Your steadfast love, O Lord, is better than life. You have told us this in many ways. With these very words you have said it through the mouth of your servant David: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” You have said it in the words of your apostle Paul, when he cried out in prison, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” O Lord, how much better you are than life! Does your apostle Paul not use strong language! Not just “better,” but “far better.” You are so much better than life that your apostle says death is gain. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To lose everything this world can offer and be left with you alone is gain.
Why, O Lord, is your love better than life? Surely David gives us the answer in the way he speaks. He does not say, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise your love.” What does he say? He says that he will praise you, not your love. “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Is this not because the most loving thing about your love is that it brings us home to you—with eyes and hearts and minds able to see the riches of your glory? With all your wrath removed, and all our sin forgiven, lest anything prevent the pleasure of your presence. Is this not what divine love is—the will and work of God, to give us undeserving sinners everlasting joy in God? What else could love be, if it would be infinite! What greater prize might we be given than yourself, if we are loved!
O God, you know I tremble now for fear that many of the ones who call you Lord have made themselves the prize and glory of your grace. How many, Lord, have made your love a witness to their worth! Is then their joy a resting in your worth or in their own? So many decades have gone by in which the constant message from the world, and even from some ministers, is this: that love means making much of man. And so when men, with this assurance, ponder what your love might mean, they say the same: God’s love means making much of man. For proof they ask: Don’t you feel loved when someone calls attention to your worth?
I answer: Once I did. When life was better than the Lord, and not the other way around. There was a time love felt like this—when I could not conceive of any joy greater than the honor of my name. When I was so absorbed in me that it was inconceivable for joy to rise by my admiring rather than my being admired. Oh, yes, I’ve known what it is like to call the praise of men an act of love and justify this craving with the readiness to give the same. How satisfying it does seem—this love among ourselves of mutual admiration!
But now (thanks to your mighty grace!) I see it is an imitation. It has its roots in Eden long ago. The great destroyer of our love and joy said to our mother, Eve, “God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” Like God! She should have said, “I am like God already.” She should have seen the trick. But she did not, and oh, how many do not see it yet today! She was indeed like God! You made her so—your very image-bearer. Her calling and her high design was this: to image forth her Maker’s majesty, and with her joy and trust, make much of you. But then the evil thought was sown: “I could be like him in another way. I could be one whose majesty is seen, and love might be defined as making much of me.”
And so it came into the world, this great inversion we call sin. And love was made to stand now on its head. I grieve, Lord, just to put it into words, but here it is with shame: Your love no longer means that you do what you must do to make yourself our joy. It has come to mean that you do what you must do so we can feel our worth. It was a sad exchange. And doubly so: Not only did it rob our souls of that one joy that you designed to satisfy us for eternity, but worse, it robbed you of your honored place as Treasure of our lives.
And everything you’ve done since that dark day in Eden is designed to set things right. Oh, what a history of deeds and revelations you have wrought to make yourself the center of our joy and take back for yourself the place of honor in the world—to be the One your people treasure more than life. How many ways you said and showed, “I made you for my glory. I made you for my praise. I made you for my honor and my name.” And, lest we miss the point, you added: “In my presence there is fullness of joy; at my right hand are pleasures forevermore. Delight yourself in me! Be glad in me and leap for joy; I am your sure and great Reward! Come taste, and even now rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
Oh, what a grand design! To make our joy the echo of your excellence. To make our pleasure proof that you now hold the place of Treasure in our lives. To make the gladness of our souls the essence of our worship, and the mirror of your worth. To make yourself most glorified in us, O God, when we are satisfied in you. How could I, Lord, have ever been so blind to think that being loved by you means making much of me and not yourself? How could I put my eye to some great telescope, designed to make me glad with visions of the galaxies, and notice in the glass a dim reflection of my face and say, “Now I am happy, I am loved”? How could I stand before the setting sun, between the mountain range and the vastness of the sea, and think that everlasting joy should come from making much of me?
No, Father, love is this: At great expense you made yourself my glory and my boast. The cost was infinite by which you made yourself the Treasure of my life. You sent your Son, the blazing center of your beauty and your love. You gave him up to mockery, betrayal, thorns, the whip, the rod, the fists, the nails, the shame, and death. For what? To swallow up your wrath, and satisfy your righteousness, and bury all my sins as far as east is from the west and in the deepest sea, so that I might come home and see the galaxy. This is your love, O God, not to make much of me, but do whatever must be done so that I waken to the joy of making much of you through all eternity.
How then shall Christ not be my only boast! Not only that he bought yourself for me, O God, but is himself your perfect image and the blazing center of your radiance. What do I have that does not come from him? What gift of life or breath? What promise ever made did not receive its Yes in him? What one sweet thing—or hard thing you will soon make sweet—did I receive except that it was purchased by his blood? Not one thing I deserve, but hell. Yet everything is mine in him, and by his sacrifice alone. O God, forbid that I should ever boast save in the cross of Christ, my Lord.
