Don't Waste Your Life (Part 1) - John Piper

So why are you here? For that matter, why is anything here?
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Don't Waste Your Life
Day 1 of 3
Guest:                           John Piper
From the Series:         Following the Call of Christ 
Bob:                So why are you here?  For that matter, why is anything here?  Well, here is an answer from Dr. John Piper.
John:              We need to help people see why the universe was created, and it wasn't created for people to become famous and for people to become powerful, it was created to display the worth and excellencies and beauty and wonders of God.  And we are here to receive that excellency and reflect it out in our lives so that other people see it.  It's all about God – from Him, through Him, and to Him are all things to Him be glory forever and ever.
Bob:                This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 26th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Understanding why we're here is the first step in not wasting our lives.  Stay tuned.
                        And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I have a distinct memory of an event that took place when I was in high school.  I was in an English class, and we were in a unit study on the subject of existentialism – "Existentialism and Man" – we were reading Camus and Sartre and the guy who wrote the story about being a cockroach – Kafka, Franz Kafka.
Dennis:          This was in high school?
 Bob:               This was in high school, and Mrs. Venary [sp] was our English teacher, and Mrs. Venary said one day, she asked us, "What's most important in your life?"  And I remember, we were going around the room and answering that question, and we got to me, and I don't remember what I said.  If I had to guess today, I would probably have said, "One of the really important things in my life is music."  I was in a band, I played guitar, I really liked music.  
                        But by the time we got to one of my classmates who was about halfway through the group, she said, "Really, the most important thing in my life is my relationship with God."  And I remember thinking, "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, that's the right answer.  I need to remember that next time." And then it dawned on me that if I didn't have that as the right answer when the question came around, it probably wasn't really the most important thing in my life, you know?
Dennis:          Yeah, and I was thinking how I would have answered it – I'm sorry that God would not have been my answer, either – athletics would have been.  And I think whether you're in high school and how you would have answered it then or where you are today, the question is still a good question, and we have someone today with us on FamilyLife Today who I think is going to help you – well, maybe either realign your spiritual tires or maybe answer the question in the right way for the first time.  
                        John Piper joins us on FamilyLife Today.  John, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
John:              Thank you, I'm glad to be here.
Dennis:          John is the pastor of preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church where he has served since 1980.  He and his wife, Noelle, have four sons and a daughter, live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and he's a prolific writer.  And, you know, Bob, it's not often that books come to our attention here at FamilyLife Today through our wives, but this one did.  Back last Christmas Barbara came to me, and she said, "You know, there is one book I want to give our kids for Christmas."  I said, "Oh, really?  Who is it by?"  She said, "John Piper."  And I immediately thought of some of the books that I've had the privilege of reading, browsing my way through, "Desiring God," among others, and she said, "It's a new book called "Don't Waste Your Life."  And I thought, "Now, that's a good title."  Because we have a generation of people, I believe, who are really not getting around to the question you asked, Bob – what is most important in your life.
                        John, you tell a story about a couple who had retired on the coast of Florida.
John:              Yeah, I got the story from "Reader's Digest."
Bob:                That's okay, Ronald Reagan got a lot of his stories from "Reader's Digest," too.  There's nothing wrong with that.
John:              And it was written by them, so it's not told about them, and I won't give any names, but they were marveling that at, I think, age 51 and 52 or something like that, they were able to retire early, go to Florida, and the peak of their excitement about this stage in their life was that they could play softball and collect shells.  And I just read that and thought, "You've got to be kidding?"
Dennis:          Now, we're talking about the ultimate experience in their lives?
John:              Evidently.  I mean, I'm thinking in the last chapter of my life, I am mainly preparing to meet the judge of the universe and give an account with my little vaporous life on this earth.  He is not going to ask, "Can I see your shell collection?"  
Bob:                Who won the softball game?  It's not going to matter, is it?
John:              It's not.  And so it became a kind of paradigm story for me of the American way because tragically the AARP and most people giving counsel on what to do with your latter years are telling you to go play them away on a golf course somewhere or something, and I'm thinking, "That is not the way I want to spend my life at all let alone my last few years in the months just preceding seeing the king of the universe."
