The following sermon excerpt may be the most spread excerpt in all of John Piper’s preaching legacy. It contains phrases and sentences and images that have become emblems of his ministry. The clip is taken from a message titled “Boasting Only in the Cross,” which was preached outdoors to about 20,000 students at Passion’s OneDay conference on May 20, 2000. Here’s what John Piper said:
You don’t have to know a lot of things in order to make a huge difference for the Lord in the world. But you do need to know a few things that are great and be willing to live for them and die for them. People that make a difference in the world are not people who have mastered a lot of things. They are people who have been mastered by a very few things that are very, very great. If you want your life to count, you don’t have to have a high IQ and you don’t have to have a high EQ. You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to have good looks. You don’t have to be from a good family or from a good school. You just have to know a few basic, simple, glorious, majestic, obvious, unchanging eternal things and be gripped by them and be willing to lay down your life for them, which is why anybody in this crowd can make a world wide difference, because it isn’t you. It is what you are gripped with.
One of the really sad things about this moment right now is that there are hundreds of you in this crowd who do not want your life to make a difference. All you want is to be liked. Maybe finish school, get a good job, find a husband or a wife, a nice house, a nice car and long weekends, good vacations, grow old, healthy, have a fun retirement, die easy, no hell. And that is all you want. And you don’t give a rip whether your life counts on this earth for eternity. And that is a tragedy in the making. That is a tragedy in the making.
Three weeks ago we got news at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon. Ruby Eliason, over 80, single all her life, a nurse, poured her life out for one thing, to make Jesus Christ known among the sick and the poor in the hardest and most unreached places. Laura Edwards, a medical doctor in the twin cities and ending retirement, partnering up with Ruby, also pushing 80 and going from village to village in Cameroon and the brakes give way, over cliff they go and they are dead instantly. And I asked my people: Is this a tragedy? Two women in their 80s almost, a whole life devoted to one idea: Jesus Christ magnified among the poor and the sick in the hardest places and 20 years after most of their American counterparts had begun to throw their lives away on trivialities in Florida and New Mexico, fly into eternity with a death in a moment. Is this a tragedy, I ask. It is not a tragedy. I will read you what a tragedy is.
I have got a little article here from Reader’s Digest. You don’t read Reader’s Digest. I know that. But there is a generation who does. This is a tragedy. The title of the article, “Start Now. Retire Early.” February, 1998. 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 Gourde, Florida where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells. That is a tragedy.
That is a tragedy and there are people in this country that are spending billions of dollars to get you to buy it. And I get 40 minutes to plead with you. Don’t buy it. With all my heart I plead with you. Don’t buy that dream. The American dream, a nice house, a nice car, a nice job, a nice family, a nice retirement, collecting shells. As the last chapter before you stand before the creator of the universe to give an account with what you did. Here it is, Lord, my shell collection. Look, Lord, my shell collection. And I have got a good swing. And look at my boat. God, look at my boat, God. Well, not for Ruby and not for Laura.
Don’t waste your life. Don’t waste it.