John Piper joins us again, outside the studio and over the telephone. And today we have a really great question from a listener named David in Nashville. “Hello, Pastor John! You’ve said that steeping yourself in, and meditating on, God’s promises is one of the primary ways we can experience abiding joy in him. What are some of God’s promises in the Bible that you have treasured most throughout your life? And why?”
Let me answer this in three stages that more or less correspond to three stages of my life, although they really do overlap. They overlap but they have different starting places.
My memory of my childhood isn’t good enough to recall which verses were most most special to me in my teenage years or earlier. I have looked in the Bible that my parents gave me when I was fifteen, and I see I heavily underlined in red pencil certain passages. So I know God was speaking to me as a teenager and helping me by his word. But my memory is just not good enough to remember that experience.
“I Will Help You”
In my early twenties, one verse took on monumental proportions, and nothing has lodged it from its primary place. To this very day, it’s the main promise I use in my fight against sin, encouraging my heart, and carrying through challenges in ministry.
It’s Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I” — this is God talking — “I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Let me mention three things about this promise to show how it became so central and why it’s so repeatedly helpful to this very day, after thousands of applications.
A Father’s Blessing
“When I recite this promise in my brain, by an act of faith, I actually hear the living God saying to me, ‘I will help you.’”
In July of 1971, I was about to get on an airplane and fly with Noël to Germany to begin my doctoral studies at age twenty five. I’m sure Isaiah 41:10 had been functional in my life before that time, but that day, I received a phone call from my father, who couldn’t be there to see me off. He wanted to send me off with the promise of God. So he recited on the phone Isaiah 41:10. Then prayed that God would make it real in my life.
The effect of that phone call was to nail this promise into the scaffolding of my brain, so firmly that it has become my go-to promise more than any other. In those very anxious times in Germany — where everything felt fragile, and uncertain, and unknown, and threatening — I resorted to this promise hundreds of times.
This promise has a special place in the arsenal of my spiritual warfare, partly because my father put it there.
The reason it is so effective is because, unlike many promises, God himself is speaking with an “I” to me personally. It doesn’t say, “God will strengthen you. God will help you. God will uphold you.” That would be wonderful. Many promises are spoken that way, and they’re wonderful.
But it says, “I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you.” When I recite this promise in my brain, by an act of faith, I actually hear the living God saying to me, “I will help you.” Spurgeon used to say, “I love the ‘I wills’ and ‘I shalls’ of God.” I know exactly what he means.
It’s a wonderful thing to hear that God will help you. Like Romans 8:28 — “God will work everything together for good” — that’s just off-the-charts glorious. But it’s better to have God in his own words say, “I will help you.”
Isaiah 41:10 is especially valuable also because those three verbs: “I will strengthen. I will help. I will uphold.” Those three verbs correspond to every challenge that we can face — strength when we’re weak and inadequate, help of whatever kind we need, upholding when we feel threatened and opposed, beat down or knocked down.
These are awesome verbs that God addresses to our own soul. It is an amazing promise, and it’s true. It comes true.
Every Promise in the Book
There’s a third reason why this promise is so precious. Even though it is addressed to Israel in the Old Testament context, I know because of 2 Corinthians 1:20, the blood of Christ, and my place in the New Covenant that all the promises of God are yes for me in Christ Jesus. That’s what 2 Corinthians 1:20 says: “All the promises of God are Yes in him [Christ Jesus].”
I don’t worry that it was addressed to Israel. I know that I am part of the new Israel in Christ, and the promises are all the more true for me because of him.
Logic of Heaven
Then a second promise came somewhere along the way. At some point, Romans 8:32 became very, very prominent in my spiritual warfare. Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Now, Romans 8:28 had always been huge for me. But verse 32 does something more. It does something in addition to verse 28. It includes all the glorious promise of 8:28, that everything’s going to work together for my good — that is, he’s going to give me everything I need and everything I could possibly want in the life to come.
“Romans 8:32 provides the unshakable foundation of why God will work everything for our good. I call it ‘the unshakeable logic of heaven.’”
He’s going to give me that, and verse 32 provides the foundation, the unshakable foundation of why he will. This is what gives this promise extraordinary power. I’ve called it “the unshakable logic of heaven.”
Since God did not spare his own Son, but did for us the absolutely, unthinkably hardest of all things in not sparing his Son human torture and hellish condemnation — therefore, nothing can stop God from giving us everything with him. This is the logic of heaven.
How shall he not with him freely give us all things? Nothing can stop him. He will give us all things. He will give us everything we need in this life to do his will or glorify his name. He will give us everything in the life to come that will enable us to know him fully and enjoy him perfectly and fully.
Romans 8:32, you might say, is the most prominent promise in my heart, which provides at the same time the deepest foundation for all the promises. There’s just one last phase of my life that I should mention here.
Yes We Will
I should mention one last phase or cluster of texts that became very precious during my pastoral ministry.
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
I think that little cluster became increasingly precious in the ministry because there are so many pressures. There are so many good works required of us in the ministry. We wonder if we will have the wherewithal to do what we’re expected to do. These promises all say, “Yes, we will. God will see to it.”
Store It Up
Just one closing word of advice. I think it is good to memorize a handful of promises like this that are gloriously general enough to apply in every situation so that you can always call them to mind, no matter what your situation, for encouragement and protection and strength.
“It is good to memorize a handful of promises that are gloriously general enough to apply in every situation.”
I think it is also good every morning to be reading through our Bibles looking for fresh expressions of God’s faithfulness, looking for fresh promises of God that we can take out with us as a particular appointed word of God for that day.
It has been amazing in my life to watch how those promises that were appointed for my reading in the morning and for my soul have become appointed in ministry for the people I meet during the day.
Hold fast to your Isaiah 41:10 for every situation, and be learning every day fresh expressions of that same faithfulness.
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