John Piper: Why I Write

04.29.17 why I write copy

John Piper may be best known to you as a writer, or perhaps a theologian. And he is surely among the greats in both categories. However, you may not know that he is also an accomplished poet. In fact, he annually creates story poems centering on Biblical characters for his congregation each year for Advent. Piper’s works were recently published in a 13-volume set titled The Collected Works of John Piper, of which 140 pages are poems.

In tribute to this momentous publication, Piper penned a beautiful commentary on his love for poetry and writing as a whole, named Secretary of Thy Praise, which we have excerpted here. Be sure to continue to the end for his lovely poem I Write.

 

To Gaze on His Glory

Since not everyone revels in poetry, here’s a brief bit of prose to answer the same question, Why do I write so much? It’s a combination of my bent and God’s beauty. At about age 17, something happened. Before that, I avoided reading. After that, I’ve never stopped writing. Does that make sense? The best I can make of it is that, at about 17, I discovered that writing was a way of seeing that more than compensated for reading so slowly.

Hence, the bent. Now add to that, at about age 22, a supernova season of seeing God. I entered a world where the bent and the beauty became a catalytic combination of joyful energy. I have lived in that world for almost fifty years. Here’s a taste of how it works:

  • There is a greatness in the beauty of God. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). And all his works share in his greatness: “Great are the works of the Lord” (Psalm 111:2). I love to look at greatness. Since writing is a way of seeing, I write.
  • There is a wonder in the beauty of all God’s works and words. “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14). Every heart craves wonder. Woe to me if I walk through a world of wonders and grumble about the humidity. Even the psalmist prays to see this: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). God answers this prayer for me through writing. So, I write.
  • There is depth in the beauty of all God’s thoughts. “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” (Psalm 92:5). God spare me from wading near the beach for fear of your depths. Few things have pushed me more regularly into the deeps than writing. So, I write.
  • There is a vast value in the beauty of God’s mind. “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). Life is a constant battle not to believe the devil’s portrait of this world as preferable to the preciousness of God. Writing about this treasure helps me see it. So, I write.
  • There is an endlessness in the beauty of God. It is inexhaustible, and will be, for all eternity. “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us . . . they are more than can be told” (Psalm 40:5). For those who have the capacity to see, there will be no boredom in the endless ages of the world to come. Writing has delivered me from many a fearful season of threatened boredom with life. So, I write.
  • There is a gladness in the beauty of God. And a gladness in finding it out. “You, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4). “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). How can we not make this study the happy work of a lifetime — and beyond. Nothing aids my study of God’s works like writing. So, I write.
  • There is a legacy in the beauty of God. There is nothing better to bequeath. “One generation shall commend your works to another” (Psalm 145:4). “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation” (Psalm 71:18). Writing is a proclamation that will be heard beyond the grave. So, I write.

To Praise His Splendor

Taped in front of me on my computer monitor are these lines from George Herbert. They express my sense of calling:

Of all the creatures both in sea and land Onely to Man thou hast made known thy wayes, And put the penne alone into his hand, And made him Secretarie of thy praise.

Secretarie of thy praise. I only wish I could have done it better. Perhaps in whatever time remains, his grace will make a more ready scribe.

I Write

Some travel where they’ve never been,
    Some trace the paths within,
Some peer into the depths, and grope,
    Some scan the skies, and hope.
They long to see, 
    If faint or bright.
      Since I agree, 
         I write.

Some study, marking ev’ry page,
    Some probe the ancient sage,
Some perch cross-legg’d and chants rehearse,
    Some through the night converse
To understand 
   And seize the light.
      I set my hand 
         To write.

Some eat at gourmet restaurants,
   Some mortify their wants,
Some blitz along the Autobahn,
   Some plod the marathon
To feel the zest, 
   Enjoy the height.
      I share the quest, 
         And write.

Some paint, some build, some act the play,
   Some draw, some spin the clay.
Some cook, some sew, and some compose,
   Some dream, and some propose,
All to create. 
   Ah, such delight!
      I bear the trait, 
         And write.

Some heal, some shield, some educate,
   Some sway the magistrate,
Some feed, some serve to make shalom,
   Some bring the stranger home.
They seek to love. 
   I too invite
      The cordial Dove, 
         And write.

Some sing, some leap, some lift their hands,
   Some bow and keep commands,
Some kneel, some sway, some close their eyes,
   Some lie prostrate, some rise.
And all to praise. 
   Is this my flight?
      Oh, all my days! 
         I write.

And may it be that someday we,
   In heaven, sinlessly,
At last may see, and understand,
   And feel, and put our hand
And spirit to create, and love,
   And praise. Then to the Dove,
All-powerful and pure and high,
   My prayer will be: That I,
With crowning skill 
   And perfect sight,
      Be summoned still 
         To write.

Does Piper’s poem ring true with you? Leave us a comment below and share what motivates you to write.

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