I love the way he summarizes the book at the beginning. And it is great to have these quotes posted online. I hope they give you a good flavor of the book if you haven’t checked it out, and some good reminders if you have.
It’s technically been out since September 9, but I’ve been holding off on blogging it because they are continually out at Amazon. I see that today they seem to have gotten more in stock, but now there are only two left.
To which I say: just get it anyway! They should have plenty in stock soon, so there’s no need to wait any longer.
I read the book myself, rather than an outsourced narrator. It is my first time reading an audio book, but I wanted to do it in order to capture the intent and passion of the book.
I hope I succeeded — it’s a slight challenge to be the reader, because I kept thinking to myself “since I’m actually reading a book, is this the one instance where you are actually supposed to sound like you are reading, or should I do this as if I’m giving a message?” It was tough to get the balance right, but I’m happy with how it turned out.
The audio version will be great if you have a commute or just prefer audio books. Beyond that, even if you’ve already read the book, the audio version might give you new insights and angles on things as you hear the content spoken.
I am loving the new Village Church website. It is very well done — visually excellent and a joy to use. They have done a fantastic job, and it is very much worth checking out.
Yesterday I posted a cut from the introduction to What’s Best Next on how it relates to Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life and similar books. In yet another version of the introduction, I actually continued discussing that theme further, going into how What’s Best Next also relates to Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life and Tim Keller’s Reason for God.
I then discussed how, even beneath that, the great theologian Jonathan Edwards and the great evangelical social reformer William Wilberforce lay at the foundations of the book. Both of these individuals show the essential relationship between deep doctrine and lively practice in the Christian life — a vision which we need to recapture today.
Here it is:
What’s Best Next also relates to other recent helpful books. For example, I find Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life to be very helpful. But how do you translate your purpose into your everyday life of emails and meetings and your kids messing up the house every 15 minutes? This book shows you more detail on how to do that.
Likewise, Tim Keller’s Reason for God is a very helpful recent book on Christian apologetics — that is, making a reasonable case for the truth of Christianity. I’d love to write a book on apologetics one day. But in the meantime, equipping ourselves to be more effective in the culture, in connecting with others in the everyday, and being a useful person, enables us to contribute to the ultimate apologetic — namely, living a life of love for others.
Beneath Piper and these other books, the ultimate vision for this book comes from two industrious Christians from about three centuries ago: Jonathan Edwards and William Wilberforce. Both exhibit the twin convictions behind this book, which are often disconnected in evangelicalism today.
Edwards is known mostly for being an utterly devoted theologian. Wilberforce, on the other hand, is known mostly as a model for Christians in the practical realm, having ended the slave trade in Britain while also all throughout his life having initiated multiple initiatives for good.
What is less known about these individuals is that Wilberforce’s practice was utterly grounded in theology, and that Edward’s theology led him to be utterly practical. In fact, Edwards’ book Charity and Its Fruits goes just as deep into the practical side of the Christian life as his other works delve into the doctrinal. And Wilberforce’s lays out the theology (which was just as Calvinistic as Edwards) behind his practice in his book A Practical View — which was also responsible for transforming the moral outlook of Britain.
Wilberforce and Edwards each demonstrate the radical connectedness of doctrine and practice in the Christian life. This conviction lies at the heart of this book: if we care about doctrine, we must also care about living that doctrine out in the affairs of everyday life. And if we care about living our faith in the world, we must care about doctrine because doctrine is the fuel and foundation of our practice as Christians.
Both Wilberforce and Edwards undergird this book in another way as well, for they show that productivity is really, at root, a matter of love. In other words, you cannot disconnect personal productivity from love because productivity is actually about loving others. The ultimate reason we seek to be productive is so that we can serve others. As Paul says, “let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
Likewise, since love seeks not merely to intend to do good to others, but to actually do good for others, love leads us to learn how to actually be effective in our service. Love, in other words, must care about the practical. And this is especially true in our current environment, where it is so easy for the best of intentions to be swallowed up by the tyranny of the urgent.
Personal effectiveness, then, is an expression of love, and thus a Christian understanding of productivity needs to be informed not only by all the passages on work and diligence and planning and fruitfulness, but most of all by all the passages on love. Hence, books like Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruits and his sermon “The Christian Duty of Charity to the Poor,” as well as, in more recent days, Tim Keller’s Ministries of Mercy and Gary Haguen’s Good News About Injustice have greatly shaped my thinking.
Catalyst has a new app, and I’ve found it to be fantastic so far. It is worth checking out.
(Also, it’s not too late to register for Catalyst Atlanta, next week October 1 – 3. I’ll be doing a lab on the 1st, and it would be great to see you there!)
I’ve started doing a weekly conversation on productivity on “Fresh Start with Eric and Audrey,” which airs on Moody Radio South Florida 6 am – 9 am ET each weekday. My segment typically airs on Tuesday mornings at 7:45 am ET.
During this time (usually about 5 minutes), we talk about various topics in productivity from a biblical perspective. The first one was today, and you can listen to the recording online. We talked about why productivity matters at all, and some basic concepts for managing email.
Over the next few weeks, we will talk a bit more about email, as well as about organizing space and multitasking.
Eric and Audrey are a lot of fun to talk to, and I’m really enjoying these segments!
You can continue to tune in each Tuesday morning at 7:45, directly at 89.3 FM if you live in south Florida, or by listening to the live stream online. (To hear the archives, just click on the “Fresh Start” banner.)
