Instead of seeking purpose by comparing yourself with others, discover God’s purpose for your life in the pages of His revealed Word.
“The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.”—Václav Havel
I find it astounding that the bulk of people on our planet seem to journey through years and even decades without seriously wrestling with the fundamental question of they are here and what they want their lives to add up to in the end. Many business and professional people get on a fast track in pursuit of an elusive vision of success without questioning whether they are selling themselves too cheaply by investing their precious years of life in something that, even if attained, will never satisfy. It is like the two-edged story of the airline pilot who announced the good news that due to a strong tail wind, the plane was making great time, but the bad news that due to an equipment failure, they were hopelessly lost. Many people appear to be making great time on a journey to futility. They may experience the thrill of the bungee jump without realizing the cord is not attached to their ankles or waists, but to their necks.
In a conversation from Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. If we have not decided where we are going, one road will do as well or as poorly as another. The problem is that the outcome of the unexamined life is rarely satisfactory. If we fail to pursue God’s purpose for our lives, we are likely to suffer from destination sickness, the discovery that when we reach our destination, it’s not all it was cracked up to be (cf. Eccles. 2:17). This sickness is captured in John Steinbeck’s summation of a character in East of Eden who gave his life for that which let him down in the end: “He took no rest, no recreation, and he became rich without pleasure and respected without friends.”
It is much wiser to follow Kierkegaard’s advice to define life backwards and live it forwards—start from the destiny and define the journey in light of it. Few of us would think of taking a two-week vacation without any plans as to where we will go or what we will do. But what many wouldn’t dream of doing on this scale, they do on the greatest scale of all: their entire earthly existence. To avoid this fatal error we should ask ourselves, “What do I want my life to add up to, and why?” “At the end of my sojourn, what will I want to see when I look back?” From a biblical perspective, the real question is not what we will leave behind (the answer to this is always the same—we will leave everything behind), but what will we send on ahead (cf. Matt. 6:20).
Many people define themselves in terms of their activities and accomplishments. But those who have experienced the grace, forgiveness, and newness of life in Christ are recipients of a new source of identity that redefines their mission and purpose on earth. Instead of seeking purpose by comparing themselves with others, they can discover God’s purpose for their lives in the pages of His revealed Word.
It has been observed that there are three dimensions of purpose in Scripture (see the helpful booklet, Establishing Your Purpose, published by Vision Foundation, Inc., 8901 Strafford Circle, Knoxville, TN 37923). The first is God’s ultimate purpose in creating all things. Prior to creating time, space, energy, and matter, God alone existed, complete and perfect in Himself. As a triune, loving community of being, He had no needs, and it was not out of loneliness or boredom that He created the realms of angels and men. We know from Scripture that part of God’s ultimate purpose in creation is the manifestation of His glory to intelligent moral agents who bear His image and who can respond in praise and wonder to His awesome person, powers, and perfections. But in our present state, we can hardly scratch the surface of the unfathomable wisdom of God’s ultimate purpose for the created order.
The second dimension of biblical purpose is God’s universal purpose, the intention He has for all people who acknowledge the lordship of Jesus. This level of purpose is shared by all believers and is communicated to us in a number of passages. There are various ways of expressing it, but they can be reduced to two essential areas: knowing God experientially (spiritual growth), and making God known to others (spiritual reproduction).
In His high priestly prayer after the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus said, “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). This knowledge is not merely propositional and theological, but also personal and devotional. Eternal life is the experiential knowledge of God, and it involves a growth process that is inaugurated when a person trusts Christ and receives His gift of forgiveness and new life. The greatest treasure a person can own is increasing intimacy with the living Lord of all creation. Although this should be our highest ambition, many believers give their hearts to the quest for lesser goods and boast and delight in things that are destined to perish. This is why we should frequently heed the powerful words of Jeremiah 9:23-24: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.”
The Scriptures expressly communicate the purpose for which we have been created: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). God’s purpose for us is nothing less than Christlikeness! Let me conclude with several observations on this high and holy purpose. (1) It is impossible for us to attain. Only when we recognize our weakness and inability to be conformed to the image of Christ will we be ready to allow Him to live His life through us, for this is the genius of the spiritual life. (2) On the human side of the coin, we will only be as spiritually mature as we chose to be. If we do not engage in the disciplines of discipleship, such as habitual time in the Word of God and prayer, we will not become more intimate with God. (3) Growing intimacy with God is crucial to Christlike character. The personal, experiential knowledge of God transforms the heart and expresses itself in sacrificial acts of love and service toward others. (4) If God’s purpose for us is not the focus of our lives, something else will be, and whatever it is will not be worthy of our ultimate allegiance. Therefore ask God for the grace to make it your highest ambition to be pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5:9).