Remembering David Powlison, a Faithful, Jesus-Loving, and Gospel-Centered Brother

Last Friday, author and psychologist David Powlison went to be with Jesus. I love this brother. I met and talked with him only once, but I will never forget the sweetness of his spirit, and how I saw Jesus in him. His books (a few of which he asked me to endorse) and his articles made a difference in my life, and the lives of countless others. And the updates he shared after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September are gold.

Over the years I’ve read and recommended several of David’s books, including Speaking Truth in LoveGod’s Grace in Your Suffering, and Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness, as well as his booklets Stress: Peace Amid Pressure and Breaking the Addictive Cycle. I also quoted from him in some of my own books. His insights were penetrating and gospel-centered:

“Don’t ever degenerate into giving good advice unconnected with the good news of Jesus crucified, alive, present, at work, and returning.”

“God does not accept me just as I am; he loves me despite how I am…He loves me enough to devote my life to renewing me in the image of Jesus.”

“Are you too bad to receive grace? How could you be too bad to receive what is for the bad?”

“Jesus’ death is your guarantee that when you come to God and confess your sins to him, you will receive mercy.”

Thank you, David, for honoring King Jesus with your life. I’m sad for your loved ones, but glad for you that you are enjoying His presence. I can’t wait to see you again. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

There have already been a number of wonderful tributes to David, including this one from John Piper and this one from Kevin DeYoung (as well as this great overview of David’s life, from Justin Taylor). But I’m focusing on the following article by Ray Ortlund because not only is it a tribute to David, it is also a powerful and practical help and challenge for all our lives. Let Ray’s wonderful story be a conduit by which David Powlison, who “being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4), speaks to you, realizing he is more alive than ever in the presence of Jesus.

How God-honoring if people will be able to say such things of us before and after we die! (And if they couldn’t if we died today, why not call upon God’s grace and power and make conscious efforts to spend the rest of our lives becoming the kind of people others could honestly tell such stories about?)

Thank you, David Powlison

By Ray Ortlund

Remembering David Powlison moves me deeply. When everything was on the line for Jani and me, David and Nan were there for us.

We spent a day together in 2007—for Jani and me, a catastrophic disaster of a year. David was an oasis of calm, gentleness, and reasonableness amid a swirl of accusations, loss, and heartbreak. David, with Nan, kept our hope alive.

One suggestion David made became so significant that I have passed it along to many others since then. I can’t remember his exact words. But it went something like this: “Ray and Jani, you are suffering. And it isn’t going to get better any time soon. So here is an idea. Ask the Lord for a verse of Scripture, a promise in the Bible, to help you get through this. And when that verse jumps off the page into your heart, make it the theme of your life while you slog your way forward. However dark the nighttime sky might be, you can always look up at that North Star promise, get your bearings again, and keep going. But wallpaper your reality with the Word of God.”

So we did. We asked the Lord to personalize to us some biblical encouragement of his own choosing. And he did. Jani was reading 1 Peter 5 soon thereafter, and verse 10 was a direct hit—in the best of ways: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” We seized that verse.

We memorized 1 Peter 5:10, discussed it, prayed over it. Jani wrote it out on 3×5 cards and taped them to the inside of the kitchen cupboards, so that every time she went to get a glass or a plate, there was 1 Peter 5:10. I wrote it out and stuck it to the visor in my truck so that, at a red light, I could look up and be strengthened by 1 Peter 5:10. We never let that verse out of our sight. And in ways we could not have imagined, God has proved faithful to his promise. To this day, whenever Jani and I experience some restoring, confirming, strengthening, or establishing mercy, we look at one another and say, “1 Peter 5:10!” In fact, we did so just yesterday. That word from above didn’t merely help us cope. It redefined how we experience reality. It kept me in the ministry.

David Powlison understood human despair. He understood how God helps sufferers. He understood that what we need is a hope dependent on nothing in this world but grounded in God alone. The word himself in 1 Peter 5:10 has become, to me, one of the most precious words in all the Bible—God, not delegating the task to any angel, but God himself getting personally and directly involved with us in our real need. How glorious.

At the time, I have to admit that, though my heart resonated with 1 Peter 5:10, I struggled to believe it. Jani believed it more than I could. But David was right. And thanks to his wise counsel, I turned toward the Lord with the weak faith I had. And gradually I was enabled to believe it more and more. And now I know, at a deep and personal level, that God himself restores, confirms, strengthens, and establishes us, when we have nothing to offer him but our sorrow and need.

Thank you, David. Thank you.

This post originally appeared on Ray’s blog and is used by permission.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries