John Piper looked over the mass of college students anticipating his message. He urged them not to buy into the American dream. His aim was something much more radical. We were dead in our sins, but Christ has freed us to make a difference.
The 40,000 college-age students sat on a hill at the 2000 Passion Conference. Clouds hung overhead, and the wind threatened to blow the speaker’s papers off the podium. Some students took notes as others—with hats on backward—looked on intently.
Piper opened in prayer. The bespectacled fifty-four-year-old in 1990s business-casual dress seemed out of place, but he quickly demanded their attention with his powerful voice and hand gestures. He told them of two elderly missionaries, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards, who had perished in an auto accident while serving the poor, sick, and unreached in Cameroon. He asked the crowd if that was a tragedy? Piper didn’t think so.
His forceful tone drew them in as he explained what he thought was a tragedy. He read from a Readers Digest article of a couple in their fifties, who retired early and settled in Punta Gorda, Florida. They spent their time on their boat, playing softball and collecting seashells. A few people in the audience chuckled.
Piper didn’t pause long before announcing that as the real tragedy. He railed against those spending billions of dollars to convince people to buy into that lifestyle. Piper pleaded with the students to consider another way.”
Then he drove his point home. He painted a picture of a couple standing before God to give an account of what they had done by proudly displaying their shell collection. It set the premise for his appeal that the students devote their lives to serve Christ with a deep passion. They should strive to live a life where everything they do boasts in Christ’s work on the Cross.
Piper mentioned a line from a C.T. Studd poem that hung in the kitchen of his house growing up that said. “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” His message changed the lives of several attending.
The message and reaction to the sermon quickly spread and has since been known as the “seashells sermon.” Piper followed with the book Don’t Waste Your Life in which he urges readers to live with a deep passion for God’s glory. The book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and many have written articles about the Passion Conference sermon, its central theme, and how it has inspired many.
Piper has subsequently stated he doesn’t oppose retirement but suggested those of able mind and body continue to devote their life to things that matter for eternity. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20, ESV). What could you do for Christ in retirement?
“Don’t Waste Your Life.” Seven Minutes That Moved a Generation,” Desiring God, May 17, 2017, accessed November 10, 2018, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/boasting-only-in-the-cross/excerpts/dont-waste-your-life.
 “Quote: Only One Life, Twill Soon Be Past – Poem by C.T Studd,” Paul Hockley, October 09, 2018, accessed November 10, 2018, https://paulhockley.com/2016/05/24/quote-only-one-life-twill-soon-be-past-poem-by-c-t-studd/.
 Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “How John Piper’s Seashells Swept Over a Generation,” The Gospel Coalition (TGC), March 20, 2017, accessed November 10, 2018, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-john-pipers-seashells-swept-over-a-generation/.