August 21, 2014

My Purpose Driven Life

 

purposeTo be honest, I really wasn’t listening that much to the message from our pastor on Sunday. That is, until he used the “P” word.

“Something something something, and to know God’s purpose for your life.”

Sigh. Here we go. Whenever most people talk about “God’s purpose for your life,” what they mean is what your vocation is to be, or—shudder—what your “ministry” is to be. Paul’s admonition to live a quiet life doing good is certainly not God’s purpose for my life, is it?  God wants to fulfill my dream and my destiny and …

You know the drill. God has a grand purpose and design for my life, one that has me as the center of the universe, and everything fitting just as it should for my ultimate good. Of course, we’ll call it my ministry, so that it sounds like I am actually doing something spiritual. The end result, however, is my happiness and personal gain. If not, then God’s purpose for my life hasn’t yet been fulfilled, and he had better get on the ball.

Fortunately, my pastor didn’t go there in his message. But my mind did drift off again, thinking about what God’s purpose for my life really is. I came up with three purposes for my life, or any life. Here is why God gives me breath, for these reasons.

I am to realize I am poor. For so very long I thought I was rich because of my goodness. I thought I was all that and chocolate ice cream spiritually. It has taken nearly forty years of walking with Jesus for me to see that I am a pauper and a beggar. You know those beggars you see standing at the busy intersections in your town? The ones who just stand there day after day waiting for a handout? The ones you think should just go and get a job? The ones you try to not even notice? Yes, I am just like those people, only worse, because I still think I’m something. After all, I have a masters degree and have served as youth pastor at two different churches and have been an elder and taught at a Christian college and have written books and …

God’s purpose for me is see that I am poor. Hopelessly in debt with no chance to redeem myself. None at all. For it is only when I can admit I am poor that I can become rich. When I am poor, truly and utterly impoverished, then the kingdom of heaven is mine.

I am to become blind. I know that sounds crazy. God gave us eyes to see, didn’t he? Yet he tells me I am to walk by faith, not by sight. I’m to set aside what I can plainly see and trust God for what I can’t see. And somehow this pleases him. Maybe becoming blind isn’t so crazy. After all, the only people Jesus gave sight to were those who knew they were blind.

I am to die. We all fight so very hard to live longer, live better, live life to its fullest. We want life and that more abundant. Yet Jesus said the only way I can follow him is to shoulder my own cross and die. Thomas the doubter had it right when he said to the other disciples, “We might as well go and die with him.” Dying is not a joyous occasion. It is not something a sane person seeks to do. Yet it is God’s purpose for me. Jesus wants me to die, for only what is dead can be raised to life.

God’s purposes for me are to see that I am poor so I can inherit a kingdom, realize I am blind so that I may see, and die so that I can live. In doing so I will fulfill the purpose he created me for. That is my destiny, my purpose. Yet I can guarantee you no church is going to have a 40 Days Of Purpose campaign to get others to see they are poor, blind and dead. Our Christian culture is only interested in living abundantly. Do you get the idea that God’s purposes and those of most Christians today are not in sync?

Perhaps it would be simplest to say God’s purpose for my life is for me to get over myself. I don’t think he gives a rat’s fuzzy backside what my job or career is. I don’t think heaven is holding its collective breath on me starting some ministry. But I do believe there will be much rejoicing when I trust God for what I cannot see, believe him to be all the wealth I need, and die to all I thought was good and right.

And if I get all three of these purposes right today, the good news is I get to do them all over again tomorrow. That is God’s purpose for me.

Comments

  1. At Christmas our pastor was talking about the prophecy of Simeon, that the child Jesus was “appointed for the fall and rise of many in the house of Isreal”. Not “rise and fall”, but “fall” comes first, and rise comes sometime later. And not “fall” for some other outsiders, but the fall comes for those in-house.

  2. Simply love the expression ‘rat’s fuzzy backside’. Your post made my day. Thanks- David

  3. Thanks Jeff ~ this is surely one topic that we got wrong in the U.S. church. No, we are not “in sync” with God and His purpose. This has been a real learning experience for me over the past couple of years. I am starting to “get it” and I think that many people are realizing they have been walking down the wrong path and are now searching for the right direction. I have shared a quote from a Sri Lankan Christian teacher, author and minister.. I think he’s got it right. Back to the cross.

    “Vocational fulfillment in the kingdom of God has a distinct character, different from vocational fulfillment in society. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34) If we are doing God’s will, we are happy and fulfilled. But for Jesus, and for us, doing God’s will includes the Cross. The Cross must be an essential element in our definition of vocational fulfillment.”
    Ajith Fernando

  4. > Our Christian culture is only interested in living abundantly.

