The Unwasted Life

Delighting to Make Much of Christ

Revolution Youth Evangelism Conference | Dallas

I have a little daughter named Talitha. She’s nine years old. I have a dream for her that in four years when she’s 13, she will respond to my death the way Esther Staines responded at age 13 to her father’s martyrdom. I don’t know if you remember the story. Let me remind you in case you don’t.

Counting the Cost

Gladys and Graham Staines had served in India for 34 years, serving the leper community there. They had been faithful. They had been loving. They had been kind. On January 23rd, 1999, Graham and his two sons — Philip was 11 and Timothy was six — got in their Jeep and went out to a camp to distribute literature and minister. And they slept in the Jeep during the night.

A mob got around the Jeep and set it on fire and burned them alive. When the fire ended and the people came in the morning, Graham, the dad, was on top of his two charred sons. The response of Gladys, the wife, was on the headlines of all the papers in India in the next days. She was asked how she felt and she said this:

I have only one message for the people of India. I’m not bitter, neither am I angry, but I have one great desire: that each citizen of this country should establish a personal relationship with Christ who gave his life for their sins. Let us burn hatred and spread the flame of Christ’s love.

And then they asked her whether she was going to go home, and she said this:

My husband and our children have sacrificed their lives for this nation. India is my home. I hope to be here and continue to serve the needy the rest of my life.

And then the most amazing thing happened. They approached this 13-year-old girl, the sister who was left, whose two brothers and her daddy had been burned to death, and they said, “How do you feel about the murder of your father?” She spoke these words:

I praise the Lord that he found my father worthy to die for him.

There’s my picture from my little Tahatha in four years, no matter how it ends. She said, “I praise the Lord that he found my father worthy to die for him.”

Now, there’s several remarkable things about that sentence. One is that it’s almost a quote from Acts 5:41, right? Do you remember those words? The apostles had been captured. They had been beaten. When they were released after being beaten, Luke writes, “They rejoiced because they were counted worthy to bear shame for the name of Christ.” She’s quoting Scripture. She’s a Bible-saturated 13-year-old girl.

Another amazing thing about that sentence is that it signals, “My daddy didn’t die in vain. His life and his death was not wasted.” In fact, it goes beyond that and says that God had a design in it. I don’t know how else to explain the words from the Bible, or from Esther, any other way than to say God that had a design in it. God was ruling over that Jeep and over that mob. What else does it mean when she says, “God counted my father worthy to die”? That’s a very dangerous statement. We’re going to have to think about that. I’m going to argue that life is not wasted because there’s a sovereign God ruling every detail of our lives.

Gary and Bonnie Witherall

Two years later on November 21, 2022, something else happened. The country this time was not India but Lebanon. The city is Sidon. The young couple is Gary and Bonnie Witherall. Bonnie was 31 years old. She was there working in a maternity clinic, loving the people in Jesus’s name. A knock on the door came. She opened the door, three bullets to her head, and she’s dead for serving Jesus in Lebanon. At her memorial service, her husband, Gary said:

God led us to Lebanon, and we knew we might die. I forgive them, but there are tears in my eyes.

At a memorial service for his wife, he said:

So many people think my wife’s death was a waste, but we believe that coming here with the message of Jesus would never be a waste. It is a message worth laying down our lives for.

There’s another statement. This is not a waste. There’s no wasted suffering and there’s no wasted service. God is reigning, God is designing, and God is making life meaningful and he’s making death meaningful. Nothing is being wasted under God’s sovereign hand.

Steve Saint and Divine Intervention

Then I read an article by Steve Saint, and I saw a statement that I could hardly believe anybody would write, though I totally agree with it. Hardly hear anybody would say it or anybody write it because we’re so cowardly in our day to speak about the sovereignty of God, whether it’s on Larry King or with a school classmate. We just run the other way. We say, “Well, I don’t know. He may reign or he may not.”

Steve Saint is the son of Nate Saint. That might ring a bell. I was 10 years old when this happened — the event Steve is talking about. His father, Nate, went with Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Jim Elliot to Ecuador on a little plane. They landed on a river beach to bring the Huaorani the gospel. No Westerners had ever contacted this tribe, let alone with the gospel. All five of them were speared to death on the beach. One of the most amazing things about that is that they had guns. I didn’t know that until recently.

