The following is an edited transcript of a panel discussion at our 2008 Desiring God National Conference. Justin Taylor’s questions are in bold.
Bob, you’re one of the happiest men that I know. But several years ago you went through a period of intense emotional suffering. I wonder if you would be willing to share a bit about what you went through, how the Lord used his words and the words of others to bring you through it, and what you learned from it.
Kauflin: I helped plant a church in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1991. I began to feel increasing anxiety at different times when we first planted the church. Then in January of 1994 my wife and I were at a couple’s house for dinner, and I cracked. My life fell apart. Mentally I had no connection with what I was doing, no connection with the past, no connection with the future. I didn’t know why I existed. These were the thoughts that went through my brain. That began a period of maybe three years where I battled constant hopelessness. I would wake up each morning with this thought: “Your life is completely hopeless,” and then I would go from there. It was a struggle just to make it through to each step of the day. The way I made it through was just to think, What am I going to do next? What will I do? I can make it to there.
It was characterized by panic attacks. For the first six months I battled thoughts of death. I’d think about an event that was three months away: Why am I thinking about that? I’m going to be dead by then. I had feelings of tightness in my chest, buzzing and itching on my arms, buzzing on my face. It was a horrible time. And in the midst of that I cried out to God, and I certainly talked to the pastor that I served with and other pastors that I knew — good friends — trying to figure out what in the world was going on with my life.
Five or six children at that time, a fruitful life, a fruitful ministry. And this is what I discovered: although I’d been a Christian for twenty-two years (since 1972) I was driven by a desire to be praised by men. And I wasn’t succeeding. When you plant a church, you find out that there are a lot of people who don’t agree with you. People who came to plant the church left. All of that assaulted my craving to be admired and praised and loved and worshiped and adored and applauded. God, I believe, just took his hand from me and said, “Okay, you handle this your way.” I knew the gospel, but what I didn’t know was how great a sinner I was. I thought the gospel I needed was for pretty good people, and that wasn’t sufficient to spare me from the utter hopelessness I felt during that time.
I would read Scripture. It didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t affect me. I remember lying at bed at times just reciting the Lord’s Prayer to myself over and over and over, hoping that would help. I couldn’t sleep; then at times all I wanted to do was sleep. I remember saying this early on: “God, if you keep me like this for the rest of my life but it means that I will know you better, then keep me like this.” That was the hardest prayer I’ve ever prayed.
During that time I read an abridged version of John Owen’s Sin and Temptation and Jerry Bridges’s The Discipline of Grace. About a year into the process I talked to a good friend, Gary Ricucci, whom I am now in a small group with at Covenant Life Church. I said, “Gary, I feel hopeless all the time.”
He said, “You know, Bob? I think your problem is that you don’t feel hopeless enough.”
I don’t know what I looked like on the outside, but on the inside I was saying, “You are crazy. You are crazy. I feel hopeless.”
He said, “No, if you were hopeless, you would stop trusting in yourself and rely completely on what Jesus Christ accomplished for you.”
That was the beginning of the way out. And I remember saying to myself literally hundreds of times — every time these feelings of hopelessness and panic and a desire to ball up in a fetal position would come on me — “I feel completely hopeless because I am hopeless, but Jesus Christ died for hopeless people, and I’m one of them.”
Over time I began to believe that. And today when I tell people that Jesus is a great Savior, I believe it, because I know that he saved me. That’s where my joy comes from. My joy comes from knowing that at the very bottom, at the very pit of who I am, it is blackness and sin, but the love and grace of Jesus goes deeper. One of my favorite books has become The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers, because it so accurately and clearly describes the blackness of our sin and the amazing grace provided in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
So I am a happy man. I have a lot to be happy about. That was eleven years ago; I have not experienced those kinds of symptoms since. I’m still tempted, obviously, to desire the praise of people. But I don’t want it. I learned through that time to truly hate pride and its effects, and I just want to spend the rest of my life learning to hate it more and to love the humility that Jesus Christ died to impart to me. So I’m a grateful man.
Paul, given that both you and your brother Tedd — author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart — have written so much about biblical Christianity, grace, and the family, a lot of people think that you had an idyllic upbringing and gospel-centered home. I wonder if you could tell your own story about how the Lord brought you to himself.
Tripp: Well, it is a wonderful and amazing experience that Tedd and I are doing what we’re doing, and I wake up every morning with a profound sense of privilege. I have these interesting moments. They happen weekend after weekend as I’m out there speaking. Someone will come up and say, “I’ve heard Tedd. I’ve heard you. I’ve read your books. You must have had the most amazing parents.” Now, I don’t want to be overly critical, but I wonder if we make such conclusions because we don’t actually believe in grace, and we think there must be a natural explanation for what we see in people’s lives.
