Unburdened: How ending my search for purpose allowed me to find peace.

Rick Warren, with his best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” brought the search for purpose into the mainstream. To date millions of people in a desperate attempt to discover what their purpose is or at least make some sense of their lives have read his book and others like it . Many people have been greatly helped as they sincerely sought to discover their purpose by asking great questions about life, meaning, significance and eternity. I think you’ll agree that everyone could benefit from doing this type of soul searching.

Recently though I have become aware of a troubling trend. A trend found within many Christian circles, groups, organizations and in many churches. I have to admit I am guilty of being swept up by this trend too. My concern is that this trend threatens to undermine purposeful living. In effort to stress the need to discover one’s purpose teachers, authors and leaders may have caused purpose to become the new standard by which we judge a person’s value and worth.

There are several issues I have noticed since purpose has become more mainstream. A major factor is how some Christian leaders, including myself until recently, have been teaching about purpose.  Here are my concerns:

  1. When you attempt to gain meaning only from what you DO instead of who you ARE a troubling pattern emerges. First, you begin to base your worth and value as a human being on success, contribution and accomplishment. Second, you begin to judge other people’s worth and value based on their success, contribution and accomplishment. These two ideals oppose a very important basic belief that many people accept. People like the founding fathers (see the Declaration of Independence), Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and the person they got the idea from – Jesus. They all believed that all people have innate value and worth based on one truth. All men are created equal. Everyone is created in the image of God.
  2.  Purpose has now become institutionalized instead of personal. In other words organizations, churches, etc. are teaching that without them you can’t know your purpose. Or they will tell you that you should seek to discover what your purpose is and they will be glad to help you but then proceed tell you they know what your purpose is. Your purpose is to serve in their organization, give to their organization, or join their organization. Once you begin to do those things you will discover your purpose because those things are your purpose. Yet, even though the individual may feel good about those things because in many cases doing those things are good things to do the individual is no closer to discovering his or her purpose. I might add that the person is no better off because he or she has unknowingly exchanged institutional purpose for personal responsibility.  (That can be good especially when what one’s purpose has been to indulge in rebellion and sin. But that is a fledgling type of faith that all new Christians need and experience as they learn what it means to live in Christ).  Be cautious: “I will follow the institution” may replace “I will seek and follow Christ.”

    Riding on the coattails of point 2 is the next point:

  3. Purpose is in danger of becoming the new legalism. It is the new standard for measuring a person’s faith, performance, devotion, relationship to God and righteousness. Much like the Pharisee’s of Jesus day who used the law to manipulate the masses and stay in control of the Jewish religious system some Christian Leaders, Churches and organizations have with good intentions unintentionally “institutionalized” purpose.

Don’t get me wrong I do believe that a person who is connected to a healthy body of believers will be motivated to discover his purpose and to live purposefully. But purpose has almost become a measurement used to discover who is greater, better, more devoted, more obedient, more sacrificial, etc. Worse, some Church leaders use a person’s deep longing to have meaning to manipulate, control and guilt them into action. Even worse (and this is why it is the new legalism) finding your purpose is being promoted with such veracity in some circles that it becomes the new law that needs to be observed in order to attain, sustain or improve a person’s standing with God. In other words, purpose has become a works based righteousness instead of something that flows out of an abiding, faith in, relationship with Jesus.

So, we’ve come full circle. Is one’s worth and value found by “doing” or “being”? Surely since “you are” you have inherent worth and value. Jesus died for you before you did anything – good or bad. Since, that is true your inherent value and worth cannot be increased by what you do including; perfectly living in God’s perfect will. Now, don’t misinterpret what I am saying because “doing” will erupt out of “being”. (I will share in an upcoming post how I believe we can know our value and worth. Surprisingly, it is by recognizing the inherent value and worth in others. Hint: It’s found in The Greatest Commandment.)

However, that is not how “Purpose” is being taught, therein lies the danger of it becoming new version of works-based righteousness. When purpose is taught as “You have to find and live in your purpose or you won’t be acceptable or pleasing to God” it becomes a works based righteousness. Can you see the danger in that line of reasoning?

In the next post I intend to explore “purpose” more. I intend to address our tendency to stress over and worry whether or not we are in “God’s perfect will for our lives”. As I now see it I find it hard to believe that many of the people whose lives are recorded in the Scripture continuously fretted over “discovering” their purpose or spent near as much time as we modern people do worrying about it.

