Douglas Wilson: All right. Well, welcome to John Piper, to Tim Chester. Good to have you here with us. John is the longtime pastor at Bethlehem in Minneapolis and author of many books. And Tim is the author of many books, A Meal with Jesus. I’ve written a bunch of books, and I think it’s because we can’t help it. Is that right?
Tim Chester: I think that’s probably true.
John Piper: Quiet the dogs barking in your head.
Douglas Wilson: That’s right. That’s right. So, since we all apparently are looking for outlets to say something, we thought we’d give another outlet here. And I want to begin by talking about a subject that I know is an interest of yours and I believe probably is from reading A Meal With Jesus, an interest of yours and it certainly is of mine. And I want to talk about the relationship of God’s blessing through means and God’s blessing immediately.
Basically, Christians should be all about the knowledge of God. How do we know God? How do we approach God? How do we experience God? And I want to ask begin, John, by asking you: How much do you think of knowledge of God as a mediated thing or an immediate thing? Does that make sense? How do you approach the knowledge of God? Is it through the Word, through people, through prayer? How do you cultivate knowledge of God?
John Piper: Right. Well, here’s the distinction I would make in terms of mediate and immediate. Second Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” — it’s “knowledge” in 2 Corinthians 4:6 — “gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” So there is a blindness to glory — the glory of the gospel — even when you are reading the mediated truth of the gospel.
So, the gospel only — and the knowledge of Christ through the gospel — only comes to us mediated, mediated through proclamation, written word, a preacher, a mom, a Billy Graham. It comes mediated, and yet there is more than that going on in that moment if the Holy Spirit is pleased to do 2 Corinthians 4:6: “[The] God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
So Edwards has a sermon on that and it’s called “A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul.” And he doesn’t mean that you’re not reading the Bible when that happens or you’re not hearing the gospel when that happens. he means if it doesn’t go beyond that and the Holy Spirit touches, like nothing in between, the Holy Spirit touches your soul with a light, an illumination, then you don’t know God. You don’t know Christ until that happens.
Douglas Wilson: And so in 2 Corinthians 4:6, when God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, when God was creating the world, there was no mediator. There was no mediated anything between God and the world he was creating. God spoke and it was. So Paul is there comparing regeneration, which is what that is talking about: “God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts.” So Paul is comparing the immediate action of God in creation with the immediate action of God in regeneration.
John Piper: he is, but I can’t let it stay as a perfect parallel because 1 Peter 1:23, “[We are] born again . . . through the living and abiding word,” through the word, which he defines 1 Peter 1:25 as, “This is the gospel. This word is the gospel which was preached to you.” “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). So while faith is a new creation and at that point of regeneration, at that point, it’s analogous to “out of nothing.” But the analogy — I’m thinking on the fly here — he created the world through Christ. Maybe the gospel Christ proclaim stands now in the place of that agency.
Douglas Wilson: We can plant and plow and water. Those are all means. But when it says, “God [gives] the increase,” God’s the thing that makes the mystery of life and growth happen (1 Corinthians 3:6). So you’ve got Jacob and Esau in the revival meeting sitting there and they hear the same message, heard the same songs, heard the same gospel invitation. Jacob and Esau are responding to the same stimulus, but to the one who’s perishing, it’s the aroma of death. To the other, it’s the aroma of life. So the thing that distinguishes, the thing that makes a means blessed is the immediate action of God. The blessing of God is immediate.
John Piper: That’s right. That’s right.
Douglas Wilson: But it’s not like he blesses into a void. he’s blessing something like a gospel proclamation.
John Piper: If Esau were sitting in the woods having never heard the gospel and he said, “The reason I’m not a Christian is because God didn’t do an immediate thing on me,” that would be an inadequate answer. he needs to come under the hearing of the gospel because God has ordained that the immediate act of the Holy Spirit happened through the mediation of the gospel preached.
Douglas Wilson: Okay. I’d like to take that thought and turn to you, Tim, and invite you to chime in or pile in at this.
Tim Chester: Can I come in? I think it would help us if we thought in more overtly Trinitarian way. So I don’t think it’s true that — I mean, maybe I’m nitpicking — the creation of the world was not unmediated as John said. It’s mediated through Christ.
So the word that was spoken was the Word — Christ. So our experience of God, of his blessing, of the knowledge of God is always mediated through Christ. And so he is objectively the Word of God, but at the same time, the Spirit is, if you like, subjectively the Word of God.
What I mean by that is that not only that we need knowledge of God, but going back to I think where you started, John, which is that our problem is actually not a lack of knowledge but a rebellious heart that refuses to receive the knowledge that we have of God and that is only overcome through the work of the Spirit.
So, we need both Christ to bring the knowledge of God as the Word of God, but the Word of God always comes on the breath of God through the Spirit. And so we need the Spirit then to warm our cold hearts, to open our blind eyes and so on so that we receive the truth as the truth, as the truth from God.
John Piper: Right. Now, we’ve just made things really complicated by talking mediation beneath the mediation you were talking about. You were talking about nature. “The heavens are telling the glory of God” — Bible, Mom, Billy Graham, worship services, small groups.
And you’ve taken it down and said even down here there’s mediation. Even below human agency, there’s Trinitarian agency. So just I think to distinguish those two kinds of conversation here, I took you to start (maybe I was wrong) going towards let’s talk mediation in terms of “What do you have to do? Go to church to know God? Or do you just go nowhere to know God?”
Douglas Wilson: This is a good point to clarify at the front end so we don’t gum ourselves up later. When I was talking about the creation is unmediated, I completely agree with you that through Christ everything was made. “There’s nothing that has been made that was not made through him” (John 1:3). So within the Godhead there was a mediated creation, but there was no mediation between God and the creation because that itself would have to be part of the creation. Before God created anything, there wasn’t anything to be a mediator between God and his creation.
So when we are puzzling with the mystery of why some people are converted and others not, or why is this ministry blessed and flourishing and why is this one languishing, we’re inhabiting the created world and we want to see where the intersection is between God and these things. What is it that makes these things blessed? And there has to be an immediate blessing from God and as well as something to bless. The things that he blesses are means of grace.
Tim Chester: And I wasn’t trying to sort of jump in and correct people, not at all, but I think that that Christ and Spirit or Word and Spirit actually kind of functions as a criteria — a set of criteria, if you like — to answer that question. Why are some of these mediators, mediatory experiences, blessed or not blessed? And the criteria you could use is Word and Spirit.
Douglas Wilson: Word and Spirit. Yes. But it has to be the Word and Spirit doing something, not just the Word and Spirit on the premises. Right? So does that make sense?
So the Spirit is omnipresent and the word can be preached in one church and hear one man preach and it’s like a flat brainwave and another man preaches and the room is alive. And what is it? What is that? Well, it’s Word and Spirit. But it’s the Word and Spirit deciding to do something. And that’s what I’m wondering. That’s the immediate trigger that I’m talking about.
John Piper: So is your question then, and just go another direction if it’s not, what are some of the human aspects to this mediation that God might bless more often than if they were absent?
Douglas Wilson: Right. It’s one thing to prepare the altar and chop the wood and cut up the oxen and put it all on the altar and get it right, have the right elements on the altar and do it all according to what the Bible says. That’s one thing. Having the fire fall is another thing. And so what I want to talk about is the fire falling, not neglecting or leaving out the importance of the things the word tells us to do in preparing the altar, doing the things that the word commands us to do.
So that’s precisely the thing I wanted to pursue and maybe we could do it by going to the thing I was going to ask you. In your book, A Meal with Jesus, which I thought was wonderful book, it’s clear that just in the title you’re going over to have dinner with the Schwartzes and the Millers and the Murphys and you’re calling it “a meal with Jesus.” So explain to us. When you’re explaining to the 5-year-old girl, “I thought we were going to have a meal with Jesus.” Why wasn’t he there? How was he there?