They were shooting in the air to scare them away, but they wouldn’t shoot them. Instead, they took the spears and they all died. Here’s Steve Saint, who was a little six-year-old boy when his dad died, writing about this event. The article is called Did They Have to Die? On the third or fourth page comes this sentence, and I read it over and over again. And then I got in touch with Steve Saint to see, “Did you mean to say that or is this a misprint?” When I found out he really meant to say it, I invited him to a conference. Here’s what he wrote. He did extensive research because now the Huaorani are pervasively Christian and a church is established and their blood was not shed in vain and nothing was wasted. Nothing. This is Steve Saint writing now:

As they described their recollections, it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the Palm Beach killing took place at all; it is an anomaly (something inexplicable and strange) that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention.

I read that and I thought, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Didn’t you mean to say, ‘My father died because of the absence of divine intervention?’ Isn’t that what you meant to say? Isn’t that what everybody believes? Isn’t that the way we talk?” We think, “If God had intervened, if God had been there, this wouldn’t have happened.” I got in touch with him, and I said, “Did you mean to say that? Did you mean to say it was an anomaly that you couldn’t explain, and wouldn’t have taken place, except for divine intervention, which means God arranged it?” God arranged it. So Esther, Bonnie, and Steve said nothing — no service and no suffering and no pain — is wasted because God rules and designs everything.

The Story of Job

Now, let’s go to Job. We have to go to the Bible. It’s one thing for me to tell missionary stories. That’s nice, but that has no authority whatsoever. I’m not the authority here. They’re not the authority here. The Bible is the authority. We need to underline the experience of these missionaries with some Old Testament and New Testament biblical teaching. Here are a couple of illustrations.

You know the story of Job. Let’s just rehearse it with the key interpreting sentences for you. Satan comes to God and says, “Job serves you because all goes well for him. That’s all he does. He serves you because things go well for him” (Job 1:10–11). God says, “All right, you can have him and test him, but just don’t touch his body” (Job 1:12). Satan goes out and the next thing we read is that his camels are all killed and his cattle are all killed. Eventually, all 10 of his children die in a house that collapses because of a strong wind. The news comes to Job, “Your children are all dead. All of them, not just two out of three. All of them are dead. There’s no Esther left” (Job 1:19). And then it says:

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:20–21).

Don’t miss that. He says, “The Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” I wonder if people know what they are singing with that Matt Redman song. Do you know what you are saying? Do you believe that? It’s funny how we can say things in songs, but when it comes to controversy in interviews and discussions, we retreat from the very truth that we’ve been celebrating. The Bible so clearly teaches that the Lord gave me my children and the Lord, behind Satan, took them and did me no wrong. The author of the book, lest we think that Job misspoke, adds Job 1:22 , which says:

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

And then Satan comes back to God and says, “Skin for skin! Of course, he still serves you. You won’t let me touch his body” (Job 2:4–5). God says, “You can touch his body now. Just don’t kill him” (Job 2:6). So Satan goes out and he afflicts him from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet with boils so that he scrapes because there’s worms in them. It says that later in the chapter. He wants to get them out, so he scrapes himself with broken shards. His wife says, “Just curse God and die” ( Job 2:9). And Job responds:

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? (Job 2:10).

And then you get to the end of the book (Job 42:11), and his brothers and sisters gathered around him and the writer says that they comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him, not Satan. Satan does not get the honor of sovereignty in this world. He’s a lackey. He does not have preeminence. God rules over Satan and disease and winds blowing out of the East.

The Story of Joseph

You know the story of Joseph. I think of Joseph here because you’re all in his category. He was 17. Some of you are younger than that, a few of you are older than that. Joseph, in the Old Testament, was 17 years old. His brothers couldn’t stand him because he had a dream that he was going to be their ruler someday, so they ripped off his coat, covered it with animal blood, sent it to his dad to say he’s dead, and they threw him in a pit.

He thought he was going to die in the pit, and then they draw him up out of the pit. He thought, “Oh good, they’ve changed their mind.” But they sold him into slavery. He went down into Egypt at 17 years old. He got sold to Potiphar, and things started to go better for him. Then Potiphar’s wife lied about him because he wouldn’t have sex with her. He got thrown into prison. He just layed there. The baker and the butler came, and he told their dreams. The baker was hanged. The butler went back and forgot him for two more years. Now, 13 years had gone by, and the butler remembered, “Oh yeah, there’s this guy in the prison and he told me my dream. Pharaoh, maybe he can tell you yours” (Genesis 41:9–13).