    Ehh. Part of it. This BLOG frequently conflates “Christian culture” with “Evangelical culture” and those sub-cultures in orbit around evangelicalism. There is no shortage of Catholic and Orthodox congregations where poor-bind-n-dead messages would be pretty much the norm [although they might vary the terms a bit]. Evangelicals and post-evangelicals [of which there seems to be dozens of kinds now] just can not stop referring to *themselves* as “Christianity”. It’s OK, we outside-looking-in Christians love you anyway.

    Evangelicalism and its forebears also have another problem: they will veer from “living abundantly” toward “somber, solemn, and sometimes macabre”. I know, as I read this BLOG every day, that at least the form of post-Evangelicalism represented here does not embrace the later; but evangelicalism and evangelicalism-like seem to struggle with finding places other than those extremes [1]. So if the “living abundantly” falls out of favor the almost inevitable turn will be immediately to the other pole (embodied, in the extreme, in the doomsday cult phenomenon). Your emphasis on scripture, teaching, and theology *should* be guard-rails against this veering, but it clearly doesn’t work. Even as a post-evangelical myself [3] that swaying to-and-fro is something I have never understood – but I joined Evangelicalism as a young-adult, I didn’t *grow up* Evangelical, so maybe it is just that I wasn’t a true-blood [4].

    The truth is one can become poor, blind, and dead as well as laugh uproariously. For we are creatures hilarious in our own folly, ego, and schemes. This is hard to communicate in a sound-bite age. I am theologically the grimmest original-sin pro-guilt [2] humans-are-hell-spawn curmudgeon you are likely to meet on any given day. On the other hand I don’t feel any conflict at all with being pretty darn happy and enjoying most of my days quite a bit.

    [1] Which IMNSHO is a problem naturally arising from jettisoning history and tradition as well as harboring a frequently mean-spirited anti-intellectualism.
    [2] No doubt most Lutherans here would drop me in the very bottom of the “legalist” barrel. I’m very much at peace with that.
    [3] I’ve run a good long ways at this point, so I can’t really fly that flag very high.
    [4] Which during my days in the Evangelical camp actually was pointed out to me a couple of times – that I hadn’t grown-up in the church. Often implied was that I should consider deffering on some matters to those who had. Which, honestly, was a little insulting. Funny Quote: Once I was told that growing up outside the church meant that the “devil really had his claws deep into me and wasn’t going to give up easy” – a puzzling statement, I suspect if he was going to “give-up easy” he’d have done that long before I was even born.

    • Wow, I’ve never seen anybody provide footnotes for a blog comment before. You should get iMonk extra credit!

      No doubt most Lutherans here would drop me in the very bottom of the “legalist” barrel.

      You’ve obviously missed us somewhere. Have you ever heard of the doctrine of “total depravity?” Being a “grimm original-sin pro-guilt humans-are-hell-spawn curmudgeon” is REQUIRED in Lutheranism. :P

      they will veer from “living abundantly” toward “somber, solemn, and sometimes macabre”

      Hmmm… Maybe it is a good thing if your church actually does look like a mausoleum. The “culture of death” it represents can provide quite an emotional anchor. I find such environments much more conducive to the peaceful contemplation that restores joy amidst a hectic and frenzied life. But FYI I find the latter to be very embraced around here. I for one am very pro macabre spirituality. :D

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > You’ve obviously missed us somewhere. Have you ever heard of the doctrine of “total depravity?”

        Nope, I’m aware. But if in West Michigan you mention “total depravity” you instantly get labeled as a Calvanist. We have a lot of those. I never use the term, it attaches too much baggage [and isn't really meaningful to those outside theological circles].

        > Being a “grimm original-sin pro-guilt humans-are-hell-spawn curmudgeon” is REQUIRED in Lutheranism

        Also true, but it isn’t exclusive to Lutheranism :) But dark beer is good too. So might explain why I get along with Lutherans so well.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          First off, testify, brother!

          The part about a mention of ‘total depravity’ getting you labeled as Calviinist is interesting. This feels true to me, while at the same time Miguel’s point that this is Lutheranism 101 is completely true. Why is this? I think that Lutherans (or, to be fair, that fraction of Lutherans who paid attention in confirmation class) learn this, and even internalize it, but then move on to Grace. It is Grace that gets all the attention. (Grace Lutheran Church is a bog standard church name. Total Depravity Lutheran Church would be remarkable.) Grace is actually a really hard concept to accept. Lots of Christians never manage it. It is at once our great consolation and needing constant reinforcement. Total depravity? That’s easy to grasp, and so we don’t need to talk about it constantly. But if one is of a legalistic bent, I can see how the terms of the discussion could be moved.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Actually, if you mention “total depravity” in West Michigan, you get labeled as someone who is talking about Ohio State students.

