Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Pastor John, you took a leave of absence in 2010, eight months away from the ministry. You said it was a soul check over all the parts of your life: marriage, worship, fathering, pastoring, public life—all of it. Now three years later, are there any lessons from the leave that you’d like share with us here?

The conference that we did — “Act the Miracle” — really came out of that eight month leave, because it was built on the text Philippians 2:12: Work out your salvation for God is the one who is at work in you. So God saves us by his grace. We don’t save ourselves by our works, but we are saved for good deeds. We are created in Christ Jesus for good deeds. So we act out the fruit of our salvation and our acting is a miracle because God is doing the willing and the acting. We do it. We do the acting. We do the kindness. We do the patience. We do the purity, the love. But God is the one willing it and doing it and so we are acting the miracle. We are not puppets. We have wills and muscles and minds and puppets don’t have any of those. But when we exert our wills, when we think with our minds and our muscles produce an active obedience, it says: God is doing the thinking and the willing and the acting. And so we are acting that in a miracle.

Now that was not new going into my leave of absence. Here is what was new along that line.

I had all my adult life ferociously fought the sin of lust, the sexual temptation by, and I say ferociously or fiercely because Jesus said, “Gouge out your eye. Cut off your hand.” I mean, that is really serious. But what I had not done—and this was the discovery. It was huge and remains a very important discovery. I realized in that leave of absence that I did not attack with tearing out the eye and cutting off the hand fierceness. The same ... in the same way my sins of irritability and frustration and anger and self pity and sullenness and pouting, I mean, I discovered how irrational I was. I had formed the irrational sense ... maybe I didn’t articulate it, but the irrational sense that, well, those sins are just who I am, right? I am just bent that way, you know, towards being moody or being sullen or easily getting frustrated or irritable or having a hair trigger. I am just wired that way. So, well, irrational, as if I am not wired to have lust. Right? I mean you see the irrationality of it. I mean I was excusing not making war on those kinds of sins with anything like the intensity that I made war on my lustful sins. In fact, I used to develop all kinds of little acronyms like anthem and so on to fight. I never created one of those for self pity and I stood back there in that leave and I said: What is wrong with you? Why don’t you see these relationship damaging sins of yours in the same seriousness? And when you state it you can almost see why, because it sounds funny. Like what if I preached a sermon and I said to men: “Make war on pouting.” They would all say: What?

Make war on pouting, guys. I mean, we come home and our wives don’t welcome us the way we hoped they would or they don't want to go where we want to go tonight or they don’t do sex the way we hoped they would do sex, or they don’t fix the favorite food, or they criticize us when we got enough criticism at work today. And we just kind of slink off to the den with our shoulders bent over and licking our wounds and saying, “Oh, poor me,” like a little puppy. That is just stupid, evil, wicked, unmanly, unspiritual behavior. And we need to make war on it just as seriously as we make war on lust.

So there it is, Tony. That is the key lesson that I got. God has resources for killing all sin. And we make so much out of pornography and so much out of lust that we forget that the same seriousness, the same ferociousness and fierceness should go into attacking our personality sinful traits of irritability or frustration or anger or self pity or sullenness or pouting. And so here I am, what three years later and I think ... I think God has given me some new measure of triumph in my marriage and in my relationship so that I do treat the first whiff of self pity now somewhat like the way I treat the first whiff of sexual temptation.

Thank you Pastor John. That conference mentioned earlier, “Act the Miracle,” was our 2012 National Conference, and the content of that conference was just recently released in book form from Crossway under the title: Acting the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification edited by John Piper and David Mathis. You can download the entire book free of charge at desiringGod.org. Click on “Resource library” > then click on “books” > and there you’ll see: Acting the Miracle. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.