The entire goal of the Ask Pastor John podcast is to make you happier in Christ. But can this podcast actually kill your joy? When I read this question from a podcast listener, I thought, “Wow, we need to address this one, Pastor John.” It comes to us from Rory.
“Pastor John, I’ve listened to the vast majority of the APJ episodes for the lifespan of the podcast. However, I’m conscious that my Christian media intake, especially on YouTube, is taking away from time better spent doing important chores around the house. In the past, I used to binge watch lots of sermons by prominent preachers on the Internet, but then I felt like I’d overeaten on God’s word. But fear of missing out on the excellent wisdom and knowledge keeps me from stopping.
“This seems strange, but could a podcast like this one take away my joy? I think back to Moses’s serpent on a staff. It was a means to save the Israelites in the desert, and it had to be destroyed later because they treated it as an idol. Sometimes I feel like that with Christian media.”
The Danger of Good Gifts
Could the podcast Ask Pastor John take away your joy? What a great question. In other words, could it have the exact opposite effect that it’s intended to have?
“If this podcast doesn’t lead people deeper into the Bible, but instead begins to distract them, it will be destructive in the long run.”
It sounds like Rory is ahead of me in providing biblical wisdom toward an answer, because he points to the serpent hanging on the staff, which was meant as a reminder of human helplessness and God’s grace, but then became an object of worship (Numbers 21:9; 2 Kings 18:4).
That’s a sharp insight, Rory. He knows the answer. So what’s left for me to say? Well, maybe what I should do is give a simple answer to the question, which he already knows — namely, yes. Yes, this podcast could take away your joy rather than deepening it and strengthening it and connecting it to God. Yes, that could happen.
I should follow this yes, which I just gave, with seven situations or reasons that might happen. I hope it doesn’t sound too shocking to people, since I can’t think of any good thing in the universe, including God himself, that, if misused, would not become hurtful. There’s nothing unusual about saying Ask Pastor John can destroy faith or hurt people.
One aspirin will heal you; one hundred will kill you. The fire in your fireplace will warm you; fire in the kitchen will burn your house down. Without the sun, we can’t see anything beautiful; if you look at the sun directly, you go blind. God is good and merciful, but if you try to use him as a bellhop, exalting yourself as his boss, things are going to go very bad for you — no matter how good God is.
I can’t think of any good thing that can’t become a hurtful, harmful thing if used badly. So how might Ask Pastor John become one of those joy-robbing things, rather than joy-raising?
1. Error and Misunderstanding
APJ would take away your joy if it is false, or if you misunderstand it when it’s true. If I spoke so unclearly or ambiguously or erroneously that I misled people into error, it would become a joy-defeating podcast. If I spoke truly, but people misunderstood what I said, it could become destructive.
In order for me to achieve the aims of Ask Pastor John, there has to be truth and clarity on my side, and there has to be enough goodwill and careful listening from the listener on the other side.
2. Replacing the Bible
APJ would take away your joy if it replaced the Bible.
If this podcast does not lead people deeper into the Bible, but instead begins to distract them from their own digging into the Bible, it will be destructive in the long run.
God’s word is the only infallible source of truth — not me (that’s for sure). Therefore, even if true statements, good doctrine in a podcast, draw people away from the Bible — putting a distance between the people listening and the spring of faith-awakening, infallible gospel truth — that’s very, very harmful.
3. Replacing the Local Church
APJ would take away your joy if it replaced your church or personal counsel from people.
“I can’t think of any good thing in the universe, including God himself, that, if misused, would not become hurtful.”
The Bible makes clear that we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). We should exhort one another every day (Hebrews 3:13). In other words, the dynamics of living, face-to-face church life and the preciousness of interpersonal, mutual exhortation are indispensable for the kind of joyful maturity and health and obedience that God desires.
If this podcast undermines the church, undermines church life, undermines personal counsel, undermines living in fellowship where you are confronted and encouraged every day from other people, then it will be dangerous.
Rather, let this podcast enrich all that. That’s what I want to do. I want to enrich all that. I don’t want it to replace all that. If that happens, then I will undermine your joy.
4. “I Follow Piper”
APJ would take away your joy if it becomes an obsession with John Piper.
A crucial test of whether a podcast is being used in a Christ-exalting, faith-building, love-advancing way is whether its effect is coming from the glory of the reality in Scripture that is spoken, or whether its effect is rooted in the personality of the speaker.
I’m happy if people enjoy listening to these podcasts. But every time there is an intermediary — a preacher, a teacher, a singer, a counselor, an actor, a friend — every time there’s an intermediary between God and man, there’s a risk that the mediator will supplant the very thing he should be mediating — namely, the truth and beauty and worth of God and his ways.
5. Ego Boost
APJ would take away your joy if you were simply trying to score self-exalting points by listening to it and sharing it with others.
I hope that one of the effects of this podcast is that people get insight, get knowledge, get wisdom, get ways of looking at the world that are fresh and biblical and helpful. But wherever that’s happening, the danger exists that somebody will take one of those new insights and use it to score points against someone who doesn’t have that insight. They would do it to bolster their own ego.
If that’s the use that someone begins to make of the podcast, it will ruin their joy.
6. Fear of Missing Out
APJ would take away your joy if listening to it were driven by fear.
“If any of you is being drawn into any of these seven directions, farewell — at least for a while.”
Rory says he couldn’t stop listening for fear of missing out on something. Well that fear, it seems to me, is rooted in bad soil.
The first thing bad about that soil is how narrow-minded and unrealistic it is. The fact is that Rory — and all of us — are missing out every day on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, even thousands, of insights that are spoken by excellent teachers and preachers and counselors on the Internet. You cannot possibly listen to them all. You have to miss them. We need to have a realistic assessment of what’s possible — an honest view of our own limitations as finite, fallible people.
The other thing that’s bad about that soil that gives rise to this fear is that fear is not healthy. It’s not a Christ-honoring, Christian motivation for listening to podcasts. Let the sweet, restful, peaceful contentment of Christ replace your fear. Listen out of freedom.
7. Podcasts All Day
Lastly, APJ would take away your joy if it kept you from doing tasks that God calls you to do.
Rory mentions this. Paul says that we should do our work to make a living so that we’re not mooching off other people (Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12). That means you can’t read your Bible all day and be obedient to Scripture — let alone listen to podcasts all day.
You have to do your work. You have to make a living so you don’t mooch off other people. You’re designed by God to have a rhythm. There’s a rhythm of healthy intake of truth and outlay of energy. So let’s find it.
So yes, APJ can take away your joy. If any of you is being drawn into any of these seven directions, farewell — at least for a while.