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Don't Waste Your Life
The Great American Dream is nothing more than a great eternal tragedy. Don't waste your life on it. Ask instead how your life fits into the great purpose of God.

My father was an evangelist. When I was a boy, there were rare occasions when my mother and sister and I traveled with him and heard him preach. I trembled to hear my father preach. In spite of the predictable opening humour, the whole thing struck me as absolutely blood-earnest. Oh, how he would plead and press the warnings and the wooings of Christ into the heart of each person. He had stories of glorious conversions and stories of horrific refusals to believe followed by tragic deaths.

Don't Waste Your Life

Seldom could those stories come without tears.

For me as a boy, one of the most gripping illustrations my fiery father used was the story of a man converted in old age. The church had prayed for this man for decades. He was hard and resistant. But this time, for some reason, he showed up when my father was preaching. At the end of the service, to everyone's amazement, he came and took my father's hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church and God opened his heart to the Gospel of Christ. He was saved from his sins and given eternal life, but that did not stop him from sobbing and saying, as the tears ran down his wrinkled face, "I've wasted it! I've wasted it!"

A tragedy in the making

You don't have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter and then be willing to live for them and die for them. If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on into eternity, you don't have to have a high IQ. You don't have to have good looks or riches, or come from a fine family or a fine school. Instead you have to know a few great, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things—or one great all-embracing thing—and be set on fire by them.

Maybe you don't care very much whether you make a lasting difference for the sake of something great. You just want people to like you. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife, or husband, and a couple of good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and a quick and easy death, and no hell—if you could have all that (even without God) — you would be satisfied. That is a tragedy in the making.

In April, 2000, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards we re killed in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over 80. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing 80 years old, and serving at Ruby's side in Cameroon. The brakes failed, the car went over a cliff, and they were both killed instantly. Was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great passion, namely, to be spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ—even two decades after most of their American counterparts had retired to throw away their lives on trifles. No. That is not a tragedy. These lives were not wasted. And these lives were not lost.

"Whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35). I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February, 1998 edition of Reader's Digest, which tells about a couple who "took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells." At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream.

But it wasn't. Tragically, this was the dream: come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment:

"Look, Lord. See my shells." That is a tragedy.

One thing really matters

Nobody had a more single-minded vision for his life than the apostle Paul. He could say, "I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). One thing mattered: I will not waste my life! I will finish my course and finish it well. I will display the Gospel of the grace of God in all I do. I will run my race to the end. Oh, that God would waken in you a single passion for a single great reality that would unleash you and set you free from small dreams, and send you, for the glory of Christ, into all the spheres of secular life and all the peoples of the earth.

What was once foolishness to us—a crucified God—must become our wisdom …

Life is wasted if we do not grasp the glory of the cross, cherish it for the treasure that it is, and cleave to it as the highest price of every pleasure and the deepest comfort in every pain. What was once foolishness to us—a crucified God—must become our wisdom and our power and our only boast in this world. If we would make much of God, we must make much of Christ. His bloody death is the blazing center of the glory of God. In this regard, few verses in the Bible are more radical and sweeping and Christ-exalting than Galatians 6:14: "Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world." Paul says, Let this be your single passion, your single boast and joy and exultation.

That's like saying: Boast only in the electric chair. Only exult in the gas chamber. Let your one boast and one joy be the lynching rope. No manner of execution that has ever been devised was more cruel and agonizing than to be nailed to a cross and hung up to die like a piece of meat. It was horrible. Can Paul be serious? No other boast? No other joy except the cross of Jesus?

How can we become the kind of people who trace all our joy back to joy in Christ and Him crucified? Answer: The old self that loves to boast and exult and rejoice in other things died. By faith we are united to Christ. His death becomes the death of our self-exalting life. We are raised with Him to newness of life. What lives is a new creature whose single passion is to exalt Christ and His cross. The world is no longer our treasure. It's not the source of our life or our satisfaction or our joy. Christ is. Being dead to the world does not mean having no feelings about the world. It means that every legitimate pleasure in the world becomes a blood-bought evidence of Christ's love and an occasion of boasting in the cross.

Business as usual?

Christ owns this world and the allegiance of every person is His right. He has come into this mutinous world, which He made for His own glory, and paid for an amnesty with His own blood. Everyone who lays down the weaponry of unbelief will be absolved from all crimes against the Sovereign of the universe. By faith alone enemies will become happy subjects of an everlasting kingdom of justice and joy. Advancing this cause with Christ is worth your life.

May God give you a fresh, Christ-exalting vision for your life …

No, you don't have to be a missionary to admire and advance the great purposes of God to be known and praised and enjoyed among all peoples. But if you want to be fully satisfied with God as He triumphs in the history of redemption, you can't go on with business as usual—doing your work, making your money, eating, sleeping, playing, and going to church. Instead you need to stop and pray and think about how your particular time and place in life fits into the great purpose of God to make the nations glad in Him.

Many of you should stay where you are and ponder how you can fit your particular skills and relationships and resources more strategically into the global purpose of your heavenly Father. But if the discontent with your present situation is deep, recurrent, and lasting, and if that discontent grows in Bible-saturated soil, God may be calling you to a new work. If, in your discontent, you long to be holy and to magnify Christ with your one, brief life, then God may indeed be loosening your roots in order to transplant you to a place and a ministry where the deep spiritual ambitions of your soul can be satisfied. It is true that God can be known and enjoyed in every legitimate vocation; but when he deploys you from one place to the next, he offers fresh and deeper drinking at the fountain of his fellowship. God seldom calls us to an easier life, but always calls us to know more of Him and drink more deeply of His sustaining grace.

Big issues are in the offing. May God give you a fresh, Christ-exalting vision for your life—whether you go to an unreached people or stay firmly and fruitfully at your present post. May your vision get its meaning from God's great purpose to make the nations glad in Him. May the cross of Christ be your only boast, and may you say, with sweet confidence, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Don't Waste Your Life
Adapted from Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper, copyright 2003. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 60187, Download for personal use only. Reprinted in Servant Magazine, Winter, 2004.




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