John Piper: Don’t Waste Your Life (Transcript)

Full text of Dr. John Piper’s talk titled “Don’t Waste Your Life” which was presented at the 2011 National Conference, Light & Heat: A Passion for the Holiness of God

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John Piper – Founder,

God was very kind to me when I was 17 years old in high school. Something came alive. I can almost pinpoint the class. It was Mrs. Clanton’s Class in English. Something came alive that has never died.

I was already walking with Jesus, and so it wasn’t faith that came alive. It was an awakening of the wonder and the weight of having one life to live, and then its outcome for eternity, no second chances, no retakes like when you do a video, no do-overs in a test – one life and then eternity.

In 1964, we had a high school literary magazine called Leaves of Grass, and I published a mediocre poem in it. And the quality of the poem makes no difference to me whatsoever now, but looking back on it, the burden of it is what grips me because it was an evidence of that coming alive of the sense of I’ve got one life — one life, and I can blow it forever or not.

So that poem was published and in it there’s a verse. It’s written from the perspective of being an old man. I’m 17 years old when I’m writing it. It’s called The Lost Years, and in the verse, the last verse goes like this:

“Long I sought for the earth’s hidden meaning. Long as a youth was my search in vain. Now as I approach my last years waning, My search I must begin again.”

And everything in me in those days toward the end of high school was saying, that must never, never, never happen, come to the end of life – 65 right now – and say, I can’t figure it out. I don’t know what it’s about, just coasting, just doing the next thing, just putzing around, desperately trying to be happy while not thinking. Oh, don’t let me think about what this is heading for or how heavy and weighty it is to have one life.

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Don’t let me think about that. I just want to do the next thing and hope I don’t sink in guilt and frustration. I don’t want to come to the end that way.

Then that burden and sense of the weight and the wonder of having only one life never left, ever. I still think, “What have I got left?” I don’t know what I’ve got left – a year, a minute. This would be a great place to go. It’s cool.

Twenty years – my dad was 87 when he passed away. That’s 22 more years. I don’t know. I just know one thing. Don’t waste it. This is just all you’ve got and then the outcome. And that’s all you’ve got – just one and then the outcome.

So there arose in me this tremendous sense about PURPOSEFULNESS. A lot of people get worked up with the “where did we come from” question, and that’s important. But to me it’s only important for the “where am I going” question. I want to know purpose. I want to know design. I want to know what am I trying to do. Where I came from, if that’s relevant for that, I want to know about it.

But mainly I just want why. You know, the Germans have woher and wozu. We just have why. Woher is why meaning “why did this happen” looking at the past cause. And wozu is “why, what’s the purpose?” What’s the point of it all? That’s the one.

I’m a wozu guy. I want to know where am I heading and what’s it for. So purpose, I want to know why the universe? Why color, sound, love, hate, evil, good, sports, leisure, work, souls, bodies, government, art, beauty, mosquitoes? Mosquitoes, I want to know why? Laughter, marriage, disease, war, me, you, now, this hour, why?

That’s the biggest question for me. I’ve got an hour with you, why?

Why? What should happen here? I go into the pulpit with that question every Sunday. What should happen here? What’s the big point of this message and this moment? Why are you at this conference? What do you want to happen forever? What ripple effect do you want to come from this moment in your life?

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So that burden, that wonder, that weight came on me about age 17, and it just doesn’t go away.


And God was very kind to me, because in the next seven years, so four of them at Wheaton College and three of them at Fuller Seminary, in the next seven years till I was 24 or 25, all the big pieces fell into place, and they’ve never changed.

And I am so fortunate. Some of you need some big pieces put in place now at age 70 and others at age 17. It’s never too late. But for me, God was so kind to me that from 17 to 24 all the big pieces were put in place.

And all I’ve been doing since then is trying to keep my focus narrow, because I’m not a fast reader and I’m not a comprehensive thinker. I’m an analytical guy who can handle the little piece of Scripture and milk it, but I can’t do much else.

So I just want the big questions to stay central. I want to push on them with all my might. I want to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until the last drop of significance is out of the big things. And that’s what I would commend to all of you average folks.

Let me stress for you what I stressed in the year 2000 when I spoke to the one day crowd. I said to them, “You know,” – these were all college students, and you’re mostly not, same thing applies.

You don’t have to know, I said, and I say to you now, you don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a huge difference. And I’m talking to the older folks, retired, and 20 somethings.

You don’t have to know a lot of things. I don’t know a lot of things. The older I get the less I know, and that’s not just because I’m forgetting. It’s just because I’m aware of more and more things that I don’t know, and I have to work hard not to care about that, lest I try to know them and then lose my grip on what I know.

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But you do need to know a few great things that really matter and be willing to live for them with all your might and die for them. The people who make a durable difference, and I choose the word durable significantly, intentionally. I’m thinking of just your average grandmama, say, or mom or dad or just your average person in this room.

You won’t have a famous global difference, but that’s not of the essence. In order to have a durable difference in the world that lasts till eternity, you don’t have to know a lot of things. You have to be mastered by a few things… a few great things.

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