Tim Chester: Yes. I mean, partly it’s a meal with Jesus because it focus is various meals that people had with Jesus quite literally as in Luke’s Gospel, but you’re right that I am suggesting that there is something in the way that we eat together, that we experience or we see something of the grace of God, we experience something of Christian community and actually that becomes a great context for mission.
I still think it comes down to Word and Spirit. It is not that there is something kind of mystically special about meals in the sense that any meal would do the job in that sense. It is about that the power of meals is that they embody and express community and commune of relationship. They do that in any context I think, in any situation. But for that to be an experience of Christ, it has to be a meal with people who are being shaped by God’s word and by their experience of the gospel and are therefore in the power of the spirit seeking to live that out.
So it is partly just the sort of matter of fact thing that when Christians gather, we ought to be, it ought to be very natural for us, not in a contrived way, but very natural for us to talk about the Lord Jesus and that to be part of the conversation. But also what we’re doing is as we show love to one another, a concern for one another, friendship with one another, unity with one another, as we extend that to a lost and broken world, as we invite other people to join us, what we’re doing is embodying something of the gospel, something of the message of the gospel.
So I talk about in the book that one of the striking things about the meals of Jesus, perhaps particularly with the tax collectors who for they were the kind of a archetypal enemy of God, not only were they cheating the people, but more significantly they were collaborating with the Gentiles who had occupied the promised land, God’s holy land, who were defiling the land and here were these Jews who were collaborating with them.
So by all accounts they were God’s enemies. And what does the Son of Man do when he arrives? he eats with them. he parties with them. And in doing that, he expresses very powerfully I think the grace of God that’s there in the gospel, that will be there in the great work that he’ll do on the cross. And we do a mirror version of that, but it’s not separate from the gospel. It’s not different from the word that we encounter in the gospel. It’s an embodiment of that.
Douglas Wilson: Okay. This is a pastoral projection five, ten, twenty years down the road and an observation. I’m not taking issue with anything in your book because I thought it was exegetically undeniable that this is what Jesus came to do and this is how he did it. And moreover, this is what he told us to do. He didn’t just say, “I’m a special case and I can eat with these people and then you guys can go back to normal.” He calls us to use food in the way that he did, in the preparation of food, in how he did it.
What I’m wondering is, over the years, I’ve encountered a certain personality type that I would call “better-grades-through-notebook-reorganization”: “I don’t want to study. I don’t want to actually read. I just want to get everything organized and situated. I want to get my theology of this down.” And I’ve seen this things cycle through the evangelical subculture where the latest new thing comes along and sometimes the latest new thing is exquisitely biblical.
Other times it’s just a crazy thing. But the same thing seems to happen to both of these things. And that is people are attracted to it initially because the Spirit’s there. This is really good. Then you have, I think Eric Hoffer once said, “First a movement. Then a business. Then a racket.” So how would you advise people who pick up a copy of your book, A Meal with Jesus fifteen years from now, when there are groups that have been doing it for twenty years and now they’re doing it because this is what we do, not out of direct obedience to the command of Christ. How would you exhort the people twenty years from now to keep it fresh?
Tim Chester: Yes. I mean, I do recognize that danger very much. I think it is about Word and Spirit, particularly. Because I think one of the dangers is that with any group, we have our distinctives and because they’re what make us distinctive, we tend to sort of focus on those. And then the danger is very quickly the gospel is assumed and the distinctives become the important thing.
Douglas Wilson: The front and center thing.
Tim Chester: The front and center. And then there’s a sort of horrible flip really. And then the gospel becomes marginal, and you can see that throughout Christian history, and that’s a big danger. And I’m very keen to warn. I don’t want that to happen. I think in a sense, what I’m trying to do with A Meal with Jesus is because I can guarantee you that unless Christ returns, and probably if he does as well, we will be eating meals in fifteen and twenty years’ time.
And what I’m trying to do actually is not say, “Here’s something new to do,” but let’s do this in a way that actually is shaped by the gospel. Does that make sense? So it’s not about creating an activity that is somehow distinct from the gospel because we’re already engaged in that activity. It’s about breathing some gospel-saturation into it.
The other thing I would say though just to reinforce what you’re saying and suggesting is I think there’s a great danger. If we think about community for a moment, which is meals are an expression of community, that there is a great danger. I see this. It’s not quite the “better-grades-by-notebook-reorganization,” but people maybe almost an opposite version, which is people get very excited about the idea of community and they want to then they set out to do community.
There are a couple of problems with that. One is that you do occasionally, I mean, find people who love community but don’t particularly like people, which is a little bit of a problem. In other words, community sounds lovely. It’s all, “Let’s get together,” and they have their ideals of the kitchen table or whatever it might be, but actually community always involves real people who tend to be a little less amenable to our ideals. They’re just rather messy and complicated. But the other danger is that it becomes driven by this ideal and it becomes a sort of legalism really, that I create this standard, which is really my vision of community. And then I start judging you because you don’t quite measure up to my idea.
Douglas Wilson: You don’t do it quite my way.
Tim Chester: You don’t do it quite my way. And actually, as with all these things and perhaps particularly with Christian community, it is actually something that is given to us in and through the gospel. And there’s a danger that the more you focus on community, the more elusive it becomes because it becomes this thing that you’re trying to create rather than this gift that is given to us in the gospel.
Douglas Wilson: That flows out of the gospel.
Tim Chester: Which flows out of the gospel. The fact that we are reconciled to one another in Christ, we have this love for him and for one another that’s a product of the love that we’ve been shown in Christ and so on and so on.
Douglas Wilson: One of the things my daughter pointed out to me, my daughter Rachel pointed out to us, we were talking about this, she was thinking about one of her talks for the women’s conference here at the Grace Agenda. She said, “The Lord miraculously provided for five thousand people, but the cleanup was old-school.” There was no miracle in the cleanup.
Tim Chester: And it probably takes a wife to spot that.
Douglas Wilson: The disciples were all given these big garbage sacks and said, “Here. Go.” And that’s one of the things that keeps us centered is that Peter says, “Practice hospitality without grumbling,” because if you get involved in real people’s lives, then you’re going to be confronted with ingratitude and people taking it for granted and that sort of thing.
I want to ask John. This might seem like I’m changing the subject, but I’m not really because I want to bring it back to this issue, but could you talk for a minute about what you believe about revival, about the fire falling? We can lay everything on the altar. Romans 12:2, “Present your body as a living sacrifice.” So that means the chairs we sit in are an altar. The car we drive in is an altar. The kitchen counter we’re preparing a meal for company is an altar. Everything is a living sacrifice — Word and Spirit.
But then we see places where this is not under the blessing of God. This is not flourishing. And then there are times of extraordinary flourishing. And I’m wondering if I could ask you what your thoughts on revival are, our need for it, and then maybe we can talk about what it would look like if the fire were to fall on our preaching, on our hospitality, on our worship.
John Piper: Well, as with all definitions, you have to ask whose word am I defining? It’s not a Bible word, per se. And so I assume what you’re asking is what’s your understanding of historically First Great Awakening, Second Grade Awakening, those kinds of things, 1904, Korea, around the world.
And my understanding is that revival is real and that it is the coming of the Holy Spirit in extraordinary way on a lot of people, not just one, at the same time deepening their conviction of the horrors of sin so that they become very serious about sin in their life, in their community, in their church, a sweet awakening of the preciousness of the gospel and a vibrant experience of a sense of forgiveness so that there’s rejoicing and then a contagion that seemed to move out between communities, so that a revival is where that happens, not just to one person or a dozen, but it happens in churches and then communities and spreads out.
So that’s real. That has happened and we desperately need it. I don’t think it can be produced. Finney got us off on a bad foot in his measures that said if you do this and this and this that God committed to giving. I think he’s not committed to giving that. He’s free. The Holy Spirit gives his gifts as he pleases. And therefore, what we can do is walk in step with the Spirit, cry out to the Spirit.
