Between Resignation and Triumphalism

Monday morning I was savoring my daily 15 minutes on a great book—Holiness, by J.C. Ryle. I read these words:

All things are growing older: the world is growing old; we ourselves are growing older. A few more summers, a few more winters, a few more sicknesses, a few more sorrows, a few more weddings, and a few more partings, and then—what? Why the grass will be growing over our graves!

Sometimes this is great comfort and sometimes it is a great threat. It depends much on whether we are overwhelmed with the burdens of life or invigorated with the challenges of life.

We oscillate between two errors: resignation and triumphalism.

Resignation has a truth in it, but it is not God’s way. The shortness of life, the obscurity of our labors, the smallness of our influence, the weakness of our powers, the shortfall of our efforts, the disappointments of unfulfilled dreams, the relentless debauching of our culture—all these can make us wistful for heaven and for the end of our warfare. And so we fall into resignation and lose energy for the work at hand.

Triumphalism also has a truth in it, but it is not God’s way either. Some good success of our labor, or a timely encouragement from a respected person, or the birth of a righteous movement somewhere in the world, or the vindication of a famous Christian leader, or a doctor’s clean bill of health, or a bright spring morning, or a new friendship—all these things can so fill us with a sense of life’s possibilities and challenges and energy that we fall into a triumphalistic forgetfulness that we are dust, that our perspective is profoundly limited, our importance in the world is relatively minute, our time is short, and the church and the mission and the kingdom are able under God to survive when we are gone and forgotten.

Neither resignation nor triumphalism is a safe place to live and minister. My prayer for us as a people is that in this year God will reveal to each of us where we are in this oscillation, and that he would move us to the place where we believe with all our hearts two complementary biblical truths:

Truth #1: “You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Rather (when your heart presumes with great plans upon the future of God) you ought to (humbly) say, “If the Lord wills we will do this or that.” (James 4:14-15)

Truth #2: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding (overflowing, increasing, multiplying, proliferating) in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Resting with you restlessly in God,

Pastor John

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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

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