Don’t Waste Your Life (Part 1): The Purpose of Life
At the beginning of a new year many of us make resolutions and plans for what we are hoping to achieve this year. We may resolve to get our shed cleaned up and properly organized with all tools and fasteners stored in specific, allocated places. Or we might possibly make a resolution to become serious about losing weight by exercising more and eating more healthily. For those of us who are retired we may be planning for an overseas trip visiting family and friends. Young engaged couples may be eagerly planning for their wedding day. But for most of us the end of the holidays and the return to work routine very quickly becomes the order of the day and our resolutions are pushed onto the backburner whilst our plans are, albeit temporarily, buried under the pressures and demands of daily work.
In a student counselling course I attended some years ago the emphasis was on the counsellor encouraging and challenging high school students to dare to dream, to explore options and develop one’s talents and opportunities to the utmost. I certainly believe it is good to make plans for activities and events that we may look forward to and enjoy in the coming year. The Holy Spirit even gave this advice in Ecclesiastes 11:9 —
Rejoice O young man in your youth,
And let your heart cheer you in the day of your youth;
Walk in the ways of your heart,
And in the sight of your eyes;
But know that for all these
God will bring you into judgement.
Let there be absolutely no doubt in our minds that God has placed us on earth to enjoy His blessings, His love and care over our lives. The Westminster Shorter Catechism captures this thought very succinctly when it commences with the following question and answer:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Throughout Scripture there are many passages that encourage and even exhort us to rejoice. Take Philippians 4:4 for example: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”
Indeed, Scripture is crystal clear about the purpose of our life. God created us for His glory! And it is only when we acknowledge this and live this, that our life gains perspective, purpose and real joy. In Isaiah 43:6b-7 God states: “Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth. Everyone who is called by My Name, Whom I have created for my glory.”
Do we make our plans for this coming year within that context? Do we keep in mind the exhortation of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:19, that “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body”? Our own Heidelberg Catechism brings out this same truth so eloquently and yet so simply in Lord’s Day 1 where it asks and answers:
Q: What is your only comfort in life and death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and set me free from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my Heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.
Therefore by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
This Lord’s Day is so immeasurably rich and comforting and instructive! Sometimes I feel that we who have grown up with these riches and have learnt them off by heart so that we eventually could make our public profession of faith, quickly become so familiar with these words penned down some four and a half centuries ago, that they no longer leave us deeply moved by the wonders of God’s grace so clearly evident in these statements. We need to be continually reminded of the deep and rich significance of these words and allow them to penetrate deeply into our hearts again and again, so that they are not just a wonderful theoretical confession but that we also live these words in our daily lives. We belong to Christ, not to ourselves! That implies that we do not have a license to do as we please, but that we do everything to please Him to Whom we belong! Heartily willing and ready to — in the words of John Calvin — “offer up our hearts, promptly and sincerely.”
Life is wasted when we do not live for the glory of God. And I mean all of life. The Bible very specifically includes such details of life as eating and drinking: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 — Bold letters mine, GW).
Let me pause for a moment here to clarify what we have been considering. So that means that it is our purpose in life, 24/7/52, to glorify God in our thoughts and words and deeds, and that only in this way will we enjoy God and so also enjoy life. And this implies that every thought and word and deed that does not glorify God is a waste of the life God has given us. How are we going to achieve that purpose God has placed in our lives? That is what I hope to address in this series of articles.
The stimulus for writing these articles came from a book of the same title by the well-known author John Piper (Crossway, 2003). The blurb on the back of this book caught my attention with its highlighted “don’t waste your life.”
John Piper writes, “I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader’s Digest: A couple ‘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….’ Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgement: ‘Look Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy.
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”
Most people slip by in life without a passion for God, spending their lives on trivial diversions, living for comfort and pleasure, and perhaps trying to avoid sin. This book will warn you not to get caught up in a life that counts for nothing. It will challenge you to live and die boasting in the cross of Christ and making the glory of God your singular passion. If you believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain, read this book, learn to live for Christ, and don’t waste your life!
And so I read this little booklet and was given renewed insights and understanding into how I could waste my life and how I could avoid a wasted life. Piper places much emphasis on explaining that we are created for joy. He writes (p. 9), “It was not always plain to me that pursuing God’s glory would be virtually the same as pursuing my joy. Now I see that millions of people waste their lives because they think these paths are two and not one.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this booklet and also appreciated the challenges it put to me. My wife and I read a few pages together before we went to sleep each night, and it often provided food for further discussion and application to our own lives. And yet, I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied. I felt that there was more that Piper could say whilst exploring the riches of our relationship with God and I guess it was the fact that Piper is a Baptist that I started thinking that the Baptist theological framework might provide me with the answer to my slight dissatisfaction, whilst at the same time provide a challenge to explore the same topic from within the Reformed theological framework.
It was at this point that a family member who takes delight in regularly challenging my thinking and forcing me to study and re-evaluate my stand on various topics — presented me with an old Dutch book which in its time was very popular and widely read and quoted. It was written by Rev. D. van Dijk and was titled, “Gij zijt God’s medearbeiders” (Oosterbaan and Le Cointre, 1958), which can be translated as, “You Are God’s Co-Workers.” Skimming through this reminded me again that the Reformed position on living every aspect of our lives 24/7/52 to the glory of God is in no way inferior to that brought forward by Piper in his booklet, but adds another dimension to it that provides a depth and richness to our relationship with God that I miss somewhat in Piper’s booklet. So this will be my challenge in the next few articles: tapping into the booklet by Piper to provide insights into how we can waste our lives and how we can avoid wasting our lives — using the fresh and modern approach and examples Piper uses to bring this home as powerfully as possible, but placing this within the riches of the context of the covenant relationship that God has established with us as explained by Rev. van Dijk.