24/7 Devotion

A Conversation with John Piper

Cross Conference | Louisville

We want to do what we did a few years ago and have a conversation with Pastor John Piper. Pastor John, thank you so much for being here again, for being at CROSS Conference.

My pleasure.

I want to pick up where we left off last time. You made a very interesting statement. You said that when you were twenty years old, you had maybe the three most important weeks of your life, lying in a hospital bed. Why might those be the three most important weeks of your life?

Well, there are at least two specific reasons why. It was 1966, and it was right after summer school. I had just met and fallen madly in love with Noël Henry, and I had just heard from the Lord in April — I thought, unmistakably — that I should be a pre-med student and head for medical school. So, I took chemistry in summer school and signed up for organic chemistry in the fall and found myself flat on my back with mononucleosis as the semester began. I watched my organic chemistry possibilities falling away as I lay there.

Harold John Ockenga, a pastor from Boston, was speaking at the Spiritual Emphasis week in the chapel about two hundred yards to my right as I lay in bed. I was listening on the college radio station and everything in me said, “I would love to be able to handle the Bible like that.” It was so compelling after three days that I knew it didn’t matter whether I could catch up on organic chemistry — I was going to drop that course anyway — and I was heading for theological education. That was totally life-shaping, right? I missed it in April. So, if you think you know God’s will for your life, you probably don’t. All my subjective senses of God’s leading were wrong, I hope. My whole life would be misdirected if that were not the case.

Noël had a doctor for a dad and thought she was falling in love with a pre-med student, which she was. And she came in one day to the hospital room and I said to her, “These chapel messages have just undone me, and I’m not going to pursue medical school. I’m going to go to seminary, and I want to learn how to handle the Bible like that. What do you think about that?” And she said what she always has said for 57 years now: “I fell in love with you, not your vocation.” And it’s been that way ever since. She’s been an absolutely glorious, God-sent support for my life and ministry.

“You don’t plan your life; God plans your life.”

Those two things I think warranted that statement. Under submitting to Jesus, who you marry and what you do with your whole life are, I think, about the two biggest decisions you could make. And if it takes God to put you in the hospital to make those things clear, then don’t begrudge a little seminary of suffering.

I think it’s just good for you guys who are 18, 19, and 20, that this could be the week or the year in which God radically changes and alters your life forever. And you should believe he’s able and willing to do that. On the line of that, you’ve said before that you didn’t plan your life and that nobody plans their life. Why is that encouraging? Why is that important for us to know?

Well, it’s important to know because it’s true. James 4:13–16 says,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

You are arrogant in saying, “I’m going back to my hotel tonight,” unless there is this deep sense of, “If the Lord wills, I’ll go back to my hotel tonight. And if he doesn’t, then I may die between now and then.” Those two words are all-encompassing. You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live,” which means every heartbeat right now is a gift. You don’t deserve it. And he could stop it just like that and he will have done you no wrong.

Second, when he says, “We will live and do this or that,” you should think that the posture you’re in right now is dictated by the Lord. If you have your legs crossed, that’s because God willed it ten million years ago. If you don’t believe that, then you ought to be at this conference because that’s what we stand for — the all-pervasive sovereignty of God and his total governance of the world. So, it’s true that God plans our lives and we don’t, ultimately.

Now secondly, it just fits with experience. How many of you chose the family in which you were born? How many of you chose to be male or female? That’s a controversial question, but you’ll hear more about that and that’s a serious issue today. But you know what I mean. You didn’t choose. You didn’t choose your ethnicity. You didn’t choose the town you were born in, the socioeconomic status you were born into, or the nation you were born into. You didn’t choose anything to get started in this world. And almost all of it dictates what you’ve become. That’s a piece.

Now, just take my own life and let’s just start in college. Why did I go to the seminary I went to? Well, there were palm trees in the catalog. That’s a crummy reason to go to a seminary. I met Dan Fuller at Fuller Seminary and everything changed. That was the most important event of my life after those two big events. I sat in eight classes with this man who gave me the big-God theology I have today. He gave me Christian Hedonism and assiduous attentiveness to the word of God. What would’ve happened to me if I had not gone? And I went for all the wrong reasons. I didn’t plan this. It was a gift to me.

