I am the product of a million accumulated experiences, interactions, conversations, books, sermons, movies, classes, etc, all woven together by the sovereign hand of God. Some of these were little incremental nudges in one direction, others were epochal, life-changing moments. As I’ve been reflecting back on my years of walking with Jesus, a couple transformative sentences came to mind– sentences in a sermon or a book (or even a song) that redefined my world. In one way or another, I am who I am today because of these five quotes.
1) “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” -John Piper
I know, I know; every “young, restless, Reformed” guy my age probably has a Piper quote like this on his list. It’s not very original of me. And yet, I can’t help it if it’s true. The all-satisfying sweetness of God’s glory completely blew up my life in college. The entire course of my life was derailed, my theological system blown up, and I was rocketed into an orbit around the cross that I have yet to escape from. I’m so thankful for Greg and Bethann Carlson inviting me and my friends over on Saturday nights during my sophomore year of college for what we affectionately called “Pie and Piper.” Because of those nights encountering the glory of God, I’ll never be the same.
2) “A mature Christian is easily edified.” -Harold Best
I am an insufferably arrogant person by nature (and by willful repetition). In college, when the doctrines of grace took root in the native soil of pride in my heart, what resulted is what’s called “cage-stage Calvinism.” My “superior” biblical knowledge meant that no sermon was ever accurate enough, no experience was ever rich enough, no book or class was ever thorough enough. I delighted in pointing out errors, critiquing messages and classes, and generally being an obnoxious know-it-all. I thought I was a warrior for truth, I thought I was honoring God and growing in godliness. But ironically, my pride was keeping me from enjoying or benefiting from any of it, and the whole time I thought I was growing I was only sinking deeper into cynicism and self-righteousness. That’s what pride will do to you.
What brought me to my senses was an offhand comment from one of my professors, which I learned later was a quote from Harold Best: “A mature Christian is easily edified.”
Easily edified. Not easily annoyed, or easily cynical, or easily smug, or easily disdainful. Easily edified. As in, easily spots whatever is good and right and true and is built up and helped by those things. Easily learns. Easily humbled. Easily encouraged. And, in turn, easily encourages.
Oh how I want to be all those things! I’m not there yet, but this quote was instrumental in breaking me out of my cage and into the wide open freedom of just being able to enjoy truth and beauty, without having to critique it.
3) “We never move on from the cross, only into a more profound understanding of the cross.” -David Prior
I first read this in C.J. Mahaney’s “Living the Cross-Centered Life,” as part of my journey into a gospel-centered worldview. Until this sentence, I didn’t have a theological framework for understanding the gospel as anything more than the front door to the Christian life. The idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection isn’t just the front door, but the whole house… well, I didn’t have any category for that.
But then this sentence by David Prior landed in my brain, and suddenly the lights came on. As John Piper once said (not one of my “life-changing quotes, but pretty good nonetheless): “Books don’t change people. Sermons don’t change people. Sentences change people.” This single sentence turned my Christian life upside down. It’s now the driving force behind how I read the Bible, how I relate to God, the sermons I preach, the books I write, how I disciple my kids… really, everything. I’ve seen so much more in the Bible then I ever thought was there, but I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. I look forward to the rest of my life– the rest of eternity, really– moving into a more profound understanding of the cross.
4) “Whoever is truly humbled will not be easily angry, and will be compassionate and tender to the infirmities of his fellow-sinners, knowing that if there be a difference in him it is grace that has made it, and that he has the seeds of every evil in his own heart.” -John Newton
John Newton, the libertine slave trader turned pastor and poet, author of “Amazing Grace,” is the man I most want to be like when I grow up. His experience of grace… well, amazed him. And humbled him. And broke him down into the gentlest, kindest person I have ever met (at least, met through his letters). He is most widely known for his hymns, but it’s actually his letters– personal, pastoral, overflowing in warmth and grace– where he shins the brightest. His words, like the quote above, are so saturated in humility and gentleness that they’ve made a lasting mark on my hard, proud heart. I’ve made it my life goal to read everything Newton ever wrote, because everything he was is everything I want to be.
5) “I can see in the strip malls and phone calls
The flaming swords of Eden,
In the fast cash and the news flash and the horn blast of war,
In the sin-fraught cities of the dying and the dead,
Like steel-wrought graveyards where the wicked never rest,
To the high and lonely mountain in the groaning wilderness,
We ache for what is lost
As we wait for the holy God”
Andrew Peterson, as I have written before, is a songwriter whose music has literally saved my life on more than one occasion. Through all of his songs runs a thread of “homesick happiness,” a bittersweet longing for the coming day when everything is put right. This quote from his song “The Far Country” was the poetic catalyst that awakened that same ache in my own heart. In the years since I first heard this song (and in the thousands of times I’ve listened to it since), it has sustained my soul and etched deeper and deeper lines of longing into my being. These days I find more and more of my Christian life bent towards heaven, yearning for everything sad to come untrue. Every book I’ve ever written and every sermon I’ve ever preached have been chasing these lines, trying to echo the groaning of a world that is waiting with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God.
I’m so thankful for Andrew Peterson (and the other saints on this list), and how God has used them to shape and channel my life towards Jesus. What a blessing and privilege it is to be in the same great family as them, and labor in the same fields for the same great King.