A Challenge to John Piper15
[Last night I had the unique privilege of joining nearly 4,000 believers in Minneapolis in a celebration of thanksgiving for the ministry of John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church. I was also given the honor of issuing a “challenge” or “charge” to John for the remaining years of his life and work on earth. I thought you might enjoy reading what I said.]
John, as you know, we first met 29 years ago, appropriately, at Wheaton College. It was a conference devoted, again appropriately, to the theology of Jonathan Edwards. I want to begin tonight by thanking you for nearly three decades of friendship, support, and partnership in the gospel.
I have to make a confession, John. I’ve never agonized over a ten-minute exhortation as much as I have over this one. This has not been easy. When I was first asked to deliver this “challenge” to you regarding the remaining years of your life and ministry, I initially thought there would be no problem. I’d simply say something silly like, “Sam loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Or perhaps I’d say something that you’ve never heard or thought about before, such as: “For heaven’s sake, John, don’t waste your life!”
After giving this a lot of prayer and thought, I came to the conclusion that it would be misguided of me to suggest that you do anything different from, less or other than what you’ve done these many years of ministry. Why would I want you to change course or redirect your focus or pursue something that might distract you from what has been the central and powerfully influential direction your life has taken?
So I’d like to begin by joining with the others here tonight in saying a heartfelt “Thank You”, and encourage you to “stay the course!”
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the unborn. Thank you that when the voices of others went silent or it ceased to be fashionable to be rigorously and unapologetically pro-life, you continued year in and year out to preach about the American holocaust of abortion on demand. Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to global missions. On behalf of those formerly unreached people groups who now know the glorious gospel truth of Jesus Christ, and on behalf of those who do not yet know of Christ, but soon will, I say, Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the sanctity of marriage. And by that I don’t mean merely marriage in the abstract or marriage in general, but your marriage in particular. Thank you for loving Noel in such a way that we have all learned how to press through difficult times and confusion and even heartache in order to model for others the great mystery of Christ’s relationship to his Bride, the Church. Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the centrality, supremacy, and exclusivity of Christ. All too often we hear of Christian leaders in their later years turning soft on the necessity of conscious faith in Jesus for salvation. All too often we see compromise for the sake of inclusion and political correctness. Thank you for maintaining a biblical stance. Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to prayer and fasting. Thank you for your rigorous insistence that prayer is the primary means by which our sovereign God will accomplish his redemptive purposes. Thank you for keeping us on our knees by staying on yours. Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the Word of God, for your confidence in its life-changing, sin-killing power; and especially for your devotion to expositional preaching. Thank you for the utter absence of boredom in the pulpit. Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the sovereignty of God’s saving grace. Thank you for being willing to take hard shots and unjust criticism and angry denunciations from those who deny the doctrines of the Reformed faith. Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for modeling for so many how one can and must hold in beautiful balance the foundational authority and finality of Scripture, on the one hand, and the contemporary validity of all spiritual gifts, on the other. Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the centrality of the local church in God’s redemptive purposes. Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to display for us the manifold beauty of God for our everlasting joy and satisfaction. Stay the course!
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to Christian Hedonism and that glorious and revolutionary tweak of the Westminster Catechism that gave us: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever!” Stay the course!
So, my charge to you is not that you do anything differently. My prayer for you is not that you slow down your pace or diminish your productivity or that now you are no longer senior pastor at Bethlehem that you give in to pressure and purchase a TV. My charge is simply that for the sake of the glory of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ and for the sake of all his people, please, stay the course! Finish the race! End well!
My prayer, my plea, is that God might strengthen you in the inner man so that you not wane or weaken or diminish your commitment to these truths . . . that you not lose your zeal or your energy or your voice in making known those majestic theological principles for which you have become widely known, . . . that you find yourself loving Christ more and believing his Word more and proclaiming God’s sovereignty more and praying for the lost more. I suppose my preeminent desire for you, my singular request of you, can be reduced to one thing: give us more!
So, as I said, I don’t think any of us here want you to do anything radically new or unexpected. We just want you to continue to do what you’ve always done, only deeper, more passionately, more joyfully, more zealously, more unapologetically, more widely in the world than you have been able to up until now.
In closing, I would simply urge you that above productivity, above creativity, above global influence, above written treatises, above all else that may occupy your time and energy in the coming years, let the words of Psalm 73:28 be an expression of the focus of your own heart and the priority that will occupy you in what we pray are the many remaining years that God has in store for you on earth.
You know the psalm. After expressing his initial complaint over the prosperity of the wicked and the temptation he himself felt to throw in with them, Asaph closes with this resolve:
“But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (Psalm 73:28).
In saying it is “good” to be near God, the psalmist obviously means it is “best.” Or as Spurgeon put it, “this positive is superlative” (Treasury of David, 2:268).
Some would have you believe that if you press into the heart of God and seek intimacy with God and refuge in God that you are guilty of a self-absorbed, introspective obsession with your own private welfare to the exclusion of others. Others will argue that if you are given to making known truth and proclaiming the mighty and gracious works of God that you will never deepen in your personal relationship with God.
The psalmist begs to differ. Hear him again: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, [in order] that I may tell of all your works.”
John, seek to be near your God. Let nothing come between the two of you: not work or fame or a writing deadline or travel or criticism from your enemies or praise from your friends. Above all else, seek to be near your God. Make him your refuge. And here’s why: so that you may tell of all his works. It is from that place of quiet, abiding, prayer-filled and reflective intimacy with your God that you will increase in the joy of your salvation; it is there that you will see more clearly and understand more profoundly than ever before the truth that begs to be made known; it is there and there only that you will find that satisfaction in God by which he will continue to be most glorified in you.
John, I know that your heart’s desire, your passionate longing is that your life would be known for having made known all the works of God. The psalmist has a clear explanation for how you can accomplish this, indeed the only way you can accomplish it: make being “near” God your good, indeed, your best; make the Lord God your “refuge.” Hide in him. Repose in him. Enjoy him. That is the only way you can avoid wasting your remaining years in making known your works rather than his.
And finally, Rodney "Gipsy" Smith, who died in 1947, was a British evangelist who conducted evangelistic campaigns in the United States and Great Britain for over 70 years. He was an early member of the Salvation Army and a contemporary of Fanny Crosby and G. Campbell Morgan.
Although you and I would not find his theology or his evangelistic methods altogether acceptable, there is something he once said that I urge you to consider.
A man once approached him after an evangelistic campaign and said, “I heard you speak 50 years ago and the Lord used your message to bring me to faith in Jesus Christ. But I have to ask: ‘How have you kept going for so long? You’ve been faithfully pursuing ministry for more than a half a century. How have you found the strength and incentive to persevere?’”
After a momentary pause, Smith replied: “I never lost awe for the wonder of it all!”
My prayer for you John, and for you Noel, is that you never lose your awe for the wonder of it all. I pray that the Spirit of God will sustain and preserve in your hearts an ever-increasing wonder for the majesty of God and the depths of his saving love. I pray that the Spirit of God will intensify and deepen in your hearts an unceasing wonder for the grace of the cross, the centrality of Christ, and the ever-expanding joy of heaven in the ages to come. May your fascination and excitement and awe for the wonder of it all never end!