We are back in the studio again, Pastor John. It is really great to be back, though a little different. I’m now in Phoenix, my new home. We moved here in July. You’re in Minneapolis. We are both again in our home studios. This spring you traveled to Belfast and to Edinburgh. And then you went on a forty-day writing leave this summer. We just returned from Sing! Nashville and our first ever live APJ recording session in front of a few thousand listeners. It seemed to go well. You’re back now in the studio for a little while — and actually, by the time this new episode airs, you’ll be on your way out the door once again, this time to minister in Holland, France, and Germany. So how is 2019 going?
God Carried Me
Well, when I think about the summer, especially the completion of the providence book a few days ago, the answer to the question, “How’s the summer going?” feels like it should be answered from Isaiah 46:3–4:
Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.
In other words, Tony, I feel this summer that I’m being carried. That’s my main sense.
A Parable on Two Wheels
Here’s a small parable that our listeners might find encouraging for their lives. It certainly is for mine. This is a little parable of God’s carrying providence during the writing of the book on providence.
“We are immortal till our works are done.”
I began the forty-day writing leave about half or two-thirds of the way through what I hoped would be a biblical summary of the goal and nature and extent of God’s providence. I thought that meant that this summer I might write fifty thousand words in addition to the hundred thousand or so I already had.
There was no detailed outline. It just kind of emerged as I wrote. You think you want to write a chapter on how God’s providence works to transform his people, and you end up writing six chapters on how God works to transform his people. In other words, the whole project is unpredictable, and you have no idea if it will fit within the forty days you’ve set aside to try to finish it. You write as fast as you can and as carefully as you can in the minutes that you have.
I remember watching the 1989 finish of the Tour de France, where Greg LeMond was fifty seconds behind the Frenchman Laurent Fignon. There was only one leg to go, and it was a twenty-mile time trial, which is almost nothing in this race. The entire race is two thousand miles long. Nobody can make up fifty seconds over a world-class rider in a time trial.
LeMond says to his teammates and all his technicians, “I don’t want any radio connection in my head at all. I don’t want you to tell me how close I am to him or anything. I am going to ride as fast as I can ride, so there’s no point in having an earbud in my ear since I’m going flat-out.” He beat Fignon by eight seconds. He won a two-thousand-mile race by eight seconds in 1989.
The Kiss of Providence
Now, that’s what these forty days felt like to me. I’m not going to wear a microphone in my head — meaning, I’m not going to constantly compute, “How many days are left? How many days are left? Can I finish?” I’m just going to go flat-out, six days a week, nine or ten hours a day, and let providence finish providence or not.
I came to the last day, and I had only the conclusion to write, which I thought in itself was an absolute miracle. I came down to Noël for suppertime, and I said, “Can you believe this? Can you believe this? This is the last writing day, and I have just a little bit of my conclusion to write.” It’s now 7:00pm. I eat supper with Noël, and I say, “I’m just going to go up and finish it. I don’t want it hanging over till tomorrow. We got other things to do.”
“God will carry his people to glory. He cannot fail, and therefore they cannot fail.”
When I went to bed at 11:45pm, it hit me that I finished this book not just on the last day of the writing leave, but in the last minutes of the last day of the writing leave — which, Tony, felt to me like the kiss of providence. That’s what it felt like.
I call that a parable for me because that’s all it is. It’s just God saying, “You’re okay. I’m in charge of this. Don’t worry. Just work, be faithful, and I’ll manage the details of your life.”
Vastly more important than the parable of providence is the biblical truth of what the Bible teaches about providence, which I define as the purposeful sovereignty of God. I don’t equate sovereignty and providence because sovereignty doesn’t carry in itself the meaning of purpose. You could be sovereign and be whimsical, but if you say providence, you mean that there is now purposefulness in the sovereignty.
The best summary of it is just a few verses after the text we read earlier on being carried to your old age, which is a sweet providence in itself.
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)
That’s purposeful sovereignty. God will carry his people to glory. He cannot fail, and therefore they cannot fail. All his purposes stand, and his purposes include the smallest birds that fall from the trees, and every hair of your head being numbered, and the appearance and movements of the stars, and the rise and fall of nations, and everybody’s life and death, and every living being, and the salvation of God’s elect. That’s the totality of God’s purposeful sovereignty.
“Those whom he foreknew he also predestined. . . . And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29–30). Not one of God’s people fails to persevere. He knows his own. He saves them to the uttermost. You can tell maybe that I love — I love — the providence of God. I love the truth of the purposeful sovereignty of God. I’m on my knees at the end of this summer with thankfulness for the way God has carried me. The book won’t be out for another year, but that’s the way things work.
Joy to the Nations
Just a word about the international ministry: You mentioned the past and the future. Amsterdam, Paris, and Hamburg are just around the corner in late September and early October. That will be our third international trip this year, which is more than we’ve ever done before. We were in São Paulo and Buenos Aires, then in Belfast and Edinburgh — two different trips before this summer.
These trips are costly in terms of time. I could be making a lot of APJs instead of spending time on the jet. But this emphasis on the nations beyond the US fits with a heightened consciousness and a heightened commitment at Desiring God of what it means to be a web-based ministry whose reach is to every nation on earth.
“I finished this book not just on the last day of the writing leave, but in the last minutes of the last day.”
In the last six months, about 7.5 million people have tapped into our online ministries at Desiring God from outside the United States. That puts us in touch with movements that love the infallible Scriptures, love the supremacy of a saving Christ, love the sovereignty of God in salvation, and love the power of joy to sustain love in suffering. I feel myself, and us as a ministry, called increasingly to bless those movements in ways that they find helpful — not us going to them and telling them what they need, but them coming to us, having found help.
Our aim is to serve what God is doing where people already find what we love at Desiring God to be helpful, and then to help them press into other groups around them. It’s been a very fruitful summer. To top it off with grace and joy, I get to perform the wedding of my daughter in just a few weeks. By the time this plays, she will be Mrs. Moore, Lord willing.
Only If the Lord Wills
I look forward to the sovereign arms of God carrying me and Noël to Europe and back. But as James 4:15 says — and it’s a big part of this book on providence — “You ought to say, John Piper, ‘If the Lord wills, we will go to Amsterdam, Paris, and Hamburg.’ Otherwise, you’re arrogant when you talk, because I run the world. You don’t.”
If the Lord wills, we will live and go to Europe and back. If not, we die, but in God’s providence. I love to say, with Henry Martyn, “We are immortal till our works are done.”