Lives of Purpose
I’d like to introduce you to Nippy, my family’s pet budgerigar. He is bright yellow with some tinges of green, and a couple of specks of blue. He is very cute. He is also quite sociable and will chatter away in response to you talking or whistling to him. Every now and then I get ambitious and attempt to engage Nippy in meaningful conversation. I will sit him on my hand and ask him what he thinks is the purpose of his life. He will tilt his head and look at me with his little black eyes. If I press the point he will fly out of my hand and back to his cage. He will then proceed to ring his bell and look in his mirror. He will eat some birdseed and drink some water. He seems quite content to keep on doing the same things day after day after day. I don’t think that Nippy has given any thought whatsoever to the purpose of his life. I don’t ever expect him to do so.
Budgerigars are essentially different to human beings. In fact, every other creature in the universe is essentially different to human beings. This is the biblical and Christian perspective. We base this understanding on the statements in Genesis and elsewhere that humans are created in the image of God. To be human is to uniquely reflect the nature of the Creator God. One aspect of this uniqueness is our innate sense of purposefulness.
One of the many places in scripture where we find the idea of a purposeful life is Ephesians 2.10 which reads, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The passage in which this statement occurs is based upon the logic that human lives should naturally be oriented to fulfilling divine purpose.
We can see in verses 1-3 that human living disconnected from the Creator becomes meaningless. The apostle Paul refers to people gratifying the cravings of the sinful nature and being objects of wrath. He is portraying a fundamentally futile life. It is almost as if people have decided to live at the level of my pet budgerigar. To be human is to search for divine purpose. Anything less is futility. Saint Augustine captured this idea when he wrote that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in the Creator. T.S. Elliot made a similar observation in his poem The Hollow Men (1925):
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men,
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
There is a futility captured in these lines that many others have identified with the human condition in contemporary western society. While we have everything that technology and money can provide, our lives can still lack an inner core of meaning. There is s similar sense of meaningless in the theme song to the sitcom Friends. The lyrics suggest that life has no particular truth or reason, and that the best we can hope for is someone else to share or circumstances with:
So, no one told you life was gonna be this way.
Your Job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's D.O.A.
It's like you're always stuck in second gear.
And it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.
But - I'll be there for you ... when the rain starts to fall.
I'll be there for you ... like I've been there before.
I'll be there for you ... cause you're there for me, too.
This mood is also evident in that other popular series Seinfeld which is self-described as “a show about nothing.” It is based around the largely inconsequential minutiae of everyday life, often involving petty rivalries and elaborate schemes on the part of the utterly amoral and selfish central characters to gain the smallest advantage over others. Seinfeld is about a group of people whose lives have as much purpose as my pet budgerigar. Why were Friends and Seinfeld so popular? Hopefully not because we all relate to lives filled with nothing.
Returning to Ephesians chapter 2, we read in verses 4-10 that to be Christian is to discover divine purpose for life. The Apostle Paul says that in Jesus Christ we are restored again to the divine image as God’s handiwork fulfilling his purpose. We do not achieve the divine image instantly or in this life, but we know what we are becoming and we are changing. In 2 Corinthians 3.18, Paul describes this process as “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The apostle John describes our future transformation when he states, “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3.2).
What is the divine purpose for our lives? I think it is firstly that we should know and love God and enjoy him forever. It is secondly that we should propagate this knowledge of God within our generation. The proclamation of the Gospel is the most extraordinary purpose to which we can devote ourselves. It is thirdly that each of our lives has been invested with specific purpose that we should understand and express. We are each made in the image of God with rational, moral, and artistic powers that should be developed. We should each realise our full God-given potential.
To fulfil your potential is to live according to the divine purpose. Life is replete with purpose invested into each of us by our Creator. In Acts 13.36 we read a fascinating observation made by the apostle Paul in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch: “When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep.”
David served God in his own generation. We only have one opportunity to fulfil our purpose. How many years have we got? While women on statistically live longer than men, let us allow an average life span of eighty years for each of us. If we multiply our eighty year s by 365, we each have on average 29,200 days to live. Subtract from that the days you have already lived. How can you fulfil God’s purpose with the days you have remaining?
David fell asleep. When our children were younger, my family would often play Monopoly together. We would compete with each other and attempt to own the board. Then the game would finish, we would pick the pieces up and put them away, and then we would put the lid on the box. Inevitably, our lives will finish, and someone will put the lid on our box. What will they be able to write as our epitaph? Much of what occupies our lives is like the money we make in a game of Monopoly. It ceases with the game. What are you able to take with you beyond this game of life? My answer is that you can take two things, the person that you have become and the people that you have influenced.
Whatever you do with the rest of your life, make sure that you serve God in your own generation. Remember that David was not a Pastor. You don’t have to be a Pastor to serve God. David was a wealthy political leader. You can also be a wealthy political leader and serve God in your generation. Remember also that David was far from perfect. In fact, he was a murderer and an adulterer. You don’t have to be perfect to serve God in your generation.
What you do have to do is to realise that God has invested your life with extraordinary purpose. He has created you full of great potential. We are each made in the image of God with rational, moral, and artistic powers that should be developed. Serve God’s purpose in your generation!