He did tell Pharaoh his dream, and Pharoah made him the vice president of Egypt for seven years. He accumulated food. When 20 years had gone by of never seeing his family, they came. They were about to starve and he saved their lives, and suddenly he sees what 20 years were about. Genesis 50:20 interprets the whole story and your life of suffering, which is coming, because the Bible says that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22). Every one of you will suffer. It says, Joseph speaking to his brothers:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .

It does not say, “God used it for good.” Some people weasel at this point. It says with the same word applied to the design of evil a design for good. In and through the evil of those brothers, God sovereignly was working, saving, and rescuing.

I want to ask you, just by way preliminary application, if you’re 17, 13, 12, or 23 and you’re on the front end of your 13-year downward spiral of frustration and misunderstanding, are you going to survive? Are you going to be like Joseph who kept holding to his God? He must have wondered, “Why am I in the pit? Why am I sold into slavery? Why have I been lied about by Potiphar’s wife? Why am I in the prison? Why am I forgotten? Why? Why? Why?”

But he held onto his God, and in 20 years he found out why. You may not know why your parents are suffering like they are, or you are suffering like you are, or why somebody who died last week, or why some terrible news came to your family this week. You may not have a clue and it may be 20 years out, or 30, or 40, but will you be like Joseph, who let none of his suffering be wasted? Oh, what a waste it would have been if halfway through this downward, painful struggle, he would’ve said, “I’ve had it with God. If this is what it means to follow him, I’m done. I’m gone.” What a waste that would have been. But holding on for 20 years, he saved Israel.

God’s Pervasive Sovereignty

God reigns.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father (Matthew 10:29).

Not a bird falls from the sky apart from God.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41).

The lot is cast into the lap,
     but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33).

Translated into modern language, it would be: “The dice are rolled on the table, and every top side is governed by God.”

Does disaster come to a city,
     unless the Lord has done it? (Amos 3:6).

[God] works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11).

On and on the texts go.

The Revelation of God’s Goodness in Suffering

God lets no suffering be wasted, no service be wasted, no pain be wasted, and no life be wasted because he rules over the one who would make it a waste, namely Satan. He rules over disaster, he rules over disease, and he rules over all the disgrace that will come upon you if you stand strong for him. It’s precisely because of that rule that we can have absolute confidence that our God never lets a life for him be wasted. Here’s the key question, is the design of God in my suffering good? Is it good? Can God work through sin? Can God work through disease? Can God work through tsunamis in order to do good for those who hold fast to him?

The answer to that question is so crystal clear in the Bible, and it’s crystal clear in the place where God reveals himself most clearly, namely at the cross of Jesus Christ. Here’s the verse I’m thinking about. It’s Acts 4:27–28. You may remember the situation. The saints, after the resurrection, gathered praying, and listen to how they pray:

Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

What was that? Herod put the robe on him and mocked him and said, “Do a miracle. I’ve always wanted to see a miracle” (Luke 23:8). Pilate, in his expediency and cowardice, capitulated to the crowds and had him scourged and given up to crucifixion. The Gentile soldiers put the crown of thorns on his head, smacked him, pulled on his beard, spit in his face, hit him with rods, lashed his back, drove nails in his hands, and shoved a spear in his side. The Jewish crowds yelled, “Crucify him! Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). All of that was predestined by God, according to Acts 4:27–28. If you don’t have a category in your teenage brain for God’s ability to ordain sin without being a sinner, you can’t understand the cross of Christ.

Are you just going to say, “Well, it slipped up on him. The death of his Son in all those ways just slipped up on him”? You know that’s not true because it’s scripted in the Old Testament. Just read Psalm 22. You have detail after detail after detail. Hundreds of years before it happened it’s written down, “This will happen.” God has designed the death of his Son at the hands of sinful men. There had to be sin for Christ to be dead. There is no greater sin in all the universe than the murder of the Son of God. Therefore, we must get into our brains a category that our sovereign God ordains all things without being a sinner or be in any way unholy. Our God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), even though he wills that there be darkness on Calvary’s mount. Know this is so mighty for you. If you could feel the force of this, what an amazing thing it is.

The Purpose of God in Suffering

Now, here’s the next question, if it is true that God reigns over our suffering and nothing is wasted because of his mighty hand, and if it is true that in that rule and reign and governance there is a good purpose, so much so that the greatest sin that ever happened — the murder of the Son of God for your salvation and for the greatest glory — then what is God’s goal? What’s the good that he’s doing in our lives and in the world? The Bible gives a really clear answer to that.

