These days of angst, anger, and existential dread are trying to the soul of anyone who loves God, loves people, loves justice and peace. They are days of an increased sense of futility. As in the garden, our work has been cursed and plagued, and our relationships strained.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this, because that is the nature of life in a fallen world. Those who are without God and without hope sometimes give up on the whole enterprise. They are consumed and ultimately destroyed by addictions and despair.
But I’ve observed that even within the body of Christ, some people fare much better than others in trying times. These people seem to have a clear and unshakable sense of their purpose in God while here on earth. They may flounder at times, not understanding exactly how to execute that purpose, but they never forget that God has called them to relentlessly pursue it.
When I speak of purpose in this context, I’m not referring to occupation or ministry or raising a family, as important as these things are toward feeling purposeful on a daily basis. I’m talking about purpose in God. How well are our earthly purposes aligned with the overarching purpose of God as presented in Scripture and confirmed by the Holy Spirit? How well are we as individuals, families, churches, and cultural groups fulfilling his purposes?
David cried out to God asking him to fulfill his purposes in David’s life (Ps. 57:2). Solomon acknowledged the reality that we can make all kinds of plans, “but the Lord’s purpose will prevail” (Prov. 19:21). When we work apart from his revealed will and desire, we are apt to lament, like Isaiah, “My work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose” (Isaiah 49:4).
Well then, what is God’s purpose for me and you?
There are many ways to answer that question, but I’ll start with the stated purpose of Jesus Christ, because he is our head. He is our leader and teacher in all things. He is the author and finisher, the beginning and the end. If we mindfully and faithfully join with his purposes, we will be worthy of the name Christian, “little Christ.”
Long before Christ came, Isaiah declared that the word of the Lord always hits its mark; it always accomplishes what he desires and achieves the purposes for which it was sent (Is. 55:11). Then Jesus came, destined to fulfill every prophecy of Scripture, so that “not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved” (Mt. 5:18).
This is a very important clue. If we are to live within God’s purpose, we must be intimately familiar with his word. This is where we find strength, hope, and courage to keep running our respective races. This is where we understand our connection to God’s very big story of the ages, surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us (Heb. 12:1).
A second clue to our purpose is found in the way Jesus draws the contrast between his purpose as our good shepherd and the purpose of the thief—the enemy of our souls. The thief steals, kills, and destroys what is righteous and good. Jesus’ stated purpose toward his sheep “is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10).
To receive what Jesus wants for us, we must purposefully watch, with a warring vigilance that thwarts the purposes of the enemy. We must employ the spiritual weapons of praise, worship, prayer and the spoken word of God. Our battle is to keep our grip on the kind of life Jesus desires, a life that glorifies him in its fruitfulness and joy, even while we are at war. Oswald Chambers wrote, “God’s purpose is not simply to make us beautiful, plump grapes, but to make us grapes so that He may squeeze the sweetness out of us.” We must be prepared to be squeezed sometimes.
Thirdly, God has purposed for his people to represent his goodness to the world. There are many ways we can do this. But in order to come into the fullness of this purpose, we must nestle securely in the truth that God causes all things to work together for our good because we love him and have been called to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
All things…. the good, the bad, the mad, the sad, the comedy, the tragedy, all the drama of human experience. We trust him when we understand the why’s, and more so, when we don’t understand them.
Paul’s writings to the Church are especially helpful in understanding how we are to represent him. The message is clear. We are to fulfill our mission in Christ being “in harmony with each other…united in thought and purpose” (1 Cor 1:10). We are to work together, each contributing to the planting and watering of the word, encouraging each other, and reaching out to the lost (1 Cor 3:8).
God wants us to be a suitable display of “his wisdom in its rich variety,” for an audience that includes not only humans, but “all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). We are living displays of his goodness and wisdom! This is God’s plan, and we have the privilege of walking in the center of it if we are willing. In all that we do, we seek to please God, not people (1 Thess. 2:3-5), and we hope to inspire others to seek his pleasure also.
So, whatever our individual purposes day by day, we fulfill them staying mindful of God’s greater purposes of loving and obeying his word. We accept and offer to others the ministry of the good shepherd, while fighting the good fight of faith. We give unselfishly and in unity with others to build up the body of Christ and minister to those still outside of it. We get revenge on the devil by living the abundant life Christ offers and spreading it as what C.S. Lewis called a “good infection” to everyone we encounter.
I’ll end with another quote from Oswald Chambers, who so often taught his students to surrender fully to God’s purposes:
“I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me. God is using me from His great personal perspective, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him. … When I stop telling God what I want, He can freely work His will in me without any hindrance…”