And now shall we who treasure Christ and know your love is better far than life lay up, like all the world, our treasures on this earth? Would not we hear you say, as you once said, “Fool, will not this same night your soul be taken back? And then whose will these barns of bounty be?” Forbid, O Lord, that while the world is filled with need we would sit down and say, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” A terrible reversal awaits such lovelessness. “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” We tremble at the words you spoke once to the heartless rich: “Remember in your lifetime you received good things, and that poor man, beside your door, received the pain; but now the great reversal comes, and he has comfort here, while you lie there in anguish.”
O God, such riches are a wasted life. Protect us, Lord. Grant us to hear and heed another call: “Lay up your treasure not on earth, but in the place where moth and thief will never come. Make treasures for yourself that cannot fail.” But then we ask, “What treasures, Lord?” We see you smile. “I am your Treasure and your great Reward. I am your food, your drink, your festal garments and your everlasting gain. I am your life and your all-satisfying Joy.”
Yes, Lord. That is enough. But we would ask, How shall we lay this treasure up? Is it not laid there by your grace alone and bought now once for all by Jesus’ blood? How shall we make this life—this brief and only life that we now live—a laying up of treasure there in heaven? To answer this, you know, O God, that I have written this small book. And I have looked not to myself or listened to some voice. But I have tried to probe your written Word and say what you have said. That is my only claim to truth—that I have echoed what you wrote.
The answer is that in this life we may begin to treasure Christ, and here gain, as it were, an aptitude for joy in him. A greater weight of glory waits to be enjoyed for those who grow in love to Christ. And what is love to Christ? It is the cherishing of all you are for us in him. It is the treasuring of his perfection over all the treasures of the world. It is delighting in his fellowship beyond all family and friends. It is embracing all his promises that there will be more pleasure in his presence than from all the lying promises of sin. It is a gladness in the present taste of glory and the hope of future fullness when we see him face to face. It is a quiet peace along the path he chooses for us with its pain. It is a being satisfied that nothing comes to us in vain.
There is a quiet kind of joy, O Lord, that Jesus did both save us from our sin and show us how to love. His life, as you have said, was both a purchase and a path. He died for us, and now calls us to die with him. He took our poverty upon himself that we, in him, might have the riches of his heaven, and he calls us now to use our riches for the poor. He did not count equality with you a thing to grasp, but made himself of no account and crossed an endless chasm between heaven and earth, so we might see what frontier missions means and join him in the final task. Is not this, then, the way we lay up treasure in your house—to give our money and ourselves to make as many rich with God forever as we can?
A quiet kind of joy, I say, because of so much suffering. I cannot rise above the great apostle Paul who called his life a daily death and put it in a paradox: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything.” O Father, grant your church to love your glory more than gold—to cease her love affair with comfort and security. Grant that we seek the kingdom first and let the other things come as you will. Grant that we move toward need and not toward ease. Grant that the firm finality of our security in Christ free us to risk our homes and health and money on the earth. Help us to see that if we try to guard our wealth, instead of using it to show it’s not our god, then we will waste our lives, however we succeed.
Dear Lord, I tremble now to pray for readers what I barely feel myself. But I have tasted what our life might be if I, and they, could walk along the ever-present edge of death, and smile with utter confidence that if we fell, or possibly were pushed, it would be gain. Oh, what abandon, what great liberty, what invincible resolve to love would be our portion if we walked this way! What readiness to suffer for the glory of Christ! What eagerness to show the poor that we would gladly spend and be spent to make them glad in God for all eternity! What lowliness and meekness and freedom from the need for praise and pay! All things are ours in Christ—the world, life, death, the present, the future. All are ours, and we are Christ’s. And none of it deserved.
And so, dear Lord, I dare to pray that everything I’ve written in this book, if it be true, explode with fear-defeating joy in Jesus Christ. Let every wavering heart remember this: You promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So may we say with death-defying confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Forbid that any, Lord, who read these words would have to say someday, “I’ve wasted it.” But grant, by your almighty Spirit and your piercing Word, that we who name Christ as the Lord would treasure him above our lives, and feel, deep in our souls, that Christ is life and death is gain. And so may we display his worth for all to see. And by our prizing him may he be praised in all the world. May he be magnified in life and death. May every neighborhood and nation see how joy in Jesus frees his people from the power of greed and fear.
Let love flow from your saints, and may it, Lord, be this: that even if it costs our lives, the people will be glad in God. “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.” Take your honored place, O Christ, as the all-satisfying Treasure of the world. With trembling hands before the throne of God, and utterly dependent on your grace, we lift our voice and make this solemn vow: As God lives, and is all I ever need, I will not waste my life . . .through Jesus Christ, Amen.
John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life 183-189