INTRODUCTION: DEFINING OUR PURPOSE
God made us for himself; that is the first and last thing that can be said about human existence, and whatever more we add is but commentary. —A. W. Tozer
SOMEONE HAS said that the two greatest days in a person’s life are the day he was born and the day he finds out why. Let me start there. I’m adopted. I first learned about my adoption when I was in my late thirties, and to this day I don’t know who my birth parents are. But I do know my purpose—I have meaning in life, and I know why I’m here.
A very familiar Scripture on purpose is found in the book of Jeremiah, when the prophet writes, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (29:11). These words were written some time after the Jews were deported to Babylon around 597 BC to encourage the exiles. Can you imagine how purposeless they felt? God’s people had been defeated and exiled. They were probably asking, “What’s the use?”
Jeremiah wrote to encourage them, strengthen them, and give them a sense of purpose. Even though they were in captivity, all was not lost. Although they were living in a pagan culture, God had plans for them. It was important for them to be God’s witnesses in a pagan world. They needed to follow the one true God while living in Babylon.
DON’T GIVE UP HOPE
Maybe you too have given up hope. Stop thinking that way. As long as God is on the throne, there is hope. None of us knows what may be in store in the days ahead, but we can live with hope. These exiles had lost everything except a few possessions they carried into Babylon. From their perspective, there wasn’t much worth living for. If you are a walking pity party, you’ll lose your sense of purpose. Whining and complaining won’t change a thing. Whether you see your situation as temporary or permanent, if you lose hope, you lose your reason for living. Whatever you are facing, look it in the face and look God in the face and ask Him what He wants you to learn. Wherever you are, it’s not an accident. God can take a setback and turn it into a stepping stone.
There is danger if you lack purpose. You start listening to people who tell you what you want to hear. You’ll buy lies that make you feel better and feed off spiritual junk food rather than the meat of the Word of God. This was happening with the Babylonian captives. They were listening to false prophets who told them this was a temporary setback that would be over soon. Jeremiah told them the truth. The Scriptures were clear that the Babylonian captivity would be seventy years. Therefore, they needed to settle down, build homes, and get on with their lives. Warren Wiersbe writes, “This small Jewish remnant was holding in its hands the future of God’s great plan of salvation, and they must obey Him, be fruitful, and multiply.”1
HOPE AND PURPOSE
I believe hope and purpose are tied together. If I have a sense of purpose, I have hope. If I have hope, I have a sense of purpose. I find both hope and purpose in the Word of God. Israel was in captivity, yet they needed to be reminded of their purpose. Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter to the Philippians, but he never forgot his purpose. The church is in a battle. We need to remember our purpose. We have a message of hope for a lost world.
As I travel this land, I see people who look empty. They crowd onto subways, planes, and trains, and their faces reveal a lack of purpose. Some look bored. Others seem dazed and confused. For the most part, mankind seems to move through life like cattle headed for the slaughter pen. In the youngest generation—those who should be the most idealistic—there is a sense of dread. They realize they won’t have the things their parents had. They graduate from college, can’t find a job, and move back home. Social media create a false sense of connection, yet they can’t carry on a face-to-face conversation about the real meaning of life. They look empty.
Some people live for their careers. Others focus on finding fulfillment through a soul mate. Many parents allow their lives to be dictated by soccer, ballet, and a thousand other activities that place their children at the center of the universe. Others still focus on fitness, obsessing over exercise, marathons, the gym, or the latest dieting fad. But none of these or the whole host of other false security nets can provide true purpose or lasting satisfaction.
WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE?
Purpose matters. But it’s not just about having a purpose; it’s about having the right purpose. Our world is off track. We’ve lost our way. Everything that used to be wrong is now right. Suicide rates are alarming. Counseling centers can’t handle the requests from people whose lives are unraveling. Domestic violence and sexual abuse are ruining the lives of people around the globe. Many seem to have lost (or never truly found) their reason for living. The reality is, we can’t live without meaning and purpose. Thomas Carlyle said, “The man without purpose is like a ship without a rudder.”2
I find great truth in the words of George Eliot: “What makes life dreary is absence of motive. What makes life complicated is multiplicity of motive. What makes life victorious is singleness of motive.”3 Job asked the question, “What is man that You magnify him, and that You are concerned about him, that You examine him every morning and try him at every moment?” (7:17–18). The psalmist asked, “O LORD, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You think of him? Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow” (144:3–4). From the Garden to Glory, God has a purpose for man. Life is about discovering that purpose. Fallen man will never find his true purpose until he finds forgiveness and life in Christ. As the early church leader Augustine of Hippo said, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” The believer can have Christ and still miss his or her purpose. If we aren’t surrendered to the lordship of Christ and walking in the Spirit, we can end up like the children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness of lost opportunity.
The very idea of purpose could not arise by chance, for purpose and chance are opposites. God didn’t place us here and wish us good luck. He didn’t make us in His image to be a victim of circumstances. He put us here to be overcomers. His witnesses. Salt and light. If it weren’t for Jesus, everything in this world would be meaningless. All of life would be a dead-end street. Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Man, made in the image of God, has a purpose: to be in relationship to God, who is there. Man forgets his purpose and thus he forgets who he is and what life means.”4 So let me ask you: What is your purpose?
Michael Catt, The Power of Purpose: Breaking through to Intentional Living (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2017).