In sub-Saharan West Africa, the dry season slowly tightens its deathlike grip until that first thunderstorm. It begins as a speck on the horizon. The breeze stills; the furnace-like heat threatens to consume all in its oven. Dark clouds pile upon each other in the distance, as if in a mad race to block out the sun.
Then comes the wind: at first a whisper, but before long a mighty force that lifts months of dust and sand, whirling them into miniature tornadoes. In our early years, my siblings and I would run out and try to fight the strength of these winds. Taking our stand on the old garden mounds of last season’s planting, we would test our young legs against the power of the storm (always an exercise in futility).
Then the sky turns black. The rolling clouds have conquered the sun, declaring victory with lightning flashes and mighty cracks of thunder, a barrage of heavenly artillery. At last, finally, comes the rain — a marching wall of gray obscuring everything it passes, driven by the relentless wind. We fled for home as it approached and then flooded our street, turning the hard-packed earth into a sudden river.
I’ve always been awed by the power of storms. Their sheer might delights and overwhelms me. They produce in me a certain diminishing effect, reminding me that though God gave humans dominion over the earth, I am still made from dust. It’s fitting to flee.
But God designed thunderstorms to teach us about more than our smallness. In their unleashed fury, they are emblems of the wrath of God poured out in judgment. The short book of Nahum, tucked in the middle of the Minor Prophets, is one such place where God teaches us to rightly read events in nature like thunderstorms.
‘Woe to the Bloody City’
Nahum’s brief oracle, a mere 47 verses in our English translations, thunders with God’s righteous judgment against Nineveh, one of the great cities of the ancient Assyrian empire. We usually associate Nineveh with the ministry of Jonah. Jonah knew God to be “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2). Thus, he preached to Israel’s enemies with reluctance, knowing that his prophetic word of judgment might just lead to Nineveh’s preservation.
We know the story. Nineveh repented, and God, in keeping with his character, relented from unleashing disaster upon them (Jonah 3:6–10). These events took place during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (2 Kings 14:25), which lasted from about 793 to 753 BC (Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, 456).
It may come as a surprise, then, that Nahum’s prophecy a century or so later contains only words of judgment against Nineveh, with no opportunity to repent. Prophesying to Judah around 650 BC after the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 to Assyria (Dictionary, 560), Nahum declared that Assyria would be washed away “with an overflowing flood.” God would “make a complete end of the adversaries” of his people (Nahum 1:8).
The once-repentant Nineveh had spurned the mercy of God and directed its armies against God’s chosen people, leading the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity and even laying siege to Jerusalem itself during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:17–25).
God directed his fury against this “bloody city, all full of lies and plunder” (Nahum 3:1), declaring that the name of Assyria and Nineveh would no longer be perpetuated among the nations of the earth (Nahum 1:14). And through the poetic tongue of Nahum, he captured his fury with the image of a storm.
Chariots of Wrath
Nahum’s oracle begins with a threefold declaration that Yahweh takes vengeance (nōqêm) on his enemies. Similar to how the threefold “holy, holy, holy” in Isaiah 6:3 emphasizes the completeness of God’s holiness, Nahum’s repeated nōqêm reveals the fullness of God’s wrath. The fierce clouds seethe in the distance, and none can stay their path. Though “slow to anger” — a slowness Nineveh had experienced in the past — “the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.”
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of his feet. (Nahum 1:3)
Nahum’s opening salvo (1:1–8), like the West African rainclouds piling upon each other, heaps image after image to describe the poured-out wrath of God. Before his rage, bodies of water dry up, vegetation withers, mountains quake, the earth heaves, and rocks split. His wrath is “like fire” (1:6), like “an overflowing flood” (1:8).
Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger? (1:6)
Anyone who has been caught in the elements by a powerful storm can appreciate, in part, the terror and doom Nahum intends to convey. Through such storms, God means for us to understand in a small way what it feels like to face his judgment with no hope. The hymnist appropriately captured this sense when he penned,
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is his path on the wings of the storm.
Strong storms that flash and rage, that whip dust into frenzies and hurl rain in torrents, that envelop the earth in darkness, declare the glory of his just judgment on the wicked, teaching us not to treat his wrath lightly. They symbolize the frightening words uttered by God against unrepentant sinners: “Behold, I am against you” (Nahum 2:13; 3:5).
Named No More
In 612 BC, about forty years after Nahum spoke his oracle against Nineveh, the city was overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians. Though a few Assyrians escaped and tried to reestablish themselves, they too were wiped out in 609 BC. The Assyrians disappeared (ESV Study Bible, 1710). In fact, a mere three hundred years later, a whole army passed over the place where Nineveh had been without even recognizing the location of the once-famous city (The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 72).
The Lord has given commandment about you:
“No more shall your name be perpetuated. . . .
I will make your grave, for you are vile.” (Nahum 1:14)
Nahum’s prophecy was no hyperbolic description of God’s vengeance. Every word came to pass. Nineveh took its stand against the awesome storm of God’s wrath — and perished.
Nineveh’s fate reveals the holiness of God. He will not, cannot, allow sin to remain in his presence. Every unrepentant sinner stands, as it were, on the garden mound of ancient Nineveh’s ruins, shaking a fist in the face of God and daring him to unleash the winds of wrath. God does not change. The same words he uttered against Nineveh he will speak again in judgment. “Behold, I am against you.” “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). No sinner will stand in the assembly of the righteous people of God (Psalm 1:5).
‘Stronghold in the Day of Trouble’
Though it may seem like a misnomer for one tasked with prophesying judgment, Nahum’s name means “comfort.” But where shall one find comfort in his oracle?
Though Nahum spoke a word against Nineveh, his audience was the people of God, those remaining in the southern kingdom of Judah. Twice in the opening chapter, the Lord speaks directly to his people (1:12–13, 15), giving them reason to hope as he lifts the yoke of oppression Assyria had laid upon them. This wicked nation will not pass through Judah again to bring terror. As his word of wrath displays his holy character, so too does this word of comfort. The punishment of God’s enemies displays, at the same time, his covenant-keeping love for his people.
