"For everything, absolutely everything, above and below,
visible and invisible ... everything got started in him
and finds its purpose in him." Col. 1:16 (Msg)
It's not about you.
The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It's far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.
The search for the purpose of life has puzzled people for thousands of years. That's because we typically begin at the wrong starting point - ourselves. We ask self-centered questions like: What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future? But focusing on yourself will never reveal your life's purpose. The Bible says, "It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone's life is in his power."
Contrary to many popular books, movies, and seminars, you won't discover your life's meaning by looking within yourself. You've probably tried that already. You didn't create yourself so there is no way you can tell yourself what you were created for! If I handed you an invention you'd never seen before, you wouldn't know its purpose, and the invention itself wouldn't be able to tell you either. Only the creator, or the owner's manual could reveal its purpose.
I once got lost in the mountains. When I stopped to ask for directions to the campsite I was told, "You can't get there from here. You must start from the other side of the mountain!" In the same way, you cannot arrive at your life's purpose by starting with a focus on yourself. You must begin with God, your Creator. You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God – and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end.
So many people try to use God for their own self-actualization, but that is a reversal of nature, and is doomed to failure. You were made for God, not vice-versa, and life is about letting God use you for his purposes, not you using him for your own purpose. The Bible says, "Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life."
I've read many books that suggested ways to discover the purpose of my life. All of them could be classified as "self-help" books because they approached the subject from a self-centered viewpoint. Self-help books, even Christian ones, usually offer the same predictable steps to finding your life's purpose: Consider your dreams. Clarify your values. Set some goals. Figure out what you are good at. Aim high. Go for it. Be disciplined. Believe you can achieve your goals. Involve others. Never give up.
Of course, these recommendations often lead to great success. You can usually succeed in reaching a goal if you put your mind to it. But being successful and fulfilling your life's purpose are not at all the same issue! You could reach all your personal goals, becoming a raving success by the world's standard, and still miss the purposes for which God created you. You need more than self-help suggestion. The Bible says, "Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self."
How then do you discover the purpose you were created for? You only have two options. Your first option is speculation. This is what most people do. They conjecture, they guess, they theorize. When people say, "I've always thought life is ..." they mean "This is the best guess I can come up with."
Discussing the purpose of life is a favorite pastime of philosophy professors and students. They sit around drinking coffee and debating "Why am I here? Where am I going? What is the purpose of life?" It may sound impressive but they're just guessing, and speculation can be wrong - dead wrong.
Dr. Hugh Moorhead once wrote to 150 of the best know philosophers, writers, and intellectuals in the world, asking them "What is the meaning of life?" He then published their responses in a book. Some offered their best guesses, some admitted that they simply made up a purpose, and others were honest enough to say they had no clue as to the purpose of life. Several well known intellectuals asked Professor Moorhead to notify them if he discovered the answer!
Fortunately, there is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It's revelation. We can turn to what God has revealed about life in his Word. The easiest way to discover the purpose of an invention is to ask the creator of it. The same is true for discovering your life's purpose: ask God.
God has not left us in the dark to wonder and guess. He has clearly revealed his five purposes for our lives through the Bible. It's our owner's manual, explaining why we are alive, how life works, what to avoid, and what to expect in the future. It explains what no self-help or philosophy book could know. The Bible says, "God's wisdom...goes deep into the interior of his purposes... It's not the latest message, but more like the oldest--what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us...."
God is not just the starting point of your life; he is source of it. To discover your purpose in life you must turn to God's Word, not the world's wisdom. You must build your life on eternal truths, not pop-psychology, success-motivation, or inspirational stories. The Bible says, "It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone." This verse gives us three insights into your purpose.
- You discover your identity and purpose through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
- God was thinking of you long before you ever thought about him. His purpose for your life predates your conception. He planned it before you existed, without your input! You may choose your career, your spouse, your hobbies, and many other parts of your life, but you don't get to choose your purpose. God has already made that decision.
- The purpose of your life fits into a much larger, cosmic purpose that God has designed for eternity.
Andrei Bitov, a Russian novelist, grew up under an atheistic Communist regime. But God got his attention one dreary day. He recalls "In my twenty-seventh year, while riding the metro in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) I was overcome with a despair so great that life seemed to stop at once, preempting the future entirely, let alone any meaning.
Suddenly, all by itself, a phrase appeared: Without God life makes no sense. Repeating it in astonishment, I rode the phrase up like a moving staircase, got out of the metro and walked into God's light."
This article is used by permission from From Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry. www.pastors.com.
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