Interview with John Piper in Poland

European Leadership Forum | Wisla, Poland

Well, John Piper, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate your ministry here. Many of us have appreciated your ministry in writing as well as preaching. Thanks for being part of the forum this year. It’s good to have you with us. Can you just give us a real, simple introduction, stepping away from ministry, family, wife, children? What’s home like for you?

Now, my wife shows up today at 6:00 p.m., Lord-willing, here. She’s coming from Sweden where she’s doing some research on a biography. She’s writing on a missionary that went out from our church in 1922 and was born in Sweden in 1890. So I’ve been married for 47 years and have five children, four boys, and then we adopted Talitha when I was 50. So if you’re under 50, you still can have more kids. Talitha, the youngest, is a senior at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, and my four grown boys are all married, and I have twelve grandchildren. That’s the family. You want to do a ministry summary?

One more family question. We may get back to family later, but just one more. With all your busy ministry stuff that we’re about to hear about, how have you found ways to make that work with marriage, with parenting? Any quick thoughts on that?

Well, you got to marry the right woman because not all women feel the same way about the investment of their husbands in kingdom things. Noël is a wonderfully flexible person, and as you can tell, just going off to Sweden by herself, she’s quite an independent soul and does lots of things, and she’s been a wonderful partner. As I look back, it would be wise for you to know, helpful for you to know that two of my children I don’t think are believers. They might call themselves Christian, but they’re of a sort that they don’t like what I teach. So don’t think that I live in a dream world of a perfect family. It’s a very painful situation. It’s the biggest sorrow of my life to have two children who really don’t have any great respect for what I teach.

So when I look back on how I did my fathering, I’ve assessed it over and over again as to what I might do differently. I can honestly say, and I could be wrong, I don’t think I would do much different schedule-wise, which is probably what you were asking. It was a total commitment on my part for the entire pastoral ministry. I was a pastor for 33 years to devote every evening from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. to be with my family. And then I would go back to the church if I had to for meetings.

But we didn’t allow any committee meetings or any meetings at the church for me between five and seven. So we ate together at 5:30 p.m., and then that took a half an hour, and then I played with my boys. I played with them in the backyard. We did everything you could do: in winter, winter sports; in summer, summer sports, and when it was too cold outside, we played on the floor inside, whether I was tired or not.

In fact, none of my sons has ever said to me, “You weren’t there for us.” They’ve never said that. They might have other complaints, but that they’ve never said. If you’re a pastor, at least the kind of pastor I was, you dictate your own schedule, which means if you have boys who play football at three in the afternoon, you can go, and I did. I went to all my sons’ games. So I built into my pastoral responsibility a block of time every night with my kids. If they’re in a drama, if they’re in a sport, if they’re in a speech contest, I’m there, and that was just part of what I did.

As long as I’m on it, what I would do differently, I think I would try to speak the gospel more, the basic, “Your daddy is a sinner and your daddy needs the gospel and forgiveness every day,” because kids grow up thinking their parents are flawless, especially if they’re preachers who stand up and tell people what to do every Sunday. So I would speak of my own sinfulness more.

How would you summarize the gospel for a seven-year-old or a ten-year-old?

Everybody’s bad. You’re bad, I’m bad, and God demands perfection. We’ll talk about this tomorrow. I’m going to talk about justification. God demands perfection. You’re not perfect, I’m not perfect. There’s only one hope. Jesus came. Jesus loved us. Jesus died in our place. Jesus became our righteousness. So when you do bad things, don’t think that I would disinherit you as your dad. Your Father won’t disinherit you because he’s made a way for you to be right with him.

So if you do a bad thing, you don’t need to hide it from him. You don’t need to hide it from me. I think kids are just hiding stuff from their parents all the time for fear of whatever. So that would be the core of it. You don’t need to fear that I’m going to kick you out or God’s going to kick you out. If you come to him and you repent of your sins, he forgives, he accepts.

The second thing, last thing, I would dig into their hearts, not just their behavior. Most people treat parenting as behavior modification. “You don’t do that. You do this, and you won’t get killed. Don’t run out in the street. Don’t stick your finger in the electrical outlet. Don’t put your hand on the burner on the stove. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,” and kids are just like, “Rules, rules, rules,” which you have to do. Kids will kill themselves if you don’t give them rules, and they won’t know how to live in the world without rules, but if Christianity becomes rules, they’ll never get it. They’ll never get it. So those would be the two things.

Great. So then that’s the family summary. Ministry summary?

Yes. Life summary and ministry summary. Grew up in a Christian home with the happiest fundamentalist I’ve ever known, my dad. I love him. He’s in heaven. I always respect him. I never rebelled against him. I always admired him. I always wanted to please him. Till this day, I imagine him watching me, and I hope, being pleased. He did not spend time with me because he was a traveling evangelist and was home maybe one-third of the year. I never held that against my dad.

I think the reason I didn’t is because my mother didn’t. My mother loved his ministry. My mother was on his side. My mother was proud of my dad, and my mother brought me up, basically. So two great Christian parents. Went off to Wheaton College, a literature major. Fuller Seminary, Master of Divinity. Three years in Munich, Germany, studying theology, got a doctorate in Munich. Taught for six years at Bethel College, taught Bible and Greek, and then for 33 years was a pastor of a Baptist church in downtown Minneapolis. I finished that ministry three years ago, and now I work for Desiring God. I write, and I do blogs and podcasts, and I write books, and I speak to conferences like this.

You enjoying it?