Tucked away in Nahum’s opening description of divine wrath stands a little verse, a place of shelter from the storm:
The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7)
This knowing refers to more than God’s knowledge about his people. It suggests an intimate knowledge that means salvation, a setting of love upon his own. This is the same knowing described by the Good Shepherd, who knows his own sheep and preserves them to the end (John 10:14, 28–29). This knowing serves as a firm foundation for hope (2 Timothy 2:19).
Those who are known by God have a shelter to which they can flee: not the pitiful garden mound, but the secure home, with windows that fasten tight, solid walls, and a strong roof. Though the storm rages outside, in this stronghold peace reigns.
Flee for Shelter
God has always provided a shelter from the storm. To Noah and his family he gave an ark, a fortress to carry them through the cleansing flood of wrath. To Moses he gave a basket of reeds and pitch, a floating bassinet to guard the future leader from the storm of Pharaoh’s decree. To Jonah he gave the belly of a fish, a place of repentance and preservation. To the disciples, he gave the God-man, whose words made a haven for a wave-tossed boat. To us he gives the risen and exalted Christ, and he promises that all who take refuge in the shadow of his wings will find a shelter from the storm.
Flee, then, to this stronghold. Learn to read the weather and seek refuge in Christ. Tucked into his everlasting arms, we experience no raging storms of wrath. While his glory “thunders” and his voice “flashes forth flames of fire” (Psalm 29:3, 7), we ascribe him glory, and we rest secure in his peace and under his eternal reign.
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By John Piper — 10 months ago
On this Monday, we jump right into the deep end to talk about the pathway from orthodoxy to demon theology. It’s a heavy topic, one inspired by a text we find in Paul’s first epistle to Timothy.
Here’s the question, from a podcast listener named Leland: “Hello, Pastor John, and thank you for taking heavy questions on the podcast. I have one of my own.” Indeed, he does. “In 1 Timothy 4:1, Paul writes that some professing Christians ‘will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.’ This seems like a very stark transition for once-professing believers. What does this look like? Can it really mean Christ-worshipers become blatant demon-worshipers? Or is this move far more subtle? Can you explain to me what’s happening in this text?”
This is a good question for giving us an opportunity to clarify two things. First, can a true, born-again worshiper of Jesus be led astray into the kind of demonic deception that Paul has in mind? Second, how does this happen? What’s going on here? Does the departure from the church into involvement with demonic teaching happen suddenly or gradually?
Now, the reason I raised that first question is because Leland’s question for me has an ambiguity in it. On the one hand, he refers to “professing Christians departing from the faith to demons.” On the other hand, he asked the question about Christ-worshipers departing into demon worship. It wasn’t clear to me whether he was asking about genuine Christ-worshipers or whether he was asking about professing Christians who are not genuine Christ-worshipers deep down in their hearts.
I think Romans 8:30 teaches that those who are predestined are called, and those who are called are justified, and those who are justified are glorified, so that no genuinely called and justified Christian ever falls away into demon worship — not permanently, anyway. So then, the question becomes (and I think this is what he’s asking), What is happening when people in the church, who have been in the church for years and are outwardly identifying as Christian and yet are not truly born again, are swept away into the teaching of demons?
Lured by Lies
Let me read the text that he’s referring to.
Now, the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to [or paying attention to] deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1–3)
What’s going on here? Well, first, Paul says, “There are deceitful spirits.” They would be manifesting themselves through people who claim to speak in the name of some supernatural being — in some charismatic way, perhaps, with a spirit of prophecy. This is the kind of thing John was referring to when he said, “Do not believe every spirit” — that’s what Paul is talking about here, deceitful spirits — “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). So Paul is concerned that professing Christians will pay too much attention to deceitful spirits and not test them with biblical truth and be carried away into the teaching of demons.
Then he says that, through these spirits, there arise cult-like practices that contradict biblical teaching but look religious. In this case, he’s talking about forbidding marriage and forbidding certain foods. Then he says that these cultic practices have advocates whose consciences are seared and who lie about what the Bible teaches and deceive people away from teaching the truth and away from living by faith in Christ. When that happens, he says, “You can see that these are teachings of demons because that’s what the goal of demons is: to lure people away from Christ.”
Paul points out that this kind of departure from the faith will be intensified in the later times (1 Timothy 4:1). The danger of seduction by deceitful spirits and teachings of demons is always present throughout this fallen age, from the time of Jesus until Jesus comes back. They’re always there. But there will be a greater temptation as the end of the age approaches and the Lord draws near.
“The danger of seduction by deceitful spirits and teachings of demons is always present throughout this fallen age.”
Paul describes this in 2 Thessalonians 2. The people are worried that the day of the Lord may have come, and Paul says, “No, it hasn’t come, because first there has to be this great apostasy, this falling away, this rebellion, this deception.” A great deception comes first. “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the [apostasy] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Then he says in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” In other words, even though there will be a great deception of lawlessness at the very end of the age, the spirit of deception is always at work in some measure in this fallen age.
He describes it like this: “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception” — that’s what Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy — “for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9–12).
Jesus said in Matthew 24:12–13, “Because lawlessness” — the same lawlessness Paul’s talking about in 2 Thessalonians — “will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Slow or Sudden Turn
In other words, the mystery of lawlessness will have a huge impact on nominal Christians, whose love for Christ is shallow and unreal. They will grow cold. Their resistance to the deception of demons will give way. They will not endure to the end.
This may happen gradually, as the church falls away from preaching the truth, and the people’s love for Christ becomes more and more perfunctory. You see this in churches. It’s tragic to watch. It just becomes perfunctory. They’re just going through the motions. All the former seeming passion and biblical faithfulness for Jesus is gone. Then come the deceitful spirits, and these folks are vulnerable to being swept away into a great deception and the teaching of demons.
“If we remain in the grace of God and treasure Christ above all, we will be kept.”
