John, I want to begin by thanking you for 29 years of friendship and support, and partnership in the gospel. You probably don’t remember when we first met, but it was in 1984, appropriately on the campus of Wheaton College at a conference dedicated appropriately to the theology of Jonathan Edwards. And I thank you for the many years that have followed in all that you have meant to me.
In the interest of time and in order to ensure that I say precisely what I believe God has laid on my heart to say, I’m going to read most of this, and I hope that you do not think me less sincere in my affections for you for having done so.
I have to make a confession though, John. I’ve never agonized over a ten-minute exhortation more than I have over this one. This has not been easy. When I was first asked to deliver this challenge to you regarding the remaining years of your life in ministry, I initially thought that it would come easily. It would be no problem. I’d simply say something silly like, “Sam loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” or something you’d never heard before like, “For heaven’s sake, don’t waste your life.”
But after giving this a lot of prayer and thought, I came to the conclusion that it would be misguided of me to suggest that you do anything different from, less than, or other than what you’ve done these many years of ministry. Why would I want you to change course or redirect your focus or pursue something that might distract you from what has been the central and powerfully influential direction that your life has taken?
Piper’s Passionate and Unrelenting Commitment
So I’d like to begin by joining others here tonight in saying a heartfelt thank you and encourage you to stay the course.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the unborn. Thank you that when the voices of others went silent or it ceased to be fashionable to be rigorously and unapologetically pro-life, you continued year in and year out to preach about the American holocaust of abortion on demand. Stay the course.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to global missions. On behalf of those formerly unreached people groups who now know the glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus and on behalf of those who do not yet know of Christ but someday will, I say stay the course.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the sanctity of marriage. And I don’t mean marriage in the abstract or marriage in general, but marriage in particular. Thank you for loving Noël in such a way that we have all learned how to press through difficult times and heartache in order to model for others the mystery of Christ’s relationship to his bride, the church. Stay the course.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the centrality, supremacy, and exclusivity of Jesus Christ. All too often we hear of Christian leaders in their later years going soft on the necessity of conscious faith in Christ for salvation. All too often we see compromise for the sake of inclusion and political correctness. Thank you for maintaining a biblical stance. Stay the course.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to prayer and fasting. Thank you for your rigorous insistence that prayer is the primary means by which God is accomplishing his redemptive purposes on earth. Thank you for keeping us on our knees by staying on yours. Stay the course.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the word of God, for your confidence in its life-changing, sin-killing power. And thank you especially for your devotion to expositional preaching. Thank you for the utter absence of boredom in the pulpit. Stay the course.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the sovereignty of God’s saving grace. Thank you for being willing to take hard shots and unjust criticism and angry denunciation from those who deny the doctrines of the Reformed faith. Stay the course.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for modeling for so many how one can and must hold in beautiful balance the foundational authority of the finality of Scripture on the one hand and the contemporary validity of all gifts on the other. Stay the course.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to the centrality of the local church in God’s redemptive purpose.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to display for us the manifold beauty of God for our everlasting joy and satisfaction.
Thank you for your passionate and unrelenting commitment to Christian Hedonism and that glorious revolutionary tweak of the Westminster Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”
So my challenge, my charge to you, John, is not that you do anything differently. My prayer for you is not that you slow down your pace or diminish your productivity or that now that you are no longer the senior pastor of Bethlehem, that you give into pressure and purchase a TV. My charge is simply that for the sake of the glory of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ and for the sake of all his people, please stay the course. Finish the race. End well.
Stay the Course to Give Us More
My prayer, my plea is that God might strengthen you in the inner man so that you may not wane or weaken or diminish your commitment to these truths, that you not lose your zeal or your energy or your voice in making known those majestic theological principles for which you’ve become widely known. That you find yourself loving Christ more and believing his word more and proclaiming God’s sovereignty more and praying for the lost more.
I suppose my preeminent desire for you, my singular request of you can be reduced to one thing: give us more. So as I said, I don’t think any of us here tonight want you to do anything radically new or unexpected. We just want you to continue to do what you’ve always done, only deeper, more passionately, more joyfully, more zealously, more unapologetically, and more widely in the world than you have been able to up until now.
Above All, Seek Nearness to God
Now, having said all that, allow me in closing to simply urge you that above productivity, above creativity, above global influence, above written treatises, above all else that may occupy your time and energy in the coming years, let the words of Psalm 73:28 be an expression of the focus of your own heart and the priority that will occupy you in what we pray are the remaining years that God has in store for you on earth.
You know the Psalm. After expressing his initial complaint over the prosperity of the wicked and the temptation to throw in with them, Asaph closes with this resolve:
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:28)
In saying it is good to be near God, the psalmist obviously means it is best or, as Spurgeon put it, this positive is superlative.
There are people who would have you believe that if you press into the heart of God and seek intimacy with God and refuge in God, that you will be guilty of a self-absorbed, introspective obsession with your own private welfare to the exclusion of others.
And of course, there are some who will argue that if you are given to making known truth and proclaiming the mighty and gracious works of God that you will never deepen in your personal relationship with the Lord. The psalmist begs to differ. Hear him again: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, [in order that] I may tell of all your works.”
John, seek to be near your God. Let nothing come between the two of you. Not work or fame or a writing deadline or travel or criticism from your enemies or praise from your friends. Above all else, seek to be near your God, make him your refuge and here’s why: so that you may tell of all his works.
It is from that place of quiet, abiding, prayer-filled and reflective intimacy with your God that you will increase in the joy of your salvation. It is there that you will see more clearly and understand more profoundly than ever before the truth that begs to be made known. It is there and there only, that you will find that satisfaction in God by which he will continue to be most glorified in you.
John, I know that your heart’s desire and your passionate longing is that your life would be known for having made known all the works of God. The psalmist has a clear explanation for how you can accomplish this. Indeed, the only way you can accomplish it. Make being near your God your good, indeed your best. Make the Lord God your refuge. Hide in him. Repose in him. Enjoy him. That is the only way you can avoid wasting your remaining years and making your works known rather than his.
Sustaining Awe for the Wonder of It All
And finally, Rodney “Gipsy” Smith, who died in 1947 was, as you know, an evangelist who preached in Great Britain and the US for more than seventy years. Although you and I would not find his theology nor his evangelistic methods entirely acceptable, there is something he once said that I urge you to consider.
A man once approached him after an evangelistic campaign and said, “I heard you preach fifty years ago, and I came to know Jesus Christ as my Savior through your message. But I have to ask, how have you kept going for so long? You’ve been faithfully pursuing ministry for more than half a century. How have you found strength and incentive to persevere?” After a momentary pause, Smith replied, “I never lost awe for the wonder of it all.” I never lost awe for the wonder of it all.
My prayer for you, John, and for you Noël, is that you never lose your awe for the wonder of it all. I pray that the Spirit of God will sustain and preserve in your hearts an ever-increasing wonder for the majesty of God and the depths of his saving love. I pray that the Spirit of God will intensify and deepen in your hearts an unceasing wonder for the grace of the cross, the centrality of Christ, and the ever-expanding joy of heaven in the ages to come. May your fascination and excitement and awe for the wonder of it all never end.