I’m enjoying it very much, including this, even though I hate jet lag. Oh, I hate lying awake at eleven at night saying, “I’ve got to preach tomorrow morning. Lord, please make me sleep.”

Then lying awake or being awake right now when you’re desperate to sleep as well.


Thank you for being awake for us. We appreciate it. How many books is it now? Three? Four? Maybe five, a few books. One of the books that’s come out very recently, A Peculiar Glory, tell us a little bit about that. Just what’s the goal of that book? I’m reading it and enjoying it.

Thank you. The subtitle is How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness. So basically, it’s a book about how everyone can know the Bible is true and the word everyone is important because Jonathan Edwards, my hero, at the end of his ministry spent the last eight years of his life ministering to Indians in the northeast frontiers of the United States in the 18th century, and they were all pre-literate. The great burden he had was, “I’m going to go to these people, speak the gospel, expect them to believe it as true, and in a very short time be willing to die for it.”

How can that be? How can a person with no formal access to apologetics or history or sophisticated arguments for the truth of the Bible, how can that person know so firmly that the Bible is true you’d be willing to die for it, which is what the Bible expects you to do? “He who comes to me must come and die” (Matthew 16:24). And I tried to write a book that expanded on his answer and his answer was, “The mind or the heart ascends to the truth of the gospel,” and I would argue to the truth of the Scriptures, but by one step, not by a series of carefully crafted, discursive arguments, but by one step, a sight of its peculiar glory. That’s the argument.

The key text is 2 Corinthians 4:4, where it says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing.” Now, the wording here is unbelievably important, I think. “To keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Every one of those phrases is explosive with implications. There’s a light, there’s a supernatural light that shines through the narrative of the gospel, and I would argue through the inspired word of God. When God himself inspires a work, there is a light that shines through it. It’s a spiritual light. You don’t see it with these eyes, you see it with these eyes.

Ephesians 1:18: “May the eyes of your heart be enlightened.” So the Holy Spirit shatters the darkness that Satan has created, and as the gospel is unfolded in the Bible, a spiritual light, the light of the glory of Christ shines into the heart, and you know that the Bible is of God just like you can know there’s the sun shining out there. I see it. There’s no argument. You can’t argue that there’s the sun shining out there. You just see it and you know. So that’s the gist of it.

Great. So you’re not dismissing all the apologetics and all those arguments. There’s maybe benefit to this, but we don’t need them. Is that what you’re saying, that there’s something, that one step is available to everyone?

That’s exactly right. I’m not dismissing them. So if you’re trying to persuade somebody to believe, you just tell them, “Pray for light. Pray for light. See you tomorrow. We’ll find out if you get the light,” which might be what a Mormon would do. The difference for me is I think the light of the glory of Christ shines through a true interpretation of the meaning of the text, and to get at true interpretations, you do hard work, you learn Greek, you learn Hebrew if you have to.

You do whatever it takes so that you interpret meanings of text, which means you can sit down with an unbeliever all day long and read texts and explain and argue and say, “Don’t you see it? Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that distinguishing? No man thought that up. Isn’t that glorious?” and he’ll say, “No, it isn’t glorious. I think it’s foolishness.”

Like Paul says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him” (1 Corinthians 2:14). But you won’t let him go. You love him. You’re going to hold him. You’re going to keep pushing his nose down in the text and you’re going to pray over him and you’re going to come at it every other way.

So I was helped by arguments. The real story behind it is when I was 22 years old, I go off to seminary. I’m not a Calvinist. I’m, I think, a very man-centered Christian — I hope Christian — and I began to hear wonderfully helpful historical arguments for the truth of the Bible because I was at an evangelical school. They were helpful. I would go home and a few days later in some witnessing context or imaginary witnessing context, I would try to reconstruct the argument so that I could give it to somebody, and I couldn’t remember step three, really.

Have you ever been in that situation? That argument works: step one, step two, step three, step four. If I could remember those, I could persuade somebody. I realized if my faith in the Bible hangs on these arguments, I’m going to be as fragile as my memory, which is really fragile now. So I think if apologists, with all their good work shattering all kinds of false obstacles that stand in the way of belief, give the impression that laypeople have to be sophisticated, educated, philosophically oriented people in order to have deep confidence in the Bible, we’re going to lose that battle.

You will not create martyrs that way, and that’s what I’m after. I’m after martyrs. That’s the only kind of Christian I want is martyr Christians because that’s what Jesus said real Christianity is, “You come and die. You love me more than you love your life,” and nobody is going to be a martyr by an argument that works 80 percent of the time. It’s just like, “Yikes. I can only remember.” Well, it’s probably true. I don’t think people die for probabilities.

So it’s interesting you said about the Mormon. We used to have Mormon neighbors when I was in seminary and we had a conversation. They figured out we were evangelicals, and so we started getting their missionaries coming to our door. I remember distinctly chatting with these Mormon missionaries and they started talking about, “If you look at the Book of Mormon, you’ll get this inner light and you’ll have this sense within that it’s true and that will confirm,” and all of that. I said, “I have that about the Bible,” and they stopped. They said, “What? Evangelicals never say that to us.”

Now, looking back, I wish I’d carried on with that because I then switched to the arguments and I didn’t go anywhere good. But it is so sad that evangelicals don’t represent this conviction within that, “Yeah, this is true,” but you’re not saying it’s just my inner subjective feeling versus their inner subjective feeling, right? It’s the truth of Scripture that is shining that light that can, therefore, be talked about. Is that right?