Bob:                And I think that's important.  The message in this book, "Don't Waste Your Life," is not just about not squandering the latter years of your life, but it's about the whole of your life.  It's a stewardship that we've been entrusted with, right?
John:              Right.  Young people are making incredibly important choices early on, especially right at the juncture of early college years and post college years of "What am I going to do with my life?"  And I think they're eager and ready to hear somebody to call them to a radical kind of life that has a significance about it that is eternal and deep.  So that's what I've tried to talk about.
Dennis:          Going back to your shell collection, as I read that, I thought – and you asked the question in your book, you can't imagine someone appearing before the judgment seat and God asking to see our shell collection.  And I thought, "What other kind of collections do we have?"  It could be our golf scores, our trophies, our businesses, our portfolio of stocks, our home that we built, the car we drive, the wardrobe or jewelry.  It could be our family.  We could make the family the chief end of man.  Or it could be our bank account.  You know, man has been collecting stuff, John, from the beginning of time.  It may not be as silly as a shell collection, but we have the wrong object of worship going all the way back to the Garden.
                        When you were a young lad growing up, in your home there was a – was it a plaque or what was it?  Was it in the kitchen, as I recall, is that right?
John:              Right, it was in the kitchen and probably it had as much to do with the title of the book as anything.  It hung, I remember it hung up where a clock started to hang later, but I now have it in my living room at home, so it's been on the wall for 50 years of my life, at least.  It says, "Only one life, 'twil soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last."  And that was emblazoned on my mind as a child, that significance and lasting reality is going to come from connectedness with Jesus.  If something is done to display the worth of Jesus, then that something will have value and significance, and if it didn't, it won't last.
Bob:                So you would say that from early on, you understood this idea of the stewardship of your life and that it needed to be focused and rightly directed.  It's not something that came to you later in life?
John:              I would say in my high school years, as I reflected back on the kinds of things I was thinking, the kinds of things I was writing and reading – as I reviewed those, it was amazing to me how much I was thinking about it in those days.
                        The other thing that probably affected the title of this book, "Don't Waste Your Life" is the story my dad, as an evangelist, would tell when he was doing evangelism.  He came home one time and, with tears in his eyes, he said, "A man came to Christ who must have been in his 70s, and he'd been a sinner in the community for years, and people had prayed for him, and he'd resisted the Gospel, and he walked to the front, and he sat down.  And after the service, as I sat beside him and counseled him, he just wept and wept, and when I asked why he was weeping he just repeated over and over, 'I've wasted it, I've wasted it.'"
                        I'll tell you, as a teenager, that story from my dad landed on me with such power that I thought, "Never, ever, ever do I want to be able to say that – I've wasted it."  So from maybe age 16, 15 on, I had this impulse in me, don't waste it, don't waste it.
Dennis:          I have, for some reason, been kind of chewing on Acts, chapter 13, verse 36, and it reads, "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and he was buried."  And I thought, you know, if that could be said of my life at the end of it, that I fulfilled God's purpose for my generation, whether you're a mother, a father, a businessman, and businesswoman, a single person, to be smack-dab in the middle of walking with God and fulfilling what He has for you, that's what you're talking about in the book.  You're talking about people who have a confidence that they are fulfilling not only God's will for their lives but they're a part of a grand scheme, a bigger picture, of what God's accomplishing on this planet.
John:              Right, we need to help people see why the universe was created, and it wasn't created for people to become famous and for people to become powerful, it was created to display the worth and excellencies and beauty and wonders of God.  And we are here to receive that excellency and reflect it out in our lives so that other people see it.  It's all about God – "from Him, through Him, and to Him are all things to Him be glory forever and ever" – Romans 11:36 says.  And so I think significance must be defined in terms of God – depending on Him, being guided by Him, giving Him all the praise and all the glory and all the honor and then finding lifestyles and ways of talking and thinking and feeling and acting that make God look really good to this culture.
Dennis:          In the '60s, your passion intensified for finding God's purpose and making sure you were about what He was doing, and it was your encounter with two different people that ultimately changed the course of your life.  Why don't you share those two people that you encountered in college?
