Once upon a time, God announced to Moses, “I have raised you up for this very purpose.”
A little later in history, Mordecai pleaded with Esther, “Who knows, but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
This idea of purpose is a very powerful notion, especially in the lives of those of us who are following Jesus. And there is no shortage of attempts to profit off of it, either. When Rick Warren cornered the market with his book “Purpose Driven Church” in 1995, it was quickly followed up by “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry,” “Purpose Driven Christmas,” “Purpose Driven Life,” “Purpose Driven Life for Commuters,” and “Purpose Driven Pie Making.” (Only one of those is made up.)
We all want to find our purpose, don’t we? In our most vulnerable, introspective moments, we wonder: “Why am I here?”
For what purpose has God raised me up?
What does God have for me, presently or in the future, about which I will say: I was made for such a time as this?
Paul touches on this issue a little bit in a letter to the church in Corinth, too, using the analogy of the church being a body with every part having its own role to play – having its own purpose. Even in the process of salvation, Paul explains, “The man who plants and the man who waters have their purpose…”
The human search for purpose is ultimately a search for three things, I think: freedom, fulfillment, and significance. (If I were a good preacher, I would have come up with a synonym for “significance” that started with an “f”.)
If we could ever nail down what our purpose is, then we can pour our energies into it and not worry about the peripherals. The man who plants has one purpose, and doesn’t have to get depressed if he’s not succeeding at watering. Moses doesn’t have to spend all his time and energies attempting to be a better musician or sheepherder, because God’s purpose for him was to lead his people out of Egypt. (And later on, God would raise up musicians to lead worship at the Temple – “for that purpose”, according to the Chronicler.)
With focus and clarity comes freedom.
Everybody knows the old saying (and goal?) of, “Do what you love and love what you do.” But fulfillment, I think, runs even deeper than that. Fulfillment comes from a sense deep within you that you are not only doing what you love, but you are doing what you were made to do. Whatever it is you’re doing is lining up with exactly how God has created you.
And significance is the desire that all of us innately have to know that we are making a difference. That we are doing something that matters. Something that will have a lasting impact – for Christians, that largely comes in the form of an impact for the Kingdom of God. The things that lend themselves to a sense of purpose are almost always the things that give us a feeling of significance.
So when we say we are seeking purpose, it seems to me what we are seeking are those three things – freedom, fulfillment, and significance – all wrapped up in one neat package.
But is it really so neat a package? I think purpose is a lot messier than some of us would like to believe.
Sometimes, I wonder if we expect our “purpose” to always come with this crystal clarity of knowing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. I don’t think it’s always (or often) like that. Take the two examples at the beginning of this post for example. Moses had God explicitly tell him his purpose. But Esther? Esther had her uncle tell her, “Who knows? Maybe you were created for such a time as this.”
What kind of revelation of purpose is that? Could you imagine any business or church beginning their “purpose statement” with those words?
“Who knows, perhaps we exist to give customers a quality shopping experience and great customer service.”
Yeah, that’s really going to rally the troops.
But you know what? Esther took it and ran with it. She turned a “who knows maybe” into a guiding principle and made a massive impact in history, stopping a planned genocide before it happened.
When we find ourselves stuck in everyday life at a job (or being a stay-at-home parent) we don’t necessarily find complete fulfillment in, doing everyday routine things, I think we tend to get depressed over the fact that we have no clarity as to our purpose in life. We don’t know what we are supposed to be doing. We want a prophecy or a voice from God or the Holy Spirit to show us what we were raised up for, like Moses.
And I wonder if we don’t miss out sometimes because our purpose is hiding around a “who knows maybe” corner.
The other thing I wonder about purpose is if we falsely believe it will make everything easier once we discover what that purpose is.
There’s a huge difference between freedom and something being easy, and I think sometimes we equate the two far too closely.
When God clarified Moses’ purpose for him, Moses still had to leave his family’s homeland and had to approach Pharaoh – ten times, nonetheless – to demand his people be set free. He still had to endure the ridicule and hate of his fellow Israelites when Pharaoh made their slave labor harder because of Moses. And he still had to be responsible for passing along news of the ultimate judgment on all of Egypt – the death of everyone’s firstborn son – news I’m sure nobody would be jumping in line and saying, “Pick me!” to deliver.
When Mordecai approached Esther about her “who knows” purpose, she still had to literally risk death, approach the King, and make her request.
Direction and freedom may make things more fulfilling and more meaningful, but let’s not believe that they will always (or usually?) make things easier.
This whole idea of purpose has come to a head lately in our lives and is playing itself out in our circumstances and in the choices we are making. I have a passion for teaching and writing, and believe, with the confirmation of several people, that God has gifted me in those areas. I feel the most fulfilled when I am participating in those activities. I believe they are linked together – that my teaching comes out in my writing – and I believe that they represent at least a portion of my purpose. Why God has raised me up.
Knowing (or at least believing) that this is what I was made to do, however, doesn’t make the how, when, and where any clearer. How do I write a book while I have a full time job, am enrolled in a Masters program, am seeking other more gainful employment, and have a wife, a toddler, and a baby to take care of? Where am I supposed to teach? How do I get a book published after I write it? Where are we supposed to live while achieving all of this?
So Shelly and I are going to attempt to take a step that makes me really, really nervous. Shelly recently took a position as a speech-language pathologist, and working out the numbers, the income she is bringing in would be enough for me drop to part-time at work. In the new time I have, I could stay home with the boys two afternoons or mornings a week and then dedicate the other three afternoons a week to getting my book finished and published.
It makes me nervous because it makes us dependent on Shelly’s income, and she’s driving to a different city to work – something that may not be possible when the weather turns to winter for the next eight months here in Wyoming.
At any rate, I applied for a part-time job in my office last week – remembering that chasing purpose doesn’t necessarily make things easy. If anything, it will make us even more reliant on God, which is a beautiful thing — but sometimes there seems to me to exist a thin line between relying on God and making a decision that is unwise.
If I get the part-time job, I will take it as confirmation from God that this is the direction I’m supposed to run in order to pursue my purpose. My hope is still to have my book finished by the end of the year and to get it published in 2011. Then we’ll see what happens from there!