Following the Call of Christ
About the Guest
John Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and founder of Desiring God Ministries, encourages Christians who've been called by Christ to live every day for Him.
Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, Piper served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. He has authored more than 50 books, and more than 30 years of his preaching and writing are available free of charge at desiringGod.org. Piper resides in the Minneapolis area with his wife of 51 years, and has five children and 14 grandchil...more
John Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and founder of Desiring God Ministries, encourages Christians who’ve been called by Christ to live every day for Him
Following the Call of Christ
John: We need to help people see why the universe was created. It wasn't created for people to become famous, for people to become powerful. It was created to display the worth, excellencies, beauty, and wonders of God. We are here to receive that excellency and reflect it out in our lives so that other people see it. It's all about God.
“…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever and ever!”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Understanding why we're here is Step 1 in the process of not wasting our lives.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. I have a distinct memory of an event that took place when I was in high school. I was in an English class, and we were in a unit study on the subject of existentialism, Existentialism and Man. We were reading Camus, Sartre, and that guy who wrote the story about being a cockroach—Kafka, Franz Kafka.
Dennis: This was in high school?
Bob: This was in high school, and Mrs. Venary was our English teacher. Mrs. Venary said one day—she asked us, "What's most important in your life?" I remember we were going around the room and answering that question. We got to me, and I don't remember what I said. If I had to guess today, I would have probably said, "One of the really important things in my life is music." I was in a band. I played guitar. I really liked music.
By the time we got to one of my classmates (who was about halfway through the group), she said, "Really, the most important thing in my life is my relationship with God." I remember thinking, "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, that's the right answer. I need to remember that next time." Then, it dawned on me that if I didn't have that as the right answer when the question came around, it probably wasn't really the most important thing in my life, you know?
Dennis: Yes, I was thinking how I would have answered it—I'm sorry that God would not have been my answer, either—athletics would have been. I think whether you're in high school and how you would have answered it then or where you are today, the question is still a good question.
We have someone today with us on FamilyLife Today who I think is going to help you—well, either realign your spiritual tires or maybe answer the question in the right way for the first time.
John Piper joins us on FamilyLife Today. John, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
John: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
Dennis: John is the pastor of preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church where he has served since 1980. He and his wife, Noelle, have four sons and a daughter; live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a prolific writer.
Bob, it's not often that books come to our attention here at FamilyLife Today through our wives, but this one did. Back last Christmas, Barbara came to me. She said, "You know, there is one book I want to give our kids for Christmas." I said, "Oh, really? Who is it by?" She said, "John Piper." I immediately thought of some of the books that I have had the privilege of reading, browsing my way through: Desiring God, among others.
She said, "It's a new book called Don't Waste Your Life.” I thought, "Now, that's a good title," because we have a generation of people, I believe, who are really not getting around to the question you asked, Bob, “What is most important in your life?”
John, you tell a story about a couple who had retired on the coast of Florida.
John: Yes. I got the story from Reader's Digest.
Bob: That's okay. Ronald Reagan got a lot of his stories from Reader's Digest, too. There's nothing wrong with that.
John: It was written by them; so, it's not told about them. I won't give any names. They were marveling that at, I think, age 51 and 52 or something like that, they were able to retire early, go to Florida; and the peak of their excitement about this stage in their life was that they could play softball and collect shells. I just read that and thought, "You've got to be kidding."
Dennis: Now, we're talking about the ultimate experience in their lives?
John: Evidently. I'm thinking, in the last chapter of my life, I am mainly preparing to meet the Judge of the Universe and give an account, with my little vaporous life on this earth. He is not going to ask, "Can I see your shell collection?"
Bob: Who won the softball game? It's not going to matter, is it?
John: It is not. So, it became a kind of paradigm story for me of the American Way. Tragically, the AARP and most people giving counsel on what to do with your latter years are telling you to go play them away on a golf course somewhere or something. I'm thinking, "That is not the way I want to spend my life at all—let alone my last years, in the months just preceding seeing the King of the Universe.”
