Purpose is perhaps one of the deepest human longings. Many a famous person has reached the top of his or her field and declared the success to be meaningless. There is a deeper need that success just doesn't seem to fill. Philosophers and psychologists have tried to tackle the looming question of purpose – largely without completely satisfying answers. Countless dollars are spent on our search for purpose in life. We try to squeeze meaning out of any and every pursuit. So is there purpose in this life?
The Bible affirms human purpose in two ways. First, there is a general purposefulness about human life. Second, there is also individual purpose in life.
A purpose that applies to all humans is that of knowing and enjoying God. God did not have to create humanity – He has no needs. But, He chose to create us so that we could fellowship with Him. Before God created us, He knew sin would enter the world. He knew the great sacrifice necessary to restore us to Himself; yet He concluded that we were worth it. Isaiah 43:10 says, "'You are my witnesses,' declares the LORD, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.'" God spoke this to Israel, His chosen nation. It now applies to the Church as well. It is God's desire that we know Him, believe Him, and witness about Him. Jesus made a similar statement to His disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). Notice that Jesus' instructions include being with Him, obeying Him, and witnessing to others. John 15:1-17 records Jesus' instructions regarding abiding in His love, bearing the fruit of righteousness, obeying His commands, loving others, trusting that we are considered His friend, and experiencing joy. In part, Jesus says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another" (John 15:16-17). Look at the purpose in that statement: we have been chosen to bear fruit, to have relationship with the Father, and to have relationship with others. Verse 11 tells us that this will affect our joy. Knowing and enjoying God is a universal purpose in life. Once we know God, we are also called to witness so that others may know and enjoy Him.
Individually, God also has purposes for our lives. Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." There are universal good works prepared for us – such as obedience to Christ, witnessing, and enjoying God – but there are also individual works. The Bible is replete with examples of God's personal touch on people's lives. The prophets were individually called by God for a specific time and purpose. Abraham, Noah, Joseph, Ruth, Esther, Mary, and multiple others were used of God in their times, with their abilities, and for His purposes. First Corinthians 12:12-31 talks about the Church in terms of a body. Each member of the Church has a different purpose, just as each portion of the body is used for different things. Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 list several spiritual gifts a person might have. We know from science and psychology that people are unique. No one in the world is exactly like you. God made that design. Psalm 139 is a beautiful depiction of the care with which God created us. He "knitted [us] together in [our] mother[s]'s womb[s]" (Psalm 139:13b). There is a unique purpose that God has just for you.
Beliefs about God's plans for our individual lives vary. Some believe that God has given us certain gifts and talents to steward, but does not have a specific job, specific spouse, or specific direction for us. Others believe that God has a detailed plan for every moment or aspect of life. One thing is certain: God has placed a call on each of us. Whether it is His general call to all believers, the gifts He has given us, or a more specific plan, God has a purpose for our lives.
So how do we discover the purpose of our lives? There are many tools that Christians use, including personality tests, spiritual gifts tests, recitation of life history with an eye toward life themes, and the like. Perhaps the best tool is simply to pray. We can ask God to reveal His purpose for our lives. When we do so, we need to listen to what He says. We should examine Scripture to confirm that what we think we hear God saying is, in fact, biblical. God will not direct us to do something contrary to His character or His word. We should also look at various events in our lives, pay attention to our strengths, and pay attention to outside wisdom (Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 12:15).
Finding purpose in life is perhaps the greatest human quest. It is a theme in any stage of life, largely because our specific purposes may change – or at least be carried out differently – in different seasons of life. Thankfully, believers can rest in the fact that their lives do have purpose. God created us with intent, He knows His plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11; Ephesians 2:10), and He is eager to reveal Himself to us. He desires that we know Him, that we enjoy Him, that we witness about Him, and that we live out our unique role in His Body.
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