Just recently, Pastor John and Noël traveled to Holland, France, and Germany. Earlier in the year, they traveled to South America. And earlier in the spring, they were in Ireland and Scotland. All those trips were ministry trips on behalf of Desiring God. Our ministry partners make these international trips possible. So thank you. Today I want to share with you one moment captured in Scotland, recorded at a conference hosted by our friends at 20schemes. In Scotland, a “scheme” is something like a housing project, a government-subsidized neighborhood that’s pretty rough, known for high crime and rampant drug use. More troubling, over half of Scotland’s schemes are gospel-less places. 20schemes is a ministry to change this by planting gospel-loving churches right into these areas of deprivation. While in Scotland, Pastor John sat down to field audience questions from one of those church planters, Andy Prime, who relayed to Pastor John the following question. Have a listen.
Andy Prime: Someone says, “Hi, Pastor John. I’m someone who has been exposed to a lot of Christian talks and events in the last couple of years, but I am still struggling to put my faith in Christ. What advice could you give me?”
John Piper: Wow, I wish I knew you. I would really probe before I gave an answer. I would probe the word struggle. What is that? I want to help you so bad to get over that. Let me just say what comes to my mind.
Narrow Way, Light Load
Let me give you two texts, and then tell you why the word struggle is a little odd and yet understandable. In Matthew 7:14, Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Now, that would mean, well, of course you’re going to struggle. It’s hard. That’s what Jesus said. “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” He must’ve said that because he knew you’re trying to get through the door, right? And it’s hard. “I don’t even know how to do this. How do you get through the door? The gate is narrow, and it’s hard.” Okay, so that text gives me empathy with the word struggle.
“It’s not hard to come to Jesus. It’s not a struggle, except the struggle to rest.”
But four chapters later Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). Those are both in the Bible: The way is hard and the gate is narrow. It’s an easy yolk and it’s a light burden. Both are true. That’s what we believe about this book. Both are true. What makes a little theologian out of everybody is trying to figure out how they’re both true.
Struggle to Rest
In my mind, here’s my best shot at how they can both be true: What could be easier than to stop working for God, to stop trying to prove anything as a means of salvation, and just rest in the work of Jesus that is so complete, so full, to cover all your sins, give you all the righteousness you need, and adopt you into the family without working? What could be easier than to say, “I give up. I fall down. I rest”?
I’ll tell you what could be easier: a proud working for God. We don’t like to become children. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Who wants to be a little child? I want to be somebody. I want to look competent. One of your pastors walked in with a little two-week-old baby. The baby looked like a dot in his arm. And who wants to look like that baby? I want to look big and strong. Nobody’s going to praise that baby’s strength. Maybe that’s why it’s hard. Our ego makes it hard to come to Jesus. It’s not hard to come to Jesus. It’s not a struggle, except the struggle to rest.
That’s my answer to how those texts can be true. The one says to come and rest. It’s easy. It’s light. And the other one says it’s hard, and that’s because resting is hard for people with an ego. So, I’m being hard on you now. Maybe the struggle is rooted in “I want to reserve for myself some power, some ego, some praise, some worth, something instead of ‘I’m just done. I am done trying to prove anything.’” That’s what I’d say.
Illumined with Beauty
Andy Prime: I think we’ll end it there. We’re going to sing before we finish. Would you mind praying just to finish for the day?
John Piper: So Father, for the brother or sister who just asked that question, I’m sure they are not alone and that others, perhaps here and we know in our churches, do struggle. What does it mean? How can I do it? How can I lay down all the objections, lay down all the resistance that rises up in my heart, that doesn’t want to let certain things go?
And I just ask right now that the miracle would be wrought and that the eyes of the heart would be so illumined with the beauty of Christ and the sufficiency of Christ and the greatness of Christ and the power of Christ and the wisdom of Christ, that all resistance would fall. So strengthen the churches, Lord, of 20schemes. Thank you for this ministry. May every need be met for every church, and may the dreams be fulfilled for the twenty-plus church plants. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.