And I’ll just confess there, I have ambiguities in my life. I asked Ian Murray one time, “So why is it that the Dr. Lloyd Jones wouldn’t have all-night prayer meetings? Because he really wanted revival.” Well, if you want something, want to fast for it, stay up all night in prayer for it, and he wasn’t sure, and he said, “We must not despise the day of small things.” And as a pastor, I went through phases in my life where I would become so convicted that we’re not what we ought to be as a church. We need a corporate awakening, a far deeper sense of God’s greatness and a far greater sense of boldness in witness and far more triumph over the sins of pride and anger and self-pity and jealousy and pornography.
And we’d have a season of pursuing God. We’d have a few all-night prayer meetings and we’d call for special times of prayer and I’d focus on something like that in the pulpit. And there were always blessings. It was never of the scope of a great awakening. And I wondered at that moment, “Well, should we have had another all-night prayer meeting?” And if you had two, well maybe three would’ve done it, and then maybe four.
Douglas Wilson: Now you’re Finney.
John Piper: Well, and you’re insane. One more illustration: My dad lived for revivals. He tried to produce them. He was an evangelist. I think he was a lover of the sovereignty of God. He knew he couldn’t make one happen, but he held revivals, old campaigns, Billy Graham campaigns. He’s a little Billy Graham.
And I said, “Daddy, have you ever had the experience,” he’s with Jesus now, “where you got up from your knees knowing God was going to do something extraordinary tonight?” And he said, “About five times.” This is like 45 years of ministry. I said, “For example?” He said, “I was young, I was in the ministry. Nobody was moving out of their pew. Nobody was getting saved. And I stayed up til two in the morning pleading with the Lord and at 2:00 a.m. God said ‘I’ll give you five.’” He said, ‘He didn’t talk to me, he didn’t talk to me, I just knew it.”
So he gives the invitation at the end, four people walk to the front, he closes the service and he just waits. He knows there’s a fifth person coming. A guy gets halfway home, comes back and there’s his five. And so I said to him, “So why don’t you do that all the time?” He said, “I’d be dead.” That was his answer: “I’d be dead.” And that’s where I am. I don’t know, I don’t have any formula not only for how God sends it, but all the pieces I should put in place, the altar, all the wood on the altar and all the preconditions. I know some of them that are in the Bible, but quantitatively I think we’re pretty much left to his leading.
Douglas Wilson: And in the meantime, as I look at the broader church, I see our job is to split and stack hardwood, wood that’s going to burn well, but we can’t make it burn. The broader church appears to me to be assembling big mounds of Kleenex and soak it with lighter fluid and when the fire falls it’s boom and then two seconds later it’s done.
And it seems that our responsibility is to be as rigorously biblical as we can be. Find all the pieces that we’re supposed to lay out before the Lord, of having the stranger in your house, that’s something that was left out. You could look at previous eras of Christian practice where there’ve been great outbreaks of musical reformations, great outbreaks of singing and that sort of thing, great outbreaks of preaching. But great outbreaks of having tax collectors over, not so much, right?
And so this is something else we ought to put on the altar, but there’s a mystery here that we can’t push God but we can plead his promises with him. And there’s a flipping point, you were talking about getting the gospel and the results of the gospel flipped around, we turn into Finney’s where we think that if I just push harder then I can make it happen. But I’m supposed to, I’m called upon to pray for revival, pray for reformation, pray for these things and pray believing.
John Piper: I’m reading a little mini autobiography by Hudson Taylor. So he’s on his way to China, he’s not there yet, he’s in London and he’s experimenting with his newfound zeal for evangelism. And there’s this hardened sinner in the hospital who everybody has given up on. he’s an atheist. He hates anybody talking to him about Jesus.
And he said, “I fixed his dressing,” he’s a doctor in training, “I fixed his dressing gently so that he began to have confidence in me and then I broached the issue of his soul and he turned his back to me against the wall.” And on the last attempt he said, “I got to the door, I was going to leave him. he’s a hardened sinner. he’s not going to turn.” And he said, “There welled up inside of me such a conviction of his need and my love. I began to weep. And I went over to him, I knelt down and I pled with him to turn to Christ.” And the man softened.
Now, the lesson he drew, he just ended the chapter with maybe if we felt more care for souls, more conviction of sin, there’d be more fruit. And I read that and I say absolutely there would be. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I could authentically weep over the person across the table from me and saying, “I really want you to be saved,” and feel it, not manufacture it, there would be more fruit. I can see that. And yet the danger there is I’m going to have a tear method, there’s going to be the tear method. We’ll write that down.
Which I suppose is a way of saying God is free and revival means a revival in somebody. I remember talking to pastors, you remember this too, twenty years ago everybody was saying pray for unity of pastors in cities, revival don’t come until pastors pray together. I said, “If pastors pray together that is revival.” But seriously, there was a point there that we think that if we put this and this and this in place, revival will fall saying that’s it. I mean, if I could weep like that, that’s revival. On this soul right here, if I felt that more often revival would’ve come and the question then is just simply will it spread?
Douglas Wilson: Right. Now, let’s throw in one other wild card. When Jesus loved the world to the point of death, there’s no greater act of love that has ever been performed than Christ going to the cross for us. And it’s manifest in the record that he didn’t feel like it. He didn’t want to do it. He wasn’t pleading or trying to get to the cross. He was trying to get out of it and he was searching for any way out. And God denied him; nevertheless, “Not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42). So Jesus surrenders and submits to the will of God and simply obeys. But he didn’t go to the cross on an emotional high. He was a man of sorrows, afflicted with grief. And Hebrews says that “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). So he had joy in mind. he had the pleasure of God in mind, but he wasn’t feeling it right that moment.
So we sometimes think that in order to get all the pieces in place, we have to have the zeal or the fire in us first rather than maybe perhaps just simple obedience for the sake of simple obedience where we lay it out before God and we ask, “God, would you bless these humble things that I’ve put before you?” Going back to having people over, having hospitality is hard work. Opening your home, it’s exhausting, it can be physically draining. So you do all this and a harried housewife might say, “I’m such a Martha, I’m not like Mary. I work so hard and I fall into bed so tired at the end.” So when you do that, you don’t feel, “Am I being a Martha?” — distracted by all these cares, or is this just the way it is where we are imitating Jesus? When we imitate Jesus does that entail simply surrendering what I want? And I walk into the place where it’s not a big rush.
I’ve sometimes joked that Christians need to learn that great two-word prayer, which is, “Geronimo, amen.” “Lord, I’m not ready. I’m not ready, I’m not equipped. I know you’ve had this going to the pulpit.” And there are times when I feel like I’ve done my work and, “Oh, this is a great preaching passage,” and I feel like I’m really going downtown, and then nothing. And other times you feel like your tongue’s a brick and you’re not making sense and you repeat yourself and someone’s, “Oh, that’s just transformative.” Well, God does inscrutable things with this sort of thing. I’m wondering if you could talk for a moment about the hard work of extending yourself in the ways you’re talking about in showing hospitality.
Tim Chester: Yes. What’s the question? I mean, just to come back to the revival thing, I grew up in circles that were very strongly Reformed to the extent that there was quite a hyper-Calvinist edge. I mean, it was literally a hyper-Calvinist edge to the sort of circles that I was in which we weren’t in but that sort of fed into the culture a little bit.
So revival was this: There was just a lot of people who were waiting around for revival to happen and basically doing nothing in the meantime because what was the point until God came in revival? That was kind of the attitude. To which I sort of started to wonder if revival did come, would you notice or would it pass you by? Because I mean, to use your analogy, unless the wood is stacked then when the fire falls there’s nothing for it to burn on. But I think the fruitfulness and faithfulness is sort of age-old distinction, but our job is to be faithful.
