By Evan Johnson
“The more I’ve listened to God, the more I’ve realized I don’t always catch what God is up to in real time… I usually understand what God is doing by seeing it through a rearview mirror.”
- Bob Goff
“Remember, nowadays it’s only personal courage that a man can get on in the world. If you see an opportunity, don’t stop to think but seize it, or you may lose it for ever. If that fails, try something else… Don’t fight shy of adventures.”
- Alexander Dumas
“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.”
I changed my major eight times in my college career. It’s a joke I often allude to. I was everything from an English major to Human Environmental Sciences all the way to Marine Biology (until Shark Week ended). The bulk of these major changes happened during my sophomore year. Though I’ll readily admit it’s a hilarious concept that any English major would think he could succeed in elasmobranchology (the study of sharks), the effects of my indecision wore on me. I was asking the question every college student asks: “what am I going to do with my life?”
For Christians, it may sound a bit more like: “what is God’s purpose for my life?”
We’re a purpose-addicted society, anyway. We see it in our pop culture media from movies to books. In Beauty and the Beast, the butler-turned-candelabra Lumiere bemoans, “life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving.” In the Wolverine movies, the title character struggles with choosing not to be the weapon he was born to be. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey contemplates suicide because he wonders if the world would be any different if he’d never been born. In Fight Club, men escape a life devoid of purpose and find solace in their basic animal instincts. In Silence, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary in Feudal Japan struggles with whether or not his mission is useful. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff makes it his mission in life to make Catherine’s existence as intolerable as possible. In The Odyssey, Odysseus returns home to fulfill his purpose as king. In Up, after his wife dies, Mr. Frederickson’s sense of purpose is diluted—that is, until he attaches balloons to his house and flies away.
We want to know that we’re here for a reason. True or not, we want to know there’s a point to it all. Otherwise, what’s the point?
But allow me to give you some hard advice that you’ll find comfort in:
Your purpose in life is not to discover your purpose in life
You already have one. God created everyone and everything to enjoy him. We are the conduit of his worship. The more of His love we take in, the more of His love we give out.
Bob Goff sums it up pretty well in one tweet:
“1. Love God 2. Love others 3. Do stuff”
That’s it. That’s your to-do list. Those are your mission objectives. Love God, love others, and do stuff. It really is that simple, and here’s the secret: you can make a mistake and do the wrong stuff, and your to-do list won’t change.
So it’s not necessarily our purpose that we’re searching for. Our destiny is glaring us in the face. It’s the nuts and bolts. It’s the tiny little how-to’s that we’re really asking for, and God provides a boundless field of grace to run in.
Think about it. When you die, will God really look at you and say, “Sally, you really should have been a teacher instead of a doctor” or “Bill, couldn’t you hear me calling you to play golf instead of basketball?”
No. God cares deeply about how we respond to him, how we respond to others, and how we respond to life in general. A teacher can be a good teacher or a bad teacher. A doctor can be a good doctor or a bad doctor. Find what you love to do—what you could do for eternity, and chase after that.
Purpose does not equate job security.
I’ve met many pastors and medical missionaries and law-degree students who felt called by God to their respective fields, but I’ve never met any garbage men who expressed the same passion. I find that suspicious. I’m not saying I’m a conspiracy theorist, but there seems to be a higher number of people being called to white collar jobs than there are blue collar jobs.
I’ve also met many young college students who expressed an interest to go into the ministry and when faced with an affected job market, turned the other way. In no fault of their own, they mistook their own fear for the word of the Holy Spirit. They mistook financial anxiety for God’s calling on their lives. That’s when doubt and fear sets in. They feel they’ve abandoned God and the church that was behind them.
I should know. I've been there.
This happens more often than we should be comfortable with, and it’s not excluded to vocational ministry callings. The fields of law and medicine have been very saturated in the recent years. Not everyone who has declared a law degree or pre-med has heard a voice from God mind you, but there does seem to be an overwhelming sense of purpose driving these young men and women into these fields.
And these are good fields, but just because I want to do something doesn’t mean I’ll get to. That’s awful, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a failure if I do something else. I haven’t fallen short of God’s measuring stick for my life if my Biology degree lands me in an online magazine or if my English degree lands me as a Starbucks manager.
We ask for God’s purpose in life, thinking that there’s a right answer. If we have the right answer, then we know what to do, and that’s one area of our life we don’t have to worry about messing up. And if God gives us the answer, then it’s his fault if it doesn’t turn out right. Right?
The problem is we think of purpose as a destination and not a lifestyle. A purpose-driven life looks like a life filled with love.
You’re still here.
I crossed the finish line of college with the skin of my nose. I needed 120 credit hours in four years. I think I had 121, and I decided that was enough for me. I had my degree. It was off to seminary.
About a year later, there was one problem: I hated seminary.
When a man feels called by God into what Paul describes to Timothy as a “noble profession,” he has a powerful sense of purpose. When he then comes to the realization that he hates this purpose, there is an overwhelming season of doubt, hopelessness, and anger. It’s not a pretty sight, but after what seemed like drowning in a doldrum of pointlessness, I came out the other side rather optimistic.
God isn’t limited to getting glory by me being a pastor. The all-loving, all-powerful, all-merciful God of the universe can get glory in more ways than one.
More ways than two.
More ways than ten.
I’m still here, so what do I wanna do?
You’re still here, so what do you wanna do?