FT: In your recent book Weakness Is the Way you mention you have few years left. You write, “We are on
our way home, and home will be glorious.” Are your
thoughts turning heavenward? What do you anticipate
or fear about your earthly life coming to an end?
JP: I don’t think I have an impressive answer. I live a
day at a time. I hope and pray that I shall be left in this
world as long as I can be useful – useful to the Church,
to Christian individuals, useful to the glory of God.
I have no idea how long that will be. I’m in very good
health at the moment. I believe my proper concern is with
living a day at a time and making the most of each day
I have lived long enough, by the way, to realize that usefulness is much more profoundly a matter of the kind of
person you are than of the
particular things you do.
When you are young
you tend to think of usefulness entirely as the
things you do. All through
the years, however, steadily God has been reminding me that what I am is fundamental to what I do, and is really much more important
than what I do.
That’s the perspective that I live with and relax with,
and I try on a day-to-day basis to ensure that I am what
I claim to be, what I need to be. That is a concern which
I find keeps me God-centred and Christ-centred in my
concerns in living rather than self-centred.
FT: As I listened to your answer, I thought that the world
really defines our worth by what we do, but I’m wondering if the Church is any better?
JP: I think that in the Church it’s the quality of relations
that count, and that ought to be central to our concerns –
relationship with God and with each other. I’ve just read
for the first time, and the book has been on the shelves for
some years, The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight. He writes
that Jesus focused the life to which He calls us into loving
God and our neighbour. The book goes through a whole
series of specifics along that line. I rejoiced in the book.
[Editor’s note: (Paraclete Press, 2004).]
I found myself in tune with it, and it was in tune with
where I am these days. When I go around to churches, I
get the strong feeling that we aren’t taking love as our pri-
mary calling anything as seriously as we should – which
I now diagnose as immaturity rather than perversity.
In our churches we are juvenile in many ways at
points where we ought to be adult. We’re the victims
actually of the world’s conviction that your significance
depends entirely on what you do and not at all on who
you are. That creeps into us without our noticing it. It
doesn’t get challenged very often in preaching, in Bible
study groups – not as far as I can see.
And if you hold to that idea that what you do is what
counts, it does keep you juvenile. It keeps you from real
spiritual development at a deep level.
It lets pharisaism in through the back door into your
life and into the life of the congregation. The essence of
pharisaism, the taproot, is the thought that what you do
is what counts, and any challenge to that assumption
is scandalous. A lot of us are living with much more of
that assumption, making us tick more than we realize.
FT: In your book you describe how God’s strength is
made perfect in our weakness. I’m wondering how that
has manifested itself in your own life?
JP: The experience of
physical limitation as I
waited for my hip surgery
was what got me going on
the theme of weakness as
day after day I lived with
that, waiting for surgery.
It set me going on the weakness theme, and I highlighted it in my book as a hook to catch the reader’s
interest. Writers do this, and the impression left is that
when we think about weakness, Packer is leading us
to think about our own physical conditions and our
limitations, but that is not what the book is supposed
to be about. The book is supposed to be about being
made strong on the strength of the Lord, the fact that
the hope in which we live is an enormous strengthener.
I hope that readers are getting that message.
I want to help people, that’s my edification concern,
and I don’t talk about myself in a way that merely generates human interest and stops there.
Having said all that, the experiences I have had, they
are experiences of help, God helping me to do things
I didn’t think I could do. When I was called to a life of
pastoral ministry, I was very clear I was no good with
young kids. That’s a weakness, and I felt I had been
assured God would be alright with that.
In pastoral ministry generally I had often felt apprehensive. I go to visit people who I know are dealing
with problems I know I don’t have to deal with.
The Lord, as a matter of fact, has helped me in all
sorts of things, all through my career.
The essence of weakness, as I understand it, is that
you feel you are in a situation that is beyond you in some
ways. The Good Lord has been helping me with this and
that constantly over the years, but the this-and-that is
really the thrill of achieving the things I believe He was
the strength of the lord
The essence of weakness
is that you feel you are
in a situation that is
beyond you in some ways.