REDEEM THE TIME
Written by Doug Ponder on July 17, 2013
The End of Your Life
The end of your life may be decades away, or it may only be days. You may die slowly, with lots of signs of failing health, or you may die quickly without warning. This much is certain: someday your life will come to an end.
As David, king of Israel once said, “Our days on the earth are but a shadow” (1 Chron. 29:15; cf. Job 8:9). James the apostle agrees, saying, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). It doesn’t matter whether we “like this” or not. It is reality, and trying to ignore it will not change the matter. Instead, the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
The question, then, is not whether our lives will come to an end—for they will as certainly as the sun sets in the evening. Instead, the question is will our lives have mattered when they come to their end? Will you look back on your life and wonder, “Did I waste it?”
The psalmist asks God to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). The apostle Paul said the same, encouraging believers in Ephesus and in Colossae to “redeem the time” (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5). You have one life. That’s all. Life is short. Don’t waste it.
A Wasted Life?
Some may try to object to the idea of a wasted life—“How dare you tell someone else how they should live their life!”—but this objection falls flat the moment you show them a life that they don’t approve of: a mass-murderer, a serial rapist, a cruel dictator, etc. Among sensible people, there is no real disagreement about whether or not a life can be wasted. The only real debate is this: “What constitutes a wasted life? And who gets the right to say a life was wasted?”
Below are some people that many thought had wasted their lives, throwing them away on silly pursuits that caused them to lose fame, fortune, or even their lives. As you read each story ask yourself, “Was this a wasted life?”
Only one life,
’Twill soon be past;
Only what’s done
for Christ will last.
Those are the words of C. T. Studd, a British missionary who helped advance the gospel in China, India, and Africa. He was also a famous cricketer in his day (a professional player in the British equivalent of major league baseball). He gave up his life of fame and moved to third-world countries to tell others about Jesus. Some think he wasted his life.
* * *
After graduating from Yale and Princeton, the young William Borden, heir to the Borden dairy empire, was poised to become one of the wealthiest men in America. Instead, he rejected his inheritance and chose to dedicate his life to missionary work overseas. He died from disease while on his way to China at the young age of twenty-five. Among the last words he wrote were those in the front of his Bible, which read, “No regrets.” Some think he wasted his life.
* * *
An old hymn begins with the line, “He liveth long, who liveth well.” David Brainerd was a man whose life proved these words to be true. His life was brief and hard, but good. He was orphaned at the age of fourteen. He was kicked out of Yale at the age of twenty—for protesting the school’s new policies which fined students for being “over-zealous” about the gospel. Instead of giving up, he chose to live among the American Indians, living among them, learning their language, and telling them about Jesus. He died at the age of 29, after suffering from tuberculosis and malnutrition for a period of seven years. Some think he wasted his life.
* * *
One of the men responsible for promoting “religious fervor” during David Brainerd’s time at Yale was Jonathan Edwards, a man who is sometimes called “America’s Greatest Theologian.” When he learned of Brainerd’s illness, he gladly welcomed him into his home. There his daughter Jerusha volunteered to attend to Brainerd’s needs. She and Brainerd spoke highly of their friendship in each of their diaries, and the two probably would have married if he had recovered from his illness. But after daily serving as his nurse for several months, Jerusha contracted tuberculosis too, dying shortly after Brainerd. She was only seventeen years old. Some think she wasted her life.
The Truly Wasted Life
To help his congregation understand what a wasted life look like, pastor and author John Piper compared the following stories side-by-side:
“Three weeks ago we got word at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards had both been killed in Cameroon. Ruby was over 80. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: To make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing 80 years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon. The brakes [of their car] failed, the car went over the cliff, and they were both killed instantly. So I ask you: Was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great vision, spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ—two decades after almost all their American counterparts have retired to throw their lives away on trifles in Florida or New Mexico. No! That is not a tragedy. That is a glory.”
Then he shares the following story:
“I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read to you from Reader’s Digest (Feb. 1998, p. 98) what a tragedy is: ‘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.” [So that is] the American Dream: come to the end of your life—your one and only life—and let the last great work before you give an account to your Creator be, ‘I collected shells. See my shells?’ That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I get forty minutes to plead with you: don’t buy it.”
Don’t Waste Your Life
In his short book titled, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper repeatedly says, “You have one life. That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.” These are not his thoughts about life. They are echoes of the drumbeat of Scripture. We have one life, and it was made for God (Col. 1:15-17; John 1:1-3; Acts 17:26-27; Rev. 4:10-11). Therefore, anything other than living for God is a waste of our time. It is a waste of the life that he has given us.
But what does it mean to “live for God”? It means that we recognize that our life, and everything good in the universe, spring from God’s endless supply of goodness, wisdom, beauty, and power. He created us to know him (personally), and anything other than delighting in that relationship is a wasted life. We glorify him by being satisfied in him, and our satisfaction and delight in him is seen in our desire to trust him and to do what he says.
Not only is failing to know God a wasted life, it also is a life of depleted joy. Since we have been made by God and for God (Col. 1:15-17), then we should know that trying to live without him is like a fish trying to break free from the ocean. But fish out of water aren’t free; they’re dead. That’s why one of the leaders in the early Christian church put it like this: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
“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.” That is your purpose in life. Use whatever the time that you have left on this earth to make much of him. Life is short. Redeem the time. Don’t waste your life.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.