How do I recharge my spiritual battery? Where is my spiritual energy refreshed in order for me to meet yet another week of temptations and trials? This was the topic on the table for Pastor John earlier in the year when he was ministering in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
This is a tremendous clip, and I wanted to make sure it was shared in the podcast. There’s a story to come. And for that you need to know two others: Chuck Steddom, a longtime worship leader who served alongside Pastor John, and Tom Steller, a longtime co-pastor with Pastor John. There will be a scene in a moment: Chuck on stage, Tom to Pastor John’s side. Here now is John Piper, talking about how we recharge for the Christian life, which is a celebration of corporate worship. Have a listen.
The reasons that corporate worship (singing, praying, responsive readings, confessing our sins, preaching) is so uniquely powerful — I want to use a superlative here. That’s risky, because God shows up superlatively in one-on-one moments, and you-yourself-alone-with-him moments, and any one of those can be with exquisite power. But on the whole, I would say my sweetest communion with God happens with Chuck. Chuck is a symbol when I say that. But he was the leader in those moments. And so, what I mean is corporate worship, singing.
Made to Worship
Why is it? It just is. I think it is because I was made for this, and you were too. You may be resisting it for all kinds of reasons, but you were made to see and savor God with his people in the manifold ways of corporate worship. That’s what you were made for. Therefore, when you are experiencing it, you are experiencing something of the end for which you were made. That’s deeply satisfying. That’s one reason.
“You were made to see and savor God with his people in the manifold ways of corporate worship.”
Here’s a second one that I’ve watched in myself: corporate worship becomes not only an awakening of affections that I did not bring into the service, but a feeding on what God is doing in that moment, on the truth there and on the beauty of our songs. So I’m being awakened to be who I am, being awakened to know God, love God, delight in God, be satisfied in God by song and the truth of the songs and the beauty of the songs. There’s something about profound biblical truth about God, mingled with beautiful tunes, that is uniquely effective in the soul of a human being. It’s unique. It just is. And so, that happens.
Here’s a third thing. Here’s Tom Steller, who was with me for 33 years, to my left. Tom was saved in the Jesus People movement. He’s been a hand-lifter from day one; I had to be converted. So I’m sitting there singing, going through the motions, because that’s what happens. It doesn’t always click, right? You’re just going through the motions. And my eyes glance over, and Tom is singing with outstretched arms. That very posture, knowing what I know about Tom, was like an arrow repeatedly for my soul.
That’s corporateness. My being near somebody who’s engaged with God is convicting, right? If you’re near somebody who’s really authentically not putting on any show — they’re just engaged; they’re loving God in their relationship with God, and you’re not — that’s good for you to see. So that’s another piece of it.
How Music Keeps a Marriage
Here’s the one that I probably remember most poignantly. Everybody thinks, “Oh yeah, you’ve been married for 50 years. Got five kids. You’re still married. Must be wonderful.” We’ve walked through such deep waters together, Noël and I, and struggled with so many things: kid problems and marital problems, in and out of counseling for 33 months total over our 50 years. We tried to love each other better and not hurt each other with what we do or say.
So I’m a pastor, right? We’re talking about 33 years of sitting on the front pew with about five to seven hundred people behind me, and I’m going to preach in a few minutes. And I’m singing, and this is the worst week of our marriage. What do you do? How do you carry on? How do you not be a hypocrite?
And I cannot tell you how many times some beautiful expression of the mercies of God broke over me with such conviction of my selfishness. I stayed married. I felt hope again. I think I can go home and say I’m sorry. I mean, where do you get the strength? I’m talking to the guys right now. It’s essentially the same issue with the ego with women, but it’s a little different with the guys. Where do you get the strength to just humble yourself and say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry”? Or even if you don’t think you were wrong, where do you get the strength to say something sweetly conciliatory? Because that’s your job.
I get it on the front pew in the middle of corporate worship. I mean, we weren’t singing “His Mercy Is More” in those days, but that song would do it today. So that’s another piece.
And maybe one last reason why I exist when I’m the pastor: I exist to create a God-loving people. That’s why I exist. My preaching is designed to build truth about God into the mind, and affections for God into the heart. That’s why I exist. That’s my whole life. In corporate worship, I can hear it happening.
“Profound biblical truth about God, mingled with beautiful tunes, is uniquely effective in the soul.”
Hundreds of people have come to Bethlehem since I left in 2013. Half the people downtown don’t know me. I’m sitting there as the 33-year veteran, and they don’t know me. That’s awesome. That’s glorious. But I also know half of these people were under my ministry, so that when I’m four pews up from the back on the left-hand side under the balcony with Noël, in our little spot, and fifteen people around me whom I can recognize and know have their hands in the air at some magnificent climax of a hymn to God’s glory, I feel I didn’t live in vain.
Sing Through Suffering
One more reason: I got pancreatic cancer. The biopsy was on our anniversary, December 21, 2005. The surgery to take out the prostate gland was on Valentine’s Day. Between December 21 and February 14, those were the sweetest corporate-worship experiences of my life. I didn’t know if I was going to live. I mean, it’s wonderful to get a cancer diagnosis and still live. Everybody should get that opportunity. Otherwise, we take so much for granted.
Standing at the front pew for those eight weeks or so, every Sunday was more intense than ever, and it was glorious. I mean, if that was to me a foretaste of what it would be like to get ready to die when the cancer’s not going to be healed anymore, then that’s okay. That will be okay.