Not to be successful, no. And if you’re not being successful, ask some hard questions from time to time. It’s not an excuse to be complacent, but at the end of the day, our job is to be faithful to God. And whether he blesses that is entirely at his discretion. And not only is that I think a biblical truth, but there are enough stories from church history of people who served for decades and saw nothing. And then even perhaps after their death, that life of service and sacrifice led to great gospel fruitfulness.
Douglas Wilson: Yes? You were going to say something?
John Piper: Well, it would be a mistake to, I think, cultivate the mindset that your desires and your joy in an act of obedience are a matter of indifference if you just do the right thing. I’m responding to your particular question. So you’re going to have somebody over and you don’t feel like it. It’s a pain in the rear end. But Pastor Douglas said this is what our church is going to do, and Jesus, I guess, agrees with him, and therefore, I’m going to do it.
Now I would say that’s probably better than not doing it. However, you and I both know, we know that’s not the ideal. So to move from Jesus’s “not my will but thine be done” to “it doesn’t matter whether you want to” is, I think, an oversimplification of biblical motivation. God loves a cheerful giver, but if you don’t feel like it, write the check. Because in the writing of the check, as the plate comes down the row, he might fall, he might give it, and that’s better. That’s better.
So yes, if it’s going to cost us the final life, and you know a nail is going to go through your hand and a spear’s going to go through your side, big thorns are going to penetrate your head, they’re going to clobber you with a rod just where it went through your head, going to spit on you, pull your beard, you’re okay not to be singing songs. You’re okay. Just don’t curse God.
I’ve watched people die like this and at their funeral, I’ve said, “They didn’t curse God. That was their triumph.” They weren’t singing. They were throwing up in their last breath. There was nothing beautiful about it. And they didn’t curse God. That was their triumph. But as you move back from the ultimate sacrifice, most of our sacrifices are the 2 Corinthians 9: “God loves a cheerful giver,” and “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
And if you’re a begrudging giver because you’re supposed to do this and you don’t want to do it, the people that are going to be on the receiving end, they’re not going to feel loved. These tax collectors and sinners are going to pick up on this pretty quick. This person is doing an act of obedience for his church and he’s supposed to have me over and he’s not enjoying me at all.
That’s just not going to cut it with them; it’s not going to cut it with God. So I think yes to Jesus’s painful obedience and yes there are those kinds of acts of obedience, but that is not the ideal for 90 percent of what we walk through in this world, I don’t think.
Tim Chester: Well, I agree and I agree that the cross, it’s more complicated than Jesus went to the cross with gritted teeth, I think. And the image that I sometimes use is, if my daughter falls through the ice in the river do I want to jump in? And the answer is no, I have no desire to jump into icy rivers. But the answer is also at the same time, yes, and I’d do it without hesitation. And I think that’s what’s happening at the cross. Jesus, does he want to experience the thorns and the spear, no, of course not. But yes, he goes gladly because he goes to save his people
Douglas Wilson: “For the joy that was set before him.” He knew that he will see the travail of his soul and be satisfied. He knew that that was the endpoint.
John Piper: But don’t you think that the way future joy works in Romans 5: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, and we rejoice in tribulation knowing that tribulation works patience and patience provenness and provenness hope” (Romans 5:2–4). The way hope works there is it makes its way back so that as you look to, “I could have her alive, my daughter, I can have her alive. She’s going to die if I leave her there. I can have her alive and I can feel flowing back into this moment right now the future of that hug and that life right now. I feel that,” and I’m in. So it’s not simply future out there, nothing here. It’s future out there, magnificent and no pain, flowing back in to change this. You used the word “gladly,” you said he went gladly. And that’s right. I think down here, while weeping up here.
Tim Chester: And that’s an act of faith. I think that’s what’s happened when you’ve got the difficult person coming over for a meal, there’s an act of faith there.
Douglas Wilson: I really like how we’re pushing it closer to the decision point. I’m thinking of Luke 17. This is love, not joy, but I think the principles are the same, forgiveness. Jesus says if someone sins against you seven times in one day, each time forgive him from the heart. And if someone sinned against me and if he repents each time you forgive him.
Now, it would be about time three or four in one day that I would begin to suspect that something was wrong with his repentance, that I don’t think you’re dealing with the root issues, man. But still my duty is plain, that I’m to seven times. And then Peter would ask, “And then the eighth time I pop him, right?” No, seventy times seven.
Well, the thing that is interesting to me is that the disciples at that point say, “Lord, increase our faith.” Well, that sounds like a terribly hard thing you just told us to do. And so if you increase our faith, then we’ll do it, then we’ll do it right. And then Jesus tells the story about what man with a servant coming in from the field, he hasn’t prepared the meal.
And you should say, after you’ve forgiven a guy seven times in one day, you should say, “I’m an unworthy servant. I’ve only done here what I was told to do.” There’s nothing extraordinary about this. This is ordinary, basic Christianity. Well, I find the disciples increased our faith really challenging because it seems to me that if I’m sitting on the couch and the decision before me is do I go to the phone and call that person up to invite them to dinner or do I call and make the appointment to go have that difficult conversation or to seek forgiveness or to confront him about his need to seek forgiveness, or whatever the thorny thing is, I’m sitting there and I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it and I know I have to.
I know I have to. I think the dynamic, and I think this is how you would harmonize everything that we’re all saying here, is my model here is that Jesus didn’t feel like it either. But there’s a moment of wrestling. There’s the garden of Gethsemane moment. There’s the moment of wrestling, but then there’s the moment of decision. And when you decide, and you need to be deciding to be an obedient Christian, not a hypocrite. There’s a way to take a meal over to someone that’s just hypocrisy and there’s a way of doing it where it’s under the blessing of God.
I should know, if I’m sitting on the couch not feeling like it and I say, “Lord, increase my faith.” I think God would say, “No, no. I told you what to do. I told you what to do. You do it.” But I should say, “Okay, I’m going to do it out of obedience,” knowing that when I decide and get up to go, I’m under the blessing of God, and the gladness and the joy meets you at that point.
Tim Chester: I think people often pit faith and duty as alternatives and I think that’s a mistake. There is a form of duty which is a kind of legalistic self-righteous grit your teeth, get on with it.
Douglas Wilson: Keep up the appearances.
Tim Chester: Whatever. Earn your approval. But there is a form of duty which is faith saying I don’t feel like this but if I do it, there will be joy to be found in it.
John Piper: Douglas, when you say increase my faith and God says, “No, I’ve told you what to do, now do it,” if increase my faith is an escape hatch for inactivity then that’s exactly what God will say.
Douglas Wilson: That’s what I’m talking about.
John Piper: But if I were to pray that, what I would mean is we’re called upon to do the obedience of faith. Obedience and faith are not alternatives in Pauline obedience. It’s the obedience of faith. Faith working through love. So if I pray, “Increase my faith,” I mean, “Right now, cause me to see you as so completely sufficient that this phone call, as much as I don’t want to do it, is going to result in greater blessedness for them, for me, for your honor, and so cause that faith to push me over the edge.” Now at that point, I just have to do it. Work out your salvation! Work out your salvation with fear and trembling right here because he’s at work in you.
So consciously, if the person is waiting, I’ll wait until he moves my hand onto the phone. That’s the kind of immediate experience he does not promise. This volition that he’s given me is in charge of that hand at this moment. Reach for the phone, reach for the phone, get the phone, start punching numbers, “Hand obey my mind.” That’s mediation of faith.
Douglas Wilson: Right. So applying the words of Scripture in another context to this, I quite agree that whatever’s not of faith is sin. It’s got to proceed from faith. So when I get up off the couch, it’s got to be faith, not raw duty. And it’s not either/or. But I remember one time seeing the letterhead of a Christian organization, I think it was a mission organization, on the letterhead it was “Increase Our Faith: Luke 17,” and I thought that was the disciples trying to get out of what Jesus just told them to do. Jesus just told them to forgive this guy seven times and they said in effect, “We’ll do it if you do your part first. Increase our faith and then we’ll see about doing it.”
