My life is a mess. People are talking about having purpose-driven lives. That sounds better than what I have now. So much of what I do does not seem to have a real purpose. Get in the car. Go to work. Get frustrated in traffic. Spend too much time on the Internet when I get to work. (That started when they didn’t have enough for me to do. But now I don’t seem to be able to stop the habit.) Try to figure out whether it is a good day to talk to the boss. Shuffle paper. On a good day I get in some family time. But sometimes I think that’s coming apart. Where is it leading? I need to sit down and figure out how to get purpose in my life. People are talking about Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life. Maybe that’s what I need this new year.
Day 1 of Purpose
I’ve got the book. And I’ve even started into it a bit. I signed the covenant and read a couple chapters. Inspiring. But how do I start? Each piece makes a certain amount of sense. It starts with God. I am no accident. Even the details like my DNA were planned. So I couldn’t mess that up. Maybe it’s the same with my life as it is now. But then what kind of a fix will he offer for that? If where I am now is no accident, then is there no fix for it?
Day 2 of Purpose
I’ve read further. My life needs a driving force. Hmmm. He starts with a quote about a ship and a rudder (p. 27). That makes sense. Without a rudder, a ship is tossed everywhere. But is this the same kind of purpose he was talking about in the first two chapters? There he spoke of God’s purposes. I can’t mess those up. That was a relief. But now if I don’t have a purpose, it will mess up my life. That would explain my life pretty well.
Day 3 of Purpose
I got home after a tedious day at work, and read ahead a few chapters. Okay, I found where it is leading. The purposes are supposed to be worshiping, loving, becoming like Christ, serving others, and evangelism (pp. 55-57). These are things I already do, to one degree or another. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But I wonder if things feel bad because all my time is not spent doing these things, or because I do them badly? What then?
Sunday-A New Day
I went back to church. I hadn’t made it much the past month or so. The holidays.
We did the corporate Confession and Absolution at the beginning of the service. We were told to reflect on our lives in light of the Ten Commandments. I thought of some stuff I’d rather not mention, stuff from the last week, or even this morning before church. This was different from the overall purpose-driven thinking I had been doing when reading Warren’s book. It was so specific. My Friday afternoon spreadsheet check mattered. When I reflected on the Ten Commandments, words from the Small Catechism came to mind. The ones about how not coveting meant helping my neighbor to keep his property. There were times my financial reports had done just that. But that seemed so insignificant on Friday, as I sat there thinking about how much nicer it would be to be at the Central Park, “loving” as my life-purpose would have it.
Thinking of the Ten Commandments is jarring in comparison. Some of my boring “purposeless” moments were really what God wanted of me. I so easily lose track of both how I help and sin against my neighbor. Warren is right. One purpose in my life is to love. But being told that doesn’t make it happen. Or give me a good indication of how I do or do not succeed at doing so. The Ten Commandments and the words of the Catechism cut me to the quick. Instead of a vague sense that something is wrong and I don’t know how to manage changing it, I see clearly where I failed, and am forgiven.
Then the pastor preached from chapter eleven of the Book of Hebrews. A big weight came off my shoulders. By faith Abraham left his country. He left “not knowing where he was to go” (Heb. 11:8). In human terms, this must have looked “purposeless” at the time. The pastor pointed out how Hebrews was almost a whitewashing of the Genesis account. Abraham committed many sins during his life that Hebrews does not mention, among them lying and sleeping with Hagar to ensure he would have a son. The pastor said that when we got to heaven, our stories would get the same whitewashing job done to them. God only has two ways of speaking, either condemnation for those who don’t believe, or commendation for his children by faith. There are no shades of gray. Either “Depart from me” or “Well done” (Matt. 25).
Hebrews also spoke of Rahab, who helped the Hebrew spies. She was a prostitute. Her life was in no way conducted as it was supposed to be. Was her life spent in worshiping, loving, becoming like Christ, serving others, and evangelism? No. Rahab remained a prostitute even after hearing about the God’s mighty acts at the Red Sea. Yet when she met the spies, she helped them by telling a lie on their behalf. Her true faith did reveal itself in deeds when it counted, but her life was not otherwise what we would consider exemplary. In Hebrews, only her faith was remembered. Forever.
So what about my life? If Hebrews is any indication, I may not know the importance of what I am being used to do until the Last Day. I see my sin. But faith changes the picture for me. I trust that God is working his purposes despite my inability to pull everything together.
The Lord’s Supper was served. They serve it every week. The message from the pulpit may change from week to week, but the table has a message that does not. What God has to offer is not primarily directions on how to achieve more for him, but a place at the table.
Rick Warren’s book begins with a great overall eternal perspective, much like Hebrews. But when he paints a portrait of a normal day-to-day Christian living, it doesn’t look at all like the Genesis struggles that the Hebrews characters went through.
Thank goodness Abraham and Rahab didn’t read Warren’s book before their trials. They might have thrown in the towel thinking God couldn’t use them until they had all their pistons firing. But their lives were lived in confidence in that was unseen.