    • This reminds me of Diana Butler Bass’ quote:

      “Why is it that the choice among churches always seems to be the choice between intelligence on ice or ignorance on fire?”

      I think part of it comes down to the fact that people are naturally wired differently, and beyond we are emotional beings. There are times when I do appreciate quiet contemplation, but there are other times when I really need some noise and celebration. I think there are churches that can pull of both, but they seem to be few and far between.

      • That is the most hilarious quote ever! So true, though, a lot comes down to similar types of people banding together. I’d like to think in a perfect world the opposite extremes could worship together, I suppose it gives us an ideal to work towards. Some people come seeking peace, other come wanting to be jazzed up and excited. It’s hard to balance the two.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Which during my days in the Evangelical camp actually was pointed out to me a couple of times – that I hadn’t grown-up in the church. Often implied was that I should consider deffering on some matters to those who had. Which, honestly, was a little insulting. Funny Quote: Once I was told that growing up outside the church meant that the “devil really had his claws deep into me and wasn’t going to give up easy” – a puzzling statement

      It’s called “Growing Up Martian”. Since you weren’t born and raised in the subculture, you were able to see it as an outsider. Especially the blind spots invisible to those within it — that’s why they’re called blind spots.

      And the reaction to this? “Beware Thou of the Mutant.”

      Or in the words of one of the Desert Fathers, “There will come a time when men will go mad. And they will lay hands upon the sane among them, saying ‘You are not like Us! You must be Mad!’”

  5. Happiness is fleeting.

    We are to be joyful.

    We are free in Christ.

    What do we want to do? Do it. Or not.

  6. As always, great post, Jeff. You always hit the nail on the head. I’ve had some of the same personal struggles as you over recent years, and appreciate your transparency.

    You’re absolutely right in your evaluation of American Christianity. The trend among evangelicals is once again, to promote the idea that one must be a superhero for Jesus if one is a Christian at all (David Platt’s book is making the rounds amongst local pastors here…although I’m not sure that many of them actually read it before preaching a sermon series from it). I used to want to be that, but now, I find myself longing more for quiet, humble moments with God…and with my neighbors. Kingdom moments that may not seem so significant here, but matter in the Kingdom. What a prayer…”Make me poor, that I might be rich..Make me blind, that I might see…Make me to die, that I might live…” Beautiful. We could say St. Francis wrote it, and most folks wouldn’t know the difference…

    • I heard it on a Christian call-in program tonight while flipping through radio stations: God has go-to people who he knows will get stuff done. I wanted to calll in to tell the host that her day would come when “radical” faith hits the wall, and this man-made god of self-performance will fall silent, no one will listen to her anymore, and will be very much alone – except for the God above the god of legalism.

  7. YES!!!!

    Thank you, Jeff!

  8. Jeff, what a wonderful read for me on my first day back here with my I-Monk friends.

    [Being AWOL was not a choice. I strongly recommend AGAINST getting four graduate credits in six weeks.........starting the week before Thanksgiving..........when you only knew about TWO of them in advance...............when you are working full time...........and when you are preparing for Christmas at YOUR house!!!!! . This was followed by a week of illness for my darling and I, as we napped and stared at the idiot box in pj's, clutching tissues and OJ. You have to be sick and feverish to watch a six hour "SuperNanny" marathon.]

    Adam, I understand your points about Christianity NOT being evangelicals alone, but if you read the subtitle of the blog and are a frequent visitor, you must know what channel you are on. As an analogy, I don’t except any arguments against the power of the Magisterium or Marian devotion when I am reading the National Catholic Review. I come here to learn from other voices who know God in ways I do not, and to share our strugggles.

    Jeff, it was really tough for me to balance in my mind the fact that God loves me so much that He died for me, and cares for me daily now, AND the fact that I am a total and complete failure in serving Him, a world-class Sinner, and of no GREATER value to the Lord than the nine pound four year old starving in Darfur or the atheist drug-addict dying from diseases she picked up from dirty needles.

    As many have said over and again……He doesn’t Love us because we are GOOD children, He loves us because we are HIS children.

  9. Pam Burns says:

    I love this and agree with it.

  10. Jeff: I’m saving this one and reading it once a week during 2013. Happy New Year to you and yours.

  11. While I have warmed to Rick Warren on a number of issues (as I remember Michael doing over the years here), “The Purpose Driven Life” was everywhere about a decade ago, and its affect on church language seems to still be lingering. Everyone had that thing, and I some days think Rick Warren still gets a nickel every time a pastor prays for a person in youth group to discover their “purpose” in life.

    Some of this is just a repacking of the “What is God’s will for my life?” questions that are far, far older. But Jeff and others have it right: Deny Yourself, Take up your Cross, Follow. Love The Lord with all, love your neighbor as yourself. There’s a reason the laws and prophets hang on these commands from Jesus.

