Don’t Waste Your Life

29 10 2007

I’ve just finished reading John Piper’s highly acclaimed book, ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’. This has been a popular publication for Piper, and has found a welcoming audience amongst many young people – even spawning its own website.

The book is an open challenge to Christians regarding the priorities and principles that underpin their existence. Piper calls, in no uncertain terms, for radical discipleship, for a Christianity which is at the heart and not the periphery of those who own its truths.

To me this is a landmark, and vitally important book. As is always the case with Piper, his message is counter-cultural in tone, theological in basis, and inspirational in effect. The word ‘passion’ has been evacuated of most its power in our generation, but it is certainly well used with regard to the heartbeat at the centre of the book. Piper believes, and believes strongly, in the lifestyle to which he calls his readers. He believes in the supremacy of God as applied to everyday existence. He believes in risk (in human terms) for the kingdom of God.

A number of features impressed me in this book. Firstly, there is the sense that it comes as the result of a personal engagement with the themes propounded. This is not a cold academic treatise on how others should live their lives on the advice of an author. For Piper the quest not to waste his life has been an almost lifelong obsession – and one which crystallised in his thinking during the 1960s amidst the gold rush of existential philosophy. His counsel and handling of Scripture come, therefore, with the tone of a veteran rather than a guru. This authorial tone is refreshing in the extreme.

Secondly, I value the rich imagery that the author employs in his demarcation of what qualifies as an unwasted life. He writes vividly about the sacrifices made by missionaries, of lives and deaths played out in obscurity, and yet lives and deaths which count, and count enormously. He contrasts this with the flatulent dream of success and contentment promised by our society. I’ll not spoil it, but the illustration about ‘shell collecting’ is legendary! Piper also writes about adopting a ‘wartime lifestyle’ and the differences that this makes in the everyday decisions we take. He proposes that all Christians need to seat the glorious work of Christ on the cross, and the hope of glory, at the centre of all that they do.

Thirdly, I value his balanced extremism. This is a paradox, I know, but one that is crucial to understanding Piper’s preaching and writing. There is no doubt that he calls every Christian reader to leave behind their materially obsessed world view and to follow Christ radically – but Piper’s definition of this in real terms is nuanced and sensitive. He is NOT calling for all Christians to leave their jobs and go to the mission field. He credits and dignifies the lives of those heroic Christians who ‘make much of Christ in the 8 to 5’, and gives practical teaching on how the workplace can become a meaningful and vital mission field. This is much needed teaching. Personally I’ve found myself agitated and insulted in countless missionary mobilisation meetings by the rhetoric used to describe the call to follow Christ. It is often delineated in terms of ‘leave your useless 9to5, 2.4 children existence, and join the missionary-hippy movement’. Not only is this demeaning to those who are called to live for Christ in the secular marketplace, but it is downright dangerous in terms of manipulating the lives and minds of young people who may or may not be called to do so. Piper takes a purer approach, and shows the need for radical living in the office or factory floor, as much as in the front line missionary setting.

In this regard Piper also presses the need for 10/40 window focused missions work, but doesn’t discredit those of us who feel that our calling is to strengthen the Church in countries that have been ‘reached by the Gospel’ but where theological understanding and exegetical ability is wanting.

All in all, then, this is an excellent book. If you’re new to Piper, it will take you a couple of chapters to train your eye and ear to his style. Under these circumstances I would advise a slow walk through the book, rather than a sprint run. It certainly will pay off in the long term. This is a message that I need to hear personally, that Christians need to hear generally, and that the world needs to feel effectually as Christians make determined decisions not waste their one life, but to spend it for Christ in every regard.
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