Yes, that’s what I meant to say.

That’s exactly what you said, but the exciting thing about that is that we don’t have to maintain our sophistication or even achieve sophistication. We open the Bible and we enjoy.


What do you mean by “peculiar glory”? What’s peculiar about the glory that we find as opposed to what others might talk about?

When I started writing the book, I did not have in mind to use that word. I just thought I would just talk about glory because the Bible talks about glory all over the place, but what I came to realize is that there is a special angle on the God of the Bible. There’s a special greatness and it’s a greatness that is mingled with meekness. As you read through, he is a God, “high and lifted up” and dwells with those who are “of a contrite and lowly spirit” (Isaiah 57:15). When you watch Jesus as you just read the Gospels, Jesus is at times expressing things that are off the charts like, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

The next thing you know, he’s bouncing a child on his knee and blessing the child. Edwards called this the “juxtaposition of diverse excellencies.” It’s the diversity, the almost contradictory juxtaposition of seemingly contrary excellencies of majesty and meekness. You can just trace that right through the Bible. He is an absolutely magnificent unspeakably, great, powerful, wise, sovereign God that takes the breath away of everybody who tries to contemplate, and he knows the hairs on your head. He’s this closer than a brother, “I’ll never leave you. I’ll never forsake you.”

This morning, I’ll just give you right here, this is how I live. I was feeling nervous about the message for various reasons you don’t need to know about. I’m always nervous about something and I’m always preaching to myself. This morning, I was preaching to myself from 1 Peter where it says: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7).

I’m just there by my bed, and he just did that. He just did that. He’s really powerful. He carries the universe like a peanut in his pocket. He’s a very big God, and for him in that majesty to draw near to his child and say, “You don’t need to be anxious about this. I care for you,” that’s peculiar. That is peculiar because we all know that you assess greatness in this world.

Here’s how you connect with an unbeliever. You just talk to any unbeliever, “What is greatness?” Talk about great men — great men in history. “Go ahead, talk to me about a great man,” and they’ll say Napoleon or Churchill or somebody great, and you say, “What makes them great?” and they’ll talk about whatever.

If you draw it out, won’t they admit that if Churchill — I’m just reading his biography right now, which is why I think about this. If Churchill could run a nation and win a world war and also build tree houses with his children, you got something peculiar. Most people can sense that, and then you could say, “God is that way.” That’s where all that comes from.

So you’re not saying that God is majestic, and Jesus in his meekness makes it possible for us to just know that majesty. If I hear you right, you’re saying Jesus is both majestic and meek.

Oh, my, and the Father is both. The Trinity is both. Isaiah 64:4, I think, “Who is a God like you who acts for those who wait for him?” Now, that rhetorical question means there isn’t anything like you. Bel and Nebo have to be carried on carts. These Babylonian gods have to be toted around, and Isaiah juxtaposes that with, “I carry you from your youth.” God comes and carries us. We have to carry those gods, poor gods. They depend on human service. We depend on God to serve us. So even in the Old Testament, you’ve got this condescension.

Psalm 113:5–6: “Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” And everyone everywhere should praise him because he’s enthroned on high, and yet he humbles himself. He stoops down. So when we see Christ on the cross, which is the ultimate revelation, the ultimate moment of clarity, it’s not a means to an end, it’s a revelation. It’s both-and, I suppose, but it’s a revelation that that’s what our God is like. So there’s a glorious humility about the Father revealed in Christ.

It is both-and, and it’s important that we say both-and. In other words, at the cross, at least those two things are going on, namely a revelation at that moment of the apex of grace and power expressed through death and meekness and the purchase of our ability to see that. It’s both-and. It’s a shining, but you are all blind to it until the cross purchases for you the new covenant heart opening that enables you to see it.

Which is Jonathan Edwards again coming out with the Father gives the ultimate price in the Son. The Son gives the ultimate price of his life and, therefore, what is purchased must be worth that, and they purchased the spirit for us. So it’s the spirit. When you talk new covenants, it’s the spirit, isn’t it? It’s giving us that eye to see.


So the Trinity then is critical. We can’t just talk about God. We’re preaching Trinity. Is that right?

Yes, we are.

Well, talk about that. How do you explain?

Well, I’m totally Edwardian when it comes to this. Human efforts to conceptualize the spirit are dangerous and tricky, and probably the historic creeds have been wise not to get too detailed but rather to speak in negations: the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, but they are both God. So I’m very traditional and historic in my understanding, Chalcedon, Nicaea, but Edwards goes a little further and he says this, and this has been so illuminating from my understanding of not only God but man in the image of God and the way the gospel actually works.

He says, “God has always been, and he has always known himself perfectly and loved himself perfectly. In the knowing of himself perfectly, there stands forth a perfect image of himself that he knows, the Son,” and that’s got biblical warrant because Hebrews 1, the image, the radiance of God. In loving the Son, the Spirit stands forth as a third member of the Trinity who embodies, as it were, not a body, but instantiates, if you want to be philosophical, embodies that love as a person in himself.

So the Spirit is God loving God, and the Son is God knowing God, and the knowledge of God is so full of what God the Father is that he is a person in his own right, and the Spirit is so full of what the Father has towards the Son. He is himself a person of the Trinity. So now you’ve got God the Father knowing, God the Father loving, and you’ve got the Son and the Spirit.