This is something I cut from the introduction to What’s Best Next for space reasons, but which is very important to understanding the book. It discusses how What’s Best Next is in some sense a follow-up to and spin-off from John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, and how it relates to other books similar to it, such as David Platt’s Radical.
Both of those books have been very influential on me, and I think they do a good job of getting to the heart of what Jesus means when he says “follow me.” Productivity practices, in turn, exists to help us live out that call to follow Christ, because he calls us to follow him not off in the mountains by ourselves, but in the everyday context of the modern world — which is very complex and requires wisdom and skill to navigate.
If You Don’t Want to Waste Your Life, You Need to Know How to Get Things Done
The absence of practical instruction from a Christian perspective is especially significant given that, in the Christian realm, there are a ton of books exhorting us to live lives of radical sacrifice for the glory of God and good of others, while at the same time there is an extreme shortage of books that get concrete and specific about how to actually do that.
For example, one of my favorite books is Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. Piper argues that the goal of life is to live with a single passion to “joyfully display God’s supreme excellence in all spheres of life.” Instead of just marking time or spending our lives on comfort and pleasure — whether traveling the world or staying at home watching clean PG-13 movies with the family every night — the call of Christ to us is to spend ourselves living radical lives of sacrificial love for the good of others and his glory. I agree with Piper, and this book shares the same vision.
Piper’s book is an incredible exhortation to live that life. But, once you have realized that living for the good of others to the glory of Jesus Christ is the purpose of life, a thousand questions are raised for the practical arena of your life. You know that you exist to proactively seek the good of others for the glory of God, but how do you go about that? Does it mean you have to go be a missionary? (Piper’s answer: no — though many should consider that.) If not, what does it look like in the midst of our daily lives right where we are at?
Further, seeking to live a life devoted to the good of others is going to make your life harder in many ways — busier, more challenging, more complex. How do you manage that? You need to know how. Simply having the aim of glorifying Christ in everything is not enough. We need to know how to translate that into the everyday.
And it translates in some very concrete ways, such as knowing how doing emails and going to meetings relates to your faith, knowing how to lead meetings well so that they actually serve people rather than tick them off, and how to stay on top of your email so that it doesn’t drown you in your quest to be a servant to others in all areas of life.
David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream and Francis Chan’s Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God give similar calls. I love these books and find them super helpful and important.
In one sense, What’s Best Next is a follow-up to these books. Don’t Waste Your Life, Radical, and Crazy Love exhort us to live radical, risk-taking lives of love for the good of others. But how do you go about this in a practical sense, in the midst of the everyday, without being overwhelmed by all the new opportunities and demands this brings? And how do you live a life for the glory of God in the midst of your current life, which often consists of many mundane things? That brings us solidly into the realm of productivity. By zeroing in on the practical dimension of life, this book seeks to equip you in the how.
We can even say that in a very real sense, Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life (as well as these other books) is really a book on productivity. For it’s about orienting your life around God’s purposes so that you get the most important thing of all done with your life — namely, making much of God. That’s what Piper himself said to me once in an email when we were discussing my book. He wrote “as you might guess, I view all my books as books on productivity — that is, as books on getting the most important things done (not wasting your life), which is making much of God.”
As Don’t Waste Your Life is in a sense a book on productivity, What’s Best Next is also a book on not wasting your life. And it seeks to do this by first laying out a biblical vision for what we are even doing when we get things done (part one), and then getting into the details of how to go about getting things done effectively in daily life for the glory of God, good of others, and your joy (the rest of the book).
Knowing how to make the most of our time and lead our lives well needs to be seen as a component of Christian discipleship because it’s about how to serve others well.
 I would want to nuance Platt a bit in his chapter 6 on money and giving, but even there I affirm fully his call for Christians to be radically generous and sacrificial in their giving.
For today (Friday) only at WTSBooks, you can get Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy together with my What’s Best Next for only $20. (Update: Plus, shipping is free today also!)
I’ve read Crazy Busy (and actually have a post on it almost ready to go) and it’s a fantastic book. This is a great combination that is worth getting.
Tim Keller, in Ministries of Mercy (his least well known — but perhaps most important — book):
Both James and John use the ministry of mercy as a test.
The apostle John writes his first epistle to set forth the test by which a genuine Christian can be known. One of the tests of Christian love is the ministry of mercy. Christian fellowship must be characterized by the meeting of physical needs. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18). Real love is expressed in deed as well as word.
James concludes that a profession of faint unaccompanied by deeds of mercy shows that faith to be “dead,” not genuine faith at all.
“Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:13-17).
In Proverbs 14:31 and 19:17 we are told that to ignore the needs of a poor man is to sin against the Lord. So the poor and needy are a test. Our response to them tests the genuineness of our faith toward God.
No passage is clearer on this point than Matthew 25:31-46. This describes Jesus’ examination of mankind on Judgment Day. He distinguishes those who have true faith from those who do not by examining their fruit, namely, their concern for the poor, homeless, sick, and prisoners.
How can this be? Jesus, when he says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” is merely expanding on Proverbs 19:17 (“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord”).
He is also agreeing with James, John, and Isaiah (cf. Isa. 1:10-17) in saying that a sensitive social conscience and life poured out in deeds of mercy to the needy is the inevitable outcome and sign of true faith. By such deeds God can judge true love from lip service.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.