It’s that blame-shifting or excuse-shifting that I want to resist, knowing that if I accept God’s word, I can only accept it by faith. I can only get up initially by faith, but I should expect the faith and the joy and the blessing to increase as I go. Culminating in the destination point of all this, which is the joy that’s set before us in our mini-trials and our small challenges.
So I’d like to shift the direction. We put out the word that we’d like to take a few questions from the Twitter verse and we got a number of them and I wanted to bring up a few other things, but feel free to tie these things in with what we’ve just been talking about because I think the whole question of the blessing of God resting on everything we do, is relevant to everything we do. Right?
So if we say, “Well, let’s compartmentalize what God might do over here and then we do our business.” We don’t want to be doing our ecclesiastical business in such a way that if the Holy Spirit left, it’d be fifty years before anybody noticed because we’ve got our programs and we’ve got our drill-down. And I sometimes think that — and this ties in with when I’m about to ask about liturgy and worship — in some highly ornate churches, let’s say, you’ve got so many things going on, so many dazzling things going on that if the Holy Spirit departs — it could be five hundred years before anybody notices — and if you had a simple low church Puritan clapboard chapel and the spirit departs in fifteen minutes, everybody knows because that’s all you had going for you at the time. Everything else is just pretty slim pickings.
So I’d like to talk about your understanding of worship, and I like to frame this by distinguishing high church, low church from high liturgy, low liturgy. Okay?
John Piper: You’re going to have to help me with that one.
Douglas Wilson: Okay. High church, low church. A high churchman would be someone who has a very, very high view of the church and the importance of worship and the importance of church. So you could have a low liturgy, Plymouth Brethren guy who had a very high view of the gathering of God’s people Sunday morning, but the liturgy was very low. And you could have very high liturgy, low church views, very contemptible views of the church, but you’re doing a lot of dress ups. And in history you’ve had the sliding scale where you’ve had high Anglicans, some of the reformers who had a high view of high liturgy, high church, that sort of thing. With this sliding scale, would you describe yourself as high church, low church and high liturgy, low liturgy? Then I’d ask you the same question.
John Piper: I hope high church. I mean a belief in the indispensability of the church now and forever, rooted in eternity. God’s only plan for the world, not university and not our conferences and not Desiring God or Canon Press.
Douglas Wilson: Or books.
John Piper: Yes, high, high, high. Because I think unique things happen there that don’t happen anywhere else. And by there I mean the people gathered intentionally for the ordinances of God and the preaching of the word of God and the mutual exhortation that happened. So, high. And probably I’d be classified at low liturgy, but that was going to depend on who you compare me with. And I have ideas of what I think ought to be in services. I don’t put a lot of stock in forms because of my sense of the cultural breadth of the world and that the New Testament is unbelievably absent on form.
And I think the reason for that means it doesn’t tell us that it should be 11 o’clock or that it should be an hour long or that you set up pews or that there should be a sermon at the front or the back. I mean just a thousand things that are done in worship services that are not commanded in Scripture in detail. And I think the reason for that is because the Bible is a missionary handbook for all the peoples of the world, like 16,000 cultures need to use the New Testament and if the New Testament had a very specific layout of how it should be done. It would not work in most of those cultures.
So I’m low when it comes to cultural incarnation of liturgy and pre-tolerant of serious efforts at referential communion with God on Sunday morning.
Douglas Wilson: So we were talking about this a little bit before at lunch, your tolerance for various forms would not include batting beach balls around the sanctuary.
John Piper: Right. And the reason God is a God of fire and you approach him with a sense of wonder and awe and fear. The way I’ve said it is over the years I wanted our Sunday morning experience to be the Mount of Transfiguration, and we used to have a Sunday evening service or Wednesday, and I wanted that to be the Mount of Olives because it seemed to me that they fell on their faces and didn’t know what to say because of the wonder and the awe of the moment on the mountain.
Whereas my guess is when they gathered after a long hard day in the Mount of Olives, they laid down and they put their hands on their elbow like this and they asked, Jesus said, “How did it go?” And they told horrible stories about how good, bad it went and they just had a lot of good solid give and take. And you need that and that can be done worshipfully, but it’s going to have a different flavor than the seriousness of Sunday morning.
And I’ve just said, “Where in the average life of the American Christian do they get to sixty or ninety minutes of serious reverential communion with the living God?” And for most of them, nowhere. Nowhere. And so yes, I want there to be no beach balls on Sunday morning, maybe at a youth retreat or something.
Well, what it seems to me has happened is that as I look at certain conferences and certain church services, the pastors remember how good it was in junior high and that’s all they know what to do. “Let’s make it good again and do some similar things.” It’s an adolescent phase.
Douglas Wilson: In Hebrews, it says, “Let us worship God reverently. Worship God in reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28). And so you’ve got a great degree of latitude for various forms, liturgies, structures, as long as it’s reverent.
John Piper: You can smell it. You can smell it when you walk into a room and you say, “These people are going hard after God,” and they might be doing Hillsong and they might be doing Charles Wesley or they might be doing some medieval chant. But after just a little while, they’re not playing games here. They really believe they’re in the presence of the living God going hard after him.
Douglas Wilson: And that ties in with our earlier discussion of the presence of God. It’s feeling anointed. What’s your take on this whole thing?
Tim Chester: I’m pretty similar. I think certainly a high view of church. And I mean we’ve put a lot of emphasis on the fact that Christian identity is a communal identity, and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died.
Douglas Wilson: No lone ranger.
Tim Chester: No, lone ranger. It’s not that the church is this kind of convenient thing to get to do on a Sunday morning or a kind of way of discipling people on mass. It is central to God’s purposes. he is creating a bride for his son. And so definitely very high on the view of church.
But again, I guess mean if you came to one of our meetings, you’d probably call it low liturgy, although we try and have some kind of sense of a shape to the meeting in terms of a call to worship, and then usually something that’s extolling the person of God, the character of God. Followed by some form of confession and then prayer as we either might be sung, it might be said as we come to the word, but to some extent it depends on what the theme of the sermon is. So that tends to shape things. Sometimes the confession comes after because that just seems the appropriate way of responding and so on. So we want something that’s kind of content rich in a sense.
But I think the other thing we talk about a lot is wanting to capture the affections. That’s what we’re trying to do on a Sunday, which is not necessarily emotions. It’s different from emotions. It’s not simply a kind of education process. It’s actually the truth presented through the sermon, but also sung and so on, so that people’s hearts are captured for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Douglas Wilson: In your practice, do you have a fellowship meal connected to your worship?
Tim Chester: I was going to say actually, I mean when we started, we started meeting in homes, in a home, there were eight of us when we started. And then as we grew, we split into other homes. And I was going to say one thing, the number of occasions when I was speaking away at a conference maybe, and there would be a big band and the music would be, by musical standards, terrific. And then I would often try and travel home and it might be that we would meeting on a Sunday evening and there would be fifteen of us in a room with some person playing the guitar rather badly.
But that experience was so much richer than the one I’d experienced because people were singing from the heart. But not only were they singing from the heart, but I could look around the room and I could say, I know the week you’ve had and I know how difficult it is for you at work at the moment. And here you are expressing sincerely your love and worship of God. That is a very moving experience. And it warms my heart time and again.
So the musical quality might not be high, but there’s something about being with God’s people as they relate to God in the midst of all the mess and difficulties of life and affirm their love for him and their trust in him. That’s just a very powerful experience again and again.
But just to answer your question, we would always have a meal with there. We still have still sort of the heart of our church life for small groups that meet around a meal, but we also now gather on a Sunday and there’s two hundred-plus going on there. So no meal.
Douglas Wilson: No meal. How often do you celebrate communion?
Tim Chester: There’s no set. But I mean it’s normally in the small groups, it’s normally part an extension of the meal. And so probably more often than not in terms of those weekly gatherings.
