Transmitting the Word: An Interview with John Piper on Consistency and Community

RT: @JohnPiper Shocking end to 175 verses of love for the law: ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant’ (Ps 119:176).

9:15 am Jun 28th from TweetDeck

If you were following John Piper on Twitter.com, you’d be reading messages like this from him on a regular basis. Twitter is a relatively new technology, but to the well-known pastor and theologian, it’s just one more way to share what he learns from spending time studying God’s word each morning.

Dr. Piper learned how to study the Bible at Fuller Theological Seminary. After completing his doctoral work at the University of Munich, he taught for six years at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1980, he took the call as Senior Pastor (now called Pastor for Preaching and Vision) at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

In 1994, fourteen years into his pulpit ministry, Piper unveiled the vision of a resource ministry called Desiring God. The ministry offers Piper’s sermons and writings, as well as other resources, free for personal use.

Dr. Piper’s influence is considerable. With over 30 published books, including Desiring God, Don’t Waste Your Life, Spectacular Sins, and Finally Alive, he has reached countless people through print. After about three months of tweeting, his Twitter.com posts were being followed by nearly 18,000 people and growing. Nearly 23,000 readers subscribe to his blog and a video featuring him on YouTube has been viewed over 233,000 times.

Piper has transmitted the message of the Bible to countless people around the world, but how does he personally approach the Bible? BSM asked the preacher that question and others in a recent interview.

BSM: There’s an old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” How do you keep your familiarity with the Bible from causing you to grow indifferent to it?

PIPER: I pray Psalm 119:18 each time I go to the Bible: “Open my eyes that I may behold wonders in your law.” I think the point of that prayer is that there are wonders everywhere in “the law,” in the Bible, the instruction of God. And the psalmist is aware that he doesn’t often feel or see wonderful things as wonderful. So he asks to see. I do as well. I’m asking specifically that I would have spiritual eyes to see what is wonderful as wonderful. And don’t think that it doesn’t matter that you read glorious things without seeing them as glorious. It matters, and therefore we should plead with God to open our eyes.

BSM: How should we approach the Bible when reading it?

PIPER: I’m torn as to which approach to take in answering that. I want to say right off the bat that we should approach the Bible with reverence. And yet I’m aware that there might be people reading this who don’t even know enough about the Bible to know whether it should be revered or not. Maybe they’ve barely even read it. Because of the history of the Bible, exerting power in the lives of people for good for over two thousand years, I think I would say to those people, “Come to the Bible with a sense of expectation and openness that here you might find something vastly more wise and more penetrating and more world-shaping than any of the contemporary ideas you are presently dealing with.”

And after they come, I think they will discover that this is the very Word of God and, therefore, it should be approached with a sense of reverence. And it should be approached with a sense of need and with a sense of expectation that God has given us this Word in order to meet our needs, to convict us of sin, to bring us to the point of forgiveness, and then to give us hope.

Second Timothy 3:16 says that the Scriptures are inspired by God and are sufficient for sound doctrine and every good work. There’s nothing God expects of us that He does not provide in this Word. He helps us understand what to do and gives us the motivation to do it. There’s a high-level expectation that I think people ought to have when they approach the Bible.

BSM: How can we make time for the Bible?

PIPER: I don’t think it’s merely a function of time. It’s a function of earnestness and faith. A person must build into their life a regular encounter with God, personally and quietly meditating on His Word. I think the early morning is the best time, because it sets the tone for the whole day. If for some reason that time can’t work, then midday or evening.

Get the Bible, the time, and the place — make sure it’s planned — and then meditate on a portion of Scripture: a chapter, verses, or several chapters, depending on what you can do. Memorize some verse, or even phrases, that appear especially precious to you.

This morning I memorized, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jer 31:33). That was my little nugget that I took away from this morning’s devotions so that I could, all day long, reassure myself that God would do that for me.

You don’t need hours and hours with God every day, but you do need to have time with God orienting your mind, taking something into your heart, letting your heart express itself to God in communion — taking faith’s renewal and walking with God through the day, reminding yourself of what you saw in the morning.

I don’t think you need to be a “professional” preacher like me in order to enjoy deep and glorious things with God. In fact, some of the deepest saints that I’ve ever met, who outshine me, have not been “professional” Christians.

BSM: How do you memorize Scripture?

PIPER: First of all, by praying for discipline and setting aside time.

