Although the precise command “Do not waste your life” is found nowhere in the Bible, the concept of not wasting our lives is found from cover to cover.
It’s important to understand how God defines a successful life. Our concept of not wasting our lives may differ from God’s idea of a life well lived. The rich man in Jesus’ parable did not think he was wasting his life by storing up things for himself, but at the end of his life, God called him a fool (Luke 12:16–21).
A clear directive from God about a life well lived is found in Deuteronomy 6:5. Here Moses declares what God wants from His people: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” In Micah 6:8, we find these words: “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” When asked which is the most important commandment, our Savior says this in Mark 12:29–31: “The most important one . . . is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Thus, if we would not waste our lives, then our driving desire will be to love God with every aspect of our being. Emanating from this love for God is an unselfish love for others as well. We have a responsibility to “fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) and to honor and glory God in all we do (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31). A life of disobedience and selfishness is a wasted life.
Jesus asked this sobering question: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:25). Someone may experience great success in this world and have fame, riches, influence, achievements, and awards to spare. But that success, if not pursued for the glory of God and motivated by love for God and others, will be part of a wasted life.
A faithful person who quietly works a menial job out of love for God may be, in God’s eyes, more successful than a well-known and more talented person. If we don’t want to waste our lives, then we will pursue God’s will and complete our tasks out of deep love and thankfulness to God and a desire to bless and love others.
Charles Dickens, in his classic novella A Christmas Carol, pictures Joseph Marley as a man who had tragically wasted his life. Marley appears early in the story as a ghost bound by a ponderous steel chain and doomed to walk in misery forever. The ghost rues his fate but knows it is too late to change it: “No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!” he cries. When reminded of his past skill in business and finance, Marley wrings his hands and says, “Business! . . . Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” (from Stave One). Marley’s warning to Ebenezer Scrooge is part of what causes Scrooge to reevaluate his priorities and stop wasting his life on selfish pursuits and the vain amassing of wealth.
In order to not waste our lives, we must know and follow Christ. We must come to Christ in faith, believing in the work that He accomplished on our behalf in His death and resurrection. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and a life that does not please God is wasted. We must come to grips with the counterintuitive truth that “whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33). A life given wholly to Christ is never wasted. As we live for the glory of God and strive to love Him and others, we know that one day we will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).