Or it may happen suddenly. A satanic miracle worker comes to town with a ministry of signs and wonders, like Simon in Acts 8. He takes people by storm because their roots are so shallow. They’re more dazzled by the deceitful miracles than by the beauties of Christ and his salvation and his teaching. Oh, the need for depth and rootedness in the truth in our churches. This is a word for pastors. This is why Paul urges us in Ephesians 6 to “put on the whole armor of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” and “keep alert with all perseverance,” praying earnestly to be spared this kind of deception (Ephesians 6:11, 18).
If we remain in the grace of God and treasure Christ above all, we will be kept. That’s 1 Peter 1:5. It’s so precious. I love this promise. I put it on my mother’s gravestone (with my father’s permission), in fact. “Kept by the power of God.” But here’s what the text says: “By God’s power [we] are being guarded [being kept] through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” That’s our hope. Those whom the Lord calls, the Lord keeps.
By John Piper — 2 years ago
Welcome back to the podcast. Normally on Wednesdays, we feature a sermon clip from John Piper’s preaching archive. Not today. Today we have a full message — a short one, a recent one, one Pastor John preached at a gathering of our friends at Crossway. The gathering met at the most recent Evangelical Theological Society in Fort Worth, Texas. That was the occasion for a celebration of the life and work of Lane and Ebeth Dennis — on the occasion of Lane and Ebeth stepping down from their positions at Crossway, which they started back in 1978. If you own an ESV Bible or a book published by Crossway, you have Lane and Ebeth Dennis to thank for that. But they are now in transition. In the transition, Josh Dennis, their son, will take over for his dad, Lane, and will now lead Crossway as its CEO and president. Lane will continue to serve as the chairman of the board and as executive consultant. Ebeth will continue as an associate consultant. They’re not retiring.
Pastor John, you’re normally not with us on Wednesdays, but here you are. You’re making an exception for this couple. We’re about to play your message in a moment. But introduce us to this couple. A lot of listeners don’t know them. Who are they? What do they mean to you? Why are they so precious and important to us at Desiring God? And tell us, what did you hope to accomplish in this brief message we’re about to hear?
Thanks, Tony. I love the thought of talking about Lane and Ebeth Dennis. Just a little more background before I point to my friendship. In 1938, the parents of Lane Dennis started a small tract-publishing ministry, and within five years they were distributing five million tracts a year. And that Good News Publishing, as it’s still called, grew into a nonprofit ministry spreading Christian literature around the world. And in 1978, as you said, Crossway Books became the book publishing arm of this nonprofit ministry. So Crossway is one of the unusual major book publishing companies that is a nonprofit today. Lane and Ebeth Dennis have led that ministry for decades until the recent handoff to their son, Josh.
Crossway has published, I think, 1,500 titles and is today really quite an influential Christian publisher of biblically faithful books. And I can’t really distinguish between my personal friendship with Lane and Ebeth and my relationship with Crossway Books as the primary publisher of the things that I’ve written. So, let me give you three examples of that intersection between my life and their life and Crossway Books.
In 1987, I got a phone call from Lane Dennis. It was my first acquaintance. I didn’t know who he was, and he wanted to explore with me the idea of a major book on the nature of manhood and womanhood and the biblical teaching concerning the roles of men and women. And the outcome of that phone call was the publishing of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, affectionately known as “the big blue book” that Wayne Grudem and I edited and Crossway published in 1991. That was the beginning of a 35-year friendship and publishing partnership.
Then, in the late nineties, both Wayne Grudem and I felt the need for a new Bible translation that would lean in a little more in the direction of formal equivalence than only dynamic equivalence, and that would be in the tradition of the King James, American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version. Wayne and I both spent decades reading and memorizing the Revised Standard Version in spite of its flaws, and it went out of print. And so we couldn’t give it to anybody. We couldn’t ask people to use it in church because they couldn’t get ahold of it.
And we thought, “What a great idea if Crossway could get the rights from the National Council of Churches and produce an improved version of the Revised Standard Version while keeping it in the same linguistic tradition.” We urged Lane Dennis to make that fateful phone call to the National Council of Churches, and to everyone’s amazement, it happened: the ESV was published in 2001, and today the ESV is one of the most widely used English versions of the Bible in the world.
The third thing I would mention that has knit us together is that since those days of partnership in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Bible translation, almost all of my books have been published through Crossway. I made that decision to publish with Crossway knowing that Crossway is not the biggest Christian publisher in America — it doesn’t have the most dollars. More important than that, it seemed to me — I feel this way today — was a theological and philosophical oneness of mind between author and publisher, which I am very happy to say in this case meant a rich friendship and oneness of mind between Lane and Ebeth Dennis and me. I think that in this message that you’re about to hear, you will hear some of my affection for them, and I hope it comes through loud and clear.
It does. And with that, here is Pastor John’s message, simply titled “God’s Providence in the Ministry of Crossway Books and in the Life of Lane and Ebeth Dennis.” Have a listen.
God’s Providence at Crossway
Lane and Ebeth Dennis are two of the most gracious people that I know. And I say that not because of reputation, though that is true and easy to verify, but because of over 35 years of knowing each other and them showing me personally unremitting kindness, even through circumstances that could have been relationally destructive and were not, because Lane and Ebeth love like they have been loved by their Savior.
So, I count it an enormous privilege to speak for a few minutes at this juncture in your professional and personal lives. I’m going to spend the next few minutes exulting with you, all of you, in the preciousness and the greatness and the beauty of God’s providence as it relates to you and Crossway. I define providence as God’s purposeful sovereignty. It is the all-embracing, all-pervasive, all-wise governance by God of all things for the demonstration of his glory in the Christ-exalting gladness of his people in God.
“Our hope rests finally on the freedom and wisdom and mercy of God’s providence.”
As each of us here lifts our hands in thankfulness to God for his merciful providence that you were not in your house when it burned down, we know that the very providence that rescued your life could have prevented the fire. Which means that our peace, our joy, our hope does not rest on being rescued from the disaster, the loss, the sorrow. Our hope rests finally on the freedom and wisdom and mercy of God’s providence to govern all fires, all calamities, all rescues, all non-rescues, so that all things work finally to magnify the fullness of the glory of God and all that he is for us in Jesus.
So, let us exult together in seven manifestations of God’s providence in the history of Crossway Books and your lives in particular.
