John Piper (1946- )
Three brief meditations by Baptist theologian and pastor John Piper. An extensive library of Piper’s work can be found at: www.desiringgod.org
Talk to God, Not Just About Him
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)
The form of this psalm is instructive. In the first three verses David refers to God as “he”:
The Lord is my shepherd . . .
he makes me lie down . . .
he leads me . . .
he restores my soul.
Then in verses four and five David refers to God as “you”:
I will not fear, for you are with me;
your rod and staff comfort me;
you prepare a table before me;
you anoint my head with oil.
Then in verse six he switches back to the third person:
I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.
The lesson I have learned from this form is that it is good not to talk very long about God without talking to God.
Every Christian is at least an amateur theologian; that is, a person who tries to understand the character and ways of God and then put that into words. If we aren’t little theologians, then we won’t ever say anything to each other about God and will be of very little real help to each other’s faith.
But what I have learned from David in this 23rd Psalm and in other psalms is that I should interweave my theology with prayer. I should frequently interrupt my talking about God by talking to God. Not far behind the theological sentence, “God is generous,” should come the prayerful sentence, “Thank you, God.”
Mercy for Today
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
God’s mercies are new every morning because each day has only enough mercy in it for that day.
We will despair if we think that we have to bear the burden all our future troubles today. God wants us to know we don’t have to. Today’s mercies are for today’s troubles. Tomorrow’s mercies are for tomorrow’s troubles.
Sometimes we wonder if we will have the mercy to stand in terrible testing. Yes, we will. Peter says, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (I Peter 4:14). When the trouble comes the Spirit of glory comes. It happened for Stephen as he was being stoned. It will happen for you. When the Spirit and the glory are needed they will come.
The manna in the wilderness was given one day at a time. There was no storing up. That is the way we must depend on God’s mercy. You do not receive today the strength to bear tomorrow’s burdens. You are given mercies today for today’s troubles. Tomorrow the mercies will be new.
Don’t Be Like the Mule
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. (Psalm 32:9)
Picture God’s people as a farmyard of all sorts of animals. God cares for his animals, he shows them where they need to go, and supplies a barn for their protection.
But there is one beast on this animal farm that gives God an awful time, namely, the mule. He’s stupid and he’s stubborn and you can’t tell which comes first — stubbornness or stupidity.
Now the way God likes to get his animals into the barn for their food and shelter is by teaching them and calling them by name. “I will instruct you and teach you the way that you should go” (Psalm 32:8).
But the mule will not respond to that sort of direction. He is without understanding. So God gets in his pick-up truck and goes out in the field, puts the bit and bridle in the mule’s mouth, hitches it to the truck, and drags him stiff-legged and snorting all the way into the barn.
That is not the way God wants his animals to come to him for blessing.
One of these days it is going to be too late for that mule. He’s going to get clobbered with hail or struck by lightening, and when he comes running the barn door is going to be shut.
Therefore, don’t be like the mule, but instead let everyone who is godly come to God in prayer at a time when he may be found (Psalm 32:6).
The way not to be a mule is to humble ourselves, to come to God in prayer, to confess our sins, and to accept, as needy little farmyard chicks, the direction of God into the barn of his protection.
O Lord Jesus: I thank you for your love for me and pray that you help me daily to learn to love you more and more; open my heart and dwell therein; fill my mind with your truth; keep my feet from wandering from your way; make my hands gentle, willing to give and to bless; teach me to be obedient, truthful, pure, and faithful, so that I may be a blessing to others and live to your glory. Amen.
—United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917, (adapted)