 

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Friends

I’ll be there for you and you’ll be there for me too…. ba ba da da ba ba ba bwang…. 

I have been pondering how one can assuredly know the will of God. It’s something I have been meditating on for a while because how we are told to go about discovering it is often misleading and falls short of what the will of God is intended to bring about in our lives. (not doing stuff, but being relationship with Him)

I personally have looked at the will of God as being a theological/practical matter that has to do with mine and God’s happiness. In other words, I want to know the will of God so that I can live to please him to make myself more acceptable to him acting as though I am not already completely accepted by Him through Christ. However, this is also about control. If I know God’s will I can make certain decisions to get me to it and in it or if I am honest to avoid it if I don’t like where He is taking me. 

In the last 20 years the emphasis on “knowing and do the will of God” has been taught, preached, and written about extensively. There are numerous seminars, workshops and an endless supply of Bible studies available to help people by giving them a systematized method of discovering God’s will and the inspiration or kick in the pants to actually do it if or when they discover it.

Many believe that God’s will is an unsolvable mystery, a Rubik’s Cube only solvable if you know and can remember the complex algorithms that make is solvable. On top of that the goal post are always shifting out of our range. Unfortunately, many believers just throw up their hands in frustration and disappointment. But it doesn’t have to be this way!!

While meditating on this topic I recalled in the Scripture that Jesus told the disciples essentially, “I am telling you these things because you are my friends”.

 I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know
what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father. John 15:15 HCSB

Could this verse secretly be the answer to the anxiety so many believers feel as they pursue and anxiously wonder if they are in God’s will? Could this verse lessen the need for seminars, systems and studies that many Christians to turn in an effort to at least show God they are serious about knowing His will? Maybe just maybe knowing God’s will doesn’t have to be as complicated as we have made it. Maybe you don’t need a new 10 step system or new 10 step prayer journal. Could it be as simple as truly drawing close to Jesus as a friend?

Think about what Jesus is doing, how he is changing the dynamic between he and the disciples who will no longer just be considered as followers but as friends whom he disclose everything to. The disciples must have been delighted! We all know that true camaraderie and friendship is “earned” by trust and shared experiences as you do life together. We have all had a friend or a group of friends that we could share anything with. We could share our deepest sorrows and greatest joys and those friends would mourn and rejoice with us. There is nothing like having a friend like that!

Yes, theologians, Jesus is my Lord, but relating to Jesus as a friend doesn’t take away His authority. Relating to Jesus as a friend and him relating to me as such personalizes His word and authority. Consider this. Are we more likely to respond to his will as a Lord/slave relationship or a friend/friend relationship where he speaks from the depth of his heart to your heart?

It is in relationship with Jesus that you will be able to have made known to you everything he has heard from the Father. It will not be some system, program or teaching series.

In other words a relationship with Jesus will create the atmosphere for him to speak to you and unveil himself to you just as any close friend does.

Now, evaluate your current efforts to know and do the will of God and your current relationship to Jesus as you reflect on these questions.

As you seek God’s will do you view His will as a marching order given by an impersonal, distant King which you must do OR ELSE? A King who just needs you for a project and if you fail or refuse he’s done with you?

Or

Do you view God’s will as favor asked of you by a trusted, endearing friend who has always been there for you, who has done great things for you – someone you would lay down your life for in an instant, someone you would stop whatever it is you are in the middle of to help?

The first approach is religion. What can or should I do to earn more favor and make myself acceptable to God. (Lord/slave)

The second approach is relationalI am completely accepted by God because of Jesus. He will lovingly, willingly and graciously share all things with me at the proper time. 

Recently, I have had the pleasure of meeting many great people. Many of whom have become trusted friends. People that I would do anything for and respond if they needed help. Likewise, they would do the same for me. Some of these friends are in very influential positions. They will and have helped me by connecting me to other people who can help me in my current job search.

But, I have another friend who is more influential and powerful then all of these combined. His name is Jesus.

John 15:15 shows that knowing God’s will is not complex at all. So take the pressure off yourself. You may not even have to read another book or do another study… ever.

Just…be friends with Jesus. He will do for you what he did for the disciples in John 15:15. No doubt this transition in their relationship was such a powerful experience that it impacted the rest of their lives.