John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.
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More Than Mom Can Bear: How to Love Beyond Our LimitsBy Abigail Dodds — 2 years ago
And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast — not quite as fast — as he could. Shasta felt the change at once. Now they were really going all-out.
The old cliché “God will never give you more than you can handle” has taunted me over the years. I can remember several times in life when it has seemed evident that God was giving more than I could handle.
Would anyone claim the ability to handle the sudden, near-death experience of their son due to life-threatening seizures? What about loved ones walking away from God? Disability? Chronic pain? You likely have much worse trials to add to my list. We endure these circumstances because we have no choice, even as we endeavor to walk through them trusting that God is for us in Christ.
Still, as I was lying facedown on the bathroom floor, drenched in a sweaty fainting spell while paramedics worked on my seizing son in the next room, I certainly didn’t feel like I had been given a situation that was within my ability to handle.
A Lion and Our Limits
“Gallop, Bree, gallop. Remember you’re a war-horse” (The Horse and His Boy, 270). Aravis, a young princess escaping the evils of her country, Calormen, urged the talking horse named Bree to run as fast as he could away from the enemies that pursued them. C.S. Lewis tells us this story in A Horse and His Boy, one of the seven Chronicles of Narnia. Bree and his friend Hwin appear, by their own reckoning, to be running all-out. “And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which,” as Lewis tells us, “is not quite the same thing.”
This desperate sprint across the countryside by two talking horses — and the unlikely boy and girl on their backs — would quickly reach a peak of terror none of them could have anticipated. For not only were they chased by a terrible army of Calormene soldiers, but a much nearer and more dangerous enemy roared at their backs: a great lion.
“And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast — not quite as fast — as he could. Shasta felt the change at once. Now they were really going all-out” (271). This simple scene in the midst of a children’s story profoundly changed my perspective in three ways over the past decade and beyond: (1) it has changed how I understand my “limits” in the midst of difficulty, (2) it has reminded me of Who it is that bears down on me in those difficult times, and (3) it has helped me glimpse the goodness of God in how much he chooses to bear down on us.
Applying on the Bathroom Floor
I suppose there is some irony that while Bree found new speed with the Great Lion Aslan at his back, my story involves barely moving at all, having blacked out during a moment when I desperately wanted to be present for my son’s crisis. How is the horrible physiological response to stress (blacking out) in any way parallel to Bree finding a new gear with the Lion at his back?
“When you’re under the pressure of the Great Lion, never, ever let yourself forget: all his paths are steadfast love.”
Well, as unlikely as it sounds, I found my own new gear, facedown on the floor. As I lay there, I cried out to God, asking him to save my son, while I was forced to find a new gear of trust in my Lord. I wasn’t there to watch over my son every second, but God was. I couldn’t make the seizure stop, but God could. I wouldn’t go with him if he died, but God would be there. I, like Bree, found that I had not been trusting as much — not quite as much — as I could. I had not been enduring as much — not quite as much — as I could. There was new speed to discover with the Great Lion in pursuit.
Have you learned this yet? That what you consider your limits aren’t your limits? That you don’t actually know what your limits are because you aren’t the Maker and Sustainer?
Beyond My Limits
We think we’ve given our all, we think the reserves are gone, but actually, we have never had our limits truly tested. When my mind says, I can’t do that; it’s beyond my limits — I can’t endure that loss, I can’t live with that trial, I can’t face that outcome — God is perfectly capable of applying the kind of pressure that will prove me wrong.
Paul tells the Corinthians,
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9)
You see, the new gear that we find in the midst of hardship is not a testament to our strong constitution. It is a Spirit-empowered gear that blows faith and hope into the hearts of those who are burdened beyond their own strength. It is a testament to his strength at work in us, even when we are weak and sweaty on the bathroom floor.
Paths of Steadfast Love
God often shows us, then, that we most certainly can do what we think we can’t (by relying on him). And as counterintuitive as it sounds, he doesn’t get us there merely by encouragement or through positive thinking or by pouring on the affirmation, but, as with Bree, by bearing down and increasing the trial that drives us to him.
“When God pushes us past our limits, it is his grace to us. He’s driving us toward his goodness.”
You see, as Bree quickened his pace beyond what he thought he could, the Great Lion was increasing the distance between them and the true enemies that were coming after them. Aslan did terrify them, but for the sake of their own safety and well-being in the end. We can trust that even if we, like Paul, feel we have received the sentence of death, God is subjecting us only to what is right and good in the end, and not a drop more or less. He really does work all things together for the good of those who love him — and in so doing, conforms us to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:28–29).
When God pushes us past our limits with circumstances that have us sprinting and gasping, it is his grace to us. He’s driving us toward his goodness. He’s pressing us beyond ourselves to new vistas of himself. He’s moving us away from the things that would really harm us by putting distance between us and our old enemies — the world, our flesh, and the devil.
And when you’re under the pressure of the Great Lion, never, ever let yourself forget: all his paths are steadfast love (Psalm 25:10). You can trust him, even facedown on the bathroom floor.
Stuck Between the World and God: How I Almost Died in IndecisionBy Greg Morse — 1 year ago
Some texts mark you for life. As Jacob, you grapple with them, and though you come away with a blessing, you leave with a limp. You think differently. You pray differently. You love, speak, and act differently. Life as it was before can be no more.
