Piper on Pressure and Productivity

Brothers we are not profA quote has been firmly wedged in my mind since I finished John Piper’s Brothers we are not Professionals that I thought I would share with you.  It has been tremendously helpful to me as I have let it simmer in my heart over the past few days.

In the chapter, Brothers, Read Christian Biography, Piper reflects on the lives of some of the most fruitful and, in terms of sheer output, most productive men in church history.  One man in particular was Karl Barth.  Although Barth was massively productive during much of his life, when he retired from his professorship in 1962, T.H.L Parker tells us he “lost the stimulus provided by the need to give lectures.”  Exactly what this means in regards to Barth’s actual output after he retired I am not sure, but Piper seems to interpret it negatively: on the flap of the book, Piper wrote in response,”Has greatness emerged from anything but pressure?  If greatness is to be servant of all, must we not be under authority, under demand, pushed, pressed?”  In other words, when the pressure stops, so does the productivity.

On the other hand, an overwhelming burden of responsibility tends to make us far more productive than we otherwise would have been on our own.  Ironically, the greater the number of responsibilities we already have, the more duties we tend to take on.  When we have too much time on our hands, we seldom find ourselves more fruitful.   Greatness is not produced from a life of unfettered ease, indulgent recreation and leisurely schedules–it flows out of a life squeezed by the crushing demands of home, work and ministry.  Sure, we could probably find a cushy pastorate if we so desired, and dabble in a dozen harmless hobbies throughout our life, but I doubt this would garner the words from our Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

What this means, then, is we should be exhorted to embrace the pressure of growing responsibility; to welcome the weight of intimidating duty.  I am not suggesting ungodly devotion to work.  Rather, I am hoping to encourage a willingness to accept the pressures and burdens of being a servant–of one who is constantly under pressure to lead, shepherd, pray, study, think, teach, write, counsel and make weighty decisions for the good of others and the glory of God.  We may get a little tired, and we may need to forgo some our our favorite hobbies, but it will be worth it.

Picture: Sean MacEntee

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