I love John Piper. Not in the way that people “love” ice cream or fast cars or long walks on the beach, but in the way that Christians love each other, in the way that a student loves his most influential teacher, and in the way that a sheep loves its shepherd. Over the past six years John Piper has influenced my heart and my passion and my knowledge of God and my approach to ministry and my view of what real Christianity really is more than anyone else that I can think of. It feels empty and frustrating to try to express how God has transformed me through his ministry. To say that I genuinely love him and that I love God because of him is the best I can do here.
It’s not easy being John Piper. Or John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, C.J. Mahaney, D.A. Carson, James Montgomery Boice, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Polycarp, Paul, Jesus, Nehemiah, Daniel, David, Samuel, Moses, Abraham, or Noah. It’s hard to be a leader. It’s especially hard to be a Christian leader. Seriously—it’s really hard.
Not that I’m some weathered, proven, battle-hardened Christian leader. I speak from an ounce of experience and a pound of observation (observation of both biblical truth and real-life examples). But the pound of observation sure adds a lot of weight to the ounce of experience. I haven’t been a Christian leader long enough to know much, especially when compared to the mature leaders that I so long to be like. But I’ve experienced enough to know that pastors and leaders and teachers need prayer and encouragement.
Godly Christian leaders like John Piper don’t need our prayer and encouragement because they insist on being affirmed or because they’re constantly ready to take their ball and go home if we don’t tell them how great they are. They have more character and conviction and fortitude than that. A lot more. Rather, they need us to intercede for them and uplift their spirits because through our prayers and encouragement, God empowers them to persevere. And perseverance is a massive issue, especially for leaders (and therefore, for us). If the generals and the captains and the flag-bearers sheathe their swords and rein in their horses and lower their banners, what will the common soldiers do? We’ll be tempted to think that the fight isn’t worth fighting, that the battle can’t be won, or that the cause doesn’t warrant the sacrifice. If the shepherd flees, the sheep will be scattered. Fleeing leaders leave frenzied sheep. We need John Piper and John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul and C.J. Mahaney and D.A. Carson to press on, just like we needed the other seventeen men mentioned above to press on until the Lord took them home.
So after I read John Piper’s latest Fresh Words article entitled “Answers to Objections to Going into Missions,” I was compelled to email him to express my gratefulness to God and to plead with him to persevere. I say “plead” because the difficulty and demands of Christian leadership are such that off-handed, shallow affirmations aren’t enough. Leaders need our passionate and consistent prayers and our heartfelt and concrete encouragements. I didn’t write because I wanted to interact with a Christian celebrity. If I did, God will call me to strict account and will chastise me for self-promotion, partiality, and flattery (among other just-as-serious things, like believing that there is such a thing as “Christian celebrities” or believing that God is pleased with the idea). I wrote because I had to write. I wrote because I don’t want John Piper to give up this week, and because I think that him giving up is a biblical possibility (Hebrews 3:12-14).
Here’s my email:
Hi Pastor Piper,
I just read your Fresh Words article on “Answers to Objections to Going into Missions.” And I am so grateful to the Lord for giving you the immense amount of strength it must take to continue to blow the trumpet for missions, for the lost that missions will reach, and for the glory of God that redeemed sinners will reflect. It is a soul-agonizing experience to continually exhort and encourage and plead and urge and beg people to walk the narrow road into missions, and to passionately implore God to send them out. So I marvel at the power God must be pouring out in your life to enable you to keep doing this agonizing ministry.
This has been a weary season for me, and to see you and other Christian leaders persevering at the frontlines of the battle gives me courage and strength to put one foot in front of the other. Just as I begin to stagger and glance back at the life-options that would be so much easier, I catch a glimpse of you hoisting the flag of the Gospel high as you set a strong pace straight into the fray. To know that God is empowering you to do this day by day is life to me. I beg you to not give up or hold back as you labor in what will be at most the last few decades of life that you have. I genuinely need your example.
I am not flattering you. I firmly believe everything I am saying. And I am pleading with you to press on.