So, a bit of my story. My parents both made professions of faith just before I was born. That’s why I was given the name Paul David. But I don’t know if my dad was a man who ever came to faith. I was telling John that he literally screamed his way into eternity saying, “O God, no! O God, no!” He lived a pretty horrendous double life.
But there’s one thing my father did that I will be eternally grateful for. I can tell you for sure that ten million years into eternity I will still celebrate this: he read the Bible to us every day. He wasn’t a teacher. I don’t know if he knew the Lord, but he read the Bible every day. He’d start in Genesis and he’d read through Revelation, and we knew what would happen next: he’d start in Genesis again and he’d read through to Revelation. That left a profound imprint on me. I don’t know if I remember all the content that was there, but I knew that this was important. I knew that there was a God and that life had to do with having a relationship with him.
In high school I was invited to a party. There was everything there. I looked at all that was available, all the sin, and what drove me out of that house into the night was the fear of God. I’m very thankful for that.
On the other side, my dad lived a very inconsistent life. My mom was a very troubled lady. Under the guise of God’s law, there were many abusive things done. And I see the glorious, gorgeous, mysterious sovereignty of God in all of that, because those two themes of the glory of God and the brokenness of humanity are what drove me toward what would be my life work.
In an act, I think, of a kind of familial desperation, my mom sent my brother Mark and me off to camp for an entire summer. I think she was just emptying the home. She was up against it. We lived in Toledo, Ohio. I remember the long trip to above Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Harmony Heart Camp. We were going to be there the whole summer. My brother Mark was so homesick he ended up living with the director of the camp for the summer.
But God placed me, by his grace, in a cabin full of nine-year-old boys with a man who would presume to teach through Romans to nine-year-old boys. His name was also Paul. I want to see him in heaven. I want to kiss that man. By the time we got to Romans 3, I was overcome with the guilt of my sin. I knew that God was my only hope. I was on the third bunk high, and that night I was not able to sleep. They had put us to bed. They had turned the lights off, and I was weeping in my bed. It seemed to me at nine years old that it was profane to just lie there and pray for God’s forgiveness. I thought that I ought to be up, so I climbed down trying not to wake anybody and knelt in the middle of that concrete floor and asked for the forgiveness of my Savior and placed myself in the throes of his grace.
I can say these two things: I wouldn’t want to live through many of the experiences of growing up again, but I am deeply grateful for them and what God has done for me through them. Who but a God completely sovereign and glorious in grace could do such a thing?
John, I often hear you talk about the “joy and miracle of self-forgetfulness.” I wonder if you could explain what you mean by that? If it’s a miracle, are there strategies to cultivate it? If you’re singing in worship and you become self-conscious of the emotions you’re feeling or if your arms are being raised, how do you forget about yourself and focus on the Savior?
Piper: There are things you can do mostly before the moment. But first of all, let me say what it is and where it came from. Humility is an essential reality in the Christian life. Calvin said Christianity is first, humility; second, humility; and third, humility (John Calvin is citing Augustine, Institutes 2.2.11). The more I have thought about it, the more impossible it is to be intentionally humble, because if you succeed in the intention, you’re not. In other words, you’re aware that you are — and being aware that you are ruins it. Therefore, it’s a catch-22 at that moment. Let’s say it’s a command: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility” [1 Peter 5:5]. Well, if I succeed in obeying the command, I’ve done a pretty good thing. So I should feel good about how I succeeded in obeying the command to be humble. So it seems impossible! And I think it is.
That’s why I call it a miracle. I think the way you experience humility is by not experiencing it — which is self-forgetfulness. The really humble person is not thinking about himself. He should be thinking about two other things: one is how glorious God is, and the other is how he could help another person, being involved as a servant and being really active. “It’s more blessed to give than to receive” [Acts 20:35]. But as soon as I start thinking about that, I’m messing it up. And as soon as I start thinking about how vibrant my worship is, it’s gone. So, the miracle of self-forgetfulness is authenticity in a moment of service or worship. That’s what I mean.