1. Providence and Deity
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)
So the most fundamental thing that God is making clear in the mouth of Isaiah in Isaiah 46 is that his sovereignty in accomplishing his purposes is what it means to be God. “I am God; my counsel will stand.” “I am God; I accomplish my purposes.” Only God depends on no one but God, no one but himself, informing his purposes and accomplishing them. That’s the ultimate foundation of Good News Publishers, Crossway Books. And what makes this morning so happy is that you know that and you are glad to have it so.
2. Providence and Purpose
The God of all-embracing providence has not left us in the dark at all about his ultimate purpose in redemption and creation. It’s not hidden. It runs like a golden thread from Genesis to Revelation. “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6–7). It’s not unclear why you’re in existence. It’s just gloriously clear. We were “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12). That’s why we be. We exist for the praise of his glory — the meaning of the universe.
Now, praise is not a sad affair, especially when the last vestige of evil is wiped from the new earth. Therefore, the final goal of all providence is the glorification of God in the gladness of the blood-bought people of God in God. And when we search, as I did online, all the documents available for Good News Publishers and Crossway Books back to 1938, the refrain is as clear there as it is in the Bible that you exist for the glory of God. It’s clear in every mission statement that has been written that I could find. “Glad news for the lost” (from your parents), “and glory to God, through Jesus Christ” (from you).
3. Providence and Gospel
Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27–28)
So, at the moment in history when the greatest evil was perpetrated against the greatest good, the all-governing hand of God was most lovingly active and sovereign. Herod scoffed. Pilate prevaricated. The mobs cried, “Crucify!” The soldiers drove the nails. And in it all, God was doing his plan and his purpose to save sinners. If God’s providence did not extend to the greatest evil ever done, there would be no good news, and there’d be no Good News Publishers, and there would be no Crossway Books. For 83 years, Good News Publishers and Crossway Books has flooded the world with the good news that it was God who bruised his son to save millions of sinners.
4. Providence and Conversion
When Jesus said to the departing rich young ruler, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” his disciples were dismayed and said, “Well, who then can be saved?” — to which Jesus answered, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:24–26).
Good News Publishers has cast upon the waters of this world billions of gospel tracts, and more recently, millions of gospel-laden books. And surely, it is no exaggeration to say that thousands upon thousands of persons have miraculously passed from death to life reading that good news — every one of them a miracle. Because with man, it is impossible, but not with God.
5. Providence and Loss
Every godly life, every fruitful ministry, advances through loss. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom” (Acts 14:22). And through many tribulations we must advance in godliness and fruitfulness. When the final word of loss came to Job that his ten children were dead, “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:20–21).
So, whether by flood or fire or relational heartache or physical challenges, Crossway and you, Lane and Ebeth, have known loss on your way to godliness and fruitfulness. And we today join you in saying, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
6. Providence and Humility
God intended and designed his meticulous providence in order to shut the mouth of all self-reliant pride and to awaken in us God-dependent humility.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist. . . . Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13–15)
As it is, you are arrogant in saying, “I will get on the plane this afternoon and go to Minneapolis,” if you do not also say, “If the meticulous providence of God orders it so.”
“Meticulous providence is designed to remove boasting from human beings and to instill humility.”
If God wills, we will do this or that. That’s why I use the term “all-embracing, all-pervasive” providence. But the existential reality is this: that meticulous providence is designed to remove boasting from human beings and to instill humility. And I just want to bear public witness, happy witness, with all of you that God has wrought this in you, Lane and Ebeth. He has wrought this in you. We need examples today of your kind of strong backbone and conviction mingled with humble contrition and dependence. We need it very badly.
7. Providence and Perseverance
You and I, and all of us I am sure, hope to say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). And to those of us who love you and love this ministry, we say that we will pray that, indeed, both of you will say that cheerfully and confidently in the hour of your death. And we have good hope that you will — and it isn’t in you or me. It’s in the keeping providence of God. The Lord says,
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:40–41)
That’s your only hope to say in the hour of your death, “I have finished the race.” This is our only hope. If you have another hope, you’re building on sand. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
So, I say it on God’s behalf, and I say it to Lane and Ebeth on all of our behalf: you are greatly loved. And I join with you and the rest of us here in ascribing your keeping to the all-embracing, all-pervasive, all-wise, merciful providence that God has shown to us.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25)
By John Piper — 2 years ago
The following is a lightly edited transcript.
We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:5–8)
I want to add to that list, “the one who reads with . . .” What would you put there? The reason I feel okay suggesting that Paul could continue that way is because those last several gifts are not gifts that are unique to any Christian. Every Christian is supposed to be merciful:
Be merciful, as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)
That’s spoken to all Christians, and here in this passage it says, “those of you who show mercy as your gift, do it with cheerfulness.” Or what about giving? It says to do that with generosity. Every one of you men should be a giver, financially and in other ways. That’s not a unique gift. So if Paul can take contributing and say, “do that with generosity,” and to the one who shows mercy, “do that with cheerfulness,” then he can say something to the one who reads as well, because everybody’s supposed to be a reader, if you’ve been given the opportunity to learn how to read in this world. There are cultures that haven’t had that opportunity yet.
What would you fill in the blank with? The reason this feels so relevant to me, and the reason I’m starting this way, is because if there are merciful people (which all Christians are supposed to be), and Paul feels legitimate in calling out mercy as something you might be especially gifted at, that means that ordinary Christian duties and acts can be expressed in peculiarly, individually anointed ways, just like reading. So I paused and I thought about that for myself, thinking, “What about me?”
I’m going to tell you my story, because if you know me at all, you know me as a preacher and a writer. Maybe you know me as a family guy, for those of you who know me personally enough to be on the staff with me and so on for 33 years here. But you don’t know how I got to all those places and what limitations and giftings prescribed those paths. You’re all led by limits that you have — things you’re not good at — and a few things that you are more or less good at, and that’s why you do what you do.
