Don’t Waste Your Life
The Bible says, “You are not your own for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). You belong to God: He made you and he bought you (through the cross). That means your life is not your own. It is God’s, and this should form the basis for finding the meaning and purpose for your life.
The book opens with John Piper recalling his early search for the meaning of his life. If you ask those around you what the meaning or goal of their lives is, many might answer along the lines of having a successful career…being happy…living long…having a family…earning enough money to go on nice holidays and live in a big house…etc. For Christians however, Piper says that “God created us to live with a single, all-embracing, all-transforming passion - namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. Enjoying and displaying are both crucial”.
God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion. When I saw this, I knew, at last, what a wasted life would be and how to avoid it.
So a life is wasted when we do not live for the glory of God. And Piper means all of life; “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). God created us to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Flowing out from what God is, in himself, comes the purpose for our existence. God’s passion for his own glory gives birth to our passion, a passion to enjoy and display God’s supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples. The wasted life is, therefore, the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work, not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.
A Single Passion
Is this really possible? Can sex and cars and work and war and changing nappies and doing taxes really have a God-exalting, soul-satisfying unity of purpose? Yes! says Piper. Think about the people that make a durable difference in the world; they are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.
And what is that one great thing for a Christian? Piper says it is the cross, which we should cherish for the treasure that it is, and cleave to as the highest price of every pleasure and the deepest comfort in every pain.
When we boast, it should be in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14). Let this be our single passion. Christ’s death is the blazing centre of the glory of God (as Paul often says)…All exultation in anything else should be exultation in the cross.
For redeemed sinners, every good thing - indeed every bad thing that God turns for good - was obtained for us by the cross of Christ. The cross is where all your blessings (i.e. all good things) were purchased for you at the cost of the death of the Son of God. Life and health and family are not ours by right; they are an undeserved gift from God to us, sinners, who fall short of his glory but who were redeemed through the cross. It follows, therefore, that everything good is a reward for Christ’s suffering, not our merit.
So is a single purpose or motivation possible? Yes, because every experience in life (both good things and bad things graciously turned for good) is designed to magnify the cross of Christ.
How Do We Boast in the Cross?
Piper writes that we boast in the cross by being ourselves on the cross… by crucifying ourselves (I have been crucified with Christ…Galatians 2:19-20). The new creation lives. The believer lives. The old self died on the cross, and this is accomplished by faith.
How should we feel about earthly things, then? Being dead to the world does not mean having no feelings about the world. It means that every legitimate pleasure in the world becomes blood-bought evidence of Christ’s love, and an occasion for boasting in the cross. Take an unexpected insurance payment, for example. Should we glory in it? Piper writes that yes, we should, when the money is not what satisfies, but Christ crucified, the Giver who satisfies.
There is therefore a higher purpose for the blessings that we experience. God doesn’t want us to simply admire them, but to see the source from which they come, which is even more beautiful than the blessing. Don’t admire God’s gifts; admire his glory.
Our Experience of Pain and Death
A life devoted to making much of Christ is costly. And the cost is both a consequence and a means of making much of God. We only need to look at Paul’s single passion to honour Christ, in life or death, to see the truth of this.
It's Worth the Risk!
Piper spends a whole chapter on risk, which he defines as an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury. Risk exists because there is ignorance; we don’t know how things will turn out (only God can know this), and God intends for us to live and act in uncertainty about the outcome of our actions. Although it often doesn’t occur to us, this is in fact the case everyday, not just when we knowingly take a ‘risk’. As we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring, risk is woven into our daily lives.
One of Piper’s central aims in this book is to explode the myth of safety and to somehow deliver us, his readers, from the ‘enchantment of security’. Because it’s a mirage. It doesn’t exist. Every direction you turn there are unknowns and things beyond your control. So don’t avoid risks because they might jeopardise a ‘security’ that doesn’t in fact exist. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’“ (James 4:13-15).