Then I came to the end of seminary. I had been in seminary for three years and didn’t know what to do. I was 25. And the teacher said, “Well, if you don’t know what to do, just go ahead and get the last degree and then you can do anything.” I said, “Okay. Where should I go to graduate school?” I got turned down at the one place I applied in America. I applied to Basel and Munich and Durham, and the only place where Noël could get a job and support us for a year and a half till she got pregnant was Munich. So, we went to Munich. I didn’t choose Munich. God chose Munich. Then I was done with three years of graduate school. I had a wife, a kid, and I had to put bread on the table.

Nobody in America knew I existed. I had been out of the country for three years. I would do anything for Jesus, but I just wanted to use my Bible. Along came a graduate student who said, “Well, I think they need a one-year sabbatical replacement at Bethel College in St. Paul.” I had never heard of Bethel College. I thought, “Where’s St. Paul?” I mean, I’m really provincial. I don’t know anything. I had never been to Minnesota in my life, but I had to have a job. They took me for one year, and it turned into six. I was born in South Carolina and I’ve been in Minnesota for fifty years. Do you think I chose that? That’s crazy. Why would anybody live in Minnesota, right?

So, I went to Minnesota and that one year turned into six years. I loved all of it, and God just moved in so mighty and said, “I want you to preach, not just teach. I want you to herald these truths from Romans 9, not just analyze the God of Romans 9. So, move toward a pastorate.” I went to the denominational headquarters and I said, “I’m going to leave teaching and I’m going to look for a church. What would you suggest?” And they said, “We know the church. Go to Bethlehem.” I said, “Where’s Bethlehem?” They said, “It’s in downtown Minneapolis. They’re just building nearby.”

I got in the car, went down there and looked around, and that’s where they called me. I was at the church for 33 years. I mean, you don’t plan your life, just get over it. You don’t plan your life. Here’s what the Lord wants from you, and we’ve heard it already several times. He wants your flat-out, 24/7 devotion to him and his calling of holiness in your life. The will of God for your life is holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:3). He will guide you if your life is absolutely devoted. Just say, “I’ll go anywhere; I’ll do anything” — you ought to be able to say that every day — “I will go anywhere and do anything. Just lead me. I’m flat-out, totally devoted to Jesus.” You don’t plan your life; God plans your life.

Amen. So with that, you weren’t aimless in your life. You had some ambition. I assume it wasn’t your ambition to be famous, to make Calvinism cool, to speak at conferences, or to write all these books, right? Did you have ambition? Is ambition okay, though we trust that God plans our lives? Is it okay for us to have desires and ambitions and pursue different things?

Ambition is okay because Paul said, “My ambition is to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named” (see Romans 15:20). You talk about ambition, this man was totally devoted to getting the gospel to places where it wasn’t yet known. Holy ambition is of the Lord and not nearly enough of you have it. One of the reasons we have this conference is to awaken holy ambition. An unholy ambition is to make a lot of money and be famous and live in the suburbs and live the American dream. A holy ambition is to be willing to lay your life down for Jesus, whatever he calls you to do.

I would probably be naive to say that at every single point in my life there was no successful temptation to want to be noticed for the wrong reasons. But as far as my conscious aim was concerned, money didn’t mean anything to me and being famous didn’t mean anything. But I’ll tell you, when it comes to how God saves us — the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners, called Calvinism — I have ambitions. I want all of you to be Calvinists. I want all of you to believe in the total depravity of the soul, in the unconditional election of God, in the definite atonement of the Lord, in the irresistibility of his grace, and in the perseverance of the saints.

This is just glorious gospel truth called Calvinism. That’s why we exist. The leader of Reaching and Teaching was up here, and he said, “We’re Reformed and baptistic and we’re complementarian.” Well, this is not a baptistic conference, though a lot of you are baptists. In that part we’re going to tolerate a lot of differences.

We’d be happy for you all to be baptists. I mean, you’re welcome. The water is nice.

But as far as being Reformed and complementarian, that’s what we are, and we’re not going to sweep it under the rug. So, the answer is yes, I have ambitions. I have ambitions to this day. I sit there in my chair with Noël in our living room, thinking, “Good night, my life is easy. Whatever happened to the pressures I used to live under?”

So, I got out my little booklet that I carry around, this little field notebook. I have a field book and I got it out and I wrote down my goals for 2024, just the things that are expected of me working for Desiring God full-time. At the end I thought, “Okay, I didn’t put down anything for the three hours free I have every night and the 8 to 12 hours I have free every Saturday. And I just won’t put anything on the calendar for Sunday.” Three times five is fifteen, and fifteen plus ten for Saturday is twenty-five hours.

