Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Don't Waste Your Life

I've heard this story at least three times now. Decided that meant I needed to post it here...perhaps it will be a wake-up call, a challenge to someone who reads it--as it has been to me. From John Piper's book Don't Waste Your Life:
In April 2000, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over eighty. 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 eighty 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. I asked my congregation: 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. That is a glory. 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. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don't buy it. Don't waste your life.

You don't even have to spend a cent to read this book--Desiring God Ministries has made it available for free, the message is that important. You can read every chapter online here. If you prefer to have an actual printed book, it's less than $10 here. There are also related audio messages here (Piper is even better to listen to than to read, and these too are free) and here.

15 comments:

Danielle said...

No one says it quite like Piper. That's a great book.

Kat Coble said...

You're gonna shoot me for this, but the above example is why Piper sometimes gets on my nerves.

(Let the firing squad commence.)

I understand where he's going with his thoughts about "wasting" lives, but I think sometimes he overreaches and oversimplifies to make a point and in doing so omits some level of Grace.

I submit the case of the poor maligned couple from the Readers' Digest article. Sure, from Piper's thirty-thousand-foot view it sounds like the Punta Gorda retirees aren't amounting to much. But it's an article in the Readers' Digest, for crying out loud. We don't come close to knowing the full story on Joe and Jane Retiredough. I'm sure the actual point of the RD story was something along the lines of managing your money so you aren't tied down to a job in your golden years. This couple was just intended to be a soft example--not an indictment on the American Way Of Sloth. For all we know, the softball team may be part of their church outreach. The shells they collect may be turned into crafts that are sold in a store that donates all its profits to missions. Maybe they charter their boat for daytripping fishermen and use that opportunity to talk with their customers about Jesus. We don't know because the article isn't about every minute in the lives of these people.

The longer excerpt of Piper's book (which I've read before...thus fueling my little rant here) talks about things like the TV and Internet rotting your brain and wasting your life, etc. Piper's general thesis is that we are made to love and focus on God and that everything else is rubbish.

Piper's words discount my calling, and the callings of a lot of other people. Non-Christians are watching TV and reading the internet in droves. That's where they hang out, spend their time and have their interest. There are a lot of us who use these avenues as a way to open dialogue with NCs, create friendships and create opportunities for ministry. I literally cannot count the number of times I've made friendships that started with a shared love of a TV show, musical artist or movie that then eventually evolved into deep talk of the Saviour. I know offhand of at least 3 people to whom those conversations with me led directly to them finding Christ. I've planted a 1000 times that many seeds--at least--through the grace of the almighty.

Look, I'm no better than Balaam's ass down here. I let God tell me where to go and talk through me. If you were to read a one-sentence summary of my life in Readers' Digest it could say this:

"The freelance writer now works part time and spends several hours a week watching tv, reading books and writing on the Internet."

That may sound like a wasted life to Piper, but he doesn't have the whole story.

Amy said...

hmm.

No firing squad here, Kat. I welcome your perspective. Though I love Piper, I wouldn't want to develop tunnel-vision and become a "Piper groupie" who thinks he is infallible--this would be just as bad as the many, many MacArthur groupies I know :)

You're probably right in saying that it's not fair to sum up someone's life in one sentence--or at least, not fair to make sweeping conclusions based on such a summary. The examples you provide are thoughtful. I have to be honest and say that none of those possibilities (softball for outreach, shells for missions profit, boat chartering) occurred to me--so thanks for bringing a new perspective.

...That said...Is it really that much of a stretch to think that this particular example Piper cites is fairly representative of the "American Dream"? When I look around, I don't see a lot of people managing their money so that in retirement, they can devote their lives to ministry--however unique that ministry--rather than a job. I see the goal as retirement from your job so that you can live the good life--with no serious thought or energy toward how you could spend your retirement years building the Kingdom through missions, personal outreach, etc. To me, that’s what Piper’s getting at here. I don’t believe for a minute that he’d criticize that couple if their priorities were really what you suggest. However, call me cynical, but I have a hard time believing those really are their priorities. Maybe that’s not fair.