When man is created, we’re created, basically, Edward said, with two powers. We know and we love. We rationalize and we will. For Edwards, the will and the affections are not distinct faculties. The affections are the will in energy. When the will is tilting big time toward its object, it’s affectionate. When the wheel just is choosing without any big affection, it’s just willpower, but there are two things. So you’ve got man, which affects now how I think about preaching big time, big time. What do you do in preaching? You want people to know, and you want people to feel because they’re not Christian if they don’t do both. Knowing doesn’t make people Christian. Feeling doesn’t make people Christian. Right doctrine and right affection for what is known is what creates a Christian.

It’s both-and, right? It can’t be just knowing without feeling or just generating feeling without knowing. It’s impossible.

Cannot be, cannot be. In other words, if a person knows, and, of course, the devil knows. The devil knows more than you do. He’s way more orthodox than you are. He knows doctrine 10 times better than you do, and he’s damned because he hates it. So knowing doesn’t save anybody. Of course, there are people all over the world who are feeling, feeling, feeling and they don’t have any right sense of who God is and they think that emotion is going to make the day and it won’t.

So my preaching strives to be as careful with the text as I can possibly be and to feel. I was talking with John who’s traveling with me. My biggest challenge is not to understand the text. That’s a huge challenge. It takes all my mental effort to come to terms with the flow of thought in the book of Philippians. That’s not the main problem in preaching. The main problem in preaching is, do you have anything like a proper emotional response to this truth? Do you have anything close to a proper emotional response to this truth? Because if you don’t, you’re not saved. You’re just not saved. If there’s no affectional response, you’re just demonic. You’re just demonic if you only have a right understanding of the truth.

So my big battle as I’m on my knees getting ready to preach is, “God, help me see and savor what’s really here.” So Edward said, “I consider it to be my duty to lift the affections,” we’d say emotions, “to lift the emotions of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided,” this is huge, “provided they are affected only with the and in proportion to the nature of the truth.” So if it’s hell, they should be trembling, and if it’s heaven, they should be leaping. Get the difference?

So you’re a little bit excited about little teeny truths and you’re big excited about glorious truths. If they’re horrible truths, you feel horrible emotions, and if they’re beautiful truths, you feel beautiful emotions. If you don’t have any of that correspondence, you’re a sick person. I say that because we’re all sick people. I’m totally aware that in this room across all these 45 cultures here, we’re all sick, broken, emotionally broken.

So I’m not judging you, all right? Some have their hands in the air, some are rock, and some have expressions on their face that are welcoming what I’m saying, and some of you are just stone cold and communicate nothing to me whatsoever. I don’t have any idea what you’re experiencing. I’m not saying at that moment, “Sinner, saint, sinner, saint.” I’m not. I’m thinking, “Broken parents, broken cultures, broken preacher.”

So we’re in this together, and I’m telling you what some of your goals should be, not where I am. I don’t presume to have the right proportion. Clearly, we’re all affected by our culture, we’re all affected by our personalities, and we’re all affected by dads who did bad or good to us, and everybody’s broken. The great thing about getting to heaven: Save to sin no more. Save to sin no more. Save to be no more emotionally broken.

So you’re not saying, “Preach emotionally like me,” because Edwards is known for quite a stay, almost quiet.

Put his elbow on the desk, held his manuscript in his hand, read the manuscript, and changed the world.

And you’ve never been accused of the first half of that, right?

That’s right.

So you’ve got the Edwards delivery, which presumably in his culture, his time, his personality, his background, his brokenness is him. You’re known for being much more emotive in your delivery, more volume, more gestures, but you’re not saying that’s better than Edwards. What you’re saying is what you want is to have the right response within yourself and to generate because Edwards was wanting to generate the right response in his listeners.

Right. Oh, there’s so many things to say. I’ve taught preaching twelve years or so to guys at our church, and I plead with them, “You’ve got to find yourself. You’ve got to be yourself.” If you try to imitate Martin Lloyd Jones or J.I. Packer or Mark Driscoll once upon a time or John Piper or whoever, you will look so stupid and inauthentic. You got to find yourself, but then once you say that, you do push men beyond where they are.

If they’re incoherent, you want them to be coherent. If your sermon is all confused and logically mixed up, people are going to get confused and mixed up. So be more careful with your thinking. If they are emotionally artificial and when they sound, they just don’t sound real, you say, “Come on. That’s not real. You don’t sound real. I know what you sound like real. That’s not real,” and you push them to be authentic.

So when you are by your bed in the morning, you’ve studied the passage, you’re coming up to the preaching event, obviously, like you said, if there’s never any response, there’s no save or you just don’t like Jesus, then okay, we’re talking a real problem in terms of you’re not saved, but for those of us that do love Jesus and do have those times of overflowing, overwhelming response, we also have those times where we go, “What’s wrong with me? I am cold to this. I’m thinking professionally or technically?” What do we do then? What do you do when you find yourself colder than you feel you should be?

Well, I’m real happy that I saw on the book table up there, the book, When I Don’t Desire God. So for years, I wrote. One of my early books was Desiring God. So if I speak on Desiring God or people read Desiring God, a lot of people get persuaded exegetically that I’m right, namely, it is good to pursue maximum delight in God. That’s a good thing, and God is honored if you feel very happy in him. He’s honored by being pleasing to you. The standard response when I’m done persuading people is, “That’s scary because I don’t, I don’t delight in him that way. You’ve persuaded me I should and I don’t.” So eventually, I just had to write that book.