    • The Purpose ™ industrial complex is quite a machine indeed. I once visited the thriving purpose metropolis itself, and would you believe it, the street it ends has been renamed “Purpose Drive.” True story! Also, the bookstore in Warren’s alma mater displays a life size cardboard cutout of him saying, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” You can’t make this stuff up!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

        Sure he didn’t have one of the Monopod Duffers from Voyage of the Dawn Treader come up with that one?

        Or a C++ documentation specialist? “An Object Instance is an Instance of an Object…”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I some days think Rick Warren still gets a nickel every time a pastor prays for a person in youth group to discover their “purpose” in life.

      So Rick Warren is in the Cutie Mark business?
      Trying to paint THEIR Cutie Marks on colts’ and fillies’ flanks?

      (In the latest reboot of My Little Pony, “Cutie Marks” are the logos on a pony’s flanks which appear spontaneously around puberty, a visible sign of the pony’s soul and symbolizing their vocation in life. In the show, there is a continuing story arc thread around a group of three little “blank-flank” fillies desperate to get their marks and pretty clueless about what their actual talents/vocation/purpose are. Hilarity ensues. The serious lesson under the cartooniness is that a Cutie Mark — purpose and vocation — cannot be forced.)

  12. “The end result, however, is my happiness and personal gain. If not, then God’s purpose for my life hasn’t yet been fulfilled, and he had better get on the ball.”

    According to Rick Warrren, it is directly tied to God’s happiness, too. If you fail in your purpose, beware of the divine frown.

  13. Rob Grayson says:

    “Perhaps it would be simplest to say God’s purpose for my life is for me to get over myself. I don’t think he gives a rat’s fuzzy backside what my job or career is. I don’t think heaven is holding its collective breath on me starting some ministry. But I do believe there will be much rejoicing when I trust God for what I cannot see, believe him to be all the wealth I need, and die to all I thought was good and right.”

    Brilliant.

  14. God’s purposes for me are to see that I am poor so I can inherit a kingdom, realize I am blind so that I may see, and die so that I can live. In doing so I will fulfill the purpose he created me for. That is my destiny, my purpose. Yet I can guarantee you no church is going to have a 40 Days Of Purpose campaign to get others to see they are poor, blind and dead. Our Christian culture is only interested in living abundantly. Do you get the idea that God’s purposes and those of most Christians today are not in sync?

    Perhaps it would be simplest to say God’s purpose for my life is for me to get over myself. I don’t think he gives a rat’s fuzzy backside what my job or career is. I don’t think heaven is holding its collective breath on me starting some ministry. But I do believe there will be much rejoicing when I trust God for what I cannot see, believe him to be all the wealth I need, and die to all I thought was good and right.

    I don’t like A Purpose Driven Life, but I don’t like this either. It sounds too much like the near-gnosticism and real world-denying philosophy I grew up with. I do agree that in one sense God doesn’t care what career path I follow, but on the other hand, I can’t help but think that if God gives a person certain abilities and that person neglect to use them, that it is in some sense not honoring God. Think of some of the beauty that has been added to the world because men like Bach followed his calling. Think of the good that has come from men like Isaac Newton dedicating his life to trying to understand creation (as a side note, Newton likely died a virgin, btw).

    I guess I’d like to think that God does care about what we invest our time in while we’re on the earth. Otherwise, we’d be better off simply killing ourselves off and start enjoying eternity.

    • I like this. While I agree with large parts of Jeff’s post, his position is an overreaction to a caricature of the gospel. Why not die to self while pursuing God’s direction in our career, ministry, marriage, etx. These are not opposites: this should be a “both/and” in my opinion. Maybe another way to say this is: Yes GOD deeply cares, but in a way that does NOT put me in the center of my universe.

      I think if HE has counted the hairs in my head, that what I do with 50 plus hrs of the work week deeply matter to him ( but not to make me “the guy-for-Jesus”).

      • It begins and ends with Christ’s finished work on the cross. If Christ did not fulfill all righteousness, and we are responsible to add to that or attempt to earn what Christ has done for us, then this is hopeless.

        Considering the concept of child-like faith, a child is unpretentious and free to explore, play, and live in the creation back yard of a loving Father. I think the problem with Warren is that he represents a performance-driven life. Once performance becomes my goal – looking good and doing what I think God or other expect me to do, then child-like faith is lost and a life of hypocrisy begins. I think this also shows in the parable of the talents; the unfaithful servant was concerned about performance, about not disappointing his master, so out of an effort to appear responsible, he buries the talent and accomplishes nothing. That again is the heart of legalism: appearing righteous but actually promoting unrighteousness.

