sit less and walk more. We need to sleep more and eat less… We drink more water, less coffee, less soda. We buy organic, fair trade, rBGH-free, gluten-free, free-range. We pay off credit card debt and build our savings… We commit to staying on top of our e-mails, checking our phones less often, watching less television, visiting the library more, and reading our neglected stacks of books. (p. 2*)
Simply put, the driving motive in history is the desire for happiness. All sin, from slavery to prostitution to racism to terrorism to extortion to the sparks that ignite world wars—all are driven by a desire for happiness apart from God. (p. 13)
The greatest hazard we face is not intellectual atheism—denying that God exists. Our most desperate problem is affectional atheism—refusing to believe God is the object of our greatest and most enduring joy. This is the heart of our foolishness. The fool speaks from the depths of his affections and longings and declares: God is irrelevant (Ps. 14:1). (p. 13)
Even if we don’t feel them, the consequences are real. Our idols misshape our souls like drugs alter the facial features of a meth addict. Unlike a drug-ravaged face, whose degeneration can be captured by time-lapsed photos, we don’t see the drastic changes to our souls quite so readily, but this soul-distortion afflicts everyone who follows after the pleasures of sin. (p. 22)
We are dying sinners in desperate need of a spiritual double bypass surgery, but we spend our pocket change on double cheeseburgers. We get happy again with a momentary food buzz, but the temporary buzz is slowly killing us. (p. 25)
Left to ourselves, we are stuck in our total depravity. The centripetal force of our affections keeps us gazing at ourselves. We turn away from God for our joy, and turn toward all we have left: money, sex, power, personal affirmation, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and Instagram “likes.” We use these old technologies (and we will use new technologies in the future) to tabulate our approval and then to use those metrics of approval to compare our popularity with others. When we do, we trade authentic glory for residual sludge. It’s like drinking mud. And we choke. (p. 33)
The cross did not merely make salvation possible. The cross is not like a single who secures a wedding date and reserves an elegant church years before finding a mate, hoping they will find someone in the meantime. No, Christ’s death secured salvation for the elect individually, by name. In his death, Christ effectually pursues a bride by entering the brothel of idolatry to grab hold of the elect, one by one, by name, and pulling them out from the bondage of sin. (pp. 55-56)
Anticipating unending joy in the presence of Christ changes everything. It means we can relinquish control over our lives. It means we have no fear of the future. It means all our pressing toward personal holiness is not in vain. God elects so that we will be conformed to the image of Christ, in his holiness and in his happiness. It will be done, and we strive and obey in this inescapable hope. (p. 99)
But of course you and I know better than to say we found joy. Rather, joy found us—sometimes slowly, sometimes at warp speed. That is the story of TULIP. Calvinism is the story of a long-planned, sovereign joy that finds you before you even see it coming. (p. 121)
* All pages numbers from the PDF version.