Some biblical examples of risk-takers who didn’t know the outcome of their actions include:
Joab, the commander of Israel’s forces vs the Amalekites and Syrians: ‘Be of good courage and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him’ (2 Samuel 10:11-12). Joab made a decision based on his wisdom and trusted the results over to God.
Esther, as she went to plead directly with Mordecai when her people were being persecuted (such an action was against royal law which decreed that anyone who approached the king directly without an invitation could be put to death). ‘Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish’ (Esther 4:15). Esther didn’t know how it would turn out but she made her decision based on trust in God and love for her people.
Paul’s whole life was one stressful risk after another… Every day he risked his life for the cause of God.
It is the will of God that we be uncertain about how life on this earth will turn out for us. And therefore it is the will of the Lord that we take risks for the cause of God. “If they persecuted me they will also persecute you” (John 15:20)… “Beloved do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Piper does warn us, however, to examine the reason for taking a risk; that it isn’t for self-exalting reasons, but a faith in the all-providing, all-ruling, all-satisfying Son of God, Jesus Christ. When we risk facing loss of money, reputation or even life, this is because we believe God will help us in our loss and ultimately make us glad in his glory. Take risks “by the strength that God supplies - in order that in everything God my be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).
What does Jesus mean, then, when he says that all these things - your food and clothing - will be added to you when you seek the kingdom of God [and in so doing take risks]? What he means is that our Father in Heaven will never let us be tested beyond what we are able. If there is one scrap of bread that you need, as God’s child, in order to keep your faith in the dungeon of starvation, you will have it. God does not promise enough food for comfort or life - he promises enough so that you can trust him and do his will. The bottom line comfort in all our risk-taking is that we will never be cut off from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39).
Gladly Making People Glad in God
It’s impossible to make others glad in God if you are an unforgiving person. Do you lean towards mercy and default to grace?
When asked why we forgive others, the usual answer is that because we have been forgiven, we should forgive others. But why do you cherish forgiveness for yourself? Is it because it means you avoid hell, or can stop feeling guilty…or because it gives you God himself, and a freedom to enjoy him? God must be there in the gifts that forgiveness gives us - e.g. avoiding hell demonstrates God’s commitment, sacrifice and mercy towards us. Forgiveness removes the obstacles from our fellowship with him, of seeing and knowing him forever.
Our impulse for forgiving people should therefore be the joy we have in a forgiving God. And that joy in God should overflow in glad-hearted mercy to people.
So how, therefore, do we make others glad in God, and so glorify him?
Living to Prove that He is More Precious Than Life
We must make sacrificial life choices rooted in the assurance that magnifying Christ through generosity and mercy is more satisfying than selfishness. If we look like our lives are devoted to getting and maintaining things, we will look like the world… and God will look like a religious side interest…useful for escaping hell but not making much of a difference here and now.
Why don’t people ask us about our hope? The answer is probably because we look as though we put our hope in the same things that they do. In particular, Piper remarks that our credibility in Christ hangs very much on how we use our money; in fact 15% of everything Christ said relates to this topic.
We should be living lives of ‘hazardous liberality’ - like the widow who gave her last penny away. Jesus loves faith-filled risk for the glory of God.
Piper encourages us to use money to show that God, not possessions, is our treasure; our lives must look like God, not our possessions, is our joy. We must use our possessions to make people glad in God - especially the most needy.
Piper describes the life that we should be living - that is markedly different from those around us - as a ‘wartime lifestyle’:
- There is a war going on between Christ and Satan, truth and falsehood, belief and unbelief. We mustn’t drift into a peacetime mindset and forget the war. We must heed the biblical warning to ‘be alert’.
- A wartime lifestyle is a better description than a simple lifestyle, which many non-believers might aspire to (‘minimalist’). A simple lifestyle also fails to recognise that in wartime major expenses are often needed - e.g. for weapons - and the whole country might sacrifice to acquire them. Simplicity is inwardly directed; a wartime lifestyle implies a cause outside of yourself.
