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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3 responses

29 10 2007
Gary

“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.”Have we not all been guilty of this? How can we avoid this in the future? Should we use alternative, more acurate phrases to describe ‘full-time Christian service’, ‘the call to missions’… ? How do we let believers in secular employment know that we don’t think they are wasting their time? How do we dispel the myth that says “Missionaries and Pastors are the only people doing anything really worthwhile in the Kingdom of God”? Every missionary needs a team of supporters – people in normal jobs who by their financial and prayerful contributions make themselves an invaluable part of the team. To speak ‘klar text’, without normal people in normal jobs we missionaries would not be able to do our work.

29 10 2007
Jonathan Hunt

I have been in two missions meetings recently, and it almost felt criminal after the emotional appeals given to serve in the field to say…’No, actually, I believe that God wants me here, in this small and struggling church, in my boring 9-5 job…’

30 10 2007
Andrew and Carolyn

Thanks for your comments guys.Gary: I agree with you that the tendency to fall into this kind of wrong headed appeal can be very easy, and it is probably borne out of excessive zeal to see the work of mission progress. I think it’s something that any of us who preach and have a passion for mission have to scrupulously avoid. There are, however, others who have made a career or so called ‘ministry’ out of this kind of teaching, and unashamedly demean the life and work of those who don’t go. The balance of your comment is so helpful, in terms of showing the nonsensical concept of everyone leaving for other shores, and no one carrying on the vital, God honouring work of support prayerfully and financially.In terms of finding more accurate phrases, I think Piper’s chapter is the best thing I’ve ever read on these issues. His headings are:1. We can make much of God in our secular job through the fellowship we enjoy with Him throughout the day in all our work2. We make much of Christ in our secular work by the joyful, trusting, God exalting design of our creativity and industry3. 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 gospel4. 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 our work rather than financial rewards5. We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning money with the desire to use our money to make others glad in God6. 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 helpThis is just a taster. The entire text of the book is available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/OnlineBooks/ByTitle/1593_Dont_Waste_Your_Life/ where you can access the relevant chapter. It really is so refreshing.Jonathan: I’ve been in similar situations as the one you describe. I remember when I was entering pastoral ministry seven years ago one individual saying to me that he could ‘see me in Romania’. His words were weighted with significance, and he was definitely giving me the sense that he had ‘a word’ for me from the Lord. When I countered that I felt called to local church ministry, he directly challenged me about why I would want to waste my time here when there’s so much else to be done. A low view of the church and pastoral ministry is betrayed by such comments, and can so easily serve to derail the claim that is often made that missions agencies seek to partner the local church in supporting mission. I believe that they do, but that support could find better expression than in the denegration of those who remain to work faithfully in the UK.I’ve left pastoral ministry in the past two months to go to the mission field and, like Gary above, it has been a painful experience and one which has come at a cost. It certainly hasn’t felt like an escape from mundane ministry into something exciting but a following where the Lord leads.May God bless you as you work in local UK church ministry. On an unrelated point I have you stacked up on my iPod to listen to on worship, thanks for posting the link to it on your blog.




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