So what John Piper does because John Piper is right now I’m animated and I’m talking, I look excited and all that stuff, my emotional life is just like this. People like this are that way, right? You get tired of being this way and then you’re down. So when you’re down, first, you make sure you’ve had enough sleep and you’re eating right and you’re exercising right? Isn’t that strange? The Bible, God has made us so that if we don’t eat right, exercise right, and sleep right, we’re going to be depressed. So don’t blame it on the Holy Spirit first. Blame it on what you eat or don’t eat or whatever. So first, check that out, but then there really is a spiritual warfare going on, big time.

So what I do is I have a little mechanism called IOUS. You ever heard that? You want me to talk about? IOUS. So I have to have memory devices because when I’m praying, the devil is shutting me down like crazy. He’s making my mind all confused. He’s ruining my memory. So I can’t even remember a Bible verse when I’m praying. Terrible. So I have a little technique, IOUS: I, “Incline my heart to your testimony.” So I’m crying out. Tilt my heart to your word. If my heart is tilting toward money or health or just want to go outside and take a walk, I don’t want to read your Bible, please tilt my heart.

So you’re asking God to do that. You’re not saying I incline my heart.

I’m pleading with God to do that. The Bible says both though. The Bible says incline your heart, and the Bible says tell God to please incline your heart. So that’s Psalm 119:36, I think. The next one: O, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). That is the most important prayer. You’re reading and you’re not seeing anything wonderful. You don’t feel any wonder, this is just boring, and you have to plead God, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonders.”

U, “Unite my heart to fear your name.” I think Psalm 86:11 if I remember right. Unite my heart means when I go to pray or get ready to preach, my heart’s thinking about my wife in Sweden. My heart’s thinking about my two boys who don’t believe. My heart’s thinking about the boyfriend that my daughter has, and how that’s going to go. My heart’s thinking everywhere, just going fragmented everywhere. How are you ever going to focus on Jesus? The answer is, “Unite my heart. Get my heart united in this moment on you.”

S, Psalm 90:14, “Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love that I may rejoice and be glad in you.” You plead for satisfaction in him. So it really is, all of them are prayers. They’re all telling God, pleading with God to do this.

So you know that he’s worth it. You know that he’s satisfying. You know those things, but you’re not feeling it, and what you’re saying is you cannot purely control your own affection.

You cannot control your own emotions, at least immediately. You can do things that, over time, shape your emotions, but in the moment, there’s no handle in here like I turn on the joy handle or turn on the excitement handle. If you try to do that, you’ll be one colossal hypocrite.

Because it’s a response. You’re responding to the reality of who he is.


So when you are not feeling the way you know should be and the way you want to be, you pray that. What happens if the sermon time is coming, and you’re still struggling? Do you preach? Do you say, “Sorry, I can’t preach”?

That’s exactly the question I asked my students because I do. I said, “Should you preach?” My answer is yes for this reason. I would say to them, “If it’s bad enough, just tell your people how you feel. Just tell them, and then tell them this is true. Whether I feel it or not, this text is true, and I’m going to tell you what it means, and I’d like you to pray for me while I’m preaching, and I’m praying while I’m preaching, that as I preach it, the joy will come.” That happened this morning for me. I know it happened for you, happened for me. I enjoyed it. I love what I said this morning. I love what I said yesterday, but I’ll just bear testimony.

Most of my depression happens on Thursday. That was true in the pastorate. I can remember sitting in Nokomis Park on the grass, crying my eyes out, and I was so depressed I couldn’t remember my kids’ names. That’s Thursday, and saying, “I got to preach Sunday. God, I got to preach Sunday.” This will sound unreal. I don’t think I ever stepped into the pulpit at Bethlehem Baptist Church for 33 years not loving what I was about to say.

I have no explanation for that since I’m so down on Thursday, so utterly discouraged. God simply chose to love this people by not letting me go down on Sunday. I don’t know why, but even if I had, if I had come to Sunday morning with an utterly blank, and I’ll give you one concrete experience. One of my sons ran away. My wife is out of town. He came home late Friday night, one hour later than I told him to, and I waited up for him and I said, “What? Something happened?” “I had a flat tire.” “Okay.” That was not the truth, so I didn’t press him. In the morning, he’s gone with a note under his pillow, “I’m sorry I let you down. I didn’t have a flat tire. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right.” That never happened to me. It only happened one time in my life. He just vanishes. He’s 16 years old. What would you do? I had to preach. He wasn’t back by Sunday.

Your wife’s away. Was she in Sweden?

I forget where she was. I was home alone. I was home alone for some crazy reason. I told one other man in the church, I said, “Pray with me.” I walked into that room thinking he might be there. I’m going to look out at the people because I thought he might be there as I walked in the back, and I scanned the audience, he’s not there. That’s probably the hardest moment of preaching for me because my mind was everywhere but in that moment almost. It was just, “What’s he doing? How serious is this? Should I even be here? Should I be at the police station?” But God gave grace. I’m a Calvinist. I really believe in the sovereignty of God over this moment, over my children and that he cares for us and he gave grace. I loved what I was saying.

The end of that story, by the way, is I called the school the next morning, a high school, and I said, “This is so-and-so’s dad. Is he in school?” “Yes, he’s in school.” “Would you tell him his dad is coming to school? I need to talk to him.” “Okay.” I made it happen. So I can remember walking down the hall. He comes out of class, he walks toward me, and he collapses in tears on my shoulder. I took him home and just sat him down and said, “Please tell me what’s going on.” We had a great and wonderful long talk. I said, “What do you need? What would make you happy? I just want you to be happy in this house.” You know what he said? “I want a piano.” He was the most musical of my kids. I bought a piano. I did. I said, “Well, that’s easy.”

