My father, Bill Piper, was an incredibly intense preacher of the gospel with a strong evangelistic bent. That's because he was an evangelist. He was not a pastor and never was a pastor. For 50+ years he served as an itinerant evangelist trying all the time to rescue people from perishing.
Because of this he always had the smell of hell singeing his garments and the aroma of heaven beckoning him on. The result was an amazing combination of blazing-eyed intensity as he preached with high levels of joy, praise, and exultation over the hope that he had in Jesus Christ.
My father was one of the most intense people I've ever known when he was in the pulpit and perhaps the happiest person I've ever known when he was at the dinner table. I've never thought those things were in conflict, and they always struck me as describing the way one ought to be.
A Christian has to be realistic. The world is in a horrible state and eternity is looming very close with either hell or heaven, and we must be serious and intense. And on the other hand Christ has come to redeem the world. He has rescued us. How can we not serve the Lord with gladness and rejoice always?
My father seemed to combine those in a remarkable way. He was a lover of humor. Nobody laughed more than my father laughed. If he told a joke he always laughed most at it, so whether you thought the joke was funny or not you were just drawn in by his belly laughter.
Practically speaking, what I remember about my father is that he left home a lot. He would leave home on Monday and get back the following Monday. Sometimes he would be gone for two or three weeks. The whole rhythm of our life was built around my father's comings and goings.
I've never felt any resentment about my father traveling so much because it was for such a glorious cause. It wasn't like business. It was our life. This is what we lived for: we lived for the gospel as a family. My mother knew what she had gotten into.
It wasn't easy for her to be without her husband approximately two-thirds of the year, but we were in it as a family together. Daddy's leaving was our part in the gospel spreading. And when he came home he would tell us great stories about people who had come to Christ after resisting for 25 years, people who broke on the last day of the crusade and walked with tears to the front. We would hear these glorious stories and how could we not support that or be thrilled to be a part of it somehow?
He did little things for us kids too. My sister had a spoon collection and I had a coin collection, and when he was traveling he would always be looking out for a spoon for Beverly and some coins for Johnny. And because he traveled so many places he could find some pretty unusual items. Little things like that made his going and coming poignant and special.
Now that he is with Jesus, I feel the weight of being the patriarch in the Piper family. That feels like a burden, but it's a good one. I was happy to let him keep it and wouldn't have wanted it from him, but when God said, "Bill, time for you to come home," then that mantel came to me.
There is no great-grandfather anymore, only grandfather, and it feels like a wonderful opportunity for me to love my grandchildren and my kids. I do that mainly through daily prayer. I name before God every day all of my children and all of my grandchildren the way Job did.
Scripture says that Job got up and sacrificed for his children every day, if perchance they had sinned. I pray rather to try and keep them from sinning. Nonetheless, there is a prayer cover that I feel like I owe this Piper clan which my dad once kept up.
About 10 years ago, Sam Storms wrote me and said, "John I felt led and made a commitment to pray for you every day for the rest of my life." I couldn't believe that! So I wrote in the Star article—our church's weekly newsletter—that I've never had anybody make that commitment to me before. That was a bad mistake. I got a letter from my dad the next week saying, "Johnny, before you were born I made the pledge to pray for you every day of my life—and I haven't failed." I just felt awful!
I called him on the phone and said, "Daddy, I knew that! I don't know why I said what I said."
So there are actually at least two people in the world who have made that commitment to me. But that prayer cover as the patriarch is gone. I don't have it anymore. Rather, I am that patriarch. And I want to be as faithful as he was to name all of my children, my wife, my daughters-in-law, and all of my grandchildren, interceding for them every day and covering them with prayer.