Douglas Wilson: In the weekly gatherings. And at Bethlehem, how often did you?
John Piper: Once a month. It tends to then be significant. I am going to be eager to see how you do it because I’ve not experienced yet a weekly communion that seems like the way I’d want to do it. It seems after a while to be kind of an addendum. “Just jump through the hoops and do various logistical things to make it a little slick.” And so I’ll be eager to see.
Douglas Wilson: In fact, everything ties in with what we’ve been talking about. We do practice weekly communion and 700–750 people there usually. And so we have a doubt, what do we do? But then just like everything else, when you do something and you have it figured out, you know the steps. You want God to meet you there. Right? That’s the whole point. You want God to meet you there and you don’t want any of your behavior or routine nonchalance to grieve the spirit and keep him from being there.
And it seems to me that, one of the things we do is I have an exhortation at the beginning of every service that’s right before the confession sin just a two-minute exhortation and we confess our sins. And then there’s the message, the heart of the service, and then the last fifteen minutes of the service — our service’s an hour and a half — so the last fifteen minutes is the Lord’s Supper, and I give another exhortation directly related to the Supper.
Augustine said, “It’s not a sacrament without the word. It’s word and sacrament together.” And so think about what you’re doing. It’s sort of a call to wake up everybody because it’s so easy to just do the drill, but it’s easy to do the drill listening to sermons too, but we still preach them.
John Piper: Right. And your chosen way of making it significant as it must be in the word, is significantly dependent on your gifts. Not many pastors could do what you do in terms of weekly two minute significant sacrament consummating exhortation. And so that’s another factor to take into account. Certain gifted people do things in established patterns around their abilities, which you have that others who attempt to do it just might stumble.
Douglas Wilson: Yes, I take your point because then everybody downstream from you is stuck with this thing that you did. But this is true of sermons too.
You’ve been preaching powerfully and effectively at Bethlehem for many, many years. And I understand your successor is a gifted and talented man and he sure needs to be, right? Because I’m reminded of a Spurgeon story, where Spurgeon lived right on the cusp before people giving invitations to come and receive Christ. And Spurgeon would say something like in his message, “If anyone has come under conviction and hearing the word, I will be in my office at ten o’clock Monday morning.” And there was usually a line there. People wanted to talk to him about their souls Monday morning.
And then after Spurgeon went on, his successor was preaching and his successor introduced giving an invitation right away. And one of the old timers complained to the new guy and said, “Well, Spurgeon used to come and see me Monday morning and didn’t do an invitation right away.” And Spurgeon’s successor said, “Well, I believe in striking while the iron’s hot.” And the old guy said, “Well, when Spurgeon preached, the iron stayed hot till Monday morning.”
Tim Chester: Can I come in? Because I agree that I want the communion to be significant. I don’t want it to be a routine that we just sort of march our way through. But there’s a danger of measuring significance in terms somehow of mood or atmosphere.
And I mean it’s the same with sermons. Not every sermon has pliable moments where there’s just that sense that the congregation are hanging on your word, but not all sermon’s work like that. I sometimes use the analogy of its great to go out for a fancy meal at a restaurant or to really put on a nice dinner for somebody.
Douglas Wilson: Anniversary dinner.
Tim Chester: All of that kind of thing. And sometimes conference sermons can be like that can be the equivalent of that, but actually most of us don’t live our lives with those kinds of meals. And if we did, it wouldn’t be good for our health. And actually a lot of meals are just rather perfunctory, but they actually feed us and keep us going, keep us alive, keep us healthy.
And I know there’s a danger of misunderstanding what I’m saying, but there we go. I think there is a place for the ordinary sermon, the communion that didn’t have any kind of great feeling or mood about it, but these are the things that actually do keep us going and keep us healthy.
John Piper: Right. Totally agree with this little qualification.
Douglas Wilson: Then you get to do the same thing again.
John Piper: Exactly.
Douglas Wilson: Very thing I was eager to.
John Piper: Though the everyday meal won’t feel like the anniversary. Everybody knows what a rushed and empty everyday meal feels like, that could be just ordinary and it feels rushed. It feels like people are putting their coats on and didn’t really want to be here.
Tim Chester: Yes. Though even those meals feed you.
John Piper: Now, you’re starting to sound sacramental. You’re starting to sound like him.
Douglas Wilson: And that’s my job.
Tim Chester: And that’s not reason to have rushed meals. I’m not trying to make a case for having rushed meals.
John Piper: Right. I just want to find a way back to mediation again, where you started. What strategies of mediatorial help for communion with the living Christ in the Lord’s Supper do you want to put in place? You want to help people. You don’t want to put things that don’t help in place. You want to put things that help in place, that’s all.
Douglas Wilson: Well, if I could take an example, a prototypical example of the rush meal is somebody, if I make a throwaway line and a talk that if you’re eating most of your breakfasts over the sink, then there’s something wrong with your lifestyle. You need to slow down, but there’s nothing wrong with eating a meal over the sink.
If I get a pastoral call and I’ve got to go down to the hospital and I finish my burrito over the sink and there’s nothing wrong with eating over the sink and the food will do me good. Or if I’m driving somewhere that I need to be and Jesus wants me to be there and I drive through, get lunch and drive through, it can still feed you.
And we can still step back and say, evaluating our lives overall, we want a better rhythm than that, right? We don’t want it frenetic all the time and we don’t want the Lord’s Supper to be touching the base. “We did this, did this, did this, and ‘check’ and we’re going to get out now.” You want people to be there to be fed. That’s the whole point. They’re thinking about it, they’re meditating on it, they’re actually worshiping God.
Another question we received, and I think it ties in nicely with what we’ve been talking about, it has to do with Christian Hedonism, which you are known for promoting. And this question is, “Is Christian Hedonism the only way to live a Christian life? Can one be a good Christian and not have the ideas of Christian Hedonism in front of his or her thoughts?” I’m interested in your thoughts about that, and it seems to me that that has to do with the teleology of our lives. What direction are we going and do we want to go there?
John Piper: Well, if I understand the question, it has to do with ideas and you can push on it any way you want. You do not have to ever heard of the term Christian Hedonism to live a gloriously fruitful, successful God-pleasing Christian life. And you don’t have to have the ideas in your head if you mean just theoretical, putting the pieces together the way I do.
So having said those two noes to the question, what I fear that that might conclude that I’m not saying is, it doesn’t matter whether you obey, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). It doesn’t matter whether you obey, “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4).
Douglas Wilson: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again” (Philippians 4:4).
John Piper: “Rejoice in the Lord always. It doesn’t matter whether you really believe in his presence is “fullness of joy and his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11) It doesn’t really matter whether you believe, “I will go to God. To God, my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). Or whether you have the experience of “as a deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for you” (Psalm 42:1). None of that matters because emotions don’t matter. What matters is doing what you’re supposed to do.
And my whole life has been devoted to saying, “What you’re supposed to do is enjoy obeying.” When one person said to me, “I don’t think you should push joy, I think you should push obedience.” I said, “That’s like saying I don’t think you should push apples. You should push fruit.” Obedience is doing what he says to do. What he says to do is delight yourself in the Lord.
Now what I’ve done, and this is what I think is massively essential. What I’ve done is simply take Edward’s insight into Paul and the psalmist that we glorify God by enjoying him, not just and, but by enjoying him and say, “What’s at stake in your growing up into a sanctified soul that finds more delight in treasuring God than in treasuring money or treasuring sex or treasuring family, more delight in treasuring God?” What’s at stake there is the glory of God.
So, the stakes are very high in the way I’ve tried to do. I’ve seen this. And so you don’t have to have that idea, but you do need that experience. You need the experience of treasuring God more than anything.