That we can do, but on the Sunday, you didn’t tell the congregation?

I did not tell the congregation at that moment, no. That felt like that would’ve been a real betrayal of him because I didn’t know enough yet to know what to be shared, but I do believe in being really candid with your elders. There have been worse things in my kids’ lives that I have told the elders because I need to know whether they think I should step down. You don’t hide anything from your elders. That will not work. You don’t hide stuff from your elders. You don’t hide marriage problems from your elders, and you don’t hide kid problems from your elders because you’re disqualified from the ministry if it gets bad enough, and that’s just hypocrisy if you try to hide things.

So my wife and I were in Christian counseling for lots of months, twice, and I just went right to the elders and said, “This is it. These are the issues. This is what we’re trying to deal with. If you think I need to take a sabbatical, just tell me. If you think I need to quit, tell me. I’m submissive to you.”

Also for the congregation, you’re trusting God even if your heart’s all over the place. You’re then requiring them to trust God because their heart’s going to go all over the place. The pastor’s son’s missing? They’re not listening then, right? So there’s that tension as well.

That’s a good point.

So, wow, so many directions we could go. So we cannot impose on ourselves fake affection. We’ve talked about that. We want to see the reality of who God is. We don’t want to be projecting a false view of God onto him. Was it Feuerbach who said, “Often we project our own ego onto the clouds and make God like a steroid version of ourselves”? The answer to that is what? Read the Scriptures? Keep looking to know God better through Scriptures? Something like that?

Yes. I thought the direction we’re going to go when I was crying out to God, is that all you do? No. When you say, “Open my eyes,” you’re not staring at your pillow. You’re not staring at the trees in the woods. You’re staring at Romans, Philippians, Isaiah, Genesis because the Holy Spirit delights to glorify the sun, and the Son, S-O-N, is seen standing forth from the pages of the Scripture. That’s the only reliable place to see the Son.

So my picture is that the word of God and the Spirit of God fly like these jets, Blue Angels they’re called in America. They fly in formation like this. If the word lands, the Spirit’s not going to go ahead. He’s not going to do missions for you. He’s not going to do heart awakening for you. The Spirit is going to land right beside the word, and if the word is on your shelf, the Spirit’s on the shelf, and the word comes back up, the Spirit is back up. The Spirit inspired the word; the Spirit loves the word; the Spirit opens the heart to the word because that’s where the Son is. J.I. Packer’s book, Keeping in Step With the Spirit, I got one sentence from that book, “The Holy Spirit’s main ministry is to glorify the Son,” John 16:14, I think.

So the text, when you’re looking at the text, you’re not looking just at words. In the book, it’s a window through which you’re seeing God revealing himself and, therefore, as a preacher, and I remember reading Gordon Fee, I forget the name of the book now, but he says that just as we don’t want the people in our churches being unexegetical devotionalists, that is just having devotional response but not understanding the text, they don’t need a pastor or a preacher who is an undevotional and an undevotional exegete, but what you’re describing should never be undevotional. It should never be technical without response.

Right. To be realistic, there are degrees of technicality in reading the Bible, and not everybody agrees with me on this. I have one good friend who’s an Old Testament scholar. I think there is a difference between devotional reading of Scripture and exegetical preparation for sermon reading of Scripture. The difference is the degree to which you work hard at difficult problems. So I read the Bible in a year with McShane’s reading plan, and that reading is fairly fast because it’s a lot. If you can do it all at one sitting, it takes me to do that about half an hour to do the reading, but it always takes way more than that because pausing all the time to deal with my heart. So that is a devotional reading, meaning I’m treating it more like a love letter from God to me than a strict message to be delivered to my people.

So if I run into a difficulty like, “What does this word righteousness mean here?” I’m probably not going to get up and go get a commentary at this point. It’s too distracting. I’m going to put it aside and say, “I can come back to that later. I’ll just keep going and get what I can get. I think it’s very important to intentionally and devotionally take away from those four chapters that you’re reading each day something you can remember all day.

Here’s the biggest danger John Piper faces in doing devotions. The danger is that I get joy from having done it rather than what I’ve seen in it. If you grow up in a Christian home and you’re taught to read the Bible every day, there’s a conscience issue, and to have a good conscience is a sweet thing. So I did my four chapters. Feels sweet, and you don’t remember anything, nothing. The joy is not coming from the content of the word. It’s not coming from God. It’s coming from a performance of a duty.

Well, it’s not all bad to feel good about having done a duty. That’s not all bad, but it’s pretty bad. If it replaces, I taste God in a sentence. So for me this morning it was, “I care for you.” That’s all I took away from four chapters. That’s all I need for today. Tomorrow, it’d probably be another phrase, but I really believe you should be intentional when you read the Bible devotionally, that you connect with God at a very specific level of his revelation of who he is and what he’s like, something he did, and you take that like a lozenge and you put it under your tongue and you suck on it all day long and the juices flow down into your heart.

Then when you’re doing the study, the preparation, you don’t switch that off.

The battle is fought another way. It’s almost reversed. I am intellectually so engaged in trying to understand the conjunctions that Paul is using and how the hina and the gar and the un, how they all are making this argument work that I have to pray for the awakening of the heart, which, yes, it should be there, but I don’t begrudge myself an hour or two of fairly non-emotional labor, intellectual labor because I think the payoff with confidence in a beautiful meaning will be greater.