So for me to fill in the blank, I would put it this way: In your mercy, be cheerful; in your contributing, be generous; and in your reading, be what? What’s your blank? You could fill in that phrase with “in your reading, be speedy,” or you could say, “in your reading, be really good at comprehension, memorization, and remembering,” or it could be “ in your reading, be especially adept at relating what you read to other Scriptures,” or, “in your reading, be especially adept at explaining to other people,” or, “in your reading, be especially adept at applying it to your friends.” The list could go on and on.
You may be more or less good at some aspects of reading and not so good at other aspects of reading. How would that affect your life? How would that affect your vocation or your fathering?
My Struggle to Speak
I grew up in a Christian home, and my dad was an evangelist. My mom and dad are both in heaven, I believe, right now. And I’ve always described my childhood as the happiest home I could have ever imagined. My mom and dad would sing. They’d sing in the front seat of the car while my sister and I sat in the back seat on the way to Daytona Beach, Florida, to do some deep sea fishing. Those are great memories of my life. And they would sing things like “Heavenly Sunlight.” That’s an old spiritual song from the 1950s.
I had a great home, but somewhere around the seventh grade something happened, and I discovered I could not speak in front of a group. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t like when a person has butterflies, or their knees knock, or their hands tremble. I shut down. It was absolutely humiliating from seventh grade until I was about twenty. It was horrible. I would not want to live my teenage years over again. I do not look back on my teenage years as happy years. I had acne, and that was probably owing to how anxious I was.
I didn’t accept any office proposals in school, even though academically I did okay in high school. If they nominated me for vice president or president I would say, “No way; you have to give speeches. I can’t give any speeches.” I couldn’t do a report in a biology class for 30 seconds in order to say what I was supposed to be doing with my science project. I couldn’t do any of it. I took a C in Civics because I was supposed to give an oral book report. I said to Mr. Vermilion, “I can’t give an oral book report.” And he said, “Well, if you don’t give an oral book report, you’re going to get a C.” I said, “That’s fine, I’ll get a C. I just cannot do it.”
My Struggle to Read
Accompanying that, and maybe related to it, was the fact that I couldn’t read fast, and therefore I disliked any kind of test that involved reading. There were these horrible tests you had to take for standardized stuff to get into college, where you would read a paragraph and then they would ask you ten questions about it. I couldn’t remember what was there, and if I were to go back and reread it to find out what the answer was, it would keep me from finishing on time. Inside I would just be churning with anxiety about tests like that because I couldn’t read. To this day, I cannot read faster than I can talk.
Since then I’ve talked to some specialists and I’ve taken all kinds of courses. I’ve had examinations done. Andy Naselli’s wife told me the other day, “I think, Pastor John, you have dyslexia.” I said, “Well, I don’t transpose things too often. When I write down phone numbers, I do sometimes switch things around.” She said, “Oh no, that’s not the only mark of dyslexia. All kinds of things that are going on with your brain.”
That’s like one of my sons, so I passed some of this on to one of them. I can remember my son was ready to drop out of high school a week before he graduated from Roosevelt High, and I said, “Why?” He said, “I can’t do what she wants me to do.” And the teacher said, “If you don’t do this, you’re going to fail this class.” What she wanted him to do was listen to her in class and write down the main points and hand that in at the end of the class. That’s all he had to do to pass the class. But he said, “I can’t do that. I could tell her verbatim what she said when she’s done, but I cannot write and listen at the same time.” Those are the peculiar things that you can pass on to your kids.
So anyway, the point of all that was that I came to college as a very slow reader with a poor memory — the very two things that are necessary to be academically successful, at least in my mind. And I was also not able to speak.
Let the One Who Reads
I fell in love with reading in the 11th grade, but it didn’t change the speed of my reading. I just wanted to read fiction, so I became a literature major in college, which is crazy.
I avoided every single class on novels and took every class on poetry. Do you know why? Novels are long, and they wanted me to read six novels in a class, but I couldn’t read one novel in a class, let alone six. Whereas with poetry you take a poem that’s very short and analyze it and write a paper about it. I could do that. That’s why today I’m a preacher and not an academician. I tried teaching at Bethel for six years. I was a competent teacher, but as I looked around at my colleagues and what’s expected of an academician — namely to read everything, remember everything, and write books about everything — I said, “I’ll never be able to do that.”
Do you know what preachers do? In season and out of season they remember Bible verses. On Sunday they have a paragraph, and they understand it, love it, and tell people what they see in it. I thought, “I could do that!” And I did it for 33 years, and people thought I was good at it. I became a pastor in large measure because I can’t read fast, and I can’t remember much of what I read, but oh, can I analyze a paragraph. If you give me enough time, I can analyze a lot of them and write books like that. I mean, when you write a book it looks to people like, “Whoa, to write a book like that you must read everything!” No, the reason I write books like that is because I don’t read everything.
So as I finish my phrase here — “let the one who reads . . .” — I do not say, “let the one who reads be a speed reader, or, “let the one who reads be one who remembers everything he reads.” I don’t and I can’t. But I will say, “let the one who reads read slowly and deeply, and with tears, and with longing to live it and speak it as he sees it. Then I talk.
“Let the one who reads read slowly and deeply, and with tears, and with longing to live it and speak it as he sees it.”
And I would just say to you brothers, as you finish that sentence, you fill it in for yourself. God made you the way you are. If you have a great memory, memorize books of the Bible. I work like crazy to memorize Scripture. I wake up every morning and before I get out of bed, I recite a chapter in Philippians until I’ve got the whole book, and I also quote a chapter in 1 Peter until I get the whole book. I know those two books by heart. I could recite both those books by heart right now. Do you know what that cost me over the last eight years? It was constant work. Those things would go out of my mind within a week if I wasn’t doing a chapter a day on Philippians and 1 Peter. So the fact that I have a lousy memory is no excuse for not memorizing Scripture.
The Place of the Bible in Daily Life
Here’s what I want to do the rest of the time. Given my limitations that I can’t read fast and can’t remember much of what I read without an enormous amount of labor to memorize, how do I read my Bible daily? How does the Bible function for me in my life daily? That’s what I want to talk about for the rest of our minutes together. I have it boiled down to something like the following categories: Reading and my life, reading and God, reading and the devil, reading and witness, reading and crisis, and reading and family. I have a little story to go with each of those regarding how reading relates to those things in my life.