Everything in me says, “What can I do with that? What can I do with that? Just watch stuff? Watch stuff on TV?” We don’t even have a TV. We haven’t had a TV for fifty years in our marriage. Of course, we have computers, which is the same thing now. I get that. But I don’t want to do that. I have ambitions. I want my life to count for those 25 hours. I don’t want to just veg every night and spend Saturday putzing around in the yard and in the garage — and I believe in keeping a nice yard for the neighborhood.

So yes, I do have ambitions, and I suspect the forms and kinds of ambition I have have produced books and conferences and things like that. But fame is very relative. I’m a big fish in a little, teeny pond. We just crossed 8 billion people in the world, right? What percentage of those people know who John Piper is? Maybe it’s 0.001 percent. I’ve never done the math, but that’s it more or less. Don’t get a big head if you’re popular among twelve people, or twelve thousand, or a million. It’s no big deal.

That’s helpful. You said before, if you go back to when you were 22, you would join a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching, Bible-structured, Bible-obedient church. That’s a lot of Bible. Why do Christians need the local church? We have God’s Spirit. We have God’s word. We have Look at the Book and Desiring God. Why do we need the local church? Why should they commit their life to the local church?

They should do that because God says, “Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together” (see Hebrews 10:25). The whole assumption of everything Paul wrote was that Christ has a body on the earth, and that all people are members of the body. And it’s just crazy to think you can be a member of a body while living in the woods and not relating to the other members of the body. That’s just crazy. You just don’t believe the Bible if you try to live a life isolated from the body manifest in its local expressions.

Here’s the payoff. I think I can mention two or three things. Number one, God has saved my marriage more than once through corporate worship. I don’t doubt it. Noël and I have been married 55 years. They have been embattled years sometimes, not knowing why we hurt each other with our words, not knowing why we can’t communicate the way we’d like. There have been seasons of Christian counseling, and life has not always been easy at home. I’ll get my back up about something that Noël said.

But I’m a pastor, right? I go to church to preach, and things are crummy at home. That’s a nice word for it. I’m on the front pew and Chuck is leading us in songs like these. And the mercy of God lifted up in song and his patience and his kindness have broken over me like a wave that has often said, “You’re an idiot, Piper, for prioritizing your little pain over her, or over the gospel, or over the church. Get real. Wake up. Get the world sorted out here.”

In other words, corporate worship has sorted out my life. It has made things look real. It has made big things look big and little things little, and it has rescued me from pouting and self-pity. If you’re totally engaged in corporate worship, surrounded by people who are engaged, it will save your marriage, it will save your job, it will save your calling, and it will save your sanity.

Number two, my guess is that most of you here are asking the question, “How can I know what to do with the rest of my life?” I mean, practically, it is nice to say, “You should just try to be holy.” But you might think, “Come on Piper, we have to do something. I have to make some money and I have to have a place to live. If I’m going to get married, I have to be able to support or be a part of a support team. How do I do that?” And my answer is that you’ll find out what your gifts are and what your calling is not by going off by yourself and pleading with God to reveal it to you, but by embedding yourself in a local church and using whatever gifts you can to serve other people. That’s absolutely the way it happened with me.

I went off to seminary not knowing at all what I should do with this precious book that I love, the Bible. After one semester I realized, “I have to be involved in the church.” So, I embedded myself and Noël in Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, California. I said to John McClure, “John, I need to do something.” He said, “Can you teach seventh grade boys?” I said, “I don’t know. I’ll try.” He put me in the seventh grade boys group, and I did it. And the next year he said, “How about ninth grade boys?” I said, “Sure.” Because they split them up, boys and girls. And then I taught ninth grade boys. I devoted about four hours every Saturday to get ready for this class. I wanted to give them my very best on Sunday morning.

At the end of that year, there was one more year to go. The Galilean young adult Sunday school class came to me and said, “Would you teach us?” The upshot of this was knowing, “I’m a teacher. These seventh grade boys loved it. These ninth grade boys loved it. This young marriage class loved it. I’m a teacher. That’s who I am.” So, I went to get trained to be a teacher. I taught for six years, and then God said, “Actually, I have another chapter. I want you to proclaim. You’ve explained long enough, okay? I want you to proclaim. I want you to herald like a town crier that says, ‘Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye.’” That’s the second thing. You will find out who you are in relation to other people.