The way you move toward it, I think, is that you ask for it. I pray that way regularly before I preach. Before others speak, I ask for that gift to be given to them. It’s a horrible experience to stand in front of a group, being outside yourself thinking about how you’re doing. Because if you’re doing well, you’ll be really arrogant; and if you’re doing poorly, you’ll panic: “They’re going to leave at any minute, and I’m losing everybody.” But there are few experiences in my life more glorious than to wake up at the end of thirty minutes of preaching because I have been so taken with the substance of the text and the person of Christ. So, asking for it is the first step.
Then you need to familiarize yourself with greatness. You get to know something great that draws you out of yourself. It could be nature — clouds, Grand Canyon kind of things. Or it could be God and the Bible. This is why study is so valuable. I have often asked depressed people, “Have you ever read a book of systematic theology?” That might be good therapy. Now, that’s really weird for some people, but the whole point is if you could just be drawn out of yourself into something great out there. Or it might be a novel, a story or something. So familiarize yourself with greatness.
Then, I think, in the moment when it happens you can consciously crucify it. If you’re worshiping and suddenly you wonder if anybody’s watching you — if your hands are up, you wonder if they’re watching you, or if you just sang loud and you got the note right, whatever is ruining it at the moment — you can actually say to yourself and to that thought, “Just die,” and direct your consciousness back to the substance and to God.
Bob, in your message you had a little line about Screen Dependency Disorder. And you said sometimes, if you don’t have the song memorized, you will look at a line and then just look away. I did that a few times after you said that. That’s helpful. It’s a little thing that increased the authenticity of the moment of engagement with the truth of that line, for whatever reason.
So those are two or three things that, yes, you can do to move toward it. But in the end it’s a miracle, because you can’t make it happen. It is a gift. Maybe that would be the better word. It’s a gift in the moment that you right now are not thinking about yourself.
And how do you recognize the work of the Spirit in your life and the fruit that’s being produced and the progress that you’ve made? For example, I think of Paul — under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — saying “Be imitators of me” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 4:16). So he was being humble in saying, “I want you to look at me, see how I’m doing it, and do it like that.” How does that work?
Piper: In this life I think we are cursed with self-awareness, and therefore we must use it. I may be wrong here — maybe the pendulum has swung too far — but I do think heaven will be a reality where we are deriving our joy from God awareness, from God’s glory. To the degree that we are aware of ourselves and thinking about ourselves, it will be in a way that reflects him better than it does now. Here we must do self-examination. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith,” Paul says [2 Corinthians 13:5].
So you do look at yourself. But what you’re looking for, I think, among other things, is how much you are thinking about yourself and how little you are thinking about yourself. And if you’re thinking about yourself a lot — in other words, if you always live in self-examination and worry and either approval or disapproval of yourself — then you’re way too self-preoccupied. That would be a sign that you’re in trouble. So one of the things I’m looking for in self-examination is that I don’t do too much of it or that I don’t get sucked up into standing in front of the mirror all the time trying to figure out whether that’s good enough.
But your second question does give me pause. It may be that there are virtues of self-awareness that would keep me from making self-forgetfulness the absolute ideal. So I’ll just stop there. And all these folks can figure that out as to whether that’s the case or not. But I know for me, the most authentic moments of joy and the most authentic moments of service are the moments where I’m taken out of myself in admiration or out of myself in compassion.
Bob, do you want to follow up on that at all with regard to the aspect of using your body in worship? Lots of people find the idea of raising their hands when they’re singing to be very uncomfortable. I think we touched on that briefly, but do you want to say anything more about that?
Kauflin: I think we begin with what God desires and how God desires to be praised and what pleases him. I was having a conversation with Mark Dever a few years ago. Mark Dever is a very formal, wonderful man of God, the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. I was just challenging Mark a little bit, because Mark is not the most physically expressive guy in corporate worship, and yet he is a man of God, theologically brilliant, loves the gospel, loves the church.
I said, “Mark, what about this? What if I were to ask you, ‘If there is any physical action in Scripture that God says pleases him — raising hands, kneeling, dancing, bowing, shouting — that you’ve never done, wouldn’t it be a good question to ask why not?’” He said, “Yeah, that’s a good question.” So that’s the question. That was it. That’s the question that I would ask you if there are certain physical expressions, biblical physical expressions, that you’ve never done, and say, “Why not?” So that’s where I’d start.
In a gathering I think many of us struggle with this self-awareness as though everybody in the room is really looking at us. It’s ludicrous. It’s crazy. But that’s the human heart. That’s the desire for our own glory and our own praise. I think it’s good just to acknowledge it as sin and confess it and say, “Well, Jesus, that’s why you died. You died because I love my own glory. Even now I’m supposed to be praising you. All I can think about is if anybody’s looking at me, and I can’t shake it. Thank you for dying for this sin.”