Bob: I think that's important. The message in this book, Don't Waste Your Life, is not just about not squandering the latter years of your life; but it's about the whole of your life. It's a stewardship that we have been entrusted with, right?
John: Right. Young people are making incredibly important choices early on, especially right at the juncture of early college years and post-college years of “What am I going to do with my life?” I think they are eager and ready to hear somebody to call them to a radical kind of life that has a significance about it that is eternal and deep. So, that's what I've tried to talk about.
Dennis: Going back to your shell collection, as I read that, I thought—and you ask the question in your book. You can't imagine someone appearing before the Judgment Seat and God asking to see our shell collection. I thought, “What other kinds of collections do we have?”
It could be our golf scores, our trophies, our businesses, our portfolio of stocks, our home that we built, the car we drive, the wardrobe or jewelry. It could be our family. We could make the family the chief end of man, or it could be our bank account. You know, man has been collecting stuff, John, from the beginning of time. It may not be as silly as a shell collection; but we have the wrong object of worship, going all the way back to the Garden.
When you were a young lad growing up, in your home there was a—was it a plaque? What was it? Was it in the kitchen, as I recall, is that right?
John: Right, it was in the kitchen. Probably, it had as much to do with the title of the book as anything. I remember it hung up where a clock started to hang later, but I now have it in my living room at home; so, it's been on the wall for 50 years of my life, at least.
It says, "Only one life 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last." That was emblazoned on my mind as a child that significance and lasting reality is going to come from connectedness with Jesus. If something is done to display the worth of Jesus, then that something will have value and significance. If it didn't, it won't last.
Bob: So, you would say that from early on, you understood this idea of the stewardship of your life and that it needed to be focused and rightly directed? It's not something that came to you later in life?
John: I would say in my high school years, as I reflected back on the kinds of things I was thinking, the kinds of things I was writing and reading, as I reviewed those; it was amazing to me how much I was thinking about in those days. The other thing that probably affected the title of this book, Don't Waste Your Life, is the story my dad, as an evangelist, would tell when he was doing evangelism.
He came home one time and with tears in his eyes, he said, "A man came to Christ who must have been in his 70’s, and he'd been a sinner in the community for years. People had prayed for him, and he resisted the Gospel. He walked to the front. He sat down. After the service, as I sat beside him and counseled him, he just wept and wept. When I asked why he was weeping, he just repeated over and over, ‘I've wasted it. I've wasted it.’”
I tell you, as a teenager, that story from my dad landed on me with such power that I thought, "Never, ever, ever do I want to be able to say that, I've wasted it." So, from maybe age 16, 15 on, I had this impulse in me to “Don't waste it. Don't waste it.”
Dennis: I have, for some reason, been kind of chewing on Acts, chapter 13, verse 36. It reads, "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and he was buried."
I thought, you know, if that could be said of my life at the end, that I fulfilled God's purpose for my generation—whether you're a mother, a father, a businessman, a businesswoman, a single person—to be smack dab in the middle of walking with God and fulfilling what He has for you, that's what you're talking about in the book.
You are talking about people who have a confidence that they are fulfilling not only God's will for their lives; but they are part of a grand scheme, a bigger picture, of what God is accomplishing on this planet.
John: Right. We need to help people see why the Universe was created. It wasn't created for people to become famous, for people to become powerful. It was created to display the worth, excellencies, beauty, and wonders of God. We are here to receive that excellency and reflect it out in our lives so that other people see it. It's all about God. "…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever and ever," Romans 11:36 says.
So, I think significance must be defined in terms of God: depending on Him; being guided by Him; giving Him all the praise, all the glory, and all the honor. Then,
finding lifestyles and ways of talking, thinking, feeling, and acting that make God look really good to this culture.
Dennis: In the ‘60’s, your passion intensified for finding God's purpose and making sure you were about what he was doing. It was your encounter with two different people that ultimately changed the course of your life. Why don't you share those two people that you encountered in college?
John: Now, I have three in mind; so, I'm not sure which two you have in mind. I'll mention Dan Fuller as a living teacher, who had a tremendous impact in the way I read the Bible; and then, I mentioned the dead person, Jonathan Edwards; and I mentioned another dead person, died in '63 (the same day as John Kennedy died), C.S. Lewis.
