On David Powlison: A Spiritual Giant & Friend

For the past few days the Morris household has been grieving the loss of our good friend Dr. David Powlison to pancreatic cancer. A humble giant in the the faith, Dave led the charge toward a clear method of biblical counseling, wrote many essays and a few great books on the intersection of psychology and faith, and, most importantly to us, he was a dear friend of our family.

Last time I saw Dave and his wife, Nan, was over Chinese food in Glenside, PA. We all agreed it had been too long. Last Fall, Janet and I were sad to miss our chance to have one final meal with Dave as he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.

The Powlisons lived in our neighborhood when we lived in Philadelphia. Our children were young and played together. When our oldest was afraid to ride the bus, Dave and Nan were there to drive her to school.

A few years back, I traveled with our producer to Philadelphia to record programs about the life of the late Jack Miller. The Powlisons were among the several long-term friends from that church who showed up to talk about our mutual pastor and mentor. We gathered in a large room together and wept in thankfulness for the grace we had received in Jesus.

On the program, we included Dave’s testimony on how his faith grew under Jack Miller’s gentle perseverance and gospel presentation:


It was Dave who first pointed out to me the most-used line in all the Bible. It hinges on the Hebrew word “hessed” (steadfast love) and it is most known from its appearance in Lamentations 3:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.”

The passage goes on with how these mercies to His people are new every morning. But that word “hessed” keeps showing up with a variation in so many other places.

You find this line in Ruth and even more so in the Psalms. Just look at Psalm 110, which points to Jesus following in the order of Melchizedek. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his [hessed] love endures forever.” In Psalm 136—The Great Hillel—it shows up as the chorus 26 times in 26 verses.

This most-used line that Dave pointed out to me points us to Christ and needs to be hidden in each of our hearts. It needs to be one of those arsenal verses that we can use when our angst runs deep and when doubts and fears overcome us, especially when we’re caught trying to run faithfully on our own and apart from the Lord.

My friend Dave knew the sweetness of the love of God through Christ. Whether you are facing imminent death as he was until last Friday morning—or maybe you are struggling through this life in good health—you should have God’s “hessed” love hidden in your heart.


When a gunman opened fire on a country music concert in Las Vegas in 2017, I could think of no greater person to turn to for encouragement. Dave’s words then can speak into any hard time, and they speak to my heart now as I mourn his passing.


As Dave’s life was coming to a close, it was the Word and his love of Christ that came pouring out of him like a stream of living water. He wrote a commencement address for this year’s graduating class at a seminary in Philadelphia where he had graduated. Unable to attend as he underwent hospice treatment, his speech was read in his absence.

What was his message? Not accomplishments, not self-aggrandizement. Nothing like your typical graduation address. His message was for us to be unafraid to be publicly weak and to acknowledge how deeply we need the grace of the Lord Jesus to stand firm in our lives.

To the world, the life of a Christian is a life of weakness and foolishness. But that’s OK. In your weakness, the Lord’s strength is magnified.

These parting words sum up well the family friend we knew and loved. I will continue to mourn my earthly loss, but I must also celebrate Dave’s eternal gain as he finally meets the Lord he loves so much.

“My deepest hope for you is that in both your personal life and your ministry to others, you would be unafraid to be publicly weak as the doorway to the strength of God Himself.” – Dr. David Powlison


As the leader of the Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” A former secular journalist, Charles has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He and his wife, Janet, have authored several books, including Missing Jesus. Charles’ latest book is .

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