Have you ever thought back over your life with a sense of regret or remorse? Ever wished with all your heart that you had made different choices or walked a different path? Maybe you find it difficult not to think about what might have been if only you had had a different background or different talents. Do you think “I could have done so much more, or done so much better, if only …?”
It’s interesting that I was asked to put together some thoughts about Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, because there was a time in my life when I was convinced that I had wasted it – and that I would never be able to make up for it. That’s the awful thing about time past – like sand running through your hand, it’s gone, for you can’t hold it and you can’t get it back.
Life didn’t turn out the way I expected when I graduated from university in the early 80s. I looked for work – any work – but for many months could find nothing. In the end I got mad. I was angry with the world, angry with the economy, angry with myself (“what’s wrong with me?”) and most of all angry with God. So I found a job in Canada, bought a one-way ticket and left for the other side of the world.
For two and a half years I travelled the world, looking for a meaningful life, looking for love and looking for God. The problem was I took myself along, and I was still hurt and angry. I hadn’t wanted to waste my life – I’d wanted to do something worthwhile for God – but here I was trying to fix things and it seemed like I was being punished.
Whilst overseas I got involved with a group which seemed to be Christian and which appealed to my desire to do something worthwhile with my life. I worked for them for over a year, but eventually cut ties with them. The longer I stayed with them, the more confused I became about who God was, and how I should live for him. It all seemed to be about what I did – but I always seemed to always make a hash of things and couldn’t bear the burden of guilt any longer.
In God’s great kindness and mercy he rescued me from the bonds of legalism, bonds that tied my worth and my salvation to my efforts. But it took many painful years. And although I eventually came to understand and depend upon the wonder of grace, and the saving work of Jesus on the cross, there are still days when I am tempted to ask God why – why did I have to go through that? What use could those wasted years be?
To be honest, once I had got about halfway through reading Don’t Waste Your Life I had to put it away for a time and come back to it later. Even now – many years later – it’s difficult for me avoid the old legalistic thought patterns. I begin to think again that I’m not getting things right, that I’m not useful enough, that I’m wasting time. And I wonder what possible use those wasted past years could be. But, if you will share the journey with me, I’d like to tell you a few things I have discovered about God over the last ten years or so, and how reading Don’t Waste Your Life has helped me to think them through on a deeper level.