So, that triumvirate in the years, say, '64, as I began college, to '68 when I went away; and then, in the years '68-'71 in seminary, that's where Dan Fuller and Jonathan Edwards conspired.
The key of the living teacher and the dead teacher was to show me that there is no final conflict between God's passion to be glorified and my passion to be satisfied.
I had grown up, for whatever reason—I'm sure it wasn't my dad's fault or maybe even the preacher's fault—thinking, "You can't have both of those. Either God is going to be glorified, or I'm going to be happy.”
I heard—maybe it wasn't said, but this is what I heard—people would say, "Well, you should stop doing your will and do God's will." I kind of wanted to say, "Isn't there a third alternative?
Like, maybe I would want to do God's will? Maybe I would enjoy doing God's will?” What those men showed me is that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him; that God's glory shines in my being happy in Him.
So, there isn't this necessary conflict between my pursuit of pleasures and His pursuit of glory if, in fact, my pursuit of pleasure is pleasure in Him. That insight from Jonathan Edwards, mainly, mediated through Dan Fuller and C.S. Lewis, in his one page in the Weight of Glory, where he said, "The problem with the world is not that we are pursuing pleasure but that we are far too easily pleased. We are like children fooling around with mud pies in the slums when we could have a holiday at the sea; and we can't imagine what it's like."
What he meant was we're fooling around with that list you gave earlier, Dennis, about just money, even family, possessions, and business. If we could see what a holiday at the sea that is a relationship with God, delight in His beauty and power and excellencies was; then, we'd see the problem in the Universe is not that people are pursuing pleasure, but that they are settling for the low, fleeting, wrong, suicidal pleasures.
So, that's what I learned from Lewis, Edwards, and Dan Fuller between '68 and '71; and it changed everything.
Bob: You later expressed that, or referred to that, as Christian hedonism.
Bob: Hedonism is the philosophy that says the highest goal is the pursuit of pleasure. You said, “If we understand the Scriptures right, that's true; but the only real pleasure we're going to find is not in what the culture tells us will bring us pleasure.”
John: Right. The reason that is not in conflict with saying, “The highest goal is the glory of God,” is because God is glorified, precisely, in my being satisfied in Him. That was the insight that makes lights go on, I find, for a lot of people these days.
Dennis: I have to read a passage that I know you're passionate about, Psalm 16:11—
Dennis: “—Thou will make known to me the path of life. In Thy presence is fullness of joy." We don't believe this last third of the verse here. It says, "In Thy right hand, there are pleasures forever."
Dennis: Frankly, it’s what you described, that for a number of years kept me at a distance from Christianity. I didn't believe I could have a good time; that I could truly experience pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment and walk with Jesus Christ. I thought becoming a Christian was having to put on something black, put on a sour look, and be unhappy for the rest of my life.
Now, I don't know where I got that picture, because I really grew up in a good church. Nonetheless, I had a caricature of Christianity that I was rejecting. It wasn't this. It wasn't the idea of a glowing, vibrant life filled with smiles, laughter, and, as this says, enjoyment and pleasure.
John: Right. I think there are a lot of people who have said something like that and given it a little bit of a wrong twist. That is, I think there have always been “Rah! Rah!” evangelistic, youth crusades where we feature the athlete and the smiling beauty queen who say, "You really can have a great and happy life if you'll be a Christian." The ordinary folks look at that and thought, "That's not quite what I'm thinking. That's not going to work for me, because I've got pimples, and I'm not strong."
The difference with my message—it's where you were going, I think—is that what I want to hold up is a joy and is a God who, in Himself, when all the beauty goes and all the strength goes and all the popularity goes and all the parties go, He's enough, and He's thrilling.
You know, my wife and I were married in December of 1968. We chose Habakkuk 3, the last four verses, I believe, of the book, to be read at our wedding. I don't know it all by heart, but I can paraphrase it. It goes something like this: “Though the olive fail, though there be no fruit on the vines, though there be no cattle in the stall, though there be no sheep in the fold….” In other words, we're talking famine and devastation. Then, he says, "…yet, will I rejoice in the Lord, my God."
