John Piper Doesn't Want You To Serve God
Because of the misunderstandings and difficulties I anticipated with lay teachers trying to interpret John Piper’s Desiring God from Lifeway’s Masterworks series, I have tried to provide what I would consider to be a laymen’s guide to the text. I started the project way ahead of time, hoping that I could somehow prophecy and discern what was to come. My prophecy was correct, there is difficulty. My discernment skills, however, are not quite so in tune. As a result I have missed a thing or two in each of my reviews that would have been more helpful. Today, in reviewing the edited version of chapter 6 on prayer, I have seen the light. I can tell at least one thing that is about to come on the week of May 9 when Masterworks adopts Piper's teaching from Desiring God on prayer.
Some will accuse Pastor Piper of teaching that we are not to serve God.
Preachers are wordsmiths. To our credit we are trying to hold the attention of a media/image driven society with words instead of moving pictures. This is not easy. In the process we try to craft things in such a way that will hold one's attention. Sometimes that means making statements that at the onset are deeply disturbing so that the hearer will hang on for the edifying conclusion. The problem is that sometimes people can’t get past shock of the initial statement. This happens for two reasons. Most of us are not good listeners or thinkers, but we are quick judges (James 1:19). Secondly, this happens because at times we are far too deeply entrenched in bad theology. Bad theology is fueled by poor semantics. We associate certain words with the wrong meanings. To illustrate my point I ask two questions:
1. What does it mean to serve the LORD?
2. Why do you serve the LORD?
I have heard many people say that they want to serve the LORD in order to pay Him back for all He has done for them. While this may appear to be a deeply meaningful statement, very admirable, and heartfelt – it is idolatrous and heretical. It is heretical because there is nothing Scriptural that requires us to “pay God back” for all He has done. This sort of thinking challenges the very fabric of salvation by grace. It is idolatrous because though you may appear to be drawing attention to such a wonderful God, but you are actually drawing attention to you and the efforts you will now set forth for God. Think about it!
Because we are where we are with poor theology and poor semantics, Piper will not be received well when he titles an entire section, “Glorifying God Not by Serving Him, But By Being Served By Him.” Poor theology and poor semantics will lead someone to inevitably read “Don’t Serve God.” That is not what Pastor Piper is saying.
Obviously Pastor Piper’s prophetic and discerning radar was much better than mine – he knew some would anticipate he was teaching people not to serve. I think two paragraphs on page 172 are very important to the wonderful point Pastor Piper is making in this section of the book. The paragraphs begin with paragraph 3, “Then shall we not serve Christ?” Here is the key sentence you should not ignore, “But we will beware of serving in a way that implies a deficiency on His (God’s) part or exalts our indispensability.”
Pastor Piper is saying that if we want to be right in our understanding of the glory of God in prayer, we must allow Him to serve. We must learn to wait and not assist. We must learn that God does not need our help, but rather our obedience. There is a big difference in the two. It is not just splitting hairs with semantics. We must call on Him to display His power. By serving us, He reveals His goodness, glory, and power. If we are to glorify Him as provider, we must call on Him to provide, and let Him do so. If we are to glorify Him as healer, we are to call on Him to heal, and wait on Him to do so.
This does not mean that we pray and do nothing. It means we pray and obey. We do not pray and assist. We do not pray and then try to manufacture God’s answer. We do not pray for God’s will and then do it our way. We do not pray and then pay God back. We do not pray and try to gain God’s favor by striking a deal, as in I will, if you will. All of these attitudes are heretical and idolatrous.
Pastor Piper is encouraging us to divest ourselves of every misguided exaltation of self in serving, and serve God Biblically.