God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

The Purpose Driven Life- An Apologist's Review- Part 2: God's Pleasure

Book Review- The Purpose Driven Life- Part 2

Last week I began my chapter-by-chapter review of Rick Warren's popular book The Purpose Driven Life (hardback, Kindle, audio book). Rick Warren presents a theology of suffering in this book that caught my attention as a defender of the Christian worldview because of its applicability in addressing the problem of evil and suffering. Because the book has forty chapters, I decided to break up the review into multiple parts that coincide with the parts of Warren's book. For easy navigation of this review, here are the parts with links that will be updated as they publish:

Part 2- You Were Planned For God's Pleasure

Quote from Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life": "If it is offered to God in spirit and in truth, it is an act of worship."

Chapter 8- Planned for God's Pleasure

Warren begins his discussion of the first purpose (worship) by explaining that God does not need anything. God did not create man because He needs man (all God's needs are eternally met in the community of the Trinity), nor does He expect worship because He needs worship. He created us because He wants us and wants to spend eternity with us. We have objective and intrinsic value and purpose that is grounded in our eternal Creator.

Warren then helps define worship and clear up some common misunderstandings. God created man in His image, which allows us to experience emotions- including joy when we experience pleasure. God experiences joy as well, and worship is simply bringing God pleasure. Worship is more than just singing to God. Worship is bringing God pleasure in ordinary and extraordinary ways- in how we live our everyday lives and how we respond in specific circumstances. Everything we do can be an act of worship, if it is done "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23). While worship is not about us, it brings us joy to know that we bring our eternal Creator joy just by our being alive.

Chapter 9- What Makes God Smile?

Warren takes a look at the story of Noah to help identify what brings God joy. Noah's love of, trust in, obedience to, gratitude to and use of his abilities for God demonstrate how to worship God. The Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with us. It brings Him joy when we reciprocate that desire. One of the ways we bring God joy is by having faith in Him. This is not a "blind" faith but a reasonable trust. God has worked in the lives of our friends, family, numerous people separated from us by both time and geography, and even in our own lives. Even when we have limited information about what is to come, we have enough information about God's past trustworthiness that we can presently trust Him about what is to come. It brings God joy when we take this logical step of faith in Him.

Complete trust logically leads to complete obedience. God is all-knowing and desires the best for you. He knows what is ultimately and eternally best for you, so it brings Him joy when we wholeheartedly trust Him and follow what He has told us to do and reject what He has told not to do. As God demonstrates His trustworthiness in our lives, gratefulness should result. Just as it brings us joy to be thanked by someone who is grateful for something we have done, so too does it bring God joy when we are grateful for all that He has done for us. Finally, it brings God great joy when we use our God-given talents and passions. Everything that we do, except sin (disobedience), brings joy to God. This gives us much freedom and considerable relief to know that just being who God created us to be brings Him joy. God knows that we won't be perfect, but that does not keep us from bringing Him joy.

Chapter 10- The Heart of Worship

The heart of worship is surrender to God. Not "surrender" as in a reluctant acquiescing to a stronger or more clever opponent, but "surrender" as in a willing dedication of your life to another because of how much they love you. Warren explains that surrender to God is based on our knowledge of who He is and what He has done. How can we know that He loves us, is trustworthy with the unknowns of the future, and is worthy of our dedication if we do not know about Him? Because surrender is based on knowledge, it is hardly an illogical, emotional impulse. Rather surrender is the result of an intellectual, rational process of education about God that results in a deep and justified emotional feeling of love that spurs us to action.

Being fully surrendered to God is necessary for us to accomplish the purposes for which God created us. If we are fully surrendered to God, then there is no need to surrender to anything or anyone else. It frees us from the expectations and stresses that everyone else around us places on us. We can follow those expectations of others when they coincide with God's purposes, but at the same time, when they do not coincide or when they contradict God's purposes, then we will be faced with an uncomfortable choice, but a choice that has a most reasonable option: follow God, not man.

Whether it is due to our surrender to God and not man, due to evil of others, or due to natural processes, suffering will befall all, and all will be touched by evil. The surrendered heart has the answer to the problem of suffering and evil. In Warren's words, the surrendered heart states, "Father, if this problem, pain, sickness, or circumstance is needed to fulfill your purpose and glory in my life or in another's, please don't take it away." In that statement, the surrendered heart acknowledges that, even if we cannot see it right now or may not ever see it, God does have a purpose for the pain and suffering in our lives. The surrendered heart, that is suffering through a present evil, rests on its knowledge of God's purposeful past, God's consistency throughout time, and the logical conclusion of God's purposeful future.

Chapter 11: Becoming Best Friends With God

The surrendered heart naturally leads to another aspect of worship: friendship. One of the great distinguishing characteristics of the Christian God is that He does not desire merely a Creator/creature or master/servant relationship with us. God is not just our Creator, Savior, and Purposer, He wants to be our friend. It brings Him great joy when the surrendered heart is one that also desires the closeness of a dear friend. In order to be a friend, we must know the other person. We must understand them. Warren explains that two ways to build the friendship relationship with God is to constantly be in prayer and to constantly meditate on His Word. The communication from man to God is facilitated by prayer, and the communication from God to man is provided by God's Word. Both are necessary for a friendship relationship with God, so if either is missing from our lives, we cannot build a friendship relationship with God.

Warren mentioned before that everything we do throughout the day can be acts of worship. With that in mind, simple prayers throughout the day and/or a never-ending conversation with God punctuated by our daily activities keep us communicating with God. And our meditation on God's Word keeps Him in communication with us. The meditation that is necessary, though, is not in the eastern sense of emptying our minds of all thoughts, but rather it is of focusing acutely and thoughtfully reflecting on something: the contents of what God has spoken to us in the Bible. To bring God more joy, the surrendered heart continues to live a life of prayer and biblical study that increases their knowledge of, their surrender to and their friendship with their Creator, Savior, and Purposer.

