Welcome to the Ask Pastor John podcast. We are back with guest Paul David Tripp, author of the book Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do — which easily made my top-ten list for best books of 2015.
This week we are talking about awe, and how it really does relate to everything in life — specifically to our spiritual growth, our Bible intake, our ministry aims, and even our news consumption, our weight-loss attempts, our anxieties, our parenting methods, and our expectations of marriage and romantic love.
Giving Others Their Awe Back
We must be seduced by God’s glory, as you said Monday. He must capture our hearts. This has ramifications for us finding purpose and meaning in our lives, as we saw earlier. This is essential for getting honest about weight loss and the care of our bodies, as we saw yesterday. Today we turn now to talk about how to engender awe in God in others as a leading aim of our ministry labors. Paul, how has your ministry been shaped by this reality? This calling?
I love Psalm 145. I say in the book that Psalm 145 changed my life and changed my ministry, because one day reading through Psalm 145, I got my calling all of a sudden. I think for the first time I understood what I had been called to do. And it is just a phrase that struck me. It says: “One generation shall commend your works to another” (verse 4). I thought: There it is. My job is to be used of God through the vehicle of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the content of Scripture to give people back their awe of God again, so that their hearts are now ruled by the awe of God, so that the claim on their hearts then begins to redirect everything in their lives.
Materialism isn’t first a money problem; it is an awe problem. If I am not in awe of God, it is very, very possible for me to be in awe of physical things and spend myself into debt as a result. Disobedience is not, first, a law problem; it is an awe problem, and it leads to a law problem. Look at the Ten Commandments. The first commands are about worship, because if you don’t keep those commands, you won’t be keeping the ones that follow.
And so in giving people their awe back again through the preaching of God’s word, I give them the gift of a satisfied heart, which then gives them strength against the temptation that would say: Here is where satisfaction could be found.
Where It All Begins
That’s so good. This single ministry aim — helping give people their awe in God again — simplifies a lot of our discipleship, our parenting, our preaching, our musical worship, and our counseling. But this really must begin first in our own hearts.
Sure, and your motivation as a minister as well. Look: if you are not in ministry with a heart that is satisfied in God’s glory, then you will probably ask your ministry to give you identity, meaning, purpose, and an inner sense of wellbeing. I have to say this, because I have been in pastoral ministry for many, many years: Ministry is a miserable place to find your identity. It just is. So I need to be free from the bondage of looking to have this awe capacity satisfied by creation, just as much as anybody else in my ministry does.
Yes. So when Paul Tripp wants to recapture his own awe of God, or when you want God to, once again, capture your heart, how do you do it? Where do you go?
Let the Bible do it for you. It is important to take people to those mind-numbing, heart-engaging, knee-weakening passages like Isaiah 40, where the language, human language, is stretched to its furthest elasticity to try to capture the glory of God. Think of the physical picture of God holding the waters of the universe in the hollow of his hand. Think of the majesty of that. How much liquid could you hold in your hand, the palm of your hand, without it spilling? That is just one illustration of the stunning glory of God. Or the end of Job where God asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) Through this conversation with Job, God displays his splendor. Or Ephesians 1 where the redeeming plan of God throughout the ages is laid bare for us.
We need those passages. We need to meditate on those passages. We need to go back to those passages again and again. And they do a much better job of capturing God’s splendor than I would ever do.
Filled and Free
Speak to ministers. This is simplifying — it is also incredibly daunting. They labor to inspire awe in others. This is what you call, in the book “the grand agenda” of all ministry. Speak to ministers lost in details or buried in criticism or who simply feel burned out from years of pouring their lives out. How would you counsel ministers here?
I think in the press of the struggles, trials, pressures, and discouragements of ministry, there is counsel to be found for us in Psalm 27. Psalm 27 is written in one of two of the most tragic experiences of David’s life. Either he was fleeing from Saul and gross injustice, or fleeing from his son Absalom who wanted his throne — a terrible family betrayal. And in the midst of that he says: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (verse 4).
Now why does he say that? Because he understands there is something that exists in the universe, someone that exists in the universe, who is way more glorious and way more beautiful than any ugly thing you will face in your ministry. You will only understand the struggles of ministry properly when you look at them through the stunning beauty and awesome glory of the Lord.
Now here is what that means: It means you need to have a habit of getting up every morning as a pastor and gazing upon the beauty of the Lord. Go to one of those passages, and let your heart take that in. Rest in that. Why can you rest in that? Because what the Bible teaches us is that all God is in his glory, he is for us by grace. He has unleashed his glory on us by grace. So that beauty not only tells me who God is; it redefines me as one of God’s children.
Now you are ready to go out and do your ministry. But now you are not doing it hoping for greater acceptance and greater success. Now you go out with your heart satisfied, and you are free to give what has filled your heart to others.
Finally, what would you say to a pastor who knows he should preach awe in God but doesn’t feel it privately. Is the public preaching of God’s awesomeness disingenuous when a minister doesn’t experience that awe privately?
I don’t think there is ever a moment in preaching where you do not preach truth as a poor example of truth. What pastor has ever preached a passage, saying to himself, “I perfectly exemplify this?” No one. And so I am always a broken tool. I love what it says in 2 Corinthians 4:7–12: that we are cracked vessels so that the light of God’s glory shows through. I mean, that is all of us.
And so I get up. I confess my inadequacy. I confess my inconsistency. And I luxuriate in God’s forgiveness, and in the gospel irrationality that he can actually use someone like me to declare his glory.