      • Phil and Greg, you have both missed the point. Our culture has equated “purpose” with “career.” In evangelicalism, we include “ministry.” I’m saying none of that is why we were created. We were not made to do things for God. He made the universe without any help from any of us, and he is doing a fine job keeping it spinning without our help.

        What he wants is for us to come to a place of total reliance on him. That is our purpose. And that realization comes while we work, eat, sleep, play and pray.

        • He made the universe without any help from any of us, and he is doing a fine job keeping it spinning without our help.

          Yes, but He placed humans in the garden and told them to work it. He didn’t tell them to simply enjoy a finished Creation.

          I guess what I don’t like about the post and the reply is that you seem to be coming down to typical Evangelical thinking that everything is about a personal, i.e., individual, salvation experience. I think our purpose is not in our vocation, career, calling or whatever but in partaking in what Christ did on the Cross and through His resurrection. And what He did is more than simply save our souls from hell. He initiated a New Creation – a remade cosmos. He rescued us from despair, hopelessness, and a life of futility. We still live in the now/not yet, of course, so we won’t live in it fully. But I do believe that the work I set my hands to does honor God. He doesn’t need me to do it anymore than a mother needs his child to give him dandelions. But He can take delight in it.

          • David Cornwell says:

            “what He did is more than simply save our souls from hell. He initiated a New Creation – a remade cosmos. He rescued us from despair, hopelessness, and a life of futility. We still live in the now/not yet, of course, so we won’t live in it fully. But I do believe that the work I set my hands to does honor God.”

            Amen to this.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            I think we might be placing just a little too much emphasis on the labor of our own hands. Let’s put it this way: if God takes delight in what you do, would He conversely be disappointed in what you do and fail miserably at? If the work you do well honors God, does the work you screw up on dishonor Him?

            Maybe it’s better to conclude that no work that we actually do earns God’s favor. It’s not about what we do; it’s about who we become. Once we understand this, then our efforts become less focused on quantifiable results that we can place on a spiritual resume, and more focused on the progress God makes in us to become one in Him.

          • I think we can in some ways disappoint or even anger God, too. I don’t think that’s synonymous with facing His wrath or damnation. I heard a Rabbi speak about the Book of Job recently, and he made the point that one lesson the book tells us is that’s it’s OK for the righteous to express anger at God. He said if that weren’t the case than we couldn’t really have a relationship with God. A relationship where one partner feels he must hide his emotions isn’t really a relationship.

            I think it’s a two way street. I think I do disappoint God sometimes, but I don’t think He loves me any less because of it. I’m sure I disappoint my wife a lot, but I’m secure enough in the relationship that I doubt her love for me whenever we have a disagreement. Obviously the two relationship aren’t exactly analogous, but I think there is something to the comparison.

            I’m not talking about earning God’s favor. We have all been granted God’s favor through Christ. But living as New Creation is a way that I believe does honor God. The concept of honor and shame and how they played out in ANE cultures is an interesting study, too. We don’t really operate from that mindset, so we tend to misconstrue what they mean. But, to honor God means to act in a way that shows gratitude and respect to Him. It’s not trying to earn favor or prove one’s goodness. It’s a response to what God has already done.

        • Well, the more this thread plays out, the more that I come back to my position (my genetic german stubborness, perhaps…) I like most of what you are saying , Jeff, but “we were not made to do things for GOD….” still reads like something of an overstatement. Why did GOD ask for “help” in the garden from Adam and Eve ( I understand that HE didn’t/doesn’t “need” anything ever, yet HE chooses to get our involvment anyway). I understand that many christians have made GOD a “spice” to add to the plans that they have already made, but isn’t there room here for GOD making people in such a way that there really are special tasks for them to do , as a way of honoring the way that the creator GOD has made them ?? This does not always neatly dovetail into a career, I get that. But can we sometimes see GOD’s purposes in the “what” of our lives as well as the death to self and traveling the road to golgotha ? These are not oil and water are they ??

          • I’m not German, but I am stubborn… :-)

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            I just did a quick scan of Genesis 2; God never asked anyone for “help” in the Garden of Eden. Adam’s commission was a “command,” not a request. Unfortunately, there is no full explanation of why God asked Adam to do something that God could clearly do himself directly in the Bible. Maybe the commission itself, asking someone to assume responsibility over something, changes a person (much like how parents give children chores, not because the parent cannot do it, but because the child needs to learn responsibility.)

            Nothing wrong with the idea that people have certain talents and are best suited for certain careers, professions, and callings. However, focus on what the person becomes as a result of that vocation, rather than on the act itself. I’m thinking that’s where Jeff is going with this (if not, he’ll jump in and set me straight).

