Today we highlight an excerpt from a Q&A Pastor John recently led with the students at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Here’s a question asked by one student: “Hi, Dr. Piper. I have a two-part question. The first part is this: What are some of the most difficult challenges you have faced? I mean the whole gamut — life, ministry, everything. And part two is this: What has sustained you through those?”
I think the biggest challenges you will face in ministry will very likely relate to your family — your marriage and your children. Maybe the wider family depending on what culture you are from. That certainly has been true for me. I have told my wife Noël, though we have been married forty-five years, “All I need in the ministry from you is for you to be happy, because if momma ain’t happy . . .”
We have gone through really hard times. I mean, we spent during one season 33 months in counseling together trying to figure out, “Why do we hurt each other like this? Why do our mouths do this to each other?” We get along for ten years, and then we need to work on it again. We have had a pretty embattled relationship. I love her like crazy, and she me. She would say that. But why? I don’t know why. I am baffled at age 68 as to why we have some of the issues we do.
But here is the point: When you walk through a church for 33 years; when you have seasons where you get zero growth for four years; when 230 people walk away; when you are accused of everything under the sun for doing church discipline; if the collapse at home or the stress at home happens at the same time as the stress at church, you are just about a goner. But if home is making it, you can handle anything at church. And if church is making it, you might get through a tough time at home. When they come together, it would take a miracle. It would take a miracle no matter what.
The main thing I would say is that in the ministry you will have seasons of great difficulty in the church, and you will probably have seasons of great difficulty at home. And if you think all is well — you have been married for twenty years and you have got a fifteen-year-old — he just may not show up. He may be gone. And you don’t know where he is. Are you going to be able to preach next Sunday? I have been there.
“In the ministry you will have seasons of great difficulty in the church, and you will probably have seasons of great difficulty at home.”
There just aren’t any harder things than to keep pressing on in the ministry when there are broken pieces in the family. So work on that. Prepare your soul to be a good husband or wife, so that you learn from Jesus how to do marriage. It is the greatest anvil of sanctification in the world. And that is no accident. That is no accident. Nothing has shown me my sin like marriage. Nothing has given opportunities for grace like marriage. While it has been for me one of the hardest things, it has also been one of the most glorious things.
I wrote a book on marriage. I was thinking, I have got to have a book on marriage someday because I am a Christian Hedonist, and I want to relate it to everything, and marriage is a big deal. I kept saying, “I am not ready.”
We got a phone call one time from the magazine Christianity Today. I don’t think it exists anymore. They had a book called Partnership. They always featured a smiley pastoral couple on the front of the magazine. They called me one time and said, “We would like to put you and Noël on the front and do a special article on you.” I said, “You would? Well, we are barely talking right now. So, I think you had better come back later.” They never called back.