When it says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the word “fall short” there is lack — hustereó (Romans 3:23). And if you trust in wouldn’t sense do you lack the glory of God if you are sinning. And my answer is you lack it in the way you just exchanged it back in Romans 1:23. They exchanged the glory of God for other stuff, especially the image in the mirror. And so when you trade off the glory of God for other treasures, you are putting yourself into position where what you do is sin.
Sin is doing anything that reflects you’re treasuring anything more than you treasure God. So this is huge for me. I mean, everything relates to this, and so the answer is you have to be a Christian Hedonist to live a life-pleasing God. You don’t have to know anything about it.
Douglas Wilson: Right, you don’t have to buy into the particular terminology you use, but you do have to buy into the apostolic and the biblical.
John Piper: The Biblical, pervasive sense of the affections. You said you’re after affections. I’d love to hear you talk about that. You’re after the affections on Sunday morning, not necessarily the emotions. Want to flesh that out? Because that sounds really relevant here.
Tim Chester: By affections, I mean love, hope, fear, joy. Those are captured for Christ. Now, emotions, then, I think are what flow out of those affections being captured. Often, it’s the interrelation between affections and circumstance that produce emotion.
If I love God and I see his name being abused, then the emotion I feel is anger. If I love God and I see someone become a Christian, then the emotion I feel is elation. But what’s really driving all of that is the affections, because emotions can also be unrelated to affections. Certain music will make me feel happy or not happy.
Douglas Wilson: So let’s pursue this a little further. Augustine says in a prayer, “Give what you command, and command what thou wilt.” So if God gives what he commands, he can command anything. And it strikes me that on this, if you look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness” (Galatians 5:22). These are all works of God in our life. They’re the fruit of God. The Spirit’s work in our life produces love, produces joy, produces peace. But every last one of those fruits is also a command elsewhere. I forget which one of you mentioned you didn’t like the separation of duty and what was it?
Tim Chester: Faith.
Douglas Wilson: Faith. If we obey God, then we’re obeying the whole command, top to bottom. And the fruit of the Spirit is love, and the greatest command is to love God. It’s a command; it’s a duty.
The second great command is to love your neighbor. Well, that’s the first fruit of the Spirit, the first gift of God and the first command of God. Then you have love, joy. That’s a fruit of the Spirit. “Rejoice always. I’ll say it again, rejoice.” It’s a command. Peace. Be anxious for nothing.
So you work your way through every one of the fruits of the Spirit. So everything is a gift of God and everything is commanded. It is all commanded. So if I obey over here expecting God to do his part over there, then I’ve got a vending machine view of spirituality. I’m doing my part and I expect my product as opposed to obeying, knowing that my obedience will be nothing unless it’s offered up to God in Christ and received for the sake of Christ. Does that make sense?
John Piper: Right. We did a whole conference two years ago called “Act the Miracle” based on that very reality that joy in Christ is a miracle. No natural man delights in Christ. They think the cross is foolishness. And so you’re commanded to do it, and it’s a miracle when it’s done. And so I simply said on the basis of Philippians 2:13: “Work out your salvation for God is the one who’s at work.” That means you don’t wait. They don’t wait, like, “Okay, do your work.” “I am doing my work!” “Do it.”
It’s not, “You first then me.” It’s when I act. “So let him who serves serve in the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11). “You serve, serve the church, serve people, serve your wife. And as you serve her, relying on the strength that God supplies, I am giving you the service. It’s a fruit of my Spirit.”
Douglas Wilson: Like Paul says in Colossians, “To this end I labor, struggling mightily with all his energy” (Colossians 1:29).
John Piper: “Be strong in the Lord in the strength of his mind” (Ephesians 6:10).
Tim Chester: But I think there’s another dimension to this, which is those commands, just going back to the correlation between command and fruit, it is that the commands are pursued by going back to the command and gift. I fulfill the command to be at peace, to not worry, by going back to the gift. It’s not that I then, at that point, I have to sort of count to ten. “When I get anxious, I count to ten, and hopefully that will do the job.”
What I do is I go back to the God who is sovereign but is now my father who promises to care for me. I go back to that truth. My duty as it were, is to go back to that truth, remind myself of that truth, so that when I face that difficult circumstance, I face it confident that he’s able to care for me and provide for me in that situation. Does that make sense?
It’s not that I’m given this gift and then also somehow, over here, slightly separated from that, now I’ve got to work hard at being calm in a difficult situation. I’m calm because I can go back to that gift.
Douglas Wilson: So accepting, granting that, agreeing with that, and building on it. Take it a step further, and this ties into something we talked about in our conversation in Minneapolis in Psalm 115. The biblical principle is you become like what you worship, and this is positive and negative. So it’s true of idolaters. They worship idols that have eyes and see not, have noses but smell not, hands handle not. And then it says those who make them are like unto them. So you become stupid and blind and dumb (Psalm 115:4–8).
And so what happens is when you worship blind, impersonal processes, laws of nature, you become blind and impersonal. You become like what you worship, and we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another as we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And John says that when we see him, we’re going to become like him because we’ll see him as he is.
So this command and duty. So if I am joyless and I need to be joyful or wobbling and I need to be firm, I need to look to Christ. So I don’t look to abstract duties. Or I don’t look to my little Christian book of virtues. Or I don’t look to the law or even to the New Testament that I’ve managed to read as law. I look to Jesus. So if I look to Jesus as my fulfillment, so Jesus is my love, Jesus is my joy, Jesus is my peace, Jesus is my obedience. So everything comes back to faith that enables me to look to Christ. So if my prayer is inadequate, well, that’s why I prayed in Jesus’s name.
I was going to ask you to tag something on. We were talking at lunch about a book you’re working on on prayer, and I was struck by something you said along those lines about how our prayers are accepted in Jesus the prayer. Could you say something?
Tim Chester: Oh, I don’t know if it’s distinctive. That would be a bold claim. But one of the key things I want to hit, really, in that book is that I think we often have this talk, this dialogue that prayer is difficult and we all find prayer hard. And most people begin their books on prayer by saying, “I’m not a great prayer, and I find prayer hard.” That’s the language we use.
And I mean, I know why people do that, but I think there’s a danger with that. What I really want to emphasize in the book is that we are all great prayers because we pray in Christ. Or to turn it, flip it around, none of us are great prayers except Christ. But in him, all my prayers are not just adequate but are a delight to the Father because of the delight he has in his Son. And I pray in his Son.
Douglas Wilson: Part of just a side observation, perhaps one of the reasons all those books begin that way is if you picked up a book on prayer, and the guy said in the foreword, “I’ve been doing this for many years, and frankly, I’m pretty good at it.”
Tim Chester: Well, indeed. Indeed.
Douglas Wilson: We’d say, “Who do you? Good for you.”
Tim Chester: I think a lot of books on prayers, either with their wonderful stories about amazing prayers that have gone on through the night and then amazing answers, or just because they’re full of some mystical stuff about how you sit quietly and look at a candle or whatever, then some experience will happen. All of those end up conveying this thing that prayer is this difficult exercise that you are probably not going to be very good at until you’ve mastered some kind of technique, and that’s not the gospel.
Now, I should add that I have a whole section on why actually it is then we do find prayer hard because that is the reality for most of us. But before we get there, first and foremost, up center’s got to be the fact that we have a Father who delights to hear us. We have the Lord Jesus Christ who mediates and makes every prayer acceptable to the Father. And if all that wasn’t enough, we have the Holy Spirit to help us. And that’s what I think, more than anything, people need to hear, that every prayer they offer is a great prayer in Christ.
Douglas Wilson: All right. Well, as we bring this in for a landing, it turns out, it seems, that the old Sunday school answers are true: God, Jesus, Bible.
John Piper: Pray.
Douglas Wilson: Pray. Good. These things are good. So if everything that we get flummoxed about or if we feel like we’re in a dry spell, if we feel that our church is languishing or whatever the presenting problem is, or you’re in the middle of happening evangelical community where there seems to be what A.W. Tozer would call a lot of froth and activity, but no real substance.