Elijah’s question to the wavering people of Israel has been such a text for me. As a young college student, alone in my dorm room with a Bible I had just started reading, I came to it:
How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21)
When I read it on my futon, it was as though I witnessed the scene unfold firsthand.
“Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” The wicked king addressed the prophet he had hunted like a deer in the forest. He sneered. Not often did the prey beckon the hunter or the fish, the fisherman. But here, weaponless and alone, the prophet emerged from his hiding place to challenge his pursuer, and all of his prophets, to a public showdown.
“I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals,” Elijah replied. “Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:18–19).
Ahab happily complied.
News spread quickly; the people of Israel clamored around to see the spectacle. I took my place among the masses. The excitement was palpable as prophets and their gods prepared for war. Baal’s king and his army of prophets stood in one corner; the Lord’s prophet approached alone, taking his position in the other.
Pierced Without a Weapon
Yet as the prophet advanced toward the mountain to face off with the hundreds of prophets, Elijah’s eyes of fire rested elsewhere. He gazed at us, drew near to us. The contestant walked over to the crowd, slowly looking us over, and lifted his voice for all to hear,
How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21)
Weaponless, he shot the first arrow. Swordless, he cut me to the heart. Alone, I trembled to hear another speaking.
As I read those words, a lifetime of spiritual indecision flashed before my eyes. It took shape before me. The amphibious creature, offspring of a hearty worldliness and brittle religiosity, reared its head. It bore the horrible beauty of a demon. This angel of light had pleased and soothed my half-waking conscience for a lifetime, while remaining false enough to damn my soul.
This god I followed took no issue with the lukewarmness — the starts and stops, the ins and outs of what I took to be Christian devotion. None of my prophets interrupted me, nor protested when I went my own way. For over a decade, my god was compliant, polite, civil. He did not ask for much, nor threaten me, nor ask me to do anything I did not already agree to. He sat in the corner of the world, just smiling at me, his beloved.
If He Be God
The prophet, however, served another God. A jealous God. One who would not endure the waffling another moment. And this prophet burned with his Master’s fire. Elijah decided that if he was walking headlong into his death, he would leave his half-hearted people with a simple question: How long, O faithless bird, will you go fluttering back and forth between two branches?
We, the people, were the only ones undecided before that mountain. The priests of Baal were decided, even to the point of shedding their blood. They cut themselves with swords to invoke an answer from Baal. King Ahab was also decided. He and his wicked wife Jezebel hunted down Yahweh’s prophets and feasted with Baal’s. Elijah was decided. He stood alone before a spiritual legion of darkness, sure that his God could swallow all these mighty minnows.
“A God, if he be God, must be totally followed. Any true God must be completely obeyed.”
At this, a nearly novel thought pressed against my mind: A God, if he be God, must be totally followed. Any true God must be completely obeyed. He demanded a decision. He must be the most important reality in one’s life. Then the amazing conclusion that I professed for years finally caught up with me: I believed God existed. An eternal being, an infinite Person, a supreme monarch.
Elijah looked me in the eyes and said, If the world or your flesh or you yourself be god — follow them. Eat, drink, for tomorrow you die. But if the God of Scripture is God, then reason, justice, and sanity itself cries aloud: If this Glorious, Mighty, and Beautiful God will have you, you must follow him — unreservedly, unquestionably, unhesitatingly.
How did I answer the prophet?
“And the people did not answer him a word” (1 Kings 18:21). I joined the crowds in solemn silence.
The most daring among us held their tongue. Tough guys didn’t protest. Not a chirp was heard before the mountain; all beaks were stopped. What could we say in our defense?
If Christ Be God
Before the sun beat upon the forsaken and bloodied prophets of Baal, before fire fell from heaven and gave the outmanned Elijah decisive victory, before the people rallied and slew the priests and Elijah ran for his life, the prophet’s question seared me: How long will you go on indecisive?
How many more days and months and years will pass while you still pretend to have made up your mind? “If Christ be God, follow him. If the world, follow it.”
Has Elijah’s question lost its edge? To others not refusing to associate with Jesus, yet simply adding him to a collection of other allegiances: “How long will you go on fluttering between two branches?” Between Christ and the love of money. Between Christ and this world. Between Christ and your favorite sin. Between Christ and your comfortable, uninterrupted life.
How long, professing Christian, will you too live halfhearted, half-bowed? How much longer will you persist with half-waking commitments to Christ? How long will you think to give him the loose change of your attention, the crumbled bills of your affections? “If Jesus is God, follow him; but if your girlfriend be god, your reputation be god, your earthly pleasures and career be god — then follow them.”
“I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). “You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)” (Exodus 34:13–14). One cannot play footsie with the consuming fire for long.
“One cannot play footsie with the consuming fire for long.”
The Christian God is God, and he will not sit idly by within a pantheon of other gods and pleasures. He entertains no rivals. Friendship with the world is adultery and enmity against him (James 4:4). This text, and this reality, God used to shake me awake and bring me to Jesus.
Dear reader, is your Jesus really God? If he is God — and the Jesus of the Bible is God — then follow him. I long for fire to fall again, pleading with Elijah, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:37).
Submit to One Another, Full of the Spirit: Ephesians 5:15–21, Part 8By John Piper — 1 year ago
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