Editor’s Note: Recently a Christian book club in the northeast purchased 1800 copies of Bill Farley’s latest book, The Secret of Spiritual Joy. We found that really encouraging (can 1800 avid Christian readers be wrong?). So, with the fourth Thursday in November about to kick off another holiday season, we wanted to take this opportunity to feature Bill and his recent book on…gratitude, also known as Thanksgiving! To help spread the biblical wisdom of this book, we are also putting it on a pre-Black Friday sale. Through Wednesday, 11/23, the paperback is on sale here for $5.99, and ebook versions are available for just 99 cents, here and on Kindle. If you like to review books online, you might also want to pick up a free copy. So, here’s a little background on Bill and his recent book.
Who is Bill Farley?
What’s your “origin story”? Tell us a little about your personal background and your current roles.
I am the oldest of nine children. Raised in a Roman Catholic household, I have spent my entire life in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. At age 22, God opened my heart to the gospel and I was converted to the Evangelical faith.
Before entering full-time ministry, I spent twenty-seven years owning and operating a small business. In 2002, with five other families, I planted the church that I now pastor. It has grown to about five hundred Sunday attenders, split between two campuses.
Judy and I have five adult children. Three are either pastors or married to pastors. In addition, we have twenty-three grandchildren. Eleven live with us in Spokane, WA. Four live in Ogden, UT, four live in Greensboro, NC, and four live in Durham, U.K.
The Story Behind the Book
How did the idea for this book get started, and then mature to the point where you decided to start writing?
Like my other books, The Secret of Spiritual Joy is an application of Christ’s cross to daily life. Through reading Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans in my late thirties, I entered more deeply into the message of the cross. For the first time I really understood what it meant, why it was necessary, and how it impacted everyday life. One application was to grumbling and self-pity.
We are delighted to announce the release of our newest title, The Secret of Spiritual Joy, by William P. Farley. You can read the Introduction and Chapter One for free in the Excerpts section of the book page.
The social sciences confirm what is fairly obvious to begin with: gratitude doesn’t come naturally. Children must be trained to show it. Gratitude to others is part of being polite or having good manners. But you can be a model of etiquette and never get anywhere near the biblical idea of gratitude. In her book, The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser observes that “polite people” may say “thank you” up to 100 times per day and yet experience “little or no grateful emotion.”[i] That is, they go through the motions of politeness but without heartfelt gratitude. In fact, outward expressions of politeness can easily emerge from mixed motives. Consider the teenage girl who thanks her father sweetly for the loan of his car—mostly in the hope that he will let her borrow it again.
Biblical gratitude, however, is so much more than social conventions. Paul’s exhortations to be thankful do not proceed from a concern for etiquette and politeness—however sincere or well-intentioned—but from a passion to glorify God. This is because true thanksgiving is not an external formality, a matter of words or gestures or tone of voice. It is a natural outpouring of an awareness of three things:
what we rightly deserve before God’s holiness, and
the gracious redemption God has given to us through his Son.
Creaturehood. God created me. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t exist. As Paul put it, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth…gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25). Everything I am and possess is God’s gift.
This means that all the essential elements that make us who we are were given to us by God. Our talents, intelligence, height, appearance, parents, country of birth, the generation we were born into—we decided none of it, yet these are the kind of factors that determine so much of our life’s outcome. All of these, and infinitely more, are God’s gifts. They were given to us creatures by a gracious Creator. For this reason, the object of true gratitude is always ultimately God.
What we deserve. Our natural tendency is to take credit for our gifts. The blustering business tycoon, the self-glorifying athlete, and the preening pop star are just exaggerated versions of the rest of us in this regard. We all want to boast and brag and be seen as special. [tweet “Boasting implies a claim to deity, as if we created ourselves and chose our own talents.”]
But as creatures, boasting is the speech of naked arrogance. It actually implies a claim to deity, as if we created ourselves and decided what gifts and talents we would possess. It is the opposite of gratitude, and just one of countless manifestations of the sin nature we have all inherited from Adam. In his infinite holiness, God finds this sin nature, and each one of our specific acts of sin, infinitely repulsive. As a result, all we truly deserve from God is judgment for our rebellious, ungrateful hearts.
The gift of redemption. Despite the judgment we deserve, in his grace God has redeemed us and given us eternal life. This gift has a value beyond all measure, and was purchased at infinite cost. It is a gift that deserves constant gratitude.