I’ve been trying to help folks to find their way recently. They think they want to do something, and I ask, “Has anybody encouraged you in that and said that you’re especially fruitful in that?” They said, “No.” I said, “Well, that’s probably not it.” That’s really a big deal.

“Corporate worship has sorted out my life. It has made big things look big and little things little.”

Then the third thing is that you’re probably going to find your spouse at church, or in some church-related thing. We have a strange culture, right? You have to go searching to find a spouse. Praise God for cultures where they just set it up. It would be a lot simpler. But that’s not going to change. It’s not going to happen. We live in a very individualistic culture. So, you’re going to have to sort this out, which is not easy, but it sure helps if you have Christian community.

Most people see the church as an event on the calendar, but in the New Testament we see it as a people to center our life around. You’re not meant to live this Christian life alone. You’re meant to be involved in a local church, center your life around those people, and let God minister to you through those people. You’re going to go through difficulty and trial in this life. And with that, I kind of want to talk about affliction in the Christian life.

In Luke 22:31, Jesus says to Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.” Now, most of us would assume that Jesus would say, “But I told him he couldn’t have you.” But that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus says, “I’ve prayed that your faith would not fail” (see Luke 22:32). What does it mean to be sifted by Satan? Have you yourself been sifted? And why does God allow his people to be sifted?

Well, I think I could give one clear answer from 2 Corinthians, but let me just stay with Peter for a minute. Jesus told Peter, “You’re going to deny me three times.” This is a done deal. Jesus doesn’t make mistakes. He says, “You’re going to fail.” And then he tells Peter,

Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when [not if] you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31–32)

I’m assuming that little interchange there is part of the answer to why. Jesus is saying, “I want you to be stronger than you are. You’re not as strong as you think you are. You are not strong. Do you think you’re going to last tonight? Do you think you’re going to die with me? You’re not. You’re going to wimp out and deny me three times, but I have prayed.”

Now, I think what Jesus means when he says he prayed “that your faith not fail,” is not that Peter wouldn’t fail in that moment. I think his faith failed. He did not trust God for the strength or the courage to be honest and true, and say, “That’s my Lord. I’ll die with him.” He didn’t have the faith for that. He failed. But he didn’t fail utterly. He went out and he wept bitterly and he turned and he became a valiant spokesman. So, I think the answer to why God lets Satan sift us is for that reason.

To be sifted means you have this sieve and you put the grain in it and push it through and the grain comes through without anything else in it. He wants to sift your faith out of your life and just rub you over these harsh things so that what comes through is you minus faith. That’s the sifting of the devil. Whether it’s pleasure or whether it’s pain, he’s going to sift your faith out of your life. That’s his goal. And Jesus is praying for you. If you’re a believer, Jesus is praying for you that it would not happen utterly.

So, how did he fix it? We all know what Jesus did when they were out in the boat and they were not catching anything. Jesus said, “Throw the net on the other side” (see John 21:6). They caught a lot of fish. John said, “It’s the Lord” (see John 21:7). Peter put his clothes on and jumped into the water and swam ashore. And Jesus said something to Peter. I want some of you right now to hear Jesus say this to you because you have blown it. You have totally blown it the way Peter did. You have denied the Lord in whatever ways. I want you to hear Jesus say this:

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15–17)

Why three times? It was to rebuild this man who blew it three times, right? He said, “I deny you. I deny you. I deny you.” And now he says, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” That’s what I hope is happening at this conference. I hope you hear the Lord Jesus say, “Do you love me?” And you hear him say, “Feed my lambs.” It might be in a Sunday school class, or it might be in Afghanistan or India or North Korea or Cuba or Vietnam.

Amen. We’ve talked about sovereignty and suffering, and we don’t plan our life. God is the one who plans our life, which means he plans our suffering. For me when I was in my teens and twenties, I felt invincible. My life was up and to the right. Why wouldn’t I get to do what I want to do? I didn’t sense my own frailty. When I got into my thirties, it’s almost like God removed this veil and I realized how broken this thing actually is and how vulnerable I actually am, and I realized how thin the line between life and death actually is. It can cause you to despair when you see that.

So, how do we remain sober about our own vulnerability in the world without being paralyzed by fear, without being paralyzed that the sifting is coming, and I just want to flee from it? How can we not be paralyzed but trust God in the midst of these trials?