Your own personal examples are compelling. I know you didn't write your comment looking for applause, but I do admire the fact that you've used your interests to really connect with others and be able to point them to Christ--or at least plant seeds. But I would submit that you are the exception, not the rule. One example: when I was in college, debates were always raging about secular vs. "Christian" music, rated-R movies, etc etc. The argument was that media with objectionable content isn't necessarily off limits because it can help us connect with others, as you speak of.

My response to that was, okay, that's all well and good if that really is how you're participating in media. But I think more often, that defense is simply an acceptable excuse for those who have no intention of building relationships with others, outreach, etc--but only want to watch/read/listen to what's not God-glorifying, purely for the entertainment value. Make sense?

I guess I'm willing to give Piper some leeway with oversimplification, etc, because I think the point he's ultimately trying to make is such a crucial one. I think for every Punta Gorda couple who are actively devoting their retirement years (or planning to devote them) to outreach and missions, building God's Kingdom, there are at least a thousand other Punta Gorda couples who are devoting their retirement years (or planning to devote them) to a life of self-centered ease, luxury, and comfort. I can't argue with Piper in saying that's a waste--a tragedy.

Often when I read Piper I find myself feeling a little defensive--if not of my own life, of others close to me. But I think generally it's not because he's off base--it's because the truth is making me squirm. Ultimately when I read of the couple Piper describes, I move pretty quickly from "shame on them" to "shame on me"--self examination, thinking about what my own priorities are and whether I'm making the best use of my life. Sadly, I know I'm not.

Thoughts?

Kat Coble said...

I guess since I'm kinda guilty of being a MacArthur groupie I shouldn't talk.

Okay, not really. But I do own a MacArthur Study Bible.

I'm going to try to remove this a bit from Piper-specificness because I don't want to just be the contrarian who gripes about Piper and Warren (for vastly different reasons).

I don't see a lot of people managing their money so that in retirement, they can devote their lives to ministry--however unique that ministry--rather than a job. .... I don’t believe for a minute that he’d criticize that couple if their priorities were really what you suggest. However, call me cynical, but I have a hard time believing those really are their priorities.

You may be right. But we mere humans cannot fully know the minds of our fellows, or the various outcomes of their lives. Someone planning to kick back and golf in their 50s may lose a child to cancer in their 30s or find the demand for their cozy job scaled back and then have a few hardscrabble years.
It's in those failures of our plans that people hear God's laugh, and it's often when they connect to Him.

I could ramble on, but I think the essence of what I'm trying to say is that I don't think ministry needs to be the greenhouse environment that a lot of Christians--like Piper--seem to assert.

It seems that there is a large school of thought within the Church in general that Ministry has to involve something overtly Of The Church Way. Singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, going on retreats, leading Bible Study. It's sort of a twist on the Monastic theory. I do think that all of these ministries are valuable. But I don't think they are the only way to minister, and they certainly are very poor ways to evangelise.

Don't get me wrong. People within the body are very much in need of worship music, Sunday school, Bible study and retreats. But we are not all called to channel our earthly service of God into these few avenues.

My philosophy is straight out of 1 Cor. 10:31. 1 Cor. 10 is one of my "life chapters". I believe that God has instructed us to live in service to Him, but walk among the unsaved to serve as the tool for the profit of many. We are to minister in everything we do. When we check out at the grocery store. If we are allowing Christ to live through us at every turn and following His will, how does the mechanism of our earthly life matter?

No one is doing all he can for the Cause of Christ. But it is very unfair to assume that everyone engaged in whatever life action they've chosen is therefore doing nothing for the cause of Christ and "wasting" his or her life.