          • Marcus , you are way too delicate with your reasoning. Why assume that if someone focuses on “the act itself” that their motives and relation to GOD/grace will get thrown off ?? Never a bad idea to focus on who we are becoming in Christ, but as you point out, what is the harm with pairing someone’s God-given gifts and abilities with specific outlets that match (when possible) ?? As to Gen.2: OK, great , point taken, GOD commanded Adam and Eve to help HIM…… there, fixed.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            I’ve never heard the term “delicate” used to describe my reasoning but, umm, okay…

            I don’t necessarily see this as a right vs. wrong debate, unlike other people who attack this concept of “purpose.” Rather, I prefer to ask the question, “Am I so focused on this task or vocation that I’m missing a bigger picture?”

            How about a story? Luke 10:37-42. Jesus goes to the home of Mary and Martha. Martha is busy preparing the house; Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from Him. Jesus never tells Martha that a clean house is bad, only that Mary focused first on the opportunity to become something better. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with effective career planning or strong work ethic; it’s just that this assumption that the result of our labor itself is pleasing to God misses the point. God wants us to become something through our actions, and by focusing on the doing, we tend to lose sight of the becoming. Let’s not fail to see the forest for the trees; that’s all I’m saying.

            By the way, your interpretation of Genesis 2 is not fixed. Neither the word “help,” nor any of its variants, appear in the narrative of God’s commission to Adam. God never asked Adam for “help,” which implies He couldn’t do it without Adam’s help. Rather, God commissioned Adam into service, from which I infer that God wanted Adam to be more aware of his responsibility to the earth, as well as his place in the hierarchy of living things. Again, it’s not that God wanted Adam to be the best gardenkeeper ever (seeing as how he was the only man for a while, there was not much competition); maybe God was more interested in ensuring that a newly created human being could understand the concept of responsibility. It was about the becoming, not the doing.

            Sorry to be picky, but if we are going to refer to Scriptural narratives, we should be careful about the words we use to interpret what the Scripture said.

          • @ Marcus: thanks for the give and take; and your points about the bigger picture are spot on, IMO. We are eternal creatures, and count more than works of our fingers. I gladly backtrack away from “ask” in the Gen 2 narrative; God was certainly not asking anything. The word “help” is not used, but I’m puzzled that you don’t think the meaning has no place in a shared responsibility or even shared heirarchy. Somewhere in the gospel, we’re told that “friend” describes us better than “slave”. Granted, this is the kind of “help” that I get from my 5yr. old nephews/neices when I’m painting. Whether I can do it myself or not doesn’t seem to be the issue.

            We can agree that much of what is written about “purpose” tends to put us on center stage, and that’s not a good place to be.

        • What he wants is for us to come to a place of total reliance on him.

          Or, as Dr. Luther says in the Small Catechism, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

  15. “Our Christian culture is only interested in living abundantly.”

    I think the seeker-sensitive marketing approach created this perception. Our culture uses sex to sell products which have nothing to do with sex. The church has raised this concept to an entirely new level of absurdity by marketing the religion of a man executed on a cross with promises of abundant living. The paradox of finding life by losing it is completely missed.

  16. Awesome reminder. Thanks Jeff.

    • “You love every lost cause; you reach for the outcast
      For the leper and the lame; they’re the reason that You came
      Lord I was that lost cause and I was the outcast
      But you died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet.”

      Casting Crowns

  17. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I don’t know if “A Purpose Driven Life” is the right phrase for all this.

    “A DRIVEN Life” would be more accurate.

  18. I would have to agree that much of this ‘purpose driven life’ mentality comes from everything being about personal salvation. All the purposes I hear are for ministry, to save more individual souls. All the bigger purposes outside being a witness at your vocation require a two week ‘missions trip’ or starting a non-profit that will save MILLIONS!!! After 18 months of mens group at our church I tend to get my hackles up when I hear ‘I’m trying to find my calling’ or ‘I’m being called to take a new job’. Seems the goal is to whip everyone into a frenzy of action, then give a list of also must does to be a ‘good christian’

  19. One of my favorite verses is John 9:39; “I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” I preached a sermon recently on salvation being the paradoxical sight that emerges when we know that we’re blind: http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/sight-as-a-metaphor-for-salvation-mark-822-26/

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I would have to agree that much of this ‘purpose driven life’ mentality comes from everything being about personal salvation. All the purposes I hear are for ministry, to save more individual souls.

      i.e. More Fire Insurance Sales Volume.
      Who gets the bonus at the Bema for the best sales figures?

      WHY CAN’T WE JUST LIVE OUR LIVES?
      WHY CAN’T WE JUST LIVE A LIFE?

      • 2 Corinthians 5:10
        For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil

        Gotta get the best heaven!!

  20. ccsoprano says:

    When my church went through the Purpose Driven Phenomenon, I vented my concerns about this fad and its theology to a Christian Educator. She reminded me of these words:

    Q. What is the chief and highest end of man?

    A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.

