Friday, April 20, 2012

What if I never find my purpose?

"What is my purpose?"

It's a question I hear over and over again from well meaning Christians. I hear people all the time say things like, "If I only knew my purpose, I'd be doing great things for God," or "If I could ask Jesus one thing, I would ask Him what my purpose was." (Really?!? If you could ask Jesus one thing, you would ask Him a question about yourself?!?!? But, I digress). Hoards of books are published every year that talk about purpose, finding your purpose, praying about your purpose, living your purpose and so forth.

So why is it that so many Christians, who are so obsessed with this idea of finding their purpose, walk around aimlessly without having any idea of what they should be doing?

It comes down to self-absorption. And pride. And not relying on and trusting God. It is a gross distortion of some very basic spiritual truths that cause so much frustration in the average Christian.

Many people who ask this are dutiful attendees of Sunday School, have been in a Bible study group continuously through their whole life, they are on church committees, and organize pot luck dinners and the Saturday morning women's "quilting for Jesus" group. They don't watch R rated movies, they don't drink alcohol, they only listen to Christian music and they vote republican.

But they feel empty and purposeless, drifting through a sea of retreats and revivals, hoping to find the meaning that seems so close, but isn't there. And there is good reason why it's not there.

The first thing we have to understand when looking for an answer to the purpose question is this whole Jesus thing is not about us. At all. Yes, God knows us. Yes, God cares about our individual lives. Yes, God wants us reconciled to Him. But that doesn't mean this whole walk with Christ is about us. In this obsession with finding purpose, many of us focus too much on what we are supposed to be doing, and not at all on what Christ did on the Cross. We focus on questions such as "why am I feeling empty," and "why am I feeling stuck", and we don't focus on who God is or what He has done for the world.

Second, we get stuck in the works trap. When we ask "what is my purpose", usually it really means, "what should I be doing?"(or even worse, "what should I be doing so I look like a super Christian to everyone at church?"). This is just another restatement of the "trying to be saved through good works" idea (Ephesians 2:8-9). For one, God said that our best works, even those that fit our "purpose", are like dirty menstrual rags to Him (Isaiah 64:6...oh yes, He meant menstrual rags...check the Hebrew!). Also, God doesn't need you to carry out some task for Him. If He needs it done, He can just say "poof" and it's done. It's awful self-absorbed to think that some critical thing for the Kingdom of God is not going to get done because you didn't know you needed to do it.  If God needs you specifically to do it, He'll make sure you know. Which nicely leads me to my third point....

Our purpose is much more closely linked to God's purpose. Yes, we do have a purpose, but specifics such as, do I take this job or that job, aren't this huge central peg that our whole lives revolve around.  In fact, most of those questions are trivial at best.  God's whole purpose is to redeem His people and reconcile our relationship to him. Our purpose is to let ourselves be reconciled to Him.

That is it. Your be reconciled to God. Constantly growing toward the light. Constantly digging out the black spots from your soul and submitting them to be healed. Constantly learning who God is and who you are not and putting yourself in His presence more and more every day.

Now I'm sure the pragmatists are saying, "wow, thanks for a great hippy dippy description of our purpose, but there is ministry to do. There are widows and orphans to take care of. The gospel to be spread. People to be healed. What about all the work that we are called to do?"

That is the most beautiful part of all. For so long, Christians have viewed purpose and ministry from a very self-centered perspective. "Look at how God used me to serve the world." "We really helped them with the canned food drive. Praise God!" Out of one side of our mouth we talk about how we are only saved by grace through faith, and out of the other side of our mouth, we are begging for volunteers to do this and do that for this ministry or that organization. We are missing the whole point.

God puts us in the position He wants us to serve in not because we have to meet some quota of ministry hours, but because those are the positions we need to be in to get as close as possible to Jesus. And for those of us who have been called to "bigger" ministries, such as pastors, missionaries, teachers, writers, speakers, evangelists, the implications of that are critical for us. It means we are so screwed up that without our "purpose" of being in ministry, where we are forced to study God's word, give Godly counsel daily, take huge risks for God and have to trust Him on a day to day basis, we would not be able to have the relationship with God that we should have any other way. God foreknew that about us and that is why we have received the calling we have. That takes all the pride out of a high profile position, doesn't it?

So, if you are a growing Christian, you see considerable fruit in your life, you are madly in love with Christ and feel like you are getting closer and closer to Him, then you have found your purpose, in whatever it is you are doing. If you don't feel that way, stop looking for things to DO, and start looking for ways to stretch yourself and grow in your faith. Work on knowing Jesus and loving Him more. Learn to praise Him with abandon. Go and serve, not with serving being the end goal, but how you experience Christ and grow in faith. Read parts of the Bible you have never read. Love people you have never loved before. Do it all in the mindset of growing toward Christ. And suddenly, either the question about purpose will be answered or it won't matter anymore.


Anonymous said...

I disagree with a lot of this post. I assume where you say Isaiah 32:11 you mean Isaiah 64:6, which is talking about our righteous acts done while still under our sinful nature, while we are "unclean". The righteous acts of the saints are something altogether different, being our rewards in heaven (crown and jewels in most references) and our wedding gown as the Bride of Christ in Revelation 19:6-8.

Jenny Wright said...

Thanks for your catch on the verse! They were right next to each other in my concordance and I must have copied the wrong one. I went ahead and corrected it.

I personally interpret that section of Isaiah differently to include acts that even the saved do, but with sinful intentions (self-glory, self-gratification, etc.). I find most discussions about one's purpose, on the surface, seem to be about serving God, but if you dig deeper, the conversation is really about selfish things, such as wanting a big important ministry, wanting to be seen as a super Christian, or even wanting to find identity in what you do in Christ instead of who you are in Christ.

I also wrestle with the idea of "righteous acts of the saints" because we aren't capable of anything righteous apart from Jesus. He is the source of all our righteousness, so it doesn't jive with me that Jesus' righteousness through us, especially in terms of acts, would earn us something. I believe that Jesus is the reason the "linen" is white, so to speak, because our acts aren't about what God wants done. He's God, He could just say "poof" and make His will happen. There must be a greater purpose for Him to use us to do His works. I believe that doing God's work is all about Him doing work in us, not us doing work for Him. I understand what you are saying and know that is a commonly held interpretation, but in my mind, it doesn't fit with the rest of scripture about who we are and who Jesus is.

Thank you so much, though, for your comment. I really appreciate readers who read with a critical enough eye to question me on things, even though we may disagree. It grows me and stretches me and I like that! :)