I may be too reactionary in this, but I grew up around a lot of people who think as Piper seems to--that the only valid way to live as a Christian is to pack it in, move to Africa and bring the natives to Jesus. Anything less than that is a waste. That fundamental assumption leads to a bit of reverse snobbery, a bit of looking at "rich Americans" as wasted lives. (Until, of course, we need those well-to-do Christians to fund missions work in Africa. )

No. I'm not rich. I probably never will be. But I do stand by these two things:

1. We can't fully know the minds of others, nor God's plan for them. It's never fair to people to make assumptions about their life based on a very limited and select group of facts.

2. We must do as we each are called individually. When walking in the Spirit, God is our guide. We're not supposed to worry about how good of a walk other people are having. We're supposed to keep our eyes on our own paper.

Michelle McCallum said...

Amy, I appreciate you sharing this story with us. I think it is useful to shed light on areas in which we are not using our gifts for the service of God.

I can agree with most aspects of the discussion in your comments section; although, something that was subtley mentioned has frustrated me. It is this idea that somehow grace is enough regardless of how a person lives his or her life.

I am overwhelming grateful for God's grace and know that I have no hope of salvation without it. But I am a firm believer that living a Christian life means that you cannot rely on that grace. If we strictly relied on God's grace, we could go out sinning incessantly without a care in the world and His grace would be sufficient. But that is not what the Bible teaches us. I know that this doesn't really have to do with what you have been conversing about, but I just wanted to air my thoughts on that matter.

I completely agree with Kat that we cannot judge any person based on their actions because we cannot know their hearts, but if you look at people like those two women or Mother Theresa or any other person who completely devotes his or her life to the service of God, it is obvious that their hearts are on focused on God. It may be harder to see that in the FL couple, but I truly believe that when a person is a follower of Christ, everyone will be able to tell. They will stand out. They will be different. Not because they are prosthelitzing from door to door or because they are singing in the choir or even because they have traveled halfway around the world as missionaries, but because their entire being is committed to loving others and loving God (His two greasest commandments). This is the true mark of a Christian.

Michelle McCallum said...

I was just re-reading my comment, and I want to make sure that you understand that I don't think that works get a person into heaven, but that true faith causes a person to act. I hope that clarifies it.

Kat Coble said...

It is this idea that somehow grace is enough regardless of how a person lives his or her life.

Michelle, I think perhaps you misamplified my comment about Piper's level of Grace into a direction I did not intend.

I don't mean that reliance on Grace is to excuse wrong action.

I do mean that when we as Christians look at the lives of other human beings, we would do well to remember that Grace has been extended to each of us regardless of our circumstance. Therefore, it is perhaps not wise to look at another's circumstances and evaluate those without the consideration of Grace.

Piper didn't bother to qualify his indictment of those actual, living human beings about whom he appears to know next to nothing other than what he read in a brief magazine article. He merely presented them as kindling for his fire, as a prime example of tragedy and waste.

Amy said...

Michelle,thanks so much for weighing in! I do want to quibble with one thing you said:

But I am a firm believer that living a Christian life means that you cannot rely on that grace.

I disagree...it's ONLY by relying on that grace that we can live a Christiain life! This is the error in thinking that I lived under for years--salvation by grace, sanctification by works. The main thing God has been writing deeply in my heart over the last year and a half is that it's all a work of grace, start to finish. I can't earn God's acceptance and favor by my works AFTER salvation any more than I could earn the salvation itself. Every moment I stand by His grace alone. I wrote extensively about it in the spring--see my sidebar under "The Main Thing."

It's not that we'd go on sinning if we relied on grace...but rather, if we truly understood grace, we wouldn't dare to sin!

Michelle McCallum said...

I completely agree with what both of you have said. I had an incredibly hard time wording what I wanted to say before.


When Mother Theresa was asked if she served the poor because God commanded it, she said that she served the poor because when she looked at them she saw Jesus and she couldn't not serve Jesus. We don't serve others outright to earn God's favor or to follow His commands. We serve and love others because as Christians we cannot do anything else.


