And we are back. Good Monday morning. We enter this new week with a great topic on the table. I mentioned it on Friday. I love episodes where we just walk through several texts that have proved most helpful to you over the decades, Pastor John. We’re doing that today, prompted by this question from a listener named Greg: “Pastor John, hello to you! I’m so thankful for Desiring God and for you and for this podcast. Here’s my question: What are your favorite verses for when you fight the enemy hardest? What are your go-to verses? I love it when the verses are just there for us, but we also have to go look for them also at times.” Pastor John, what texts would you give Greg, and all of us?
Well, the first thing is, thank you very much. There’s nothing I’d rather do than go looking for my favorite verses, because I need rehearsal just like everybody else does. And so, just giving some thought to this was simply wonderful. It’s wonderful not only because I enjoy it so much, but also because I think this is just good for our listeners. I hope they tune in now for the next ten minutes or so and just soak in the glorious parts of Scripture that are so wonderfully tailor-made for living the Christian life through all of its ups and downs.
I don’t think God wants us to live our lives with a kind of vague sense of trust — like, God is good vaguely; I have trust vaguely; I enter my day vaguely. I think he wants us to have specific promises. Now, since there are hundreds of them in the Bible, you have to make choices about which one you’re going to use like a lozenge in your mouth today. I picture my heart as a mouth with a tongue, and I put a lozenge in it of some juicy promise, and I suck on it all day long. And that means I don’t suck on fifty others, because my brain, at least, will not hold fifty things in consciousness at one time.
“I don’t think God wants us to live with a kind of vague sense of trust. I think he wants us to have specific promises.”
So, here are some of my most common go-to lozenges or passages that I find help in through all kinds of situations. I’m going to just pose a question about a situation that I face and then give you the go-to promises. I think I might hit eleven of these, so I’ll try to go quick.
I’ll start with lust, the sin of lust. So here I am searching Google, or I’m on some news site, and there’s this sexually titillating link — not to pornography (that’s really not a big temptation for me; I’ve never been to a pornographic site), but just this sexually titillating picture over here where you can go and see more of what that might be about. Will you click through?
And here are my three go-to passages that persuade me, “Don’t do that. That’s not going to be good for you.” One is a warning (which is a negative promise), one is a positive promise, and one is a provision. So first, the warning, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). I’ll tell you, that’s a very powerful disincentive from clicking through to sexually titillating stuff.
And then there’s this positive promise — and this is even more powerful: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). I want to see God. And I know if I linger over some presumably innocent sexual stimulation, the defilement of my mind will obscure the sight of the living God. I know it will.
And then the third thing is the provision: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). And I say to myself, “Christ suffered horribly on the cross so that I would not click on sexually stimulating material, and I don’t want to hammer another nail into his hand.”
I am facing some affliction. It’s sickness, maybe — maybe small, maybe big — or some loss. And oh, how precious has Psalm 34:19 been to me: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Now, the reason that’s especially encouraging is because it says that the righteous are in affliction. In other words, it’s not necessarily owing to my sin that I’m in this affliction. And it says I’m coming out in God’s good time.
Now — revenge, anger at the way I’ve been mistreated by somebody. Somebody said something false about me. How can I have peace while injustice against me has been done? Answer: the promise that God will be the avenger. “John Piper, love your enemies. You do not need to get the last word here. God will settle things in due time.” So, here’s Romans 12:19–20:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him.
“John Piper, leave the repayment to God.” Oh, how many times I have been set free from bitterness that way.
I feel weak. I feel inadequate. I’m facing a situation and I’m just not up to it. Isaiah 64:4: “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you” — well, what’s so unique about him? Here’s what it says: “. . . who works for those who wait for him.” That’s absolutely amazing. Glorious. The glorious uniqueness of our God is that he works for us instead of recruiting slave labor to work for him. Amazing.
“The glorious uniqueness of our God is that he works for us instead of recruiting slave labor to work for him.”
And listen to how 2 Chronicles 16:9 says it: “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is [whole] toward him.” God is looking for people for whom, with omnipotence, he can work today. “Can I work for you today?” I’ll sign up God to work for me today. “So, I want to be strong for you today. Will you trust me?” I’ll tell you, that’s amazing.