Then I think of “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by Thomas Chalmers, the idea of directing your love somewhere else rather than to yourself. The thing that’s been most helpful for me is just to think about the words we’re singing. Just to ponder them, to do everything I can to make myself engage with them and to think, “This is true, this is reality, this is why I live, this is why I was created.” And you know, when I start doing that, I start moving. I’m not thinking about what I’m doing. When I am thinking about how great the Savior is and what he did for me and how glorious God the Father is and how the Father has sent his Spirit through the Son to live in me, I just have to respond some way. Sometimes that will be kneeling. It’s often just lifting my hands, saying, “Thank you” or “I need you.” At that point I could care less what people are thinking about me.
It’s not my concern, because my third thought is I want to do with my body whatever makes Jesus Christ look glorious. If people observe me, I want them to be able to say he knows a great Savior — not an okay Savior, not an average Savior, not a Savior that you can kind of take or leave. I want them to be able to tell from my countenance. Psalm 34:5: “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
I want them to know from my body that this is what I was created for — to bring him glory. Not just in this setting but as an expression of my life as a whole. To bring glory and honor and praise and worship and adoration to the One who is absolutely worthy. And when I think that way, I think expressiveness just flows more naturally. If it’s not something that’s normal to us, we may have to do it at home just to get used to it. But I think if we’re thinking the right thoughts about the glory of Jesus Christ, physical expression really does come more naturally.
Dan, how would you counsel people to become more creative and to cultivate their imagination in a God-centered way?
Taylor: I think a place to start is simply to value it. You told me in an e-mail about the theology professor you ran into who said, seemingly with a certain amount of pride, that he hadn’t read a work of fiction in fifty years. The first thing I would say to him is, “If you’re reading theology books you’re probably reading a lot of fiction!” And then I’d ask him how he would feel if a pastor said to him with pride, “I’ve never read a book of theology in fifty years.” Would that reflect well on him? I do think it indicates a suspicion of the imagination in the Christian world.
I can remember my grandmother from when I was four years old. I don’t know what I said to her, but I remember being in the backseat of a car when I was four years old, and we pulled up to the house. My grandmother opened the door. And as we got out, she looked at me and said, “Don’t you story to me.” And I realized even as a four-year-old that she was equating story with lying. I think there’s a lot of that in Christianity — certainly in the circles I grew up in. I grew up with the fundamentalists. (I run into a lot of people who are angry at fundamentalists and are very fundamentalistic about rejecting fundamentalism.) In many important ways I am not a fundamentalist anymore, but I thank God there were people who cared enough to tell me the stories of faith, and so I bless them, and I know there’s a lot of truth even maybe mixed up with other things. But my upbringing didn’t value the imagination or the creativity.
We also had very plain churches. I know some of the history of why that is, but people would have plain churches who didn’t have plain houses. I would wonder why is it that they thought it was a misuse of money to beautify a church but didn’t think it’s a misuse to make their house look as good as it could possibly look.
So my counsel would be to start with valuing and to start also with certain key doctrines: common grace, and that every human being is made in the image of God (including people who don’t acknowledge that). Part of being made in the image of God is having an imagination. My understanding of creation is that God imagined us. That’s ex nihilo. There was nothing there except God, and God in an act of the imagination imagined the world. He didn’t have anything to make it with. He had to imagine us. So we are the product of imagination. It’s one of the aspects of being made in the image of God that we then imagine.
And I’ve learned tremendous amounts of things from people who do not share my faith commitments and who I think are incredibly wrong about the core meaning of life, and yet they’re still made in the image of God. They can still create beautiful things. They still have insight into the human condition. They do write novels. (To tell you the truth, they write better novels than the Christians do. That wasn’t always the case, but in the twenty-first century still, although Christians are improving, they write better novels, partly because they don’t feel the need to cheat. I think a lot of Christian novelists feel they have to cheat to make it all come out neat and right and happy at the end, and it doesn’t always turn out that way.) So I would say cultivate the imagination. Value it — then cultivate it.
How do you cultivate anything but by putting yourself in the presence of it? How do you cultivate a relationship with God but by being in the presence of God in all the many different ways that you can be in God’s presence? It’s the same with the imagination. Go to the great cathedrals and stand in awe. See the great paintings. Hear the great music. Read the great books. Look at nature, which is, again, God’s imagination expressing itself in an infinite number of ways.