Great. So how do we avoid, just since we’re talking about both devotional reading and study preparation, how do we avoid just imposing our own system, our own construct onto it, and eisegesis? How do we avoid saying, “My text this week is this, but that’s largely irrelevant because this is what I want to say anyway”? What would you say to that?

Oh, it’s huge. Being aware that you’re in danger of it is huge and very important. The more pieces you have put together into an emerging puzzle, the more in danger you are. I am a puzzle builder, big time. I am a systematician. I want things to make sense.

So the puzzle being your complete sense of what redemption history is or whatever.

Yeah, your system, your theology, why God does everything, what he does, how everything relates to everything, my life is devoted to putting as many pieces in the air as I can. Have you ever done a jigsaw puzzle? The more pieces you have, the more you can see what it is, “Oh, it’s a tower. Oh, it’s a seascape. Oh, it’s a beautiful woman,” but if you’ve only got five pieces, you say, “Well, I’m supposed to like this. I don’t see it.” So I believe in putting the pieces together.

So be aware of that and then preach to yourself, “I am going to be a Bible man, not a systematic man no matter what.” Calvinism is down here, Bible is up here. Christian Hedonism, John Piper’s system of Christian Hedonism down here, Bible up here. All I can say is I try. I really want to be firmly under the authority of the apostles, the what they intended, not what I make them intend.

I think the key lies in real humility, prayer for humility, “God, make me docile to this text.” Then I believe God has inspired the Bible in such a way that if you really are honest and you read enough of it, he has put in place enough problems for us that he’ll jolt us out of an artificial system. If you start building a system that’s not a biblical system, there’s going to be a text here, here, and here that don’t fit. They don’t fit. You can either say, “Well, I’ll just leave those texts aside and stay with my system or I’m going to adjust and not be settled until that all fits.” So I think my effort is to be a biblical lover of the sovereignty of God and not make the sovereignty of God do things it was never designed to do.

Great. So we talked about devotional reading of Scripture, studying Scripture. You reference Edwards a lot. How does he play into it? Because it’s not just you’ve got a great memory for Edwards but you forget everything that other people have written. You’ve really spent a lot of time with Edwards. Would you encourage us as preachers who want to be Bible men, Bible women, would you encourage us to have, what would you call him, a historical mentor?

Well, interestingly, yesterday I went to the, what do they call it, the media or communicators network, and Jerry Root was talking about C.S. Lewis, and he said the reason he’s a Lewis guy today and has read everything and knows everything about Lewis is because somebody said to him on commencement day or somehow related to his graduation, “You need to have a man that you devote yourself to and view everything through his perspective. So find somebody,” and that’s exactly what Lewis Smedes said to me in an ethics class in seminary, and that’s what Edwards has become, not because Edwards is the Bible or Edwards is infallible, but if you give yourself to a worthy person, and I really don’t feel very strongly that you should do this. I’m saying this is why I do it. I’m not saying everybody should do this.

I’m saying if you’re led that way, it can be a good thing because you can actually become a theological peer, not in intellectual ability necessarily, but you are so conversant with his way of thinking that if he were here, you could have a reasonable conversation with him and ask him meaningful questions, which has taken you to a level of thoughtfulness you wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise.

The second benefit is standing with one man, say a Calvin or a Luther or a Spurgeon or a Wesley or an Owen, standing with somebody, you can then have a standpoint with which to assess all kinds of things that are coming down the pike. So the third thing I would say is the reason I’m an Edwards guy is not because of any discipline decision to do it, but because Edwards moves me. I read two Edwards sermons on the plane on the way here. I have all his works on my iPad. So I read two sermons. Why? Just to get my heart ready for this. He just moves me, and he moves me with glorious reality. Edwards is no pushover. He doesn’t try to move people for moving’s sake. He is the greatest theologian America has ever produced, and he, for whatever reason, touches me.

So he is like a mentor, but also like a pastor to you. You’re sitting under his preaching effectively.

Yeah, or whatever you call a person who when you’re around them, you feel alive to God.

I remember a few years ago I came across Treatise on Grace by Edwards, and I was stunned by that. I was like, “This is good stuff.” So I took the time to work through it and just to make it comprehensible because his sentences are quite mammoth, but those few weeks of working my way through those three chapters were really moving for me, and it gave me confidence that he handles Scripture really well. A lot of people use a lot of Scriptures and don’t handle it very well. So yeah, I hear what you’re saying. It’s not something for everyone.

I really believe you should find a handful of people who move you. I say to pastors, pastors need pastors, and I think they mainly need dead pastors.

That doesn’t mean we should kill pastors to get them.

I’m not saying pastor fellowships are unimportant; they are, but the pastors in your town are not great enough to shepherd you the way you need to be shepherded. You need to be shepherded by men who have walked with God, gone so deep into the word that when you, what I call, go out to pasture on Monday, you’re emotionally drained and you’re just a sheep on Monday. You’re not a shepherd; you’re a sheep, and you’re a hungry sheep. You need grass, you need water, you need a stream, you need some quietness, and there’s somebody who can take you there. If you haven’t found him, you need to find him.

Maybe the Bible is enough for you, but having someone who has seen the Bible more deeply than you’ve seen it is a wonderful help, and that’s what Edwards has become for me. Others come close, but Edwards is recurring. I think the Puritans in general are that kind of people. They were pastors, and they had a big view of God, and they were doctors of the soul so that when you go to them, you feel like you’re being taken apart and God is being applied like a bomb.