When God gives a person a child, that child is a gift, just as salvation is a gift. But we must take care of that child. We must bathe it, clothe it and feed it, but that doesn't make it any more or less a gift to us from God.

The same applies to our salvation. We are stewards of our salvation and God desires us to participate in it. Participating in our salvation is where our actions play a role. Our salvation is a gift, and we can't do anything to earn our salvation, but being a good steward of that salvation means that we serve God and we serve others. Not because it saves us or because he has commanded us to love Him and to love others, but because God desires that from us. Our actions don't get us into heaven, only God's grace can do that.

Anonymous said...

"If we strictly relied on God's grace, we could go out sinning incessantly without a care in the world and His grace would be sufficient."

Isn't it impossible NOT to go about sinning incessantly? speeding, judging, lying, etc...
a sin is a sin is a sin

Kat Coble said...

When Mother Theresa was asked if she served the poor because God commanded it, she said that she served the poor because when she looked at them she saw Jesus and she couldn't not serve Jesus. We don't serve others outright to earn God's favor or to follow His commands. We serve and love others because as Christians we cannot do anything else.


Michelle,

I'm sorry for appearing to attack you--that's not my intent at all. But I do think that the Mother Teresa information needs a bit of light shed on it for the Evangelical community. (I'm sorry if I'm assuming your denominational alignment incorrectly.)

I've written a lot about this in several venues and have gone into more detail at my blog today.

The short version is that Mother Teresa was a practitioner of a particular (largely) Catholic doctrine known as the Doctrine of Redemptive Suffering.


The core belief of the DoRS is that we experience a form of communion with Christ when we physically suffer. MT formed her missions in India as DoRS centers. She believed that by partaking in the suffering of the dying she was growing closer to Christ. She also believed that by allowing the dying to suffer she was giving them a chance to know Christ. Because of those beliefs her missions existed solely to offer the dying a cot and a bath. They were given no medical treatment and pain medication was withheld as they lay dying from AIDS, starvation, hunger and thirst. This was to ensure their salvation.

For those of us who believe in salvation through Grace, it is a heresy to believe that any of our works--including our physical suffering--can lead to salvation.

For those of us who believe in doing unto the least of these, I personally believe it was a heresy to allow people to die in excruciating pain.

Michelle McCallum said...

What I have said has been blow completely out of proportion at this point, and I wasn't intending to argue with anyone.

The anonymous quote needs to be read emphasizing the "without a care in the world". Obviously, we all sin. My goodness, I did not mean that we don't sin. I just meant that we would sin without caring- without taking notice- without repenting. I have known many people like this who continue sining purposefully and haphazhardly thinking. That isn't what is perscribed to us in the Bible, and I don't see that as the life of one who is trying to follow after God. That was what I was talking about; I wasn't talking about sinning constantly. I apologize if that was unclear.

As for Mother Theresa, I am sorry to bring up a catholic example (I, myself, am not catholic). We cannot know her heart or how it related to that specific doctrine. I have read many books and other sources about her life and will not argue with you on this topic. I only used that example to show that serving others is a means of understanding our salvation. Not as a way of earning it or leading us to it.

At this point, I am not going to continue in this discussion. I apologize to Amy for what this has lead to. I am sorry if I have been unclear or if I have somehow offended people. This was not at all my intention at all.

Amy said...

**been trying to post this all day...blogger is stupid, sorry for the delay***

Kat, I completely agree with what you said above (see comment #4). I think we see things the same way a whole lot more than it may seem...so I hope we don’t just talk past each other here!

Someone planning to kick back and golf in their 50s may lose a child to cancer in their 30s or find the demand for their cozy job scaled back and then have a few hardscrabble years. It's in those failures of our plans that people hear God's laugh, and it's often when they connect to Him.

Absolutely! But wouldn't it be better to make more God-glorifying plans to begin with, rather than God having to yank them out of your hands? To put it in another context, I am called to be humble. I can humble myself, or if I don't, God will eventually humble me for sure. I know which is going to be less painful! And isn't He more honored by our willing obedience?