Then realize this isn’t just what other people have. God gave me an imagination, too. Everybody has a certain level of creativity and imagination, but some people have extraordinary levels of it. And what God has called them to do is to use that imagination and creativity in wonderful ways. Don’t deny that and don’t listen to other people who deny it, and find a way that you’re supposed to express it. Use it to the fullest to the glory of God.
Piper: May I make an observation and have Dan respond to it? Back to Justin’s question about self-forgetfulness: our children are born proud and sinful, but almost no children express that in terms of self-awareness. Children learn to be embarrassed. They learn self-preoccupation — which is a kind of mature adolescent sin that we end up keeping. And it seems to me that one of the healthiest things that guards a kid from that is stories. Anybody can tell a three-year-old a riveting story — just tell him about the day or something! Almost no child or adult being told a riveting story is thinking about himself at the moment. He’s drawn out of himself and into the story. It’s good mental health.
Our church is located two blocks from a major mental health institution. One of the things that all the folks there have in common — and we love them to death and they come and do funny things at our church and some of them we know really well — is that they’re all wrapped up in themselves. All mentally ill people are consumed with themselves. They don’t connect right with what other people are praying. They don’t understand what’s going on in the situation. Everything is just in their minds, swirling around with guilt or fear or panic or whatever. So that’s the worst. By and large they are all schizophrenic and on medication. But all of us are that way a little bit. And so, to me, mental health is very largely finding out how not to be that way. So any thoughts, Dan, about how story works?
Taylor: Yeah, about thirty-six hours worth! There’s no question that stories for children form their moral imagination. Lots of people have commented on this, including C.S. Lewis and secular psychologists like Bruno Bettelheim. Children see in stories that we live in a world where what you do matters, and that there is real good and evil. And they know that. Children’s stories are simple, but they’re not naïve. They’re profoundly true. And that’s why adults often like reading to their grandkids. They’re reading for themselves as well. So stories begin to form your moral imagination.
I personally believe that’s true of stories that are not explicitly Christian as well as those that are. The Lord of the Rings is a wonderful moral myth that had profound influences on me as an adolescent and made me see that there’s good in the world and there’s evil in the world, and that I want to be on the side of the good guys. Not because I think the good guys are always winning in the world, because they often aren’t. But I just felt the moral force of the story: I want good to triumph here and I don’t want evil to triumph, and I’ve got to do something. Stories call out of us the best that God put in us.
This includes compassion. Because what is compassion? Compassion means to suffer with. Com means with; passion is pain or suffering. If you have compassion, you suffer with someone else. You put yourself in their story — and that takes the imagination. I have to imagine what it’s like to be you and to be in need. It draws out of me what is necessary to break out of self-consciousness and solipsistic pure interest only in myself in order to put myself in someone else’s shoes.
So I think story or the imagination is at the core of morality, the core of our moral natures. And of course that’s the ultimate story. That’s the greatest story ever told — that God had compassion for us. What did he do? He joined our story in a physical way. He started our story. He initiated it. But from the foundations he knew that at some point in history and in time he was going to radically join with his creation. And that’s called the incarnation.
I think all great artists take good and evil seriously, even if they don’t know where it came from. And if they don’t take it seriously, then they’re not great artists. No great work of literature or art is produced by someone who doesn’t take evil and good seriously. So we can learn from those people who haven’t put it all together, who don’t know or haven’t accepted that God has incarnated himself. God still made them, and God has given them at least limited insights into the human condition. So I love any story that brings out of me what God intended from me.
I know that all four of you enjoy and practice art — Dan with literature, John with poetry, Bob with songwriting, Paul with painting. Paul, could you talk about the role that art has had for you in the pursuit of holiness and the glory of God?
Tripp: I love Isaiah: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” [6:3]. We live in the middle of this awesome glory display, but we have this perverse ability to look at the created world and not see the glory of God. If you can look at your world and not see the glory of God, then you’re a profoundly disadvantaged human being, because you’re wired for glory. If you don’t see the glory of God, then you’ll see glory where glory can’t be found. So that really is the mission of my life: to give people eyes to see the glory of God.
I would argue that the glory of God in creation is so deep that all the elements of creation have glory. Shape has glory. Texture has glory. Light has glory. Color has glory. If you would take a piece of bark off a tree, you don’t just have this flat piece of brown bark; you have this multi-layered, multi-textured glory. And you don’t have just one shade of brown; you have four hundred shades of brown intersecting and coursing around. It’s just a glorious thing.
