Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s article, “How John Piper’s Seashells Swept Over a Generation” describes how Piper’s forty-minute Passion Conference talk changed the lives of thousands. On a gray, overcast afternoon on May 20, 2000, Pastor John Piper, a keynote speaker at the Passion Conference, waited to speak to more than 40,000 college students.
Piper was anxious as he pictured speaking to this large crowd. He thought back to his high school days when he was paralyzed by the fear of public speaking. So incapacitating was this fear that his mother took him to a psychologist for help. When he spoke to large groups he said, I “always have a lot of memories I have to overcome.”
In spite of his anxiety, Piper knew he was called to speak to this large gathering of students. He prayed aloud, “Father in heaven, you know how inadequate I feel at this moment and so I ask for a very special anointing and help from you.”
Asking for God's grace, he began by saying “You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. You don’t have to be smart, or good-looking, or from a good family. You just have to know a few, basic, glorious, majestic, obvious, unchanging, eternal things, and be gripped by them, and be willing to lay down your life for them.”
“Three weeks ago, we got news at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon. Ruby Eliason—over 80, single all her life, a nurse. Poured her life out for one thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the sick and the poor in the hardest and most unreached places.
Laura Edwards, a medical doctor in the Twin Cities, and in her retirement, partnering up with Ruby. [She was] also pushing 80, and going from village to village in Cameroon. The brakes give way, over a cliff they go, and they’re dead instantly. And I asked my people, “Is this a tragedy?”
He then pulled out a page from a Reader’s Digest article and read to them,
‘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 30-foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells.’
“That’s a tragedy,” he told the crowd.
“And there are people in this country that are spending billions of dollars to get you to buy it. And I get 40 minutes to plead with you—don’t buy it. With all my heart I plead with you—don’t buy that dream. . . . As the last chapter before you stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account with what you did: “Here it is, Lord—my shell collection. And I’ve got a good swing. And look at my boat.”
This short talk changed many of those attending as they considered how to live their lives. The speech also led to a book titled “Don’t Waste Your Life”. Piper summarized, “the way not to waste your life is to give God glory for every gift because every one—from a new car to physical safety to your own next heartbeat—is grace bought and paid for through the cross.”
The point of Piper’s story and speech is not that everyone has to become a missionary in Africa to not waste their life. While some people may be called by God to work full-time for a ministry or church, most of us will be called to work in secular settings. And it is in the secular work settings that Christian men and women will bring God’s love and forgiveness to coworkers who may never have stepped foot into a church.
Although not exhaustive, here are six ways to not waste your life and instead design a life that is well lived. They apply to not only students but also adults of any age:
1. Strive to keep your primary calling primary. Your primary calling is a common calling that all of mankind has been given to salvation through Jesus Christ and to discipleship or following Christ. You can keep your primary calling primary through practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation on God’s Word, fasting, and others. These spiritual disciplines put you in a situation where God can work in your life and help you to design a life of loving God and others. A great book related to spiritual disciplines is Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.
2. Look at where you are today. Take a few minutes to analyze the life roles that God has given to you. Those roles may include being a neighbor, church member, spouse, parent, son, daughter, sister, brother, and worker.
Life roles are what we refer to as secondary callings. Typically, when people say I want to find my calling, they are referring to the life role, or secondary calling, of being a worker. Your secondary calling as a worker is important to get right as 60% of your life may be spent in work. But from God’s perspective, all life roles, or secondary callings, are essential. This can remind us to not be a workaholic. Because even when you love your work and feel it is your calling, you can waste much of your life if you are not intentionally living out the other secondary callings that God has given you such as being a neighbor or parent.
For each of your life roles, or secondary callings, assess your level of satisfaction currently on a 1 – 10 scale (1 = low; 10 = high). What are one or two secondary callings that God is prompting you to improve? Do you have any dreams that relate to your secondary callings?
3. Next, write down a dream or even a single small action step that would improve one of your secondary callings. Take this step and make it a goal by writing down the specifics of what you will do and immediately schedule when you will complete this step. For example, you may want a better relationship with one of your neighbors. One small step could be to invite your neighbor to go out for a meal together. To make this a goal, specify when you will invite your neighbor and write it down in your calendar or as a reminder in your smartphone. Doing this consistently and intentionally with your secondary callings will lead to a life well lived.
In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, Piper says, "God created us to live with a single passion to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives."
4. Piper says to not waste your life you need to give God glory for every gift. As Christian career counselors we know that includes learning about your skills, talents, interests, motivations and personality traits. When you know these aspects of your God-given design, you can give God thanks for them and then make wise stewardship decisions to use those talents to make a difference in the world. You don’t own those skills and gifts, instead, God has called you to be a manager of them as we see in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.
You can learn about these aspects of your God-given design through self-assessment and career tests. Some career tests have to be administered by a certified career counselor, while others such as our Career Fit Test can be used online without a career counselor. The Career Fit Test will help you to identify your transferable skills, personal skills and content skills. It will then help you to identify where you should use your gifts and for career goals will help you to find work that you love.
5. A wasted life is one that is self-absorbed and often focused on a well-funded retirement. This especially happens when people are in work that is not a good fit for them. And studies show that 70% of workers are emotionally disengaged from their work. Just putting in their days dreaming about retirement.
Retirement at its best is a time that gives us more flexibility to make new choices about how we use our time and talents for God’s glory. Waking up late and playing golf every day can be fun for a period of time, but doesn’t ultimately lead to joy and meaning that God desires us to have.
One person who hear Piper speak said, “I’m probably never going to ‘retire,’” he said. “I want to do something with my life beyond 50, 60, 70 that makes a difference, whether that’s volunteering at a soup kitchen or mentoring kids or whatever that looks like.”
6. A life well lived is other-focused. It involves finding problems that a person is excited to help solve. It doesn’t matter what age you are, there will always be needs around you that God is calling you to meet. God can meet all the needs in the world, but He chooses to parcel out to each of us enthusiasms to meet needs in the world. The term enthusiasm means “God in us.” God has placed enthusiasm in each of us to meet specific needs in the world. When those enthusiasms are connected with your skills, talents, interests, motivations and personality traits you will find meaning, purpose and calling in your life.
7. Finally, to avoid wasting your life, make a habit of taking risks and moving outside of your comfort zone. As we take steps outside of our comfort zone, we experience growth and learning. Moving outside of our comfort zone also increases our prayer life as we realize that we can’t live our calling without God’s power in our lives. This becomes a reminder to keep our primary calling primary as we draw close to God and abide in Christ. Don’t make the mistake of seeking comfort over your calling. Or choosing your fears over your faith. Or choosing the American dream of many material things over the rewarding, fulfilling life of serving others and their needs.
God spoke through John Piper’s message that day to change many people’s lives. He challenged those students to not waste their lives through self-focus and the pursuit of the American dream. If you are a Christ follower his message applies to you no matter what your age is.
Chad Huddleston, who teaches and coaches at a public school in Texas said this about that special day Piper spoke, “Whether you’re an engineer or a doctor or teacher or overseas missionary or a garbage collector—whatever it may be, what I took from Piper is that the real tragedy would be coming to the end of your life, and all you have are the things you’ve accomplished for yourself.”
Today can be the first day you draw a line in the sand and commit yourself to design a life that is well-lived. A life that uses your best skills, addresses needs you have enthusiasm for, and results in one day hearing those words from God, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
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