I set aside a block of time in the morning (an hour or so) to be with God alone, reading my Bible, praying for my family, praying for the church, and praying for my soul. And I can generally finish my four chapters or so of Bible reading in about 20 minutes, depending on how long I pause and contemplate. And my prayers may extend for 20 or 30 minutes. So I’ve got at least 5 or 10 minutes for Scripture memorization in that hour.

If you decide to memorize Scripture for 5 or 10 minutes a day, you can memorize a lot of Scripture! Really, it’s incredible! As I’m reading, I put circles around the paragraphs or verses that I want to memorize. I put a little “m” beside the ones that I have worked on so I can come back and review them in the coming days.

I got this idea from a little booklet about how to memorize long passages of Scripture. It recommended that you take your first verse, read it 10 times, and then close your eyes or shut your Bible and say it 10 times. I think if you do that, you can memorize almost any verse in the Bible: 10 times read, 10 times said, and then you’ve got it. When you come back the next day, open your Bible, say that verse again 5 or 10 times. Then you do the same thing with the next verse. Then you do them both together. Finally, you shut your Bible and leave. Then you come back and do it again.

So basically, the answer is repetition and review.

Here’s one other little tip that I use. If I pick a verse, a couple of verses, or a paragraph, I’ll put it on a piece of paper, and I’ll carry it in my pocket for the day. And at times during the day, I’ll pull it out and read it for my soul. I don’t memorize verses that don’t help my soul.

I’m not into mechanical memorizing. I’m into fighting the fight of faith. I want to memorize Scripture so that I can defeat the devil at 3 o’clock in the afternoon — that’s why I memorize! It’s so that I can minister to a saint in the hospital at 10 o’clock at night if I’ve forgotten my Bible. This is for my soul, and for the souls of others around me. So I carry it around, and I review it. Review is so crucial.

BSM: It seems like the Bible is a lot easier for you to understand than it is for most people. Is that true?

PIPER: I suppose that’s partly accurate and partly inaccurate. The accurate part is that when you’ve lived with a book for 50 years and it has been your main job to understand it and explain it, you have a head start. It’s not rocket science to understand that a man who spends his life meditating on a book in order to explain it to other people is probably going to see connections that others don’t see. And I think it’s seeing connections that makes the Bible live.

On the other hand, just because you’ve had a lifetime of exposure to the Bible doesn’t make you necessarily a better seer of what’s there. There are scholars, no doubt, who study the Bible more than I do and see less than lay people do of real truth, because they’re not born again.

What is inaccurate about the statement is that I don’t necessarily have a leg up on seeing the glorious truth of the Bible. In fact, there might be people who don’t know any Greek or Hebrew and haven’t spent a lifetime studying this Book who will see things in texts that I have not seen, because the Holy Spirit has simply attuned them.

I’ll give you an example. Psalm 119 talks about suffering as being one of the instruments that God uses: “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psa 119:71 ESV). There is learning that comes through suffering. Therefore, a person who has walked through deep waters that I haven’t walked through will probably see things I don’t see and experience them in depths that I don’t experience.

So I don’t want to elevate scholarship, knowledge of the biblical languages, or even length of exposure to the Bible as the only or even the main way by which we see glorious things in this book. God prepares people for seeing things in His Word in His own way, and there are people who will see things I’ve never seen.

BSM: How would you counsel someone to begin anew who hasn’t read their Bible in a long time?

PIPER: I would encourage them to get a fresh Bible — I’m not too concerned about what version — and then begin a reading program in the New Testament with some passages from the Old Testament. They should also get into a good church or small group that loves the Bible. And these two things — your personal encounter with the Bible and exposure to what God is teaching you through other people about the Bible — will cause the Bible to come alive again as you pray and ask God to make it come alive.

John Piper’s 5 Pointers for Approaching the Bible:

  1. Be open to the fact that it is the Word of God.
  2. Revere the Bible when you discover that It’s God’s Word.
  3. Have a sense of conviction that you are a sinner in the view of this Word.
  4. Know that the Bible meets you with forgiveness because Christ is at the center of the book.
  5. Have hope that you can press on in life because the Bible will give you all the guidance you need.

For more by John Piper, visit Logos.com/Piper

John Piper’s sermons, articles, blogs and tweets are available at DesiringGod.org.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Each issue of Bible Study Magazine provides tools and methods for Bible study as well as insights from people like John Piper, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Kay Arthur, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Barry Black, and more. More information is available at http://www.biblestudymagazine.com. Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (Sept–Oct 2009): pgs. 8–12.