    The Westminster Catechism might not be a popular document in some circles, but I found much comfort in those 350 year old words, when faced with what appeared to be the latest fad. There is something especially powerful and mystic about fully enjoying God forever.

    The 1998 Study Catechism of the PCUSA doesn’t quite have the power of the old Westminster, but
    here is the similar question:

    Q. What is God’s purpose for your life?
    A. God wills that I should live by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the love of God, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

    • I’m no Calvinist (and the Westminister Catechism comes from a time when the Church of England was dominated by Calvinism), but I would agree that the chief end of man is to glorify God. I would add that the only man to truly glorify and please God was Jesus. There is no glory without the cross of Christ. As Martin Luther wrote in his Heidelberg Disputation, “one should call the work of Christ an acting work (operans) and our work an accomplished work (operatum), and thus an accomplished work pleasing to God by the grace of the acting work” and “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.” It’s actually difficult to choose a particular article from that writing, because the entire Heidelberg Disputation is spot-on relevant with this discussion.

  21. Ric Schopke says:

    For further thought, you might enjoy today’s postings (as well as others) at: oboedire.wordpress.com

    • Thanks for the link to oboedire. I don’t mind the topic discussed there at all. Reminded me of an old Tim Hansel book called “Holy Sweat”. Or something like that. This will ALWAYS get maligned by some as “trying to achieve our own righteousness” or some such mumbling…or “earning our way…..blah,blah….”. As if effort and grace are polar opposites. Baloney.

  22. Why are some people here so allergic to the word “purpose”? (I would include the writer of the post in this categorisation).

    Yes, people do mention vocation and ministry in relation to this word but could it, just maybe, that it’s because it’s easier to talk to people about their careers and what they do to help in church than to ask them (to some) intensely personal questions about the state of their personal walk with God?

    Why can’t we have balance on this issue? Like some other commentators, I agree that this shouldn’t be an either/or issue. We should have both. Satan must be laughing when he divides us Christians up into Camp A and Camp B who spend their time arguing with each other who is “right”. I recall that Jesus said in John 13:35 that the world will know followers of Christ through our love for one another. Yes, you are right in that we don’t _have_ to love another to qualify as Christians but hatred and heavy (as opposed to critical) criticism of each other does damage our testimony of Christ (it is not glorifying to God which is the chief aim, or purpose, of man).

    On to the post itself…
    1. God might not have a grand purpose for your life but I think I feel safe in saying that drifting off in a middle of a sermon is probably not His purpose for you.

    2. How does having a purpose end up with the end result being your happiness and personal gain?
    Christ’s purpose was to die on the cross. Moses’ purpose was to shepherd the people to the Promised Land. The prophets purpose often caused people to hate them for their prophesies.
    So, yeah, I don’t see how you got from A to B there…

    3. Being poor.
    Yes spiritually we are originally poor. But we are now spiritually rich through Christ. I don’t understand why we should wallow in the past. We should embrace the present, though being aware or conscious of the past.

    4. Being blind
    Walking by faith does not mean we only see the near future. The prophets often prophesied about future events. Paul was told of his mission to the gentiles. What I’m saying is that God can chose (and He is the one who choses) when and how much of our future He will reveal to us. Just because He did not reveal it to you does not mean that He will not reveal it to another. Just because He revealed it to one, does not mean He will reveal it to another.

    5. Dying
    We are to die to self. Doesn’t this mean more to selfish desires and ambitions? If someone is good at art does it mean he should not paint? If someone is good at singing, he should not serve in a choir? “Dying is not a joyous occasion.” Well sometimes I enjoy doing things for God’s kingdom, does this mean I’m not dying to self?

    6. God’s purpose is to get over myself.
    But you are concentrating on yourself. In much of first world Christianity it’s either about self-actualisation or it’s about development of character. Why not focus less on “getting over yourself” and actually doing stuff? (Note I believe we should focus on both faith and deeds, see James 2:18).

    7. Finally “Yet I can guarantee you no church is going to have a 40 Days Of Purpose campaign to get others to see they are poor, blind and dead.” – actually purpose #3 is all about becoming like Christ (discipleship). I believe being like Christ does involve walking by faith and dying to self…

    • David Cornwell says:

      “God might not have a grand purpose for your life but I think I feel safe in saying that drifting off in a middle of a sermon is probably not His purpose for you.”

      Might not be His purpose, but some sermons you might as well drift off. Since God made my body and mind, I doubt that drifting off matters one way or another. I might not have slept the night before, or the preaching my be horrible, or it may be one of those “Ten Steps to…” sermons.

      Or maybe I’m just not understanding your statement.

      • I was raised to respect preachers. So when someone speaks at a church service that I _chose_ to attend, I try to pay attention.

        Even if I find them boring, I try – not that I always succeed!

