As"Man is not born to solve the problems of the universe, but to find out what he has to do...within the limits of his comprehension." ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German writer 1749 - 1832)
An unexpected question
Imagine for a moment that you and I are sitting together in a cosy cafe, enjoying a cup of coffee and having a leisurely chat. Then all of a sudden, I lean in closer and ask you: "What is your purpose?"
Chances are this question would catch you off guard. After all, lofty ideas such as "purpose" don't usually come up in casual conversation. Plus, who exactly has spare time these days to sit around philosophising about the purpose of life? But, after your initial surprise, what would your answer be?
You'd probably say something like: "to be the best I can be", "to pursue my passions", "to not worry about money", "to live a happy life" or "to run a successful business", "to retire at 35"; "to achieve my childhood dreams", "to travel to 100 countries", "to be the best mother/father/husband/wife". Or maybe simply: "I dunno".
The question of purpose
Purpose. A hefty word for a simple idea. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as "an object[ive] to be attained; thing intended." When used as a verb, the word suggests being deliberate, taking intentional steps toward something, to set a course, to pursue something with a sharp focus (see, for example, Daniel 1 verse 8 (New King James Version)).
As we go about our daily lives of work, school, family commitments and fun activities, most of us probably aren't thinking about the why of what we do. But as Christians, God has challenged us that the why should never be far from our minds.
If we distil Jesus' prayer in John 17 verses 25-26 down to the core, we understand from that passage that our ultimate aim in life is: "to know God (as revealed in Christ) and make Him known."
We are also told in Colossians chapter 3 verses 23-24 that "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
How to create a scandal: Two examples
Jesus was always keenly aware of His purpose. So much so that when he was physically tired (John chapter 4 verse 6) this goal sustained and energised him. He used a powerful metaphor when he said: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work."(John chapter 4 verse 34). That's why he deliberately took the time to take the then-radical step of chit-chatting with a Samaritan woman at a well in Sychar. At the time, Samaritans and Jews had longstanding animosities and hostilities. Worse, not only was she Samaritan, she was also a woman. Women in that period occupied a very low rung on the social ladder. When they discovered him, Jesus' disciples were, understandably, scandalised (John chapter 4 verse 27).
Consider too the Apostle Paul. Paul said in Colossians 1 verse 28 that his purpose was to "preach Christ to everyone...to bring each one into God's presence." In the next verse, he noted that "to get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which God supplies and which is at work in me." Paul was relentless in the pursuit of his purpose, often in the face of herculean obstacles and opposition. He was maligned and talked about (Acts chapter 13 verse 50).
The type of indefatigable energy that Jesus and Paul had only comes from tapping into the why of what we do as well as the why of who we are as believers in Christ. Once you understand the why, the how is easier. We know that we are redeemed, new creations in Christ. We know that God has prepared works for us to do in advance (Ephesians chapter 2 verse 10). We also know that He equips us to do them by the Holy Spirit.
How then shall we live?
So how does applying this principle affect your life? Let's take an example. Do you remember that squabble you had this morning with your co-worker / friend / neighbour / spouse? When we know that our purpose is to glorify God in all situations, we will choose to respond in love in hard situations; we'll align our actions to resolve conflicts in a way which builds relationships, not to prove ourselves right or to inflict pain out of anger.
Another example: as a church, we feed the hungry, help the poor, tend to the sick and engage in other charitable activities not because "it's a nice thing to do" but because we realise that we exist to mirror the love of Christ and He wants, most of all, for the souls of the vulnerable (who live in an often harsh and oppressive world) to be saved. God wants them to tangibly feel the love He has for them through us. We are burdened with the urgency and weight of our mission of love.
On a more personal level, that research project you have to finish, that billing report on your desk, the assignment to hand in, that basketball, football game, feeding your children, paying bills, talking to that difficult co-worker or neighbour, driving in traffic, and yes, even sipping coffee in a cafÃ© with a friend...every mundane, seemingly inconsequential moment, task and experience in this sometimes confusing and overwhelming experience called life is an opportunity to glorify God. In the beauty of life and in the painful moments, do everything unto the Lord.
Allowing an awareness of your purpose to fuel your every action and thought is not easy. It is downright uncomfortable and painful. Living on purpose will offend the delicate moral sensibilities of others. It will provoke, shock, outrage and astonish some people. That's because it is unpopular to love the unloved in society, to identify with the misunderstood, to love the unsavoury, to take the hard decision to live with integrity, to sow hope in darkness, to speak up for Jesus and be ridiculed for doing the right thing...or, in short, to create a scandal for righteousness' sake.
Do it anyway. Rejoice, knowing that whatever your Creator establishes through you will remain. Ecclesiastes 3 verse 14 declares: "I know that everything God does will last forever. You can't add anything to it or take anything away from it. And [God has done it] to make us stand in awe of him."
If you are a Christian, how about we prayerfully and boldly seek out daily opportunities to live out our purpose this week? If you are not a Christian, how about asking Him to show you that He is the true way to a life of purpose and allowing Him to wow you with His audacious love?
Sharma Taylor is a corporate attorney with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Law from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and a writer.
Sharma Taylor's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sharma-taylor.html