The Greek word eucharisteo encapsulates the essential connection between gratitude and grace. We usually translate it into our English word, “thanks” or “thanksgiving.” But notice that the word charis—Greek for “gift” or “grace”—is right there in the middle of the word. This grace is unmerited favor, favor given to those who deserve only punishment. Gratitude for the grace of God is therefore literally central to biblical thanksgiving.[tweet “Until we see what we truly deserve from God, grace has no meaning.”]
This is the perspective of my friend, Curtis. Whenever I ask how he is doing, he responds, “Better than I deserve.” His speech expresses a heart constantly aware of the cross. Here is what he is thinking. “I deserve crucifixion, and I am not getting it. In fact, I will never get it, and the reason is God’s amazing grace and love. I will never get the judgment I deserve. Christ went to the cross and took the judgment that I deserve in my place. That is why, for eternity, I will never cease to ‘abound with thanksgiving.’ Jesus took the judgment I deserve so that I could receive the reward he deserves.”
Until we understand what we truly deserve from God, grace has no meaning, and we will have little real motivation for gratitude. The well-spring of all Christian thanksgiving is a clear understanding of the redemption given to us through the cross.
To summarize, biblical gratitude is rooted in the recognition that I have been given undeserved gifts, both natural and spiritual. Thankfulness expresses my creatureliness and God’s sovereignty. It reflects awareness of and gladness in the fact that God is God, and I am not. Biblical gratitude is always anchored in this sense of dependence on God. It is the language of those who know they are creatures, and it is the proper response to redemption.[tweet “People with grateful hearts live with an awareness of how much God has done for them.”]
This is why thanksgiving is the language of humility—because true gratitude arises from a realization of our weakness and need. People with grateful hearts live with an awareness of just how much God has done for them.
[i] Margaret Visser, The Gift of Thanks, (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2008) pg 8.
If The Secret of Spiritual Joy sounds like a pretentious title, I don’t mean it that way. I am under no delusion that this book will be a cure for all that ails us—a guarantee of cork-popping effervescence for the rest of our days. That said, I do intend for this book to set out a crucial biblical principle which, if applied methodically, will definitely increase your faith, amplify your humility, and expand your joy.
The Secret of Spiritual Joy will be released in November. See the book page for preorder and other information.
So yes, in the book I will make an absolute claim. But because this claim is based on Scripture, it is true to the realities of this troubled and challenging world. We can have greater spiritual joy, but I’m not promising there’s a way to find perfect or unwavering spiritual joy—not in this life. That would put the very premise of the book at odds with the Bible.
Notice also that I’m not calling this is a book about happiness. We generally become happy when we interpret external circumstances as good or positive. When the weather is nice and everyone loves me I feel happy. Happiness is a perfectly fine thing in itself, but it is not a common biblical idea. The ESV translates the original languages into “happy” or “happiness” only thirteen times. By contrast, “joy,” “rejoice,” or “joyful” appear 359 times in Scripture. So when it comes to pursuing emotions that make us feel good (a valid and biblical thing to do, as John Piper and others have demonstrated so well), the Bible obviously points us toward understanding and cultivating true, biblical joy.[tweet “The Bible mentions happiness 13 times, joy 359 times. We should probably seek joy!”]
This thing called joy is conceptually deep, spiritually powerful, and surprisingly complex. It is something we are commanded to do, and it is something we experience. It is a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Like happiness, joy can in one sense refer to positive feelings flowing from pleasant circumstances, but it can also refer to a deep-down-inside, quiet, settled conviction that all is well even when circumstances are horrendous.
For example, James exhorts us to “count it all joy . . . when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). And Paul described himself as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Then, in the next chapter, he described himself as in “affliction” yet “overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4). The words “trials,” “sorrowful,” and “affliction” don’t normally go with “rejoicing” and “joy,” but for those who apply the contents of this book, they will be increasingly and intimately entwined.
A premise of the book, therefore, will be that by faith every believer can have spiritual joy even when life is serving up occasions for sorrow. Again, I am not talking about a simplistic cure-all for a miserable day, nor am I suggesting that sorrow can be banished from your life. I am talking about an active faith response which, despite the ongoing existence of miserable circumstances, says at the heart level, “All is well with my soul.” And I am saying that this response is effective: It changes you. It brings you joy.
Bill was converted to Christ while doing graduate studies at Gonzaga University in 1971. In 2002 he became the senior pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational Evangelical church, which he planted with several other families in Spokane, Washington. Bill is the author of several books published with P&R, including Gospel-Powered Parenting and Gospel-Powered Humility.