Reading and My Life
The gist of it is this: I read my Bible every morning and pray for about an hour. I’ve done this as long as I can remember, and I say, brothers, it is my life. So I’m going to start with my life. When I say reading and life, this is what I mean. Here’s 1 Peter 1:23:
Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
Understand that. The statement “you have been born again” means you have been made alive from spiritual death by the living and abiding word of God. If any of you men are alive in Christ, you owe it to the word of God. That was 1 Peter, now here’s what James does with a similar thought. First he says:
Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth. . . . (James 1:18)
That means you were born again, brought to spiritual life, and made a believer by the word of truth. Then he continues:
Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
What a strange phrase. He says, “receive the implanted word.” It’s already implanted in you. That’s what happened when you were born again; God planted his seed in you. His word has taken root in you. That’s why you’re a Christian. But now James says, “Receive it. That will be your life. Your life is given and your life is sustained by the power of the word at the beginning and the receiving of the word.” That’s been every morning for me for about 60 years, because I started when I was about 15. I have a Bible that my parents gave me when I was 15. I look at it and how it’s marked up in red. I have memories of lying in my single bed with the trolley cars on the wallpaper on the wall above me, reading my Bible late at night, desperate because I couldn’t speak.
That was a great gift to me by the way, that God shut me down socially and cut me off from all fast tracks, all party tracks, and all cool-guy tracks. I was just shut down into my little world of going hard after God when I was 15. So I’ve been reading my Bible every day since I was 15, and it has been my life.
That’s my first point — the Bible and life, or reading and life. It doesn’t matter whether you feel like it, though you want to feel like it. The idea is to enjoy it with all your heart, but you’re like farmers. Farmers cultivate the field because the crops won’t come. It doesn’t matter whether they’re weeping. You go forth weeping, sowing your seed, and you will come forth rejoicing. So weep on, reader; that’s not the criterion of whether you should read or not. Life comes through this word.
If you want to know how I do it, by the way, I use a Bible plan that’s called the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan. It’s a plan where you read the whole Bible in a year with four chapters a day, roughly, and you’re in four different places of the Bible at the same time. You get five days off without reading at the end of every month. That’s the genius of the program because everybody gets behind and the reason people give up on reading the Bible in a year is because they’re behind by February and they feel like there’s no point to continuing. It helps if you start drifting. The devil is an expert at using drifters to do nothing. So what a wonderful thing this is. I’ve been using it for 30 years. It’s just gold. I can never find anything better.
Reading and God
Reading is not an end in itself; we want to know God and we want to trust Christ. We want to be filled and led by the Holy Spirit. The word is the key to all of those. So let me just say a word about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, and how reading relates. I just cannot overstate to you, men, what a precious thing it is to know with a few clear sentences, why you are alive and what you’re doing every morning and every night. In other words, why do you exist and why do you read your Bible?
God the Father
With regard to God the Father, it is for his glory:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Now, wouldn’t that include reading your Bible? So I know the goal of my reading the Bible. I know it beyond a shadow of doubt. God is to be made to look glorious in my life because I read the Bible. That’s clear as daylight to me as I look at the whole range of Scripture. So every text I read, I know I’m reading it to the glory of God. I want God to look great because I’m reading this book. I want to know him as great, see him as great, savor him as great, and show him as great. That’s number one. I read the Bible for the glory of God the Father.
God the Son
What about the God the Son? I think of Romans 8:32, which is probably the most important verse in my theology:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
The logic is that if God didn’t spare Christ, but handed him over to torture and shame for sinners like me, would he then withhold any omnipotent effort to give me everything I need for his purposes? No, the logic would break down if he did. Christ would have died in vain if he did. Therefore, every good thing that you get from the Bible is blood bought. And that’s how Jesus relates to every text you read. Second Corinthians 1:20 says:
All the promises of God find their Yes in him.
So if you have him, if you are in him, if his blood is covering your sins, every page of this book is yours. The whole promise, the whole inheritance, and everything good that you could possibly get out of this book that’s really there is yours because of Jesus and God not sparing his own Son. If he didn’t spare his own Son, will he not with him freely give you all things that are in this book for your good and for your eternal welfare? Yes, he will. So the goal of all of all things is the glory of God, and the foundation of all things is the blood of Jesus, the Son of God.
God the Spirit
Third, let’s speak about the Holy Spirit. We have texts like, “be led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18), or, “bear the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22–23), or, “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), or, “put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit” (Romans 8:13). Everything we do is to be done in the power of the Holy Spirit, by relying on him. That’s true for the Bible.
The book you’ve got in your hand there, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, is my lifetime of effort to describe what’s that like — what is it like to read the Bible in reliance upon the Holy Spirit. There are 300 pages about that. And by the way, don’t feel intimidated, thinking, “Oh my goodness, he gave me this book. Now I have to read it.” You do not have to read it.
Here’s my suggestion. Most of you probably do not read 300-page books, but you read short things. A book like this doesn’t have to be read straight through. You can just flip through the table contents, and if you see a chapter that sticks out, just go there. It might help. So regarding God the Father, read to his glory. Regarding God the Son, every benefit that is promised in the Bible is yours on the basis of his blood. Regarding the Holy Spirit, he’s the one who illumines. He’s the one who opens the eyes of the heart. He’s the one who gives a spirit of wisdom and of revelation. Read in reliance upon his help.
Reading and the Devil
The devil is real brothers. I think the devil is on a leash, and God holds the leash. The devil may be the immediate cause of all kinds of horrors in the world, but God holding the leash could have jerked it at any time. Therefore, behind everything is God with his infinitely wise purposes.
When I think of the devil today, I think of the way we treat each other on the internet. I think of the kind of tensions that are seething in the church right now between maskers and non-maskers and between Trumpers and non-Trumpers. The kind of stuff that we’re feeling in our hearts towards each other is demonic. It really is demonic. And therefore, I hate the devil and I want the devil to be defeated. I want you men to be good warriors against the devil. I want to read a verse to you and then tell you a story. This is 1 John 2:14. It says:
I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
“There’s a connection between the word of God abiding in you and you overcoming the evil one.”
