Starving for the Greatness of GodJanuary 2, 2007
For this first ever Classic Materials we enjoy an excerpt from a modern preaching classic: The Supremacy of God in Preaching.
In his own inimitatable style, John Piper calls modern preachers not to abandon the true focus of all preaching: God himself.
“People are starving for the greatness of God. But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is an unknown cure. There are far more popular prescriptions on the market, but the benefit of any other remedy is brief and shallow. Preaching that does not have the aroma of God’s greatness may entertain for a season, but it will not touch the hidden cry of the soul, ‘Show me thy glory!’
Years ago during the January prayer week at our church, I decided to preach on the holiness of God from Isaiah 6. I resolved on this first Sunday of the year to unfold the vision of God’s holiness found in the first four verses of that chapter: ‘In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.’
So I preached on the holiness of God and did my best to display the majesty and glory of such a great and holy God. I gave not one word of application to the lives of the people. Application is essential in the normal course of preaching, but I felt led that day to make a test: Would the passionate portrayal of the greatness of God in and of itself meet the needs of the people?
I didn’t realise that not long before this Sunday one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being sexually abused by a close relative. It was incredibly traumatic. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under that message. I wonder how many advisors to us pastors today would have said, ‘Pastor Piper, can’t you see your people are hurting? Can’t you come down out of the heavens and get practical? Don’t you realise what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?’
Some weeks later I learned the story. The husband took me aside one Sunday after the service. ‘John’, he said, ‘these have been the hardest months of our lives. Do you know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God’s holiness that you gave me the first week of January. It has been a rock we could stand on.’
The greatness and the glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovreign God of grace. That is the deepest need. People are starving for God. So I am persuaded that the vision of a great God is the lynchpind in the life of the chruch, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach. Our people need to hear God-entranced preaching. They need someone, at least once a week, to lift up his voice and magnify the supremacy of God. They need to behold the whole panorama of his excellencies.”