- When Britain - and many other countries were involved in the world wars, it wasn’t just the soldiers that went, the whole country was mobilised in some way. In the same way, the whole church needs to mobilise.
- In wartime we ask different questions - what can I do to help win, to advance the cause? In peacetime we usually just ask ourselves how we can make our lives more comfortable.
“Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it'“ (Mark 8:35). Using our possessions in a way that makes the most needy glad in God will save us in more ways than one, by confirming that Jesus is our treasure.
Piper also warns us against the ‘avoidance ethic’; there are many unbelievers who avoid the same behaviours as us; Jesus calls us to something more radical than that. People with the avoidance ethic ask the wrong questions - what’s wrong with such and such? This simply results in a list of don’ts. A better question to ask is ‘How will this help me to treasure Christ more, to display Christ and his love?’.
So how does living with a single purpose to glorify God work itself out in our daily lives and jobs?
Making Much of Christ from Nine Until Five
The war that Piper describes is not a geographical one; it is between good and evil in every human heart, in every family, in every school… and in every workplace. The secular vocations of Christians are a war zone. You don’t waste your life by where you work, but how and why you work.
“So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain in God” (1 Corinthians 7:24). How do we make our lives count for God in a secular profession?
Piper describes eight principles to avoid wasting your life at work:
- We can make much of God in our secular job through the fellowship that we enjoy with him throughout the day in all our work. Go to work with God. All the things that make you good at your job are God’s gifts. Praise him constantly for your gifts and let him accompany you into the challenges.
- We make much of Christ in our secular work by the joyful, trusting, God-exalting design of our creativity and industry. He made us in his image!
- We make much of Christ in our secular work when it confirms and enhances the portrait of Christ’s glory that people hear in the spoken Gospel. The way we do our work will either increase or decrease the attractiveness of the Gospel we profess…but people need to know that we are Christians! If we live and work well, obstacles to other people’s faith will be removed. Have such high standards of excellence and such integrity and such manifest goodwill that we put no obstacles in the way of the Gospel but rather call attention to the all-satisfying beauty of Christ.
- We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning enough money to keep us from depending on others, while focusing on the helpfulness of work rather than financial rewards. Working to earn a living is a fact of God’s design for this age (living in a fallen world, being redeemed but not yet fully redeemed). Therefore, working is an act of obedience that honours God’s authority (so don’t be idle). Work with an eye not for money, however, but for your usefulness. Work with a view of benefiting other people with what you make or do. Christ has lifted the curse of work. He has replaced anxious toil with trust in God’s promise to supply our needs. So don’t labour for food that perishes but to love people and honour God.
- >>So what does this mean if you’re a stockbroker or banker, for example?? What it means is not to labour for the food that perishes…when you lose money or the stock market crashes, remember that your true life is not jeopardised. Your peace and joy are not destroyed. Your resolve to do the best for your clients remains the same. We should aim to do the will of him who sent us. And his will is that we treasure him above all else and live like it.<<
- If we work simply to earn a living - if we labour for the bread that perishes - we will waste our lives. But if we labour for the sweet assurance that God will supply all our needs - that Christ died to purchase every undeserved blessing - then all our labour will be a labour of love and a boasting only in the cross.
- We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning money with the desire to use our money to make others glad in God. We must work to provide for the needs of those who can’t meet their own needs.
- We make much of Christ in our secular work by treating the web of relationships it creates as a gift of God to be loved by sharing the Gospel and by practical deeds of help. God has woven you into the fabric of others’ lives so that you will tell them the Gospel.
**** Readability (4/5): Accessible in his writing, with fairly self-contained, short chapters.
**** Application (4/5): There’s a direct challenge here for all of us.
*** General Appeal (3/5): It’s not what I expected to read when I picked it up.
** Commitment (2/5): Weekend read or major commitment? A short read - 6 hours or so.
**** Challenge (4/5): Don’t read it if you’re not prepared to make some changes!
*** Recommendation (3/5): Extreme in places, but the overarching message is relevant to us all.