“It’s Hard to Go to Heaven in America”
Many will say that the needs are greater around the world, that the 10-40 window is a higher priority, that we have too many Christian workers and too much resource focused on reaching people in the Western-industrialized nations. I will not dispute any of that. It is all true. But that does not mean that God is not calling us to reach our neighbors and turn them into missionaries for the world. And it does not mean that with all of the resources and all of the churches and all of the workers here in America, that it is easy to find your way into the Kingdom of God.
I was listening to John Piper’s 1999 Biographical Lecture on John Bunyan “TO LIVE UPON GOD WHO IS INVISIBLE: Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan” and was reminded of the difficulty in “hearing the gospel” in America. If you only read the transcript on the Desiring God website you will miss it because it was an ad lib that Piper felt empowered to speak out the substance of his conclusions in studying the life of John Bunyan. I have transcribed them below. I urge you to take these observations to heart. Go back and listen to the lecture. Here’s the context of Dr. Piper’s comments. He is in the middle of drawing out his third lesson from Bunyan’s life and suffering:
3. Bunyan’s suffering opened his understanding to the truth that the Christian life is hard and that following Jesus means having the wind in your face. Here’s his next three paragraphs:
NOT IN THE MANUSCRIPT
If it was hard to live upon God only in the 17th century, think how hard it is to get into the kingdom of God today! It is hard for a rich man to get into the Kingdom and everybody in this room is filthy rich! No exceptions. I don’t care if you didn’t pay your rent last month. No exceptions. We are rich. It is hard in America to go to heaven. How many coats are in your closet, shoes, how many running shoes, gloves for every occasion, every manner of electric device to heat your food, [toasters, ranges, microwaves, toaster ovens], … plumbing is in your house, sewage carried away flawlessly, pure drinking water, refrigeration, 911 at your beck and call. I tell you, it is hard to go to heaven in America. Because who knows what you are leaning on until it is taken away. That’s why 1 Corinthians 1:9 says “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” In other words, everything was taken but the resurrection. …
IN THE MANUSCRIPT
In The Excellency of a Broken Heart (the last book he took to the publisher) he says, “Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think . . . . It is wounding work, of course, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving. . . . Where there is grafting there is a cutting, the scion must be let in with a wound; to stick it on to the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back, or there will be no sap from root to branch, and this I say, must be done by a wound.”
NOT IN THE MANUSCRIPT
If you wonder why there are so many fruitless saints? It may be because there was never a wound and the vine isn’t in the branch. It’s tied on and pasted on with a quick booklet, or prayer or aisle walking. And so there is no sap flowing and their trying to do “what you’re supposed to be doing—read the Bible and pray and you’re supposed to feel something in this worship service [right?]” and there is no life. And it’s scary. Churches are full of that kind of people all over America, and some pulpits have preachers like that.
Brothers, let this perspective energize your prayers for the community God has called you to reach. We need miracles, not marketing. We need a sold-out, passionate, God-intoxicated vision of our utter helplessness to the task if we want to see a nation turn from its avarice, greed and riches to the Lord who had no where to lay his head at night.