Chapter 12: Developing Your Friendship With God

With all of the pain and suffering that we experience and have to witness those closest to us experiencing as well, it is important to remember that friendships only thrive with honesty. God desires that we be honest with our feelings about life. In our prayers, we can vent our frustration, pain, doubt, challenges, and even anger with God. God already knows our heart, and He created this universe (and every other person who lives in it with us), so He can certainly handle and even desires our total honesty with Him about our experiences.

Our honesty about our deepest feelings of pain and doubt can be the first step to a closer relationship with God. It is okay to voice doubts and frustrations honestly because when we are provided with answers, we get to understand why God allows these experiences. When we can see the ultimate good that will result, our initial bitterness towards God begins to erode, and that great barrier to a relationship with God gradually fades away.

Warren concludes this chapter by reminding the reader of the ultimate purpose behind pain and suffering in our lives. The purpose has nothing to do with God punishing us or acting in malevolent ways. He desires a loving relationship with us. He knows our hearts, and He knows what circumstances it will take for us to freely choose an eternal, loving relationship with Him. God allows a finite amount of pain and suffering in our lives in this world because it can result in an infinite amount of joy in our lives in the next world.

Chapter 13: Worship That Pleases God

The more we understand about God the more we are surrendered to Him. A surrendered heart exhibits worship that has four distinct characteristics. The first has already been hinted at: we must worship Him in truth. We must accurately understand who He is, what He has done, and why He has done it. Having a correct understanding of God (theology) is vital to being able to worship Him in truth. The second must be authentic worship. God created us to be emotional beings, so authentic worship is emotional. The emotion is not manufactured for one's own benefit or to put on a show, but it is heartfelt, the natural reaction to focusing our attention on God and our relationship to Him.

True worship is also thoughtful. God does not seek trite cliches or "worship" that is so familiar that it is robotic and comes with no conscious engagement. Worship must be intentional shifting of our focus away from ourselves to God and communicating with Him from our hearts. Finally, our worship must be practical. This means that we must set aside time for dedicated worship. While worship can take place throughout the day as we go along our day, that time still has a focus on ourselves. We must also set aside time to set our focus away from ourselves and place it on God. This dedicated time allows us to reduce distractions and will bring us closer to God. In coming closer to God, all other acts and times of worship (and our relationship with God) are benefited.

Chapter 14: When God Seems Distant

One of the biggest challenges to worship and to God's existence in general is His seeming hiddenness. It is difficult to worship God or believe He is even there when we cannot see or feel Him working. These difficulties most often come when we are experiencing pain and suffering in our lives or see loved ones suffering. Warren addresses this challenge by making a clear distinction between the fact of God's omni-presence, and the feeling of God's presence. The first is true in all places at all times, independent upon us (it is objective). God promised that His presence in our lives is a fact- He promised to never leave us. However the second is dependent upon the person (it is subjective), no such promise was made about it- God never promised that we would always feel His presence.

Warren explains that one of the biggest mistakes that Christians make is seeking a feelings-based experience of God and not seeking to know God. In seeking an experience, we are making our faith dependent upon the subjective feeling of God's presence, which will change levels throughout our lives. Instead, we should make our faith dependent upon who God is and what He has done for us in the past.

Warren encourages the Christian to focus on two things: the unchanging character of God and the reason for Christ's death and resurrection. If God did nothing else for us, He died for us and took the penalty of our sins upon Himself so that we would not suffer the penalty of our sins: eternal, conscious separation from Him. (For those readers who are interested in the evidence that establishes the historical event of the Resurrection, I highly recommend the book The Risen Jesus and Future Hope by Gary Habermas.) From His past work for us and the consistency of His character, we can know that God's promises are true. So, while we may not be able to feel that God is present, we can know that God is present. Basing our faith upon knowledge rather than feelings frees our faith from being dependent upon the ever-changing circumstances of life. It frees us to know that He is there and we can worship Him, even if we are not experiencing Him at that time in our lives.

Purpose #1: Worship (My Thoughts for the Apologist)

I loved the way that Warren presents the purpose of being created to worship God. He presents faith in the biblical way of being based upon knowledge and evidence and not being blind or even despite the evidence. He shifts the Christian's focus away from subjective feelings of God to objective knowledge of presence God to address the concern of God's seeming hiddenness. He emphasizes that worship is more than just singing, it is being in a relationship with God. He encourages the Christian to always be in prayer and to study God's Word. And he reminds the Christian that no matter how much we may think that God is not there or doesn't care about us, God has already demonstrated His trustworthiness in the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and His Resurrection from the dead. It is quite often that Christians lean heavily towards either an emotional faith or an intellectual faith to the minimization of the other, but in this chapter Warren begin to bring you, no matter which side you are on, closer to the proper balance in your thinking. Not only has Warren already begun preparing the Christian with a proper theology of suffering that will help sustain their faith in times of crisis, he is preparing them to be able to "worship the Father in spirit and in truth" in the middle of these crises.

Next week we will look at Part 3: Created for God's Family (Fellowship).

Continue on with the review (new links will appear as the parts publish):

  • Part 1: Created For God's Purpose
  • Part 2: Created For God's Pleasure (Worship)
  • Part 3: Created For God's Family (Fellowship)
  • Part 4: Created To Become Like Christ (Discipleship)
  • Part 5: Created To Serve God (Ministry)
  • Part 6: Created For A Mission (Evangelism)