I was by a pond. I picked up the feather of a bird. I don’t know why I picked it up. It looked white. And I had a white shirt on. And when I put it against my white cuff it was gorgeously striped with grey coursing into black. And I thought, “What an awesome God! How many birds are there? And each one of these feathers has been painted with this kind of artistry!” My knees were getting weak. And it was just a feather!
And so what I like to do is to take apart the elements that are glorious and assemble them again. My paintings would be considered abstract. I think there’s a mistake in the church that we named “Christian art” as being only photorealism. I’m concerned with the dynamic of visual lethargy in people’s lives — that once you’ve seen the tree ten times, you quit looking. It’s like when you drive to work you don’t see the sights anymore because you’ve done it so many times. So I want to yank people out of their lethargy. I want to take the elements out of their setting and assemble them again with the hope that people would re-experience the glory of those elements afresh and anew.
Bob, you have the gift of encouragement in spades. How do you give words of encouragement in a way that’s not flattering of other people? And how do you receive it in a way that’s not prideful?
Kauflin: Well, I have to say that I’ve been privileged to have an example of a world-class encourager. I’ve known him for thirty years, and that’s C.J. Mahaney. So just by being around someone like that I see how poor of an encourager I am, and that motivates me to want to do better.
I think encouragement begins in the gospel. It’s all gospel, isn’t it? It begins by recognizing what God has done for us in Christ and what a gift we have, that our sins are forgiven. Sometimes I think to myself that if I found out I had cancer tonight and then had a horrible, painful, extended season and then died, I would still have reason to joyfully praise God forever for forgiving my sins. So I want to see everything as a gift.
And then encouragement comes from just seeing the people around me and realizing all the gifts that God has given people and all the gifts that I receive because I happen to be around them. So it’s recognizing those gifts. I guess the encouragement comes in the commitment to say something, to be aware. Because I think flattery is when we’re really encouraging someone else so that we’ll be encouraged. We encourage people so as to look good ourselves. That doesn’t please the Lord. It doesn’t bless the person. I want to encourage people because I’m truly grateful for what they’ve done. I’m truly grateful for who they are, and I carry that with me, and I just want them to know. I want to live my life like that because it helps in that self-forgetting. If I’m always looking around in a room for who I can encourage, that’s a wonderful antidote to self-glorification. I’m just thinking of all the good things in the people around me.
As far as receiving encouragement, well, if you’re aware of your sinfulness and how much you’ve been forgiven, you’re aware that anything that someone sees in you is a result of the grace of God at work. It’s his work. The fact that you’ve been able to do it is his grace. The fact that the person perceived it and it benefited them is his grace. The fact that it bore any fruit is his grace. It’s all for his glory. So when someone encourages me, I’m as amazed as they are that God did something through me. How does that happen? I don’t know. But I’m glad it does, and all of us should have that perspective. God has given us — every one of us — gifts that he uses to affect other people.
When someone says “thank you” for whatever, we can say, “Oh, you’re welcome. It’s amazing, isn’t it? But God is so good. He’s so kind,” and then transfer the glory to him: “Lord, it is because of you that this person even came up.” Also, when people encourage me, I thank them for taking the time to encourage. They didn’t have to do that. So those are some of the things that I do.
Piper: Underneath all of that, and it shouldn’t go without being said, is when you ask questions like that or anybody else does, the question can sound like you’re asking for tips — tips on how not to flatter and tips on how not to feel proud. And there are some. But the real issue is, how does a person develop through Scripture, meditation, and reading a worldview with wrath, holiness, judgment, atonement, propitiation, forgiveness, justification? It’s a massive place to be where the identification of a good thing in you has meaning other than building him up in his ego. But a tip won’t work there. The only thing that works is a worldview that says, “I’m damned, I’m on my way to hell, I am inveterately proud, I am saved by grace.” That’s the worldview in which something can come, and it’s not three tips that protect me. It’s this massive place you stay, on this world you’re enveloped in, of how to see everything.
Kauflin: Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking, but I just didn’t have time to say it! I didn’t want to hog all the time! It is absolutely true. And those things that I share are things that can help move me along, that can address those tendencies toward self-glorification. But John is absolutely right. Christ is our life. Colossians 3: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” [verse 4]. I grow in graces and grace. We grow in grace because Christ has more of our life.
I just want to affirm that and say absolutely that’s what it means to live a gospel-centered life. Everything has to do with the glorious God becoming man to redeem a people for himself for his glory and saving us from eternal wrath and eternal condemnation and giving us the expectation and anticipation of eternal joy in his presence. We have it so good. So, then, things like receiving and giving encouragement are just the overflow.