I could ramble on, but I think the essence of what I'm trying to say is that I don't think ministry needs to be the greenhouse environment that a lot of Christians--like Piper--seem to assert. It seems that there is a large school of thought within the Church in general that Ministry has to involve something overtly Of The Church Way. ...But we are not all called to channel our earthly service of God into these few avenues.

Again I am in 100% agreement--one of my biggest frustrations is "insular" churches--where it's all about meeting together and avoiding the world, and serving God equals working on the kitchen committee and teaching Sunday school, period. And with the reverse snobbery, yeah, we definitely can't all go to Africa (who would pay for it? And who would be the hands and feet of Christ here?).

Ministry in everything we do--ordinary people doing what they can, right where they are--it's the driving philosophy of the ministry organization I’ve worked for over the last three years. Love it! Totally on board with that.

I guess my concern comes back to, is this our philosophy or our cop-out? Like the whole "friendship evangelism" thing, for example--where we want to get away from just shoving tracts in strangers' faces and instead building relationships, living out what we believe, displaying God's grace and love in their lives, etc. Do I think that's a better way? YES! But how many of us let that be a little convenient escape hatch: "Whew, I don't have to actually speak up and talk to people about the gospel, I can just live my life and they'll hopefully see that there's something different about me and instinctively know that I am a Christian and end up becoming one themselves, magically." Hello, I'll step up as guilty. The good philosophy becomes a cop-out for why I don’t do the negative alternative (in-your-face preachiness) rather than a belief that I actively live by.

No one is doing all he can for the Cause of Christ. But it is very unfair to assume that everyone engaged in whatever life action they've chosen is therefore doing nothing for the cause of Christ and "wasting" his or her life.

I guess what I walk away from Piper's message thinking is, Am I doing much for the cause of Christ? Of course I could always be doing more, as you said. But I think the point is, how many of us (I am talking to myself) really don't do much at all? Maybe not "nothing," but on the whole, our lives--our decisions, how we spend our time, our jobs, our hobbies, our thoughts, our money, our passions, our relationship, everything--are not at all focused on God's glory. They're centered on our own comfort. That's a waste.

Yes, we can't judge others, we don't know the whole story. But can't we look at their lives and learn? I'm not advocating hunting down the FL couple and verbally berating them--but rather, looking at this slice of life as a representative example of the American mindset, and saying, "I don't want that!"

Shouldn't it be clear, as Michelle said, what we're really living for? I think in the end, if we come away from things like this saying "it's not fair to criticize those people" instead of "wow, I don't want to waste my life"...we've missed the point.

love this discussion...please keep talking...anyone else?

Amy said...

Michelle--you have nothing to apologize for! I think your clarification was welcome and comments #9 and 11 were both well-said. As for the Mother Teresa tangent, Kat points out some interesting things, but they don't nullify the broader point you were trying to make.

Amy said...

Kat--just remembered something else about Piper's book that's relevant to your comment:

a lot of people who think as Piper seems to--that the only valid way to live as a Christian is to pack it in, move to Africa and bring the natives to Jesus. Anything less than that is a waste.

The book actually contains an entire chapter about the importance of living for Christ in secular jobs. Piper is careful to note that by "secular" he doesn't mean "inferior," only "not structurally connected to the church." He begins the chapter by saying:

"It would be a mistake to infer from the call to wartime living in the previous chapter that Christians should quit their jobs and go to 'war'--say, to become missionaries or pastors or full-time relief workers. That would be a fundamental misunderstanding of where the war is being fought."

He goes on to commend the teaching of Martin Luther about vocation and makes clear that Christians are to be scattered througout secular vocations, not isolating themselves in Christian enclaves. So he spends the chapter urging Christians to examine how they can make their lives count right where they are--not urging them to leave their jobs and become foreign missionaries.

For what it's worth...just thought you might appreciate that clarification. I'd forgotten all about it until this morning.