Devotional books can be funny things. The author can have a sense of an overall purpose and flow which can be lost on the reader. Or perhaps the author doesn’t have a flow. John Piper has put together a few devotional books over the years and I have appreciated the ones I’ve read, particularly Life as a Vapor.
His latest, culled from various writings in other places is A Godward Heart: Treasuring the God Who Loves You. The stated theme is cultivating a Godward heart. It is tough to put pre-existing material into a book and expect it to fit a theme. In this case, I’m not sure the theme holds. Don’t get me wrong. There is some great material in this volume. It just doesn’t feel cohesive (yes, that is quite subjective.
The book begins in startling fashion with The Morning I Heard the Voice of God. At first you think he’s having some sort of charismatic experience (well, he is charismatic) but he’s talking about “hearing” God speak in the Scriptures (Ps. 66 in particular). It seems unnecessarily provocative, maybe. Piper wants to remind us that the real power to change us, the real words that should move us, are the Scriptures as the Spirit works in us to apply what Christ has done for us. A Godward heart is one that loves the Scriptures.
Among the highlights is Covering the Chaos: the Rebellion of Nudity and the Meaning of Clothing. This is not a subject that gathers much meditation, but Piper’s meditation on this subject is enlightening. I once engaged in a dialogue with a man who thought public nudity to be no problem at all. I would have found this helpful in stating my case more clearly. The problem is not the body, but the heart. We both have hearts that are sinful which means we can’t really be trusted completely. Clothing communicates this lack of trust with my deepest secrets as well as my physical body. But is also a reminder of the glory we’ve forfeited by rebellion. As he traces these ideas and others it was an interesting way to consider clothing in light of the glory of God.
He covers political involvement in Let Christians Vote as Though Not Voting. While voting is important, the results should not be viewed as our ultimate joy or despair. God is not only at work in you- developing a moral compass that informs your voting- but also at work in your society as it responds to the gospel and a biblical worldview. We see in Romans 1 that sometimes God hands a culture over to its own desires as a measure of judgment. In those times, Christians will be disappointed but we must not grow dismayed.
He ponders the connection between truth and sanctification in If You Can be Godly and Wrong, Does Truth Matter? Of course it does. But we are not to confuse a wealth of knowledge with godliness. Godliness comes as we trust the truth we’ve received and love Him as He’s revealed Himself in the Scriptures.
Piper meditates on Ephesians 5:25-27 to understand the place of confrontation in marriage. Just as the Church prays to Christ, as wife can make known things she’d love to see changed. Unlike Christ, the husband is a sinner and some of those changes can be turning away from sinful patterns. In other words, submission doesn’t mean a wife is a doormat.
Overall, I found this to be an uneven work that still contained some good meditations. I’m sure we’d disagree on which were the best ones. In a few years I may find myself changing my mind about some of them. What Piper tends to do well is explore a text. He’s not just trying to give you his own thoughts, but what he believes the text means and implies. That is a far cry better than most devotionals.
[I received a complementary copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of review.]