    • Gail says:
      January 3, 2013 at 11:13 pm
      I appreciate this Jeff!

      My 2 cents. After years of believing the drill that God had a magnificent purpose for me. If I could only find & fulfill it.

      Gail points to the hamster wheel that gets proposed as finding a purpose. And maybe that is the problem with the purpose driven model, it puts christians on a hamster wheel of searching for the ‘magnificent purpose’ instead of focusing on Christ? Rather than feeling a peace, a sense of frenzy becomes the focus of church and christianity.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Wretched Urgency: Grace of God or Hamsters on a Wheel?” by Michael Spencer, Internet Monk

        • That was the very first essay I read here at IM a few years ago… It was ground breaking news, literally broke some ground on how how I was indoctrinated. It helped me to start to unpack some of the legalistic teachings, blah blah blah, long story. However, I keep coming back to it when I need a tangible touch of grace & mercy.

  23. I appreciate this Jeff!

    My 2 cents. After years of believing the drill that God had a magnificent purpose for me. If I could only find & fulfill it. (Which I now think was feeding my ego rather than my heart)

    Letting go of all that Jesus junk kind of thinking (that I assume you are alluding to here) has and still is taking time.

    The guilt that I carried when I was in that perfectionist Christian culture where I always failed to do more, give more, pray more serve more… ugh.

    It is terribly sweet now to rest in what is front and center… Caring for my handicapped husband, listening over coffee to a broken heart, delighting when I care for my grand baby, the year I took care of my mom…

    Such simple purpose I am called to. I can rest in this. I don’t know if Paul was saying what I read in Acts, but for now it is enough to believe I am exactly where He has placed me.

    “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.

  24. I used to be prettty conflicted about God’s will for my life — could He really want me spending my life working in health insurance? But over time it became clearer, and I have come to agree that He doesn’t much care what my career is (as long as it is not immoral). I think what He wants is pretty simply stated in Micah 6:8, “What is good has been explained to you, man; this is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.”

  25. I really appreciated this piece. I think it may just become an instant classic. So much of American evangelicalism has forgotten or neglected the paradoxical nature of our faith that you state so well, and with it both the deep staid peace and the glorious mystery of following Jesus.

  26. Extremely good post, Jeff.

    Sometimes I wonder whether the impetus to find “my ministry” or “my purpose” is not hooked more with a drive to feel important. As a pastor I am still amazed at how many in any parish “feel” drawn to ministries like Sunday School teaching, ushering, reader, choir, etc., and how few “feel” drawn to cleaning the bathroom, collating the weekly bulletin, sweeping (or shoveling) the sidewalk, etc. Large churches often have paid janitors, but never have to pay for a Sunday School teacher. That should tell us something, I think.

    My ministry is to be a servant. My purpose is to be a servant. The place to find yourself is the place where your parish most needs help, even if that means cleaning the toilets. In passing, ask pastors how often they have found themselves on the roof of the church, helping to retile it, or doing the other unseen tasks of a parish. You might be surprised.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Large churches often have paid janitors, but never have to pay for a Sunday School teacher. That should tell us something, I think.

      Tells me you’ve got Godly Prestige positions and Secular Scutwork positions in churches.

      Kind of like Clericalism during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

      (Though don’t you EOs tend to go for the Ascetic Monastic Wannabe version of Clericalism?)

  27. I just finished volunteering at this year’s Passion gathering. This past week the emphasis for us as volunteers was that this generation of students contains the next Chris Tomlin, John Piper, Beth Moore, etc. and we have the opportunity to serve them. I heard the story of how Matt Chandler came to the first ever Passion gathering over a decade ago and how God rocked his world and how he is now a flaming arrow shooting across the sky for His glory.

    And then I read this piece. The call to die is nowhere near as sexy as the call to go out and start a megachurch or an organization to free sex slaves in India or dig wells in Africa. But somehow I don’t think God needs another Chris Tomlin or Beth Moore or missionary to Africa as much as he needs people who will be poor so that they might inherit a kingdom, realize they are blind so that they might see with His sight, and die so that they might live.

    • You nailed it, Joe.

    • As has been stated, those two things are not necessarily contradictory. As I look across the spectrum of modern American Christianity, it sometimes seems that all I can see are people making false dichotomies of every kind. So I will agree with one of the sentiments made: We ALL need to get over ourselves.

  28. A very relevant post for our times. Believers in the past have faced this issue also, even though in a different culture and time than we are. Some here will no doubt recognize this poem, which followed the author’s actual physical blindness:

    On His Blindness
    When I consider how my light is spent
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one Talent which is death to hide
    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, lest He returning chide,
    “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
    I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
    That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
    Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
    Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
    Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
    And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
    They also serve who only stand and wait.”

    - John Milton