Let me go back and close the arc to James 4 and say something about the ballast in your boat. Do you know what ballast is for? Your life is a boat, the world is a sea, and the waves are suffering of any kind — adversity, frustration, or things that are going to upset your boat and drown you. Ballast is weight in the bottom of the boat that makes it harder for the waves to tip you over, because the weight at the bottom of the boat keeps you stable. I think the heart of the ballast is the sovereignty of God — that God is absolutely sovereign. He says,

I am God, and there is no other;
     I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
     and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand,
     and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)

Or consider Job at the end of his life. After all his sufferings, he said,

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
     but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
     and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5–6)

And he says,

I know that you can do all things,
     and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

So, if you, in this conference, confirm, “I really believe in the absolute, all-pervasive, sovereign God,” you will not be fragile. You live among millions of your peers who have been coddled. Books have been written about your generation regarding how you are emotionally fragile, meaning when somebody gets in your face and says something critical, you pout or you blame or you sue or you cuss or you just say, “I will not be treated that way.” And you can’t read your Bible, which says,

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12)

I mean, come on. Do any of you rejoice when you are reviled? We need miracles to happen in this room. We want you to go home able to be so strong, so deep, so knowing who you are in Christ, that anybody can revile you and it won’t paralyze you. It won’t blow you over. That’s the only way that the nations are going to be reached. So, the sovereignty of God is the ballast in your boat.

And I’ll just add one other thing. The sovereignty of God will do nobody any good unless God is for you. Scripture says,

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:29–32)

You have to be confident of that. God is going to give you all things. In fact, you have them already. Let me go back to fame for a moment. In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul is mainly dealing with pride — pride in intellect and pride in oratory. People were boasting about their favorite teachers for vicarious praise. They said, “I’m of Paul,” or, “I’m of Apollos,” or, “I’m of Cephas.” And do you know what Paul’s final word against that kind of pride is? He said:

Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21–23)

So, alongside the sovereignty of God, you say, “I own the world.” John Newton just nailed it and helped me so much years ago, when I heard him tell the story of a man who was headed for a city to inherit a million dollars. He was in an old-fashioned carriage. And one mile outside the city, the carriage broke down and he got out and he had to walk. He had to walk a whole mile to inherit a million dollars. And all the way into the city, he was complaining. He said, “My carriage is broken. My carriage is broken.” That’s the way you and I live. We complain and complain. And Paul would say, “You own everything. It’s just a vapor’s breath, and then you come into your inheritance, a fellow heir with Christ forever.”

So, those two things go together, in answer to your question about how not to be paralyzed in a world that’s going to hell in a handbasket — namely, a sovereign God is the ballast in your boat, and he’s totally for you, and he’s proven it by the death of his Son, Jesus.

I cling to the psalmist’s statement in those moments. “God is good and he does good” (see Psalm 119:68). What a comfort in times of suffering and trial. We’re going to ask two more questions. You clearly love Noël. You’re just deeply in love with her, which is awesome.

I wrote a poem for her last week. I write a poem for my wife on every anniversary and on every birthday.

John, my wife is right over here and she’s hearing you say this, and I might have to write some poems. But you called your wife a radical, risk-taking, go-anywhere-for-Jesus woman. She sounds amazing.

She is amazing.

But Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:8 that if you can be single, be single. So, knowing what you know now, why wouldn’t you go back to 22 and just be single the rest of your life?

We have Genesis 2:18 and 1 Corinthians 7. Duke it out in your life. Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” He made a helper fit and suitable for Adam. The normal creation pattern is marriage. That’s normal. It’s good. It’s beautiful. It’s the way you fulfill the mandate to fill the earth and a lot of other things. The main thing is representing Christ and the church in marriage. When Paul talks in Ephesians 5 about men being the head and the woman being the body in the marriage, and he says, “This refers to Christ and the church” (see Ephesians 5:32), after quoting from Genesis 2:24.

What we know is that God did not look around the world for an analogy for what Jesus and the church would be like and say, “Oh, marriage would work. Let’s use marriage as an analogy.” It’s just the other way around. He knew from eternity he was going to marry his Son to the church, and he created marriage to show it.

