Posted on April 17th, by Doug Ponder in God, Life, Mission. 2 comments


Written by on April 17, 2016

Don’t Waste Your [College] Life

For better and for worse, I attended Liberty University for undergraduate degree in the early 2000s. The school has a mixed repetition, to put it mildly, and some of it is quite deserved. (But some of it is decidedly not.) The same is true of the school’s (in)famous founder, Jerry Falwell, Sr.

Jerry (as he liked to be called) was a larger-than-average man with a larger-than-life personality. He liked to swerve his massive black Suburban onto the sidewalks in a (jesting?) attempt to hit unsuspecting students. He once sucker-punched a friend of mine in the gut, and he did with a smile on his face. (“How’s it going, young man?” wham!)

But one of the things I remember most about Jerry was a quote he repeated so often that many people (both then and now) erroneously attribute to him. Hardly a month went by without hearing him recite these words of C.T. Studd:

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

At the time, my sinful cynicism prevented that quote from sinking deep into the soil of my heart. It wasn’t until later, during the most desperate time of my life, that I stumbled upon those words again—this time, with a much different outcome.

The Summer That Saved My Life

I spent most of the summer of 2006 working late nights in a restaurant, sleeping long hours during the day, and playing video games whenever I wasn’t working. When I’d get off from work after midnight, I’d often drive around aimlessly. Sometimes I ended up at a bar. Sometimes I ended up on the floor of my grandparents’ house (they were away for the summer). Almost all the time I hated my life.

I attended church maybe twice that summer, with several weeks in between. On the second visit, a man who’s now one of my best friends pulled my aside and asked, “What the heck are you doing with your life?” It was a rhetorical question, not unlike most of the questions that Jesus asked. Indeed, I felt him speaking to me through the question that day.

At my friend’s request, we began to read the book Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I wasn’t offended at his suggestion. In a way, the book’s warning is also a promise of hope: if there are ways for wasting your life, then there must be ways for not wasting it, too.

And it was here that I read again those words so often heard but never heeded:

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

A Wasted Life

The idea of a “wasted life” is may seem offensive, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Jesus tells us, “All things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). Just think of it: you were made for God. Like a fish was made for the water, like a car was made to run on gas, you were made to know the God in whom we live and move and have your being (Acts 17:28).

There’s more. Not only we made “through him and for him,” we also have been redeemed by him through his death and resurrection. This means God has a double-claim on our lives. He made us, and we are his. Then he redeemed us from our sin, so we are doubly his.

Now if you understand who God is, then you realize just how good this news is. God is so significant that just knowing him is called “eternal life” (John 17:3). He is the fountain of everything good and beautiful and true (Jas. 1:17). He has an eternally cascading waterfall of pleasures at his right hand (Ps. 16:11), and he “richly provides you with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).

A wasted life, therefore, is any life that doesn’t pursue the never-ending joy that we were created to know in God. Any life other than that is wasted, tragically, because it’s a life spent chasing a thimble of pleasure when you could have a waterfall. It’s a life spent searching for satisfaction in soul-crushing sin, instead of a life spent savoring in the love and power and riches of the grace of God. It’s a life living for lesser things, cheap things, flammable things (1 Cor. 3:12-15). It’s a life spent living for yourself instead of living for the God of all joy (Matt. 10:39).

A Well-Spent Life

I remember one late-night conversation with a close friend well over a decade ago. He was lamenting his career choice at the time, so he said with a settled sigh, “I guess nobody is happy with their job unless they become a missionary or something.” He was hinting at the idea that Christians are ‘wasting their lives’ if they don’t all go to seminary and become pastors or missionaries. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

God’s solution is not seminary, but satisfaction in him. God asks us to say ‘no’ to sin and ‘yes’ to him (Titus 2:11-12). We belong to him, and we are called to live like people who have been called out of darkness and into his marvelous light—because we have been (1 Pet 2:9).

This satisfaction in God seeks to do everything with a kind of “gospel intentionality,” remembering that he made you for himself (Col. 1:16), that he has freely given you all things in Christ (Rom. 8:32), and that he has made you “salt” for loving acts that preserve life and “light” for illuminating the world with the truth of the gospel (Matt. 5:13-14).

And this satisfaction in God seeks to do everything—everything!—with the strength that God supplies (Isa. 12:2), as his Spirit works new desires into our hearts like a baker kneading yeast into the lump of dough (Phil. 2:12-13).

John Piper is right: “You have one life. That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.” Or as Jerry used to quote again and again:

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

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 by various authors. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.

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