This may be one of the most important questions any Christian can ask of himself or herself. Of course we don’t usually think in those terms. We assume that God is fully pleased with all that we do, and that the life we live – so very much like everyone else around us – is just fine.
And that is a big part of the problem: we compare ourselves with one another, and so our expectations are all rather low, our desires are not so great, and our zeal is only half-hearted. We are just living the normal Christian life found in so much of the West.
It seems like an OK life. We have not murdered anyone. We may not have engaged in adultery. We are not stealing stuff or lying about things – at least not too much. We have a respectable sort of a Christian life in other words. But of course we are not exactly doing anything extraordinary either.
We may go to church once a week. We may read from the Bible a few minutes every day. We may pray now and then, especially when we get in a tough spot. But that is about it. Our lives are otherwise really indistinguishable from any non-Christian.
We simply do the normal routine: we go to work five days a week. We try to earn a lot of money in order to live a comfortable life. We seek to be as well off as our neighbour at least. And all of these things are OK. They may not be evil in themselves. But for most believers, that is the extent of most Christians’ lives.
The real trouble is, therefore, that most folks won’t know that they have wasted their life until it is all over. They have gone through all the right and acceptable motions for decades on end. Nothing exceptional. Nothing fancy. Just a normal life, with a normal job, and normal expenditures in time, effort and money.
But then when we stand before the living God, and see the nail-pierced hands of our Saviour extended toward us, we will instantly come to see that most of our life was a complete waste. We really did nothing for Christ and the Kingdom.
We never really shared our faith with anyone. We never led anyone to the Lord. We never agonised in heartfelt prayer for the lost. We never groaned in grief over the flood of wickedness engulfing our lands. We never really cared about the major disrepair and dysfunction of the church.
Just this morning I read in Nehemiah and saw again how different his life and his attitude was to that of me and most Christians. Consider the first four verses of chapter one:
The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah. In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
Can I suggest that the church today is really no better than what Jerusalem was like back then? The walls are broken down and the place is in a real mess. Yet we don’t really seem to care. We sure do not react like Nehemiah did with weeping, with fasting, with prayers, for days on end.
Our ‘normal Christian life’ knows nothing of such a crushed heart and grieved spirit. And how could it be? We are just so busy with “good” things. Again, they are not evil in themselves. But they have become gods in our lives. Especially older Christians who go into retirement mode can fall prey to this.
While a few retirees may use those sunset years to go help out on the mission field and the like, most will just live fully for themselves. And there are plenty of good things they can involve themselves in, be it travel around the world, or collections of various kinds, whether collecting expensive cars, butterflies, or antique clocks.
They might get into hobbies such as four-wheel drives, or photography, or visiting fine restaurants. Again, these may all be good things, in themselves. But again, when we stand before the Lord, will all these activities and things we devoted our lives to amount to a hill of beans?
What will our Lord say to us when we give an account of how we spent our lives? That is something we all should be thinking carefully about. Let me close by sharing some words by pastor and evangelist John Piper. In 2000 he gave a talk entitled “Boasting Only in the Cross”.
The whole talk, along with a short segment of it, can be found online. A short seven-minute segment of it is about not wasting our life. It goes like this:
You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by a few great things.
If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on for centuries and into eternity, you don’t have to have a high IQ or a high EQ. You don’t have to have good looks or riches. You don’t have to come from a fine family or a fine school. You just have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.
But I know that not everybody in this crowd wants their life to make a difference. There are hundreds of you — you don’t care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you. If people would just like you, you’d be satisfied. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife and a couple good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell — if you could have that, you’d be satisfied even without God.
That is a tragedy in the making.
Three weeks ago, we got word at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards had both been killed in Cameroon. 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 give way, over the cliff they go, and they’re gone — killed instantly.
And I asked my people: was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great vision, spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ — two decades after almost all their American counterparts have retired to throw their lives away on trifles in Florida or New Mexico. No. That is not a tragedy. That is a glory.
“To make a difference in the world, you just have to know a few great, unchanging, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.”
I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read to you from Reader’s Digest what a tragedy is. “Bob and Penny . . . 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 thirty foot trawler, playing softball and collecting shells.”
That’s a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I get forty minutes to plead with you: don’t buy it. With all my heart I plead with you: don’t buy that dream. The American Dream: a nice house, a nice car, a nice job, a nice family, a nice retirement, collecting shells as the last chapter before you stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account of what you did: “Here it is Lord — my shell collection! And I’ve got a nice swing, and look at my boat!”
Don’t waste your life; don’t waste it.
You can watch that video clip here: http://www.desiringgod.org/don-t-waste-your-life
In 2003 he produced a book on this topic entitled Don’t Waste Your Life (Crossway). His closing chapter includes these words:
No, you don’t have to be a missionary to admire and advance the great purposes of God to be known and praised and enjoyed among all peoples. But if you want to be most fully satisfied with God as he triumphs in the history of redemption, you can’t go on with business as usual—doing your work, making your money, giving your tithe, eating, sleeping, playing, and going to church. Instead you need to stop and go away for a few days with a Bible and notepad; and pray and think about how your particular time and place in life fits into the great purpose of God.