So, this is massive. Marriage is massive, and the way people treat it today is just flat-out blasphemous. Where in the world is anybody your age who believes in keeping promises anymore? I hope you do. We said, “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.” Do you mean that? I don’t know if you’ll even say that, but if you don’t say it and you don’t mean it, you probably won’t last, because the whole culture says it doesn’t matter. They don’t think marriage counts for anything. So, marriage is big. That’s all to justify my marriage, I suppose. You said, “Why wouldn’t you remain single?”

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says, “I wish you were all like me. Those who are married have to give a lot of attention to the concerns of their wives or husbands, and those who are single can be utterly devoted to the Lord.” I’ve thought a lot about that, and it’s totally true. I must take into consideration another human being with every decision I make. That’s very limiting, and it’s intended to be. In that limitation, I represent a Christlike husband, which is a beautiful thing if I do it right. And she represents an obedient church, if she does it right, and it portrays to the world a beautiful thing. So, it’s a beautiful thing that’s happening. It’s not like singleness is set against something that’s not beautiful and not significant.

However, there are often times I just want to throw myself into something and I think, “I better check with Noël,” and she’s not at that level there. So, I think the answer is that as you try to discern, Paul says, “Each has his own gift” (1 Corinthians 7:7). You ask, “Do I, in the Lord Jesus, have the gift of singleness and celibacy?”

Celibacy, by the way — being a virgin until you die — is a glorious thing. And we know that because Jesus was one. And right now you can tune in to the New York Times or any other major news thing, and there are these big conversations among cutting-edge 20-somethings about virginity. That’s been going on for a long time. That is the call on your life if you’re not married. And if somebody says, “Man, you can’t even be human if you haven’t had sex. Come on.” I’ve had guys say that to me. They say, “Are you kidding me? You can’t even be fully human if you don’t express that part of your reality.” And I say, “Jesus never did. And I’ll take Jesus’s kind of humanity over your kind of humanity any day.” So, you do not have to have sex to be fully human.

“My highest and longest happiness and God’s glory are never at odds — ever.”

The gift of singleness you will discover by the providence of God. If you are not led into a marital relationship, he expects you to be chaste and single and serve him joyfully. Maybe the last thing to say on this is this: Don’t come to God and say, “If you don’t give me a husband or if you don’t give me a wife, I’m going to be miserable.” God doesn’t want to hear that, because it’s not true if he’s your treasure.

Go to him and say, “Lord, as I know myself, there’s so much in me that would love to give myself away to a man or a woman who’s godly and holy, and link arms together to serve you in missions, or whatever the calling is. I would love to do it, but God, you are supreme. You are the treasure of my life. I will take whatever you’ve given me, and I will rejoice and be a happy, productive single person or a happy, productive married person.”

Amen. Here’s one last question. Lord willing, on January 11, you’ll be 78 years old. Praise God for your life. We pray that he gives you many more years of faithfulness to him and encouragement to others to know him and love him. But if this were your last CROSS Conference, what would you want this group of people to know?

Everything I’ve just said, but if this is really the end, I’ll end on one of the most important discoveries I made in the fall of 1968, and that is that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. I call that Christian Hedonism, and it’s important because, at your age, one of my biggest battles was trying to figure out how my irresistible desire for happiness fit into God’s passion for his glory.

My parents taught me, “Johnny, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” I knew that. But I had this sneaking suspicion that to want to be happy — not to mention to pursue happiness — was defective. It cramped my worship, it cramped my obedience, and it cramped my relationships, because I thought when Jesus said, “Whoever would come after me, let him deny himself,” meant, “deny himself happiness” (see Matthew 16:24). If he meant that, then Psalm 37:4 is a command to sin. It says,

Delight yourself in the Lord,
     and he will give you the desires of your heart.

And he also says,

In your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Here was the solution, and that’s why I say it was a great discovery. If in fact that’s true — God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him — then those two are never in competition. My highest and longest happiness and God’s glory are never at odds — ever.

Which means I can say to ten thousand students that you should leave this place utterly, totally devoted to the pursuit of your happiness as long as it’s the biggest happiness and the longest happiness. Don’t settle for eighty years. Who cares about eighty years of happiness if you go to hell? Don’t settle for 90 percent happiness. Insist on 100 percent, forever. The Bible is really clear where that’s found. It’s found in God, and it’s found in the overflow of the enjoyment of God onto other people, especially the nations who don’t know anything about this joy.

Thank you, brother. I always enjoy talking with you. Thank you for the time and for the conversation.