My life had no purpose before I met Christ. For nearly 26 years I lived in a state of ignorance where I fretted about nothing. Each day ran into itself, and with no real goal, there was no real drive. Life was comfortable because I frivoled it away without even knowing. After Jesus saved me, he gave me a purpose for living. However, this brought with it problems. Along with the addition of purpose, there arose its antithesis, purposelessness. This created a whole new dynamic and tension in my life. At one end of the spectrum was the feeling that my life was purposeful while at one end was the feeling that was not.
Somewhere between these two polarities is where most Christians live. One day our life’s purpose may seem very clear, but on other days it seems very far away. Some days we believe that we are capable of changing the world, but on other days we struggle to get out of bed and the expectations we set seem unobtainable. Herein lies one of the issues, we create our purpose using our own expectations. Expectations, often created upon false perceptions. Let me explain.
How our culture creates our purpose
Gurus fill the world. They paint our imagination with amazing panoramas of what a purposeful life looks like. Once painted, they sell us guides on how to get there. We look at these people, read about them, and study their concepts believing that they will help us fulfill our purpose. In so doing we mistakingly think that we can fulfill our purpose by becoming like them in our own way. We then become discouraged when the advice they give does not work.
As I see it, the main problem does not lie in the advice they give. The problem lies in the fact that they dress up purpose to look like the western idea of success. This means that our concept of purpose is an imitation of what our culture thinks success is. This then gives us a false idea of what we believe our lives should look like once we have fulfilled our purpose. We assume a purpose fulfilled looks like the typical materialist Western idea of successfulness. This equates to having nice things, having charisma, being appealing, being loved, being organized, or having a large Facebook following. Therefore, if the outcomes of our lives do not measure up to our culturally created criteria, we assume that we are not successful and have not fulfilled our purpose.
In such instances, the failure of our life’s purpose leaves us disappointed and disillusioned. In the worst-case, we are upset at God because he did not make what we believed was his purpose for our lives happen. Moreover, as is typical of human behavior, we look for someone to blame. Someone close to us must have held us back and stopped us from soaring in life. (Read this blog for more)
How to biblically refocus our purpose
One passage that comes to mind as we think about this is James 4.13-17 (NKJV).
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
There are a few points we can take from this.
- We must seek the Lord’s presence in everything we do
- Life is full of phases, and each phase has its purpose.
1. We must seek the Lord’s presence in everything we do
James said this to wealthy traveling merchants who made their living traveling from city to city trading their wares. We see that these merchants are planners. They have set up a schedule, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there…” They have goals to reach, “[We will] buy and sell, and make a profit.” These are efficient Christians who have a purpose, a goal, and a plan on how to get there. These people typify successfulness.
I imagine their fellow Christians looking at them for inspiration and wanting to know how to be as successful. Perhaps they even listened to their podcasts and bought their books. However, the successful Christians do not so enamor James. He spoke very sternly to them and said, “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” This implies that they were prideful and blew their own trumpets. Ultimately, James’ comments show that their success was not the result of God’s leading, hence why James said, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” They were successful because of their intellect and business savvy. Not that these things are wrong but it takes God presence and leading to sanctify them.
James’ issue was not that these Christians were successful and used good business practice. His issue was that they did it all pridefully and kept God out of the loop. This is the issue we are dealing with when we separate the presence and direction of God from our purpose and our expectation of success. We end up with a cultural equivalent which has no relationship with God’s purpose for our lives and his criteria for our success. Therefore, we must seek the Lord in everything we do and allow his presence to influence our actions.
2. Life is full of phases, and each phase has its purpose.
James said, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” A vapor is a form a substance takes when it is in its gaseous phase. For instance, water comes in three forms. It comes as a liquid, like the water that comes out of the tap. It can come as a solid, like ice or snow. Or it can come as a gas, like steam from the kettle, mist, or vapor. It is interesting that the amount of water within each of the phases remains consistent and is not lost. It just changes forms from phase to phase.
This idea of phases is essential because our life goes through many phases. In the church, we tend to use the term “seasons.” We have good seasons, bad seasons, seasons when we have to concentrate on our children instead of our jobs, retirement season, transition season, and much more. Life is full of seasons, or phases, and each one has a different purpose. One purpose of water in its liquid phase is hydration. A purpose of water in its gaseous phase is to pressurize. One purpose of water in its solid phase, like ice, is to cool. Similarly, each phase of our life has a different purpose.
Although we may feel we have one overarching purpose in life, actually our lives are comprised of little phases each with their purpose These purposes belong to us individually, but only God can tell us what those purposes are. This means we must seek the Lord so that we can understand what they are and how the phase we are in contributes and defines what the purpose is.
It is important to realize that no matter what phase we are going through it will end. But like how the amount of water is not lost as it changes between liquid, solid, and gas, similarly, we lose nothing as we transition between phases. Instead, the phases and their purposes interact like jigsaw pieces. They all fit together to form a larger picture and a personal purpose that is unique to each of us. This means our purpose becomes distinct from our cultural expectations and our measure of success changes to a God-given standard.
It is very easy to confuse purpose as an imitation of what our culture thinks success is. We can easily mistake the western materialist idea of successfulness as our purpose. If we do this, we may end up disappointed because our lives may never measure up to our false assumptions. To stop this from happening we must align our purpose and our definition of success with God’s will for our lives. In this post I suggested two ways to do this:
- If we set goals and plan without inviting the Lord into the equation, we will cause problems. We will establish our understanding of purpose and standard for successfulness upon contemporary culture’s understanding. To ensure that our life’s purpose and our concept of success lines up with God’s, we must seek him in everything that we do. We must allow his presence to influence our actions.
- It is important to realize that life is full of phases, or seasons, and each one has a purpose. These phases and their purposes all fit together to form God’s larger purpose for our lives. This means that our purpose becomes distinct from our cultural expectations and our measure of success changes to a God-given standard.