There’s a connection between the word of God abiding in you and you overcoming the evil one. Jesus was perfect, and when he was tempted by the devil, what did he do? He quoted the Bible, of all things. He’s the one who wrote the Bible; he didn’t need to quote the Bible. All he needed to do was say what he said later — “Get out of here. Go to the pigs. Go to hell. You’re done. I’m God, and you don’t own anything. You don’t rule anything. I’m Jesus, the Son of God.” Instead of that, he quoted Scripture and dispensed the devil in that way. You can do that too, and that’s what they were doing in 1 John 2:14.
The Sword of the Spirit
My first year here in Minneapolis was 1980, and I was living over at 1604 Elliot with Tom Stellar. He was my associate for 33 years. Tom just switched from being a pastor at Bethlehem to be a missionary. That’s a glorious way to live. I love it. Tom and I were living together, and he was the associate here for students and I was a brand new pastor in 1980. We got a call from some college students at Bethel at about 10:00 p.m. at night, saying, “There’s a woman in this apartment that’s demon-possessed, and we want you to come and cast a demon out.” That’s in the Bible; it’s just not in my experience.
What would you guys do if somebody called you up and said, “There’s a demon-possessed woman in the apartment here. We’re not letting her out. You come. We’ll keep her here”? I called Tom, because you’re supposed to go out two by two. We got in the car and headed for that apartment and were praying, “God we’ve never ever been asked to do anything like this in our life. This is a frontline missionary story. This is not normal for pastors in Minneapolis.” We got there and went in, and then there was this girl named Midge, which I came to find out later, and she looked like a maniac. She had a pen knife, one of these little things that have a short blade, and she was going around pointing it at people, but she didn’t stick anybody. I kept my winter coat on thinking, “Okay, it won’t go all the way in if I keep my coat on.”
Now, what would you do in that situation? You quote the Bible. You start telling Bible stories. You recite Romans eight. You call up anything God gives you. You need Christ and you need the Holy Spirit at that moment, and you say, “God, help me. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I know what I’m saying right now that the word of God gave Jesus power over the devil. So may you grant us your word now to speak in a prophetic way that would deliver her, because they say she’s even possessed. I don’t know. Maybe that’s the way she always is. She just looks horrible. She sounds horrible.” So that’s what we did.
She collapsed on the floor and the students, there were about six of them, men and women, began to sing over her choruses of hallelujah, and then — I would call this prophetic — they put words besides hallelujah too, like, “Jesus is powerful.” I forget what words they used, but just words that came to mind about Jesus, they sang over her. We sang over her. She went absolutely berserk, screamed at the top of her lungs for Satan not to leave her, and then, bang, just went as unconscious as she could be as far as I could tell. And I thought, “Oh my goodness, she’s dead or something.” I didn’t know what was going on. We stopped and waited, and she came around and, brothers, her face was totally different. When she opened her mouth, it was a different voice. And I said, “Midge…” and I handed her my Bible, which she had knocked out of my hand two or three times before, and I said, “I want you to read Romans 8 to us.” And she did.
She was in church the next Sunday on the second row, which scared me to death. I thought she was going to stand up and do something horrible in church. I remember visiting her in the hospital because she broke her leg playing soccer, and she told me horrible stories while I was visiting in the hospital about Satanic worship she was involved in when she lived in Arizona. Brothers, I don’t know what your challenge might be. Sometimes the devil is subtle and sometimes the devil is blatant. Right now you’re all dealing with the subtleties of Satan. That’s what he specializes in within the Western world. He thinks all of us scientific people don’t believe he exists, so he’ll keep that cover and not show his hand too much with exorcism or demonic possession like he does in so many other places.
But it’s here, and witchcraft is here, and all kinds of demonic involvement are here in the Twin Cities, and you guys are going to hit it. It will be there either in subtle ways or in manifest ways. I just tell you, the word of God is powerful. It is powerful. You do not have to be an expert at this, but you do need to be in the word. You do not want to walk out without your sword any morning.
Reading and Witness
On November 5th, Noël had a car wreck. I loved our yellow Toyota; everybody loves our yellow Toyota. People would say, “There comes the pastor in his yellow Toyota,” and she totaled it. Now, it wasn’t her fault at all. The other guy ran the red light, and she’s fine. State Farm gave us $6,000 for that Toyota. We had to have another car because we only have one car. We’ve always only had one car because we live so close. I even walked over this morning.
David Livingston said to me, “Go to Oleg down in Farmington. He rebuilds wrecked cars. Jason Meyer is driving one of his cars, Chuck Steddom is driving one of his cars, and I’m driving one of his cars. So go get a car from Oleg.” So I called Oleg and said, “Hey, Pastor John here.” He thought I was joking and said, “Yeah right, blah, blah, blah.” Then he said, “You mean the Pastor John?” And I said, “Yes, yes, Oleg. Come on. I need a car. I really drive cars. I don’t fly.”
So we drove down there, and what does Oleg do? He was a half an hour late. I said, “We’ll meet you at 12:30 p.m.,” and he was a half an hour late. When he showed up, he said, “I had to go get Andy because Andy called me this morning right after you called and said he wanted to talk about Jesus. He doesn’t know Jesus, and I’ve tried to witness to him. I told him there’s a Jesus guy coming to buy a car, so I’m going to come get you and you’re going to talk to him.” So I was there to buy a car, and he introduced me to Andy Standal — I’m saying the name so you can pray for him — and he took us up to the lunchroom nook in his shop and sat us down and walked away and said, “Tell him about Jesus, Pastor John.” Would you be ready for that? Would you be ready?
You will be if you read your Bible every morning and come away from your Bible with one sentence that you love. Now, that’s getting at my point about the fact that I don’t remember much. There is no way I can remember the four chapters that I read in the morning. I read them and sometimes a half an hour later, I can’t remember even where I was reading. I have to work to make sure something lodges in my mind, so I take a sentence and I chew on it, savor it, love it, and I trust it. Sometimes I write it on a piece of paper and stick it in my pocket if I think I’m not going to be able to remember it, and I eat it all day long. I eat that one sentence all day long, because I can remember a sentence. I can’t remember a chapter, let alone four.