Slightly different direction, but thinking about people that move us, how do you cope with people that come to you and either praise the super positive feedback or criticize? You must have, I know you get the praise; you must have faced some pretty stern criticism along the way. How do you deal with that? How does that not crush you or explode your ego?

Well, let me talk about praise first because that’s the question I get asked most often. Here is the first and the most important answer. God has put so much sorrow in my life, so much brokenness in my family and in myself that I’m not impressed with me. I think mostly about things I’ve done wrong, not things I’ve done well. I think mostly about my failures, not my successes. My emotional universe is so controlled, that might not be the right word, shaped, shaped by shortcomings.

I have an embattled marriage. Love my wife like crazy. She loves me like crazy, and we’re as different as two people can possibly be and have had struggles forever, and then these kids of mine, and then I just know all kinds of spiritual warfare that I go through and ups and downs. So if somebody comes to me and says, “How do you cope with praise?” I say, “If they only knew, if you only knew.”

Then I could talk a lot about how a right theology, what do you have that you did not receive? If you received it, why do you boast as though it were not a gift? If you have a right theology, it just cuts the legs out from under all self-reliance, all boasting over and over again, but really honestly, a right theology won’t do it. God has to bring you through trouble. Every pastor will be wounded by God. He will be wounded. He will take his shepherds to the shed over and over again. He will take you through whatever suffering he has to.

Second Corinthians 1:9 states, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” That was God who did that. Satan didn’t want him to rely on God. God took Paul to the brink of death, and he’ll do that for you. He will do whatever he has to do to break you. So that’s the main answer to the question of praise.

With regard to criticism, depending on how severe it is, we desperately, at that point, need people around us who know us well and can confirm or contradict the criticism. So, for example, there was a season in our church where we lost 230 people over controversy and anger at me and at the staff or the way we handled the discipline problem, and things were said about me in those days. A woman walked to me after the service, “You were the most arrogant man I have ever known.” Another woman came up to me after I’d written a certain article. She said, “You are sick. You are sick.” It was that level of gut conflict.

In those times when you go home, you don’t blow that off as though it didn’t happen, even though there may be a grain of truth in both of them. Yeah, I’m proud. Yeah, I’m sick. Now, what should I do with that? You need elders and a wife who says, “Not that sick and not that proud. We have seen God’s work in your life,” and there brings a kind of equilibrium of real people, not yes-people. They’re not just yes-men. They’re real people who know if you’re too arrogant, and they know if you’re too sick, and they can say, “We’re in this together. That criticism was unfounded,” and they give you some stability. So people matter at those moments a lot.

Ultimately, I think deep down you need to know that you know God. If you’re a public figure ... My son, Barnabas, is quite a media-savvy guy, and he’s funny and he’s sarcastic and he’s on the web saying all kinds of weird things. When he got his start, he’s written two and a half books. He’s almost written his third book. He wrote one called The Pastor’s Kid, a PK, and another one called Help My Unbelief. He’s really quite competent, and a good writer, and a good speaker. He wrote me a couple of years ago when somebody just ripped him to shreds on the internet.

He said, “Daddy, what do you do with that?” I wrote back and said, “You realize, son, that if you put something on the internet, two billion people can see it? So you can just expect that millions of people don’t like you. Just expect it.” So you need to know that in this world, this world of media, every pastor is going to be killed in Twitter, Facebook, whatever. You’re going to be killed because anybody who doesn’t like you now has a platform. He’s got a platform. He just goes public with all of his reasons for why that sermon was no good or why you’re a jerk in your city.

So I just think being deeply confident, “No, I have seen in the word so-called gay marriage is not marriage, period. I will never call it marriage. I will never treat it as marriage, and I will always call it sin. No matter how many millions of people call me wicked and biased and hateful and homophobic, I’ve seen God. I know what God believes about this.” So everyone in this room right now could start throwing tomatoes at me. It wouldn’t make one bit of difference to me. None. I probably wouldn’t preach tomorrow morning, but that wouldn’t be my choice.

How can we pray for you? We’re coming towards the end now. What would be your top one, two, three prayer requests?

Well, I would give you their names if it seemed appropriate, but I won’t since this is being filmed, but my family. If my five children were all excited about their daddy’s ministry and his beliefs, I would know kinds of happiness that I’ve never known. I’m the joy guy, right? I’m supposed to be happy because I preach happiness, but there’s toe-tipping kind of happiness. There’s dancing kind of happiness that I haven’t danced in a long time. So if you want me to dance in front of you sometime, pray for that, pray for that. So the whole family complex, that would be wonderful. I’m in a new season of life as of three years ago.

I’ve got a pace working for Desiring God, and I just want to be very discerning of God’s leading. I feel healthy. I don’t know if I’m healthy. I had cancer seven years ago, and I thought I was healthy when the doctor called, “You and your wife need to come in here and talk about possible strategies of treatment.” If you said, “How are you?” yesterday, I would say, “Fine.” I never say fine anymore. I say, “I feel fine,” because every one of you right now might have cancer and you’re not fine. You feel fine. You’re not. So why did I say that? I’m losing my train of thought.

Pace — pacing yourself in ministry.

That’s right. Thank you. I feel fine. So I might have ten years. Now, I’m 70. Who knows? I might have no years, but if God gives me ten, how should I use them best? I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want to waste it. I want it. In fact, it’s at the top. I have an Evernote file in my computer of prayer lists, and at the top is, “Hallowed be thy name,” and underneath it is, “Make me increasingly effective in spreading a passion for your supremacy and all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” So just increasing fruitfulness.