Psalm 63:3 says, "The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life." Or Paul says, "To die is gain." So, my message is a little more radical than what I was hearing from the “Rah! Rah!” evangelistic crusades’ "Yes, we can all have a good time" message; but rather you may have an absolutely horrible life and smile your way all the way to heaven.
In fact, 2 Corinthians 6, verse 10, Paul uses this phrase; that, for me, has really stamped the way I want to talk about joy. He says, "…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…."
So, I wanted there to always be a kind of minor key playing in the background of my parties and my celebrations because I know the world is absolutely filled with pain and filled with suffering. When I am rejoicing with those who rejoice, there is somebody very close to me weeping with those who weep.
So, I just want to present an authentic call to radical pleasure at God's right hand when you may be wracked with cancer, your wife may have left you, your kids may be prodigals, your business may be failing; and you can say, "The Lord gives, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." So, there is a flavor, I think, to this hedonism that I have; that I hope is really realistic.
Dennis: The time to develop that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ is not when you go through the valley. The time to develop it is now. It is to become focused on Him as your absolute source of life, of pleasure, of joy and begin the process of walking with Him moment by moment.
You know, I couldn't help but think, John, as you were talking, about how those of us here at FamilyLife watched Bill Bright die. The last two and a half years of his life were marked by him only having about 40% lung capacity. He was—literally, his body was starving for oxygen; and yet, every time I saw him (and everyone else, too) he was praising God, talking about Him being his strength, his joy, his portion. He never complained.
I contrasted his life with how I've watched others die. I thought, “You know what? Bill Bright taught me how to live; he also taught me how to die.”
John: That’s beautiful.
Dennis: What I want to do with my life is I want to do the same thing. I want my deathbed to be as vigorous in the enjoyment and the pursuit of God; even though, there will undoubtedly be pain. It will not be easy, but I'd like it to be the way Bill Bright demonstrated as a man. We can do that if we get into the Scripture and we find out who God is, because it's only as we know Him as He is that you can relate to Him as the God of the Universe.
Bob: You talk about somebody who didn't waste his life; Dr. Bright is a great example of somebody who had the right focus, the right priority, who understood the implications of the Christian faith. It changed the direction of everything. It shaped every decision he made.
I’ve talked to people who have read the book that you wrote, Dr. Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life; and they’ve had the same kind of response. The book pointed them in a new direction. The book reorganized their priorities for them. It put them on the right path. It caused them to think through, “What really does matter in life and is that what I’m living for?”
I want to encourage our listeners: if you don’t have a copy of Dr. John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life, contact us here at FamilyLife. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. The book includes a DVD featuring Dr. Piper speaking on this subject; so, you get the book and the DVD together. The information about how to get both of these resources can be found on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
You may want to get multiple copies of this book and go through it with the students in the high school ministry in your church or the college ministry at your church. It is a great summer time study.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information; or you might want to write this number down, 1-800-FL-TODAY. Because of the holiday here in the US, you’ll need to call us tomorrow; but we’ll have folks here available who can take your call then. Again, if it is easier, just go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and you can order online if you’d like.
Let me also mention that it was decade ago that I heard you speak on the subject of marriage, Dr. Piper. You spoke at an event called Building Strong Families in Your Church in Dallas, TX. It was the first time I’d heard you speak live. The message was a great message on marriage. We have that message available on either audio CD or as a DVD.
So, if you can help us with a donation, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; and as you fill out the online donation form, when you come to the key code box, type in either “GLORYCD” or “GLORYDVD” if you’d like the video version.
Again, let me just say thanks for your support of the ministry. Your financial support is what makes this daily radio program possible. So, we appreciate those of you who partner with us. We want to thank you again for your generous support.
Now, tomorrow we're going to continue our conversation with Dr. John Piper about what it means to live a life that has purpose, that has meaning, and that is focused in the right direction. How do we not waste our lives? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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