So what did I do with Andy? I just took the lozenge out of my mouth, and the lozenge that morning was John 6:35, as I recall, and it says:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
I talked to Andy for 20 minutes about what it means to be hungry for Jesus and to drink the water of Jesus. God brought words to my mind. He just brought words. Andy was spellbound. I mean, he just sat there. He’s just a mechanic and he helps Oleg, so he probably doesn’t have a college education and is just a real ordinary, normal guy. Here I am with a PhD, and that doesn’t mean anything there. Only one thing does me any good there: Will the Holy Spirit show up, reach in my brain and pull out a verse or two, and help me to say, “This is beautiful, Andy. This is my life, Andy. This is free and you can have this living water.”
He didn’t make any decision there. In fact, I didn’t push for any decision. I hardly ever do that because I want them to know it comes down to them and God in reality, not me putting artificial words in their mouths. And I said, “Now, do you have a Bible?” And he said, “Oh, I’ve got an old King James.” I said, “Okay, you need a newer Bible. I’ll send you one.” So I sent him one. I paid 34 bucks on Amazon and mailed him an ESV Study Bible. He’s probably never seen one of those in his life. It’s huge, and he probably just felt totally intimidated by it. I also sent him a copy of Don’t Waste Your Life and a copy of my Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. Those are my two go-to books for unbelievers that I would give to people. So pray for Andy Standal.
My point here is that today, before this day is over right now, God’s going to give you something like that. He’s going to put right in your path, something wonderful. My first reaction to Oleg was, “I came to buy a car. What are you doing? You can talk to this guy about Jesus. Why are you treating me like some kind of priest?” And that after that self-defensive, fearful attitude got crucified, I was thrilled to be able to do that. It was a gift. I came to the end of the day saying, “Jesus, what a gift you gave me to be able to talk to that guy.”
Reading and Crisis
I just have one quick story for this. Does anybody here remember the name Roland Erickson? You’re all too young. Roland was the main man at Bethlehem when I came in 1980. He was just a statesman of a Christian, and loved Jesus with all of his heart.
In my first year here I was as green as you could be. I had never done a funeral. I had never visited the hospital. I was so unbelievably green at age 34. I had just done academia for all those years, and I got a phone call that Roland’s wife had a heart attack. She was at North Memorial Hospital, and I was thinking, “Oh boy, I’m going to get there before the ambulance does. I’m going to be a good pastor.” So I jumped in my car and headed to North Memorial. And when I got out there, she was in surgery and the family, probably a dozen of them, was in the waiting room. I walked in and Roland gave me a big hug, and do you know what he said? He said, “Give us a word, pastor. Give us a word.”
I couldn’t think of anything. This was before I had formed some of my crisp habits of getting a sentence every morning from the four chapters I read. I used to think just reading it was good enough to let it have its general impact. I think I said something to him like, “Let me pray for you,” and I prayed something and he was very gracious. I went home as a humiliated, defeated young pastor, not knowing what I needed to do. So I got down on my knees and said to the Lord, “That will never happen again. I’m sorry.” And then I memorized Psalm 46, which says:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth.He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
I just memorized it cold. That was in 1982, and I’ve never stopped using it. It’s always there. I will never be caught flat footed again like that in your cause, Lord Jesus, if somebody looks at me and says, “Give us a word,” in the midst of crisis. Psalm 46 is coming out if nothing’s there from the front burner in the morning. But let me tell you what this morning was, because you might want to know, “Do you still do that?” Absolutely I do. This morning was a little crowded just because I’m fitting in a three-mile run before this, I’m eating breakfast, I’m having devotions, and I’m trying to get ready to talk to you guys. So I read Daniel 1–2. That’s all I had time for this morning. Do you know what I’m taking away, sucking on as a lozenge all day long?
And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs . . . (Daniel 1:9)
Do you have any meetings today? Are you going to meet one of your kids today? Are you going to talk to your wife today? Are you going to talk to a friend today, a colleague, and you wonder if you will find favor? Will they look upon this conversation with some sympathy? God gives favor. God gives compassion to his people when they need it. They might kill you or they might look upon you with favor. Who controls that? It’s God. The king’s heart is like a river in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wills (Proverbs 21:1). So I’m taking this away from Daniel 1:9 this morning: God gives favor and God gives compassion. He controls the heart of the people I talk to. That’s gold right there in Daniel 1:9. So that’s what I’ve got in my head all day long today, and we’ll see what the Lord brings me later this afternoon.
Reading and Family
This is the last one and we’ll be done. This is Deuteronomy 6:6, which I’m sure is really familiar:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
“Fathers, immerse your families in the word. Just immerse them in the word.”
That’s why I take a sentence and try to press it in on my heart, asking, “What does this mean, Lord? Why is this sweet? Why would this be precious today? How could I commend this to anyone today?” If I talk to my neighbor, Steve, about my life today, while I’m raking leaves in the backyard and Steve says, “How are you doing?” and I say, “Steve, I read this morning an amazing thing in the prophet Daniel,” wouldn’t that be cool? And then I could talk to him about the goodness of God and giving people favor when they need it and see where it goes. Canned evangelism has never worked for me. I think you ought to always have a simple gospel message in your head — something like God, sin, Christ, and faith. That’s a great outline for all gospel messages — God, sin, Christ, faith — but way better is for you to just tell people what’s precious to you today. What’s precious to you today about Jesus. Deuteronomy 6:6–9 continues on to say:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Now the point of that would be this: Fathers, immerse your families in the word. Just immerse them in the word. While you’re driving the car, be connected to the word; while you’re doing playtime in the evening, be connected to the word; while you’re dealing with a crisis in the kids’ lives, be connected to the word; at supper time, be connected to the word; while you watch a movie, be connected to the word. Just immerse your life in the word, and that’s only possible if you are reading the word.