God’s purpose in your life, Christ’s life, Dallas’s life — all things, all history, all reality, everywhere in the universe — is to display his glory for the enjoyment of his redeemed people at the price of his Son’s life. His purpose is to display his glory. Here are two texts about that. Isaiah 43:6–7 says:

Bring my sons from afar
     and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
     whom I created for my glory,
     whom I formed and made.

That’s why you exist. You were made for the glory of God. That means you were made to make him look good. You were made to shine with his excellencies. You were made to so talk, so live, so do schoolwork, so do relationships, and so be a submissive child to your parents so that people look at you and say, “God is valuable. God is worthy. God is beautiful. God’s a treasure to that person.” That’s why you’re on planet earth. And not only were you created for that end, but you were redeemed for that end. Listen to this word from Ephesians 1:4–6, which says:

[ God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace . . .

That’s a long sentence, and it’s only part of it. Paul is saying you were chosen, adopted, predestined, and redeemed for a purpose, and the purpose is unto the praise of his glory, which means God gets glory from his work, and that’s his design, which creates for us a huge problem. I run into it over and over again.

God’s Love and God’s Glory

I read it about it in the London Times. I get emails about it. It was in the life of C. S. Lewis, one of my mentors, who died in 1963. The obstacle (the question, the problem) is this: if God created us for his glory, if he predestined us, chose us, redeemed us, and adopted us that we might praise him, then God is a megalomaniac. God’s on an ego trip.

“Praise me, praise me, praise me,” is what you read all over the Bible, which is why C. S. Lewis says he couldn’t come to Jesus for a long time because it sounded like, to use his words, an old woman who needed compliments. That’s the same thing I read in the London Times. People, when they begin to get into the warp and woof of the Bible, find that God is really into God. This God is very self-exalting. This God is passionate for his own glory. This God is central in his affections. And they’re absolutely right. The question is, if we’re going to live a life utterly yielded to this supreme, sovereign, good purpose of God, to let excellency shine off of our treasuring him above all things, where’s the love? Does God love me?

Seeing the Glory of God

Let me use a couple of texts to try to pull this together. The first one is in John 11. I’m assuming it’s so dark that you can’t read your Bible. I won’t ask you to turn there, but just listen to me as I read it to you. It says:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love (mark that word) is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:1–4).

Now we have both love and glory. Those are the two things I’m after. I want to know how a God who exalts himself continually in everything he does and calls me to do the same is a loving God. God is going to get glory and Jesus is getting glory. John 11:5 continues:

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

Now we’ve seen it twice. He loves Lazarus, he loves Martha, and he loves Mary. And then you get the most amazing conjunction in the Bible in John 11:6:

So (therefore), when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (and let im die).

Now, that’s a very strange therefore. Let me read it to you again with verse five:

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:5–6).

How do you make sense out of that therefore? Here’s the way you make sense out of it. Being loved by God does not mean that he makes us central, but that he makes himself central for our enjoyment. Do you feel more loved that God would make much of you or that he would enable you to enjoy making much of him forever?

This text says love is God’s doing what he must do at great cost to himself, and sometimes to us, to enthrall us (thrill us) with what will make us eternally and fully satisfied, namely himself. Therefore, he said, “This sickness is not unto death. I’m going to go down there and raise the dead and display my glory. And when you see my glory, you will see the one thing that will satisfy your souls forever. Even though it’s going to cost you the death of your brother, this is love.” Love in the Bible is spreading a passion for God to all people for their joy. Love is not making people feel good about themselves; it is making people feel thrilled with God, satisfied with God.

There’s the explanation for how it is that a God who constantly lifts up himself is a loving God. Because the one thing that will satisfy our souls forever is him, not us. Heaven is not a hall of mirrors, though we’ve been taught for 30 years now that that is salvation. People think, “Just help them to think well of themselves. Just help them to like what they see in the mirror and they’ll study better, and they’ll play sports better, and they’ll treat each other nice.” What a cheap substitute for what Christ died to achieve — namely, to display the glory of God. He died for teenagers, so that they would be satisfied not in themselves, but in God. The great experience of life is not to look in the mirror and like what you see, but to be so enamored, so thrilled, so satisfied with Jesus Christ crucified and risen that we forget about ourselves and are totally drawn into Christ.

The Perfected Power of Jesus Christ

Let me give you one more passage of Scripture in order to illustrate again that love is the exaltation of Christ. Christ’s love for me is doing what he must do to keep me exulting in him and not myself. Here’s the situation in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul had extraordinary revelations in heaven, and then God gave him a thorn in the flesh to keep him from being boastful with his revelations of Christ. I’ll read it now, starting in verse seven:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9).

