The Sermon that Wrecked My Life
Ok, so “wrecked my life” seems a little dramatic. But at the time, the 17-year-old me felt that way. Like many high school seniors, I had a big plan. A plan to be smart, successful, and make a lot of money. So I picked out a good university, applied, and was accepted with a full-ride my freshman year. I chose a major that sounded cool. It would be challenging but rewarding with a supposed six figure salary. Everyone thought my future plans were perfect. Everyone except me.
I had this feeling deep down that wouldn’t go away. It was like someone had reached down into my soul with a shovel and uncovered something that normally stayed buried. They were holding it up, saying, “What about this?” This buried thought was one that had been there for as long as I could remember. I knew exactly what it was and meant, but I tried to avoid it. I don’t want to sound over-spiritual, but it felt like a calling. I saw it as a curse.
“You’re going to be a pastor just like your dad.” People started telling me this in elementary school. I hated it. I knew pastors worked a lot, didn’t make much money, and were generally not very well liked. I would just shake my head and respond, “No way.” But deep down, I knew they were right. So I suppressed it and tried to convince myself it was a ridiculous thought. That worked for a while. But God wouldn’t let me get away from it.
On May 19, 2000, as I finished up the third grade, a pastor named John Piper preached a sermon in Memphis, TN, about 250 miles west of where I lived. With curly gray hair and large framed glasses (before hipsters made them cool), he stood before 40,000 college students outside on a rainy day, and he delivered a sermon entitled “Boasting Only in the Cross”. This sermon “wrecked” many lives, including mine, but it would be 9 years before I would encounter it myself.
My senior year of high school, a friend and coworker at a grocery store invited me to a discipleship group of high school guys. They met every Sunday night, discussing scripture, confessing struggles, praying for one another, and reading books. When I joined, the first book we were given to read was a book called Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. This book was birthed from Piper’s sermon that day in Memphis. The message of the book is simple: We have one life. Most people are wasting their lives living for their own selfish gain. But God has created us for a passionate pursuit of the glory of Christ. That’s all that matters.
God used Piper’s book and sermon to speak to me at the exact time I needed it most. I began reevaluating everything, especially my future plans. I realized that I was headed down a path of wasting my life, and I decided that just wasn’t an option. By God’s grace, I ended up changing my college choice and my future career. But most importantly, I changed my mindset.
I made a mental resolution. I decided, “Life is not about me. I exist for God and his glory. And I’m going to live that way. Wherever, whenever, however, and whatever it takes.”
This meant dealing with that old buried thought. I realized I was running from the one thing God wanted me to do. So I surrendered to God’s call on my life to be a pastor. And I discovered that ministry was actually the one thing I wanted to do too. It became a joy and a passion. It didn’t look like a curse to me anymore, but it became as Jeremiah said, “…his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).
Oftentimes God has to wreck your plans before you realize the greatest joy comes in giving up your life for Him. In his book and sermon, John Piper quotes a poem by C.T. Studd which sums it all up so well.
“Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, ‘Thy will be done’;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say ‘twas worth it all’;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
To watch John Piper’s sermon “Boasting Only in the Cross”, click here.
To watch a shorter video by Tim Challies on the story behind the sermon and the impact it had, click here.
To buy Don’t Waste Your Life, click here.