(The following is a reposting of the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.])
Why is it important to be stunned by the God-centeredness of God? Because many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered. It is a subtle danger. We may think we are centering our lives on God, when we are really making Him a means to self-esteem. Over against this danger I urge you to ponder the implications, brothers, that God loves His glory more than He loves us and that this is the foundation of His love for us” (6-7).
After a few years of pastoral ministry, there are really few human things that have the magnitude of shock that they can stun a pastor, for in our ministry we encounter everything: promotions, terminations, graduations, drop-outs, faithful marriages, dissolving marriages, long-term terminal illnesses, unexpected sudden deaths, adoptions, adults who sorrowfully admit to having been molested as children, substance abuse, the calling of missionaries, mortgage defaults, conversions, apostasy, and the like. Once in awhile, we share in something that shocks everyone, such as an act of terrorism, or an unexpected political election outcome. Generally, however, we receive by grace our calling as those “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10).
A danger lurks that we could become overwhelmed or numbed by the sheer emotional and spiritual stresses of the holy burden for the souls we serve. Our task as shepherds includes being burdened for our people. As Paul said, “and, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:29; cf. Gal. 4:19). We carry the victories and defeats of our people willingly, humbly, faithfully, trying to balance love for a flock with keeping our own souls at peace. While we tend to be people who cannot beshocked, however, if we are not careful we can become people who cannot feel.
What grace it is that there is something that should be even more stunning to us – more awesome, shocking, incredible, than the ups and downs of our sheep – something that has a weightiness (2 Cor 4:17) that will guard the shepherd’s heart and mind against hopelessness and callousness: The God-centeredness of God—that he loves his glory about all else! We should be awestruck daily by the reality that God does not exist to make much of us – and thus our service and preaching is not to make much of people, even broken ones – but to make much of himself; and that any benefit that comes to us from him comes because he is working to make the maximum glorifying of himself through us. “For my own sake, for my own sake, I [defer my anger], for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another” (Isa 48:9).
As Piper notes, we, and those we serve, often do not see God’s glory as the chief and highest end of all things. Subtly, we live as if God’s glory for himself is penultimate rather than ultimate, for ultimate, we think, is his love for us. We feel good in places of prosperity and pain – like those mentioned in the list above – as long as we can say, “God has something better for me (in this present world), because he loves me.” But God’s immeasurable God-centeredness should make me pause at every station in life and say, “this is for his glory, regardless of my feelings and hope for temporal prosperity.” “[God’s God-centeredness] is no isolated note in the symphony of redemptive history. It is the ever-recurring motif of the all-sufficient Composer” (7). He has composed all things for his glory and is conducting the beautiful symphony of the Gospel through us to people who need to see his glory. I need to feel this; my people need to feel this.
Without seeing God’s glory, billions of people on this planet will perish, and millions of saints will waste their lives seeking after things that are passing away rather than things that are eternal (cf. Col. 3:1-4; I Jn. 2:15-17). But God himself has pointed the way to what it most important in the universe: his glory.“Therefore, brothers, tell your people the great ground of the gospel: God loves his glory” (9)! I hope to be stunned even more today.
Update 2011: I was sharing with a friend today how easy it is to fall into a soft Prosperity Theology as a believer. That is, we might not use Prosperity Theology means, but we still might have an end in mind that expects the Lord to reduce life’s pains to nil. But this is not God-centered, Cross-shaped thinking; this is man-centered thinking. At the root of any form of a soft Prosperity Theology is our living for God’s glory as long as he is living for our glory. Instead we must keep in mind that the Lord can leave his people in Egypt for 400 years, call a prophet to preach mercy to a people-group he hates, and stone a Spirit-filled servant at the hands of mob (in)justice while giving him a glimpse of Christ standing in glory to greet him as your his hope. We must not sell ourselves short on gospel-thinking: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, even when our lives look like the children of Jacob’s, Jonah’s, and Stephen’s. We must live for his glory without thinking of anything of anything but his glory in return.