The Christian Hedonist’s Playbook (Part 9)

Last time, we looked at how the book of Psalms can powerfully change our prayer life. Now, let’s examine one specific example.

You might be familiar with John Piper’s prayer acronym IOUS. What you might not realize is that this extremely helpful model—which can be found in his book When I Don’t Desire God (pages 57-59)—is based on the Psalms. Let’s look at the acrostic.

“I” stands for Incline, and is based on Psalm 119:36: “Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.” Piper writes, “The first thing my soul needs is an inclination toward God and his Word.”

“O” stands for Open. This comes from Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.” Piper says, “I need to have the eyes of my heart opened so that when my inclination leads me to the Word, I see what is really there, and not just my own ideas.”

“U” stands for Unite. The supporting verse here is Psalm 86:11: “Unite my heart to fear Your name.” Piper puts it like this: “I am concerned that my heart is badly fragmented. Parts of it are inclined, and parts of it are not…. What I long for is a united heart where all the parts say a joyful Yes! to what God reveals in his Word.”

“S” stands for Satisfy, and it is taken from Psalm 90:14: “Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days!” Piper writes, “What I really want from all this engagement with the Word of God and the work of his Spirit in answer to my prayers is for my heart to be satisfied with God and not with the world.”

Looking at my own prayer life, I see how easily I focus on peripherals: “Help my day to go well,” “Let me have a safe trip without any incidents or injuries,” “Please let this situation resolve itself as quickly as possible.” Our circumstances are not unimportant, but God is in the business of changing our hearts, not giving us a life of ease. In fact, it is oftentimes through trying circumstances that our hearts experience grace-empowered sanctification. Like gold that can only be purified in the fire, our hearts are often purified through trials and suffering.

And that is why prayers like Piper’s IOUS acrostic are so valuable—they dig through the surface and go for the roots: “Incline my heart,” “Open the eyes of my heart,” “Unite my heart,” “Satisfy my heart.” The way people experience change is by having their hearts—not necessarily their circumstances—change. The Psalmists knew this, and it affected how they prayed.