Tozer once said, “If revival means more of what we have happening now, we most emphatically do not need a revival.” So if the revival involves a change or a turning or a blessing, and it all comes back to looking to Christ. It all comes back to Jesus. It all comes back to him.
I ask you, John, and then you, Tim, if you could just say a few things to encourage the people who want to look to Jesus, they want to look to Christ. We’re not talking about persuading a hardened sinner to turn from his path, but a tenderhearted Christian who feels beat up and inadequate and overwhelmed and that sort of thing, how would you exhort them or encourage them to look to Christ in the middle of their harried, busy lives? What do you think the need of the hour is for people like that?
John Piper: Well, the first thing I want to say, because of something you said 45 seconds ago. Of a lifelong effort in the ministry, I want to say don’t quit. Don’t quit. I can’t tell you how many times in my 33 years in the pastorate, I’d walked through a magazine that, say, had fifty advertisements about what would solve my problems in the ministry. And I would come away so discouraged, so discouraged, because of all those solutions that I wasn’t and didn’t own the books, and I didn’t own the seminars.
And God in his mercy never let me quit. There were times I just said, “If that’s what you have to do, then I just deal me out.” And so I would say my exhortation would be pray regularly. I’m talking about pastors, especially. Pray regularly. “Father, keep me. Now unto him who is able to keep you.” I mean, he was blown away. Jude is blown away. To him be glory and honor and dominion because he kept me. That’s the way I feel. he stood by me.
So I’d say just stay at it because you know what? It is the basic Sunday school answers. If you’re faithful to the Book, and you’re on your knees as well as you can, and then knowing it’s acceptable in Christ over the Book, and you feed your people faithfully, that’s a good thing. And it may fall.
I’ll end with this. So I finished my 33 years, and we never had revival. Now a lot of people might say, “Well, you didn’t need a revival. Little things will happen.” But I’d say not the way I measure revival. I’m not hopeless about that. I did stack a lot of wood, and it’s still there. And Jason is a good wood stacker and a good prayer. And if it takes ten years under his ministry for this thing to explode, to make a difference in the Twin Cities like it never happened with me, I would go to my grave thinking, “I put some of that wood there.”
So I want guys not to quit. I want them to be encouraged to pressed on and not to feel like there’s a thing you got to do. If you get it figured out, then it’s going to happen. There is a faithfulness. Coming back to look at the gospel or look at Jesus, I want to add to that as he is mediated in every sentence of this Book, I fear a reductionism today, a reductionism to gospel and Jesus. That sounds crazy. How can you reduce Jesus? He’s high, and I’m low. And yet, if you start peeling away his book and say, “We don’t need that. We don’t need that. You just need Jesus.”
Douglas Wilson: We’re red-letter Christians.
John Piper: Jesus’s going to say, “I don’t think I’m the one your after.” So very simply, I think I survived in the ministry not by a mystical path to Jesus only or gospel only, but by reading this book every day and trying to understand how it all equips a man, makes him fit for every good deed.
Douglas Wilson: Speaking of stacked wood and how God uses time bombs, God has delayed reactions. One of the things I’ve pointed out in some of our educational work as we’ve been founding schools and everything is that in the medieval period, there was an educational movement that founded schools all over Europe. And the group that led them was the Brethren of the Common Life, and the Brethren of the Common Life established schools all over the place. And they were medieval educational reformers. Thomas à Kempis was one of the Brethren of the Common Life. And they had all these schools, and virtually every last one of the reformers graduated from one of those schools.
Nobody’s ever heard of the guy who led Billy Graham to the Lord. Nobody’s heard of the precursors of these things, the men who split and stacked the wood. And then there was this remarkable thing that: Where did that come from? Where did that come from? Well, God was doing something beforehand. So thank you. Tim?
Tim Chester: Yes. Three things come to mind. One is just to pick up on what John just said about reading the whole Scriptures. I really want to echo that. And again, I mean, I think one of the things I fear is that we do have this gospel, Jesus focus, which is great, but then I hear people handling the Scriptures in a way that jumps there almost too quickly that we get to Jesus and the gospel. And what we don’t hear is Jesus and the gospel with all the texture that the whole council of God brings. Does that make sense?
I was preaching the other day from 2 Samuel, and really what it boiled down to was Jesus died for your sins. That was my message. And the congregation loved it, which is partly because that’s what they love to hear. Why would they not love to hear that? But it just came with some freshness because it was from 2 Samuel. It took Second Samuel seriously. Took the text seriously. I mean I really want encourage people.
Douglas Wilson: It wasn’t just Jesus died for sinners. It was Jesus died for sinners in 2 Samuel.
Tim Chester: Yes, and here it is, and I mean, I don’t want to preach the sermon again, but it wasn’t just, “Oh, look, here’s some really bad, horrible stuff here. But that’s okay because Jesus dies for sinners.” It’s actually look at how we see the Lord Jesus Christ addressing the issue of sin here and how he’s the fulfillment of that.
John Piper: And “don’t muzzle the ox while he’s treading out the grain” (1 Timothy 5:18) means pay your pastors. Okay. In other words, if you’re afraid to make those lessons, if you’re afraid to preach on that because there’s not enough of a gospel in it, something’s wrong. Something’s really wrong.
Douglas Wilson: You had two other things.
Tim Chester: Yes. I can’t remember what they were now.
John Piper: Oh, I’m sorry. I got you off track.
Tim Chester: One of them was, I think what you’re saying is the Sunday school thing. It is about just believing in Jesus. The problem in that statement is in one sense it’s true. It is true.
The word just is, in the English language, we use that in two different ways. It is just believing Jesus in the sense that there is no other option. One of my more provocative pieces of pastoral advice was to a guy who came to me and said, “I’ve got this problem. I know you’re going to tell me it’s to trust in Jesus. Can you give me something else?” I said, “Yes, go and get a bottle of whiskey and get drunk.” That was a rhetorical statement, by the way. And he took the point. There is no plan B, it is just Jesus.
And yet the word just, we can’t take that to imply that this is somehow quick or easy, that all you’ve got to do is just do this as if it’s an easy thing to do and you can do it and then we’ll be done. This is sorted. This pastoral problem will be over. Got to recognize that it takes a lifetime of change, surviving.
Douglas Wilson: Taking up your cross daily.
Tim Chester: Yes. And as you were saying, sometimes just getting through the day, getting through the year, surviving, running the race. That’s a challenge. That’s a struggle. It’s a struggle to put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ today. It’ll be a struggle to do it again tomorrow with all the pressures and temptations that life throws at you. And we need to recognize that.
And then I think that leads on to the third thing I was going to say, which was try as much as you can to put yourself in a community context where there are people around you who are pointing you to Christ.
John Piper: That’s good.
Tim Chester: So Hebrews 3, “Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). And that’s in the context of a warning not to fall away, not to stop believing in the gospel. And part of the remedy is to be in a community where people are constantly encouraging you, pointing you to the Lord Jesus Christ. Which brings us back to where we started, which is the mediation.
It’s not a choice between community and gospel or community and The Word. It’s about being in a community, having a community around you, who embody that and are pointing you to that.
Douglas Wilson: It’s a package deal. God calls a people for himself.
Tim Chester: Yes. And if I’m in solitary confinement, then I’m sure I trust that he will give me the grace to survive. But his normative way is to put us in community.
Douglas Wilson: And even when Peter was in prison, the saints were praying for him. Not necessarily in belief because when he showed up, they didn’t believe it, but they were thinking of him and praying for him and lifting him up.
And I know that you’ve had the experience as pastors, people who’ve been going through a hard stretch, death in the family or medical problems, and they feel genuinely sustained by the prayers of God’s people, even though none of them may be on the premises. But they know they’re being lifted up. So it’s all about God. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about his word. And we trust him to sort it all out. And thank you very much.