Now, picture yourself. You’ve been given a thorn in the flesh after a great experience with God. God has seen to it that you have this thorn so that you won’t boast in those experiences in yourself, but will boast in him. You cry out to him three times, “Oh God, take it away. It hurts. Oh God, take it away. It hurts. Oh God, please, in Jesus’s name, take it away.” And God says every time, “No, no, no.” And then the Lord comes to you and he says, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is perfected in weakness.” I can hear a typical, American self-saturated teenager say, “I don’t care about your grace and your power. This hurts. Get off of me.”

That’s what I can imagine millions of teenagers saying, and I pray not you — not you. The thorn could be a person. The thorn could be your complexion. The thorn could be your size. The thorn could be your height. The thorn could be a disability. The thorn could be a divorce in the family. The thorn could be your brother with leukemia. The thorn could be anything that would tempt you to say, “I’m out of here. If that’s the way Christ treats his loved ones, I’m gone.” And you don’t know the Bible. You don’t know what it’s all about.

Here’s what it’s about. The whole point of that experience was, “Paul, I love you. I love you so much that I’m going to give you a thorn in the flesh so that you will not begin to boast in yourself and be enamored by what you see in the mirror because you had revelations. I’m going to give you this thorn so that you’re cast upon me and cast upon me and cast upon me, because I’m your only hope and your only satisfaction.” That’s how God can be self-centered and loving. He’s the only way forward. He’s the only way.

Submitting to the Soverein Rule of God

Let me close with this word. I pray that God will give you a response like this. Since nothing in life is wasted in the service of Christ — no pain is wasted, no service is wasted, no suffering is wasted because of our sovereign God who has this good purpose to display his glory through you — therefore, the first thing I call you to do is submit to God’s sovereign will. Submit to God’s sovereignty. Just order your life under a massive God. You don’t have to have all the questions answered. There are many mysteries. You’ll come to your grave in 10, 20, 30, or 50 years with a lot of questions unanswered. That’s the first exhortation: submit to God’s sovereign rule in your life.

Number two, repent of the arrogance and self-exaltation of presuming that you can run your life and frustrate the purposes of God. You can’t. Listen to James 4:13–16:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

That’s a devastating text, because what it says is that if you just say, “I’m going home after this conference, and then I’ll go to school this fall, and then I’ll take a vacation to the beach,” instead of saying, if not out loud, with a deep tender, broken, humble, submissive heart, “If the sovereign God wills, I will stay alive and do this or that” — if you don’t say that, the Bible says you’re arrogant. That’s why my second plea is repent of your pride, your self-sufficiency, your self-determination, your self-exaltation. Just repent and say, “Lord, I have missed this. I really missed it, and I’m sorry.”

Fly to Christ and Embrace His Sovereign Purpose

The third thing I would summon you to do is fly to Jesus Christ for all the sin and all the failure and all the arrogance. There’s only one hope for a sinner like me and you. Christ died for my sins. Christ rose again. Christ accomplished a righteousness. When I just hold to him, lean on him, rest in him, he clothes me with his righteousness and he forgives all my sins. That’s my only hope for a way forward.

And then the fourth thing is embrace his sovereign purpose to display his glory in your life. Get up in the morning and think, “Okay, why am I on planet earth? I am on planet earth to so live, to so do my job, to so do my schoolwork, to so relate to my family, to so relate to my friends, to so handle pornography or food or drugs, and to so handle everything and so live such that I show the value of Christ. I must make Christ my treasure, because when people see him treasured by me, they will see his worth and his glory and his value. And that’s why I live.” That’s the unwasted life, a life with Christ above, Christ in the middle, and Christ beneath, doing everything to magnify the infinite worth of Jesus.

Delight in Christ

Here’s one last exhortation. The way you show Christ to be valuable is by delighting in him, being satisfied in him above all things, digging into the Bible to see him and his magnificent ways, and falling in love with his beauty and his righteousness and his justice and his truth and his wisdom and his grace and his love and his sovereignty and his holiness and his power. All these glorious things about God and his Son, they become your treasure — not your favorite music group, not your favorite friends, not your family, and not your church, but Christ. When that happens, when your heart is satisfied in Christ, he is magnified in your life and you have accomplished that for which you were made and your life is unwasted. He gets all the glory and you get all the joy. It’s the best of all possible arrangements.