John:              I have three in mind, so I'm not which two you have in mind.  I'll mention Dan Fuller as a living teacher who had a tremendous impact in the way I read the Bible, and then I mentioned the dead person, Jonathan Edwards, and I'll mention another dead person, died in '63, the same days as John Kennedy died – C.S. Lewis.  So that triumvirate in the years, say, '64, as I began college to '68 when I went away, and then in the years '68-'71 in seminary that's where Dan Fuller and Jonathan Edwards conspired, and the key of the living teacher and the dead teacher was to show me that there is no final conflict between God's passion to be glorified and my passion to be satisfied.  I had grown up, for whatever reason, I'm sure it wasn't my dad's fault or maybe even the preacher's fault, thinking you can't have both of those.  Either God is going to be glorified or I'm going to be happy, because I heard – maybe it wasn't said, but this is what I heard – people would say, "Well, you should stop doing your will and do God's will."  And I kind of wanted to say, "Isn't there a third alternative?"  Like, maybe I would want to do God's will?  Maybe I would enjoy doing God's will?  And what those men showed me is that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him; that God's glory shines in my being happy in Him.
                        And so there isn't this necessary conflict between my pursuit of pleasures and his pursuit of glory if, in fact, my pursuit of pleasure is pleasure in him – that insight from Jonathan Edwards mainly, mediated through Dan Fuller and C.S. Lewis in his one page in "The Weight of Glory," where he said, "The problem with the world is not that we are pursuing pleasure but that we are far too easily pleased.  We are like children fooling around with mudpies in the slums when we could have a holiday at the sea, and we can't imagine what it's like."
                        And what he meant was, we're fooling around with that list you gave earlier, Dennis, about just money, even family and possessions and business.  If we could see what a holiday at the sea that is a relationship with God, a delight in His beauty and power and excellencies was, then we'd see the problem in the universe is not that people are pursuing pleasure, but that they are settling for the low, fleeting, wrong, suicidal pleasures.  And so that's what I learned from Lewis and Edwards and then Fuller between '68 and '71, and it changed everything.
Bob:                You later expressed that or referred to that as "Christian hedonism."
John:              Right.
Bob:                Hedonism is the philosophy that says the highest goal is the pursuit of pleasure.  And you said if we understand the Scriptures right, that's true, but the only real pleasure we're going to find is not in what the culture tells us will bring us pleasure.
John:              Right, and the reason that is not in conflict with saying the highest goal is the glory of God is because God is glorified precisely in my being satisfied in the end.  That was the insight that makes lights go on, I find, for a lot of people these days.
Dennis:          I have to read a passage that I know you're passionate about – Psalm 16:11 – "Thou will make known to me the path of life.  In Thy presence is fullness of joy."  And we don't believe this last third of the verse here.  It says, "In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever."  Frankly, it's what you described that for a number of years kept me at a distance from Christianity.  I didn't believe I could have a good time; that I could truly experience pleasure and happiness and fulfillment and walk with Jesus Christ.  I thought becoming a Christian was having to put on something black, put on a sour look, and be unhappy for the rest of my life.
                        Now, I don't know where I got that picture, because I really grew up in a good church.  But nonetheless I had a caricature of Christianity that I was rejecting, and it wasn't this.  It wasn't the idea of a glowing, vibrant life filled with smiles and laughter and, as this says, enjoyment and pleasure.  
John:              Right, but I think there are a lot of people who have said something like that and given it a little bit of our own twist; that is, I think there have always been rah-rah evangelistic youth crusades where we feature the athlete and the smiling beauty queen who say, "You really can have a great and happy life if you'll be a Christian."  And the ordinary folks look at that and thought, "That's not quite what I'm thinking.  That's not going to work for me, because I've got pimples, and I'm not strong."  
                        The difference with my message, and it's where you were going, I think, is that what I want to hold up is a joy and is a God who, in Himself, when all the beauty goes and all the strength goes and all the popularity goes and all the parties go, He's enough, and He's thrilling. 
                        You know, my wife and I were married in December of 1968, and we chose Habakkuk 3, the last four verses, I believe, of the book to be read at our wedding.  I don't know it all by heart, but I can paraphrase it.  It goes something like this – though the olive fail, though there be no fruit on the vines, though there be no cattle in the stall, though there be no sheep in the fold; in other words, we're talking famine and devastation, and then he says, "Yet will I rejoice in the Lord my God."