What about when I don’t have what I think I need — enough money, enough time, enough help? What if I lead a ministry, and they look to me for hope? Now there are two go-to verses I’ve used hundreds of times. Philippians 4:19: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That’s mind-blowing. Both the promise and the resources are mind-blowing. The “riches of glory” is how much he has with which he can help me.
Every need will be met. How many times did I say to our leaders at Bethlehem, while I was a pastor, coming to the end of a year with finances almost always falling short — and I say to them, “Guys, God will give us everything we need. He will. It says so. Period. Let’s go home and sleep.”
And then there’s Hebrews 13:5–6: “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” That’s as sweet as it gets.
Does he care? You come into moments where you say, “Yeah, I know all the big promises: he’s powerful; he’s wise. But does he care?” Does he care about me personally? I’m such a little teeny-weeny human being, and the universe as big. How could God possibly care for me?
First Peter 5:6–7: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God” — yes, yes, of course we know that; that’s our theology — “so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I’ve said that little phrase walking into situations so many times. “He cares for you. He cares for you. He’s God, and he cares for you.”
There is a mighty hand, and there is a caring heart. So he says, don’t shrink back from humility, thinking that you’re going to be too vulnerable if you’re humble. But rather, remind yourself, “No, every single anxiety goes onto his broad shoulders because he cares.” He cares for you.
How much does he care? Is this a mild care? Is this kind of a begrudging care? “Yeah, God’s a God of love, and therefore Jesus died. So he has to care for me.” Oh my goodness, how horrible can our minds talk to us? How much does he care?
Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” It’s his good pleasure. He loves to care for you. Or better than this is Jeremiah 32:41 (this is God talking): “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” What more can God say than that he loves, he rejoices, to do good to us with all his heart and all his soul? There isn’t anything conceivably bigger than all of God’s heart and all of God’s soul. And that’s what he says is behind his doing good for us.
Will he help me in this crisis that I am feeling very afraid of right now? This is probably the verse that I have gone to, Tony, more than any other verse in all my 76 years of life. And I’ll bet lots of people who’ve listened over the years would already know what verse it is. It’s Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” The reason that verse is number one for the struggle with fear, which is almost every day — something fearful happens every day (little fears, big fears) — is because it’s not general. It’s the voice of God himself speaking with a direct, “I will, I will, I will.”
Spurgeon said, “I love the ‘I wills’ and ‘I shalls’ of God.” Me too. The “he wills” (“He will help”) — those are good. But “I will” — when I step into the pulpit anxious that God act in spite of my inadequacies, and I hear him say (because I’m preaching it to myself by his authority from his word), “I will help you,” that’s just glorious, because you actually hear God by his word say it to you.
What about depression? What about melancholy? Times of deep, deep discouragement? Countless times. We used to have a sign on the side of the building because I quoted this so often — back in the days when people thought, “This is the ‘Hope in God’ church,” because of the sign. “There it is on the side of the wall. Why did they put that up there?” They put it up there because they have a depressed pastor who needs encouragement as he walks to church.
And here’s what I go to: “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” So you’re preaching to yourself, right? John Piper’s preaching to himself. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11). Oh my goodness. I have preached that to myself in low times, hundreds and hundreds of times.
We’re almost done; just two more quick ones. Death. Okay, I’m old, right? Age 76 is old. I think I just read somebody died yesterday at 76. Every time I read that, or 74, or 63, or 42, I think, “Wow, I’m living on borrowed time.” It could be any night, right?
So, what do you say to yourself when that fact overwhelms you? For months I have recited this to myself before I go to sleep every night (maybe one or two exceptions). First Thessalonians 5:9–10: “God has not destined you [John Piper] for wrath, but to obtain salvation through [your] Lord Jesus Christ, who died for [you] so that whether [you] are awake or asleep [you] might live with him.” Tony, that’s going onto my gravestone, unless I change my mind.
Promise of Promises
Now, the last one. And this I’ve saved for last because it’s all-encompassing. In other words, it provides foundation for all the promises, and it is the Vesuvius of all the promises. And you probably know what it is. Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son [think of it] but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” In other words, because Christ died for us, God will give his children everything — absolutely everything — we need to be supremely holy and happy forever.
So, thank you, Greg, for the question. May the Lord grant to all of us the faith to live joyfully, boldly, lovingly by these amazing treasures.