I remember where I was when I first heard John Piper’s sermon, “Don’t Waste Your Life.” I was driving down I-265 on my way to a tutoring session with middle-school kids when I was wrecked by Piper’s powerful illustration of a “wasted” life in retirement:
“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.”
“Look at my seashells, Lord!” Few preachers have been so effective in communicating the tragedy of spending one’s life without giving thought to the kingdom of God.
Guilty for Seashells?
Not long ago, I was talking to a friend of mine about this sermon illustration. He remarked: Oh man, I know. Every time I go to the beach now, I feel guilty for picking seashells.
I am looking forward to a beach vacation in a couple weeks. No doubt my family and I will pick up some seashells. And unlike my friend, I won’t feel guilty in the least. In fact, I’m pretty sure John Piper wouldn’t want me to.
You see, those who are familiar with John Piper’s passionate call to “not waste one’s life” might think he is anti-seashell and anti-leisure. But don’t assume “vacation” and “retirement” is the same thing for Piper. And don’t miss another great theme running throughout Piper’s teaching: the joys of this world are to be enjoyed precisely because they are designed to cause us lift our eyes and hearts toward the joy we find in the Creator of this world.
Like G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Jonathan Edwards, Piper’s passion for God’s glory is manifested in expressing a sense of wonder in the world around us. In a sermon on C. S. Lewis, he says:
To wake up in the morning and to be aware of the firmness of the mattress, the warmth of the sun’s rays, the sound of the clock ticking, the coldness of the wooden floor, the wetness of the water in the sink, the sheer being of things (quiddity as he called it). And not just to be aware but to wonder. To be amazed that the water is wet. It did not have to be wet. If there were no such thing as water, and one day some one showed it to you, you would simply be astonished.
[Lewis] helped me become alive to life. To look at the sunrise and with say with an amazed smile, “God did it again!” He helped me to see what is there in the world—things which if we didn’t have them, we would pay a million dollars to have, but having them, ignore. He convicts me of my callous inability to enjoy God’s daily gifts. He helps me to awaken my dazed soul so that the realities of life and of God and heaven and hell are seen and felt.
Looking Through Creation
Piper’s sermon on a wasted life is powerful because it exposes the tragedy of living only for this world. But countless other sermons from Piper are powerful because they show the joy and wonder of living in this world and the importance of looking beyond the gift to the Maker of all good things – the Artist who splashes his brilliant colors on the canvas of creation.
We would waste our beach vacation if we failed to notice the seashells. Just consider the variety of one kind of shell – the ark: cut-ribbed, mossy, transverse, ponderous, and turkey wing. Then there is the lightning whelk, the auger, and the rose petal tellin. Go ahead. Click on the links and marvel.
“Don’t Waste Your Life” shouldn’t make you dismiss seashells. It should cause you put seashells in perspective, so that you see in the seashell the glorious fingerprints of a loving God who has filled the world with pointers to the joy found only in Him.
This summer, don’t waste the seashells.