                        Psalm 63:3 says, "The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life."  Or Paul says, "To die is gain."  So my message is a little more radical than what I was hearing from the rah-rah evangelistic crusade, "Yes, we can all have a good time" message but rather you may have an absolutely horrible life and smile your way all the way to heaven.  
                        In fact, 1 Corinthians 6, verse 10, Paul uses this phrase that, for me, has really stamped the way I want to talk about joy.  He says, "Sorrowful yet always rejoicing."  So I want there to always be a kind of minor key playing in the background of my parties and my celebrations, because I know the world is absolutely filled with pain and filled with suffering, and when I am rejoicing with those who rejoice, there is somebody very close to me weeping with those who weep, and so I just want to present an authentic call to radical pleasure at God's right hand when you may be wracked with cancer, your wife may have left you, your kids may be prodigal, your business may be failing, and you can say, "The Lord gives, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord." 
                        So there's a flavor, I think, to this hedonism that I have that I hope is really realistic.
Dennis:          And the time to develop that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ is not when you go through the valley.  The time to develop it is now.  It's to become focused on Him as your absolute source of life, of pleasure, of joy, and begin the process of walking with Him moment by moment.  
                        You know, I couldn't help but think, John, as you were talking about how those of us here at FamilyLife watched Bill Bright die.  The last two and a half years of his life were marked by him only having about 40 percent lung capacity, and he was literally – his body was starving for oxygen, and yet every time I saw him, and everyone else, too, he was praising God; talking about Him being his strength, his joy, his portion.  He never complained.  And I contrasted his life with how I've watched others die, and I thought, you know what?  Bill Bright taught me how to live, and he also taught me how to die.
                        And what I want to do with my life is I want to do the same thing.  I want my deathbed to be as vigorous in the enjoyment and the pursuit of God, even though there will undoubtedly be pain, it will not be easy, but I would like it to be the way Bill Bright demonstrated as a man, and we can do that if we get into the Scripture and we find out who God is, because it's only as we know Him as He is that you can relate to Him as the God of the Universe.
Bob:                You talk about somebody who didn't waste his life, Dr. Bright is a great example of someone who had the right priority, the right focus; who understood the implications of the Christian faith, and it changed the direction of everything.  It shaped every decision he made.  And I want to encourage our listeners that's really what is at the heart of the book that you have written, John.  It's called "Don't Waste Your Life," and it's a book that we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  I think this book gives each of us a good opportunity to re-evaluate how we're doing spiritually; whether the direction of our life is rightly aimed or not, and I think your book is helpful in that evaluation process.
                        Let me encourage our listeners – contact us to get a copy of John Piper's book, "Don't Waste Your Life."  You can go online at to request a copy of the book or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY.  If you go online, in the middle of the home page you'll see a red button that says "Go."  If you click on that red button, it will take you right to the page where you can get more information about the book "Don't Waste Your Life."  You can order online, if you'd like, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and request a copy of the book.  We can have it sent out to you.  If you're interested in a copy of our conversation this week with John Piper, you can order that on CD, or you can download it as an MP3 file from our website at  If you'd like the CD either order that online or call 1-800-FLTODAY.
                        Over the last several years, one of the places where you have spoken, John, is at the Passion Conferences, and I know Beth Moore has also spoken to young people there challenging them to a wholehearted commitment to Jesus Christ.  Not long ago we had Beth as a guest on FamilyLife Today, and we talked with her about her 25-year marriage to her husband Keith, about some of the ups downs.  She was very candid in that interview, and this month and next month, we wanted to say thank you to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount by sending you a copy of this CD that includes our conversation with Beth Moore.
                        Simply go to our website,, and click on the button that says, "Make a Donation," or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone.  When you do, mention that you'd like the CD with Beth Moore and someone on our team will make sure that gets sent to you.  Or if you're making your donation online, when you come to the keycode box just type in the word "free," and we'll know that you want the CD sent out to you.  Again, it's our way of saying thanks for your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and we appreciate hearing from you.
                        Well, tomorrow we're going to continue our conversation with Dr. John Piper.  We're going to talk about the call to a cross-centered life and why we need to make sure that we're not sugar-coating our presentation of the Gospel.  Some folks may respond better if we tell them the hard truth, and we'll talk more about that tomorrow.  I hope you can join us for that.
                        I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today. 
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