"Noël and I would have periodic real struggles, real struggles – not communicating, hurting each other with our words, … feeling hopeless that we could be happy."
Several weeks ago Desiring God, a website that produces and distributes resources from the ministry of John Piper (link), featured an interesting post entitled Corporate Worship Saved My Marriage. It focuses on a brief exchange between C.J. Mahaney and John Piper at the 2016 Sovereign Grace Churches Pastors Conference, held in late October. John Piper was a guest speaker, and he also spoke on Making the Authority of Scripture Practical.
What follows is a transcript of the exchange between John Piper and C.J. Mahaney. (Should you wish to hear the entire interview, go here.)
Partial Transcript of C.J. Mahaney's Interview with John Piper
Piper: I think I'm still married because of corporate worship.
Mahaney: What do you mean by that? (laughter)
Piper: I was hoping you would ask. (laughter) Noël and I would have periodic real struggles, real struggles – not communicating, hurting each other with our words, um feeling hopeless that we could be happy. And I would go I would go to church under those awful conditions, and I'm supposed to preach. And in those moments of singing His greatness, His mercy, the Gospel, I would generally be melted, and I would feel hope. I would feel like what an Idiot! I'm an Idiot, that you made that much of that. And that's what happened to me repeatedly in song, in corporate worship God struck me down with hope; He struck me down. You proud arrogant selfish jerk! And He did that with the Gospel. And then picked me up, enabled me to preach and go home and press on. We're quite happy today by the way. (laughter) These are good days.
Mahaney: Excellent. Yes they are.
Now that you have read the words that were exchanged, take a look at the clip, paying close attention to Piper's voice inflections.
Last week Christianity Today reported on this stunning revelation. The CT article states:
Before he admitted it, no one had any inkling that Pastor John Piper—one of the most influential pastors, authors, and theologians in America—had a troubled married life.
But he did, and revealing it for the first time in public stunned his interviewer, fellow Pastor C.J. Mahaney, and an audience of pastors at the 2016 Sovereign Grace Churches Pastors Conference held in late October in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The CT article also highlights Piper's career:
– He was Chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary
– He pastored Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for 33 years
– He is founder and teacher at Desiring God
– He is the author of more than 50 books
John and Noël were married in 1968 and have four sons and one daughter, along with a growing number of grandchildren.
The CT article further states:
As he worshipped, Piper said the power of the Gospel brought real change in him.
However, we have not forgotten that around five and a half years ago John Piper took a sudden leave of absence. It was announced on the Desiring God website – John Piper's Upcoming Leave – and this is a portion of what Piper wrote:
I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.
But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.
Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion. In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.
No marriage is an island. For us this is true in two senses. One is that Noël and I are known inside-out by a few friends at Bethlehem—most closely by our long-time colleagues and friends David and Karin Livingston, and then by a cluster of trusted women with Noël and men with me. We are accountable, known, counseled, and prayed for. I am deeply thankful for a gracious culture of transparency and trust among the leadership at Bethlehem.
The other way that our marriage is not an island is that its strengths and defects have consequences for others. No one in the orbit of our family and friends remains unaffected by our flaws. My prayer is that this leave will prove to be healing from the inside of my soul, through Noël’s heart, and out to our children and their families, and beyond to anyone who may have been hurt by my failures.
The difference between this leave and the sabbatical I took four years ago is that I wrote a book on that sabbatical (What Jesus Demands from the World). In 30 years, I have never let go of the passion for public productivity. In this leave, I intend to let go of all of it. No book-writing. No sermon preparation or preaching. No blogging. No Twitter. No articles. No reports. No papers. And no speaking engagements. There is one stateside exception—the weekend devoted to the Desiring God National Conference combined with the inaugural convocation of Bethlehem College and Seminary in October. Noël thought I should keep three international commitments. Our reasoning is that if she could go along, and if we plan it right, these could be very special times of refreshment together….
Personally, I view these months as a kind of relaunch of what I hope will be the most humble, happy, fruitful five years of our 35 years at Bethlehem and 46 years of marriage. Would you pray with me to that end? And would you stand by your church with all your might? May God make these eight months the best Bethlehem has ever known. It would be just like God to do the greatest things when I am not there. “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).
I love you and promise to pray for you every day.
Christianity Today reported on John Piper's leave of absence (along with Mahaney's leave that occurred in 2011) in this Christianity Today article (see screen shot of title below)
Here is a portion of the CT article that mentions John Piper:
As we recall, John Piper resumed his ministry when the eight months were up. A mere two years later he retired from the pastorate. Of course, he continues to speak at conferences like the one Sovereign Grace Churches recently held.
As John Piper stated to Mahaney in the video clip:
We're quite happy today by the way. These are good days.
And we certainly hope they are…