In this message, he stated:
My aim and my prayer through this message is that this year you might feel yourself captured by a cause and a vision a thousand times greater than your life. I pray that you will feel yourself to be part of the coming victory of God. I know that many of you feel: Look, pastor John, you don’t know what I am dealing with. I just want to survive another day. I just want to keep my marriage together and raise a couple decent kids, and keep my nose clean.
Believe me, I’m not opposed to that. My aim is not to burden you. My aim is for you to feel the liberating, energizing power of seeing your all-consuming problems in connection to God’s global victory. God cares about your marriage, your kids, your singleness, your health. But these only have their greatest meaning in relation to the victory of God. I promise you it is not oppressive to see the littleness of your life in connection to the largeness of God’s victory. Every just war that has ever been fought for a great ideal has given meaning to the loneliness, and the amputations, and the widowed moms.
The connection that I want you to see today between your life and the victory of God is the connection of prayer. Your prayers are God’s way of accomplishing the victory of Jesus Christ over this world. I know that for many of you this is way beyond what you usually pray about. I think God wants to change that. I hope that praying for the victory of God in this world will become part of your life. Don’t object by saying, “I’m too small. I’m unsophisticated. I’m not educated. I’m just an ordinary, simple person.” God chose a simple, peasant virgin to bear his Son. And he chooses simple people of faith to bring his victory by prayer. O don’t rule yourself out of this great calling.
This is an extraordinary message, made all the more extraordinary by the realization that Dr. Piper had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer, a fact unknown to his congregation at the time.
In his letter to the Bethlehem congregation, released January 6, Dr. Piper expressed his hopes this way: So I am praying: “Lord, for your great glory, 1) don’t let me miss any of the sanctifying blessings that you have for me in this experience; 2) don’t let the people of Bethlehem miss any of the sanctifying blessings that you have for us in this; 3) grant that the surgery be successful in removing cancer and sparing important nerves; 4) grant that this light and momentary trial would work to spread a passion for you supremacy for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ; 5) may Noël and all close to me be given great peace–and all of this through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.” I hope God will lead you to pray in a similar way.
On August 17, 1980, over twenty-five years ago, Dr. Piper preached a message entitled “Christ and Cancer,” taken from Romans 8:18-28. In this message he exhorted his congregation with these words: I regard this message today as a crucial pastoral message, because you need to know where your pastor stands on the issues of sickness, healing, and death. If you thought it was my conception that every sickness is a divine judgment on some particular sin, or that the failure to be healed after a few days of prayer was a clear sign of inauthentic faith, or that Satan is really the ruler in this world and God can only stand helplessly by while His enemy wreak havoc with His children–if you thought any of those were my notions, you would relate to me very differently in sickness than you would if you knew what I really think. Therefore, I want to tell you what I really think and try to show you from Scripture that these thoughts are not just mine but also, I trust, God’s thoughts.
Also: All the affliction that comes to the children of God whether through persecution or sickness, is intended by God to increase our holiness by causing us to rely more on the God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9). If we get angry at God in our sickness we are rejecting His love. For it is always in love that He disciplines His children. It is for our good and we must seek to learn some rich lesson of faith from it. Then we will say with the Psalmist, “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn thy statutes . . . I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me” (Psalm 119:71,75). That is my fourth affirmation: ultimately God controls who gets sick and who gets well and all His decisions are for the good of His children, even if the pain is great and the sickness long. For as the last verse of our text, Romans 8:28 says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”
Please remember to pray for Dr. Piper, his wife and family, and the congregation of Bethlehem Baptist Church as they trust God in the midst of this challenge.