By Rick Warren
Most people struggle with three basic issues in life. The first is identity: “Who am I?” The second is importance: “Do I matter?” And the third is impact: “What is my purpose in life?” Over the years, I’ve noticed that even many couples serving together in ministry often struggle with clarifying these issues. But the answers are found in understanding God’s five reasons for creating you and putting you on earth.
God’s purpose for your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It will last longer than your family, your ministry, or even your dreams and ambitions. To know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by His purpose and for His purpose.
The search for the purpose of life has puzzled people for thousands of years. That’s because we typically begin at the wrong starting point – ourselves. We ask self-centered questions like: “What do I want to do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, and my dreams for my future?” Focusing on yourself will never reveal your life’s purpose because the Bible says in Job 12:10, “It is God who directs the lives of His creatures; everyone’s life is in His power.”
How then do you discover the purposes that you were created for? You only have two options. Your first option is speculation. This is what most people do. They conjecture, they guess, they theorize.
Dr. Hugh Moorhead, a professor of philosophy at Northeastern Illinois University, once wrote to 250 of the best known writers, philosophers, scientists, and intellectuals in the world, asking them, “What is the meaning of life?” He then published their responses in a book. Some offered their best guesses, some admitted that they just made up a purpose for life, and others were honest enough to say they were clueless. In fact, a number of famous intellectuals asked Professor Moorhead to write back and tell them if he discovered the purpose of life!
Fortunately, there is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It’s revelation. We can turn to what God has revealed about life in His Word. The easiest way to discover the purpose of an invention is to ask the creator of it. The same is true for discovering your life’s purpose: ask God.
God has not left us in the dark to wonder and guess. He has clearly revealed His five purposes for our lives through the Bible. It’s our owner’s manual, explaining why we are alive, how life works, what to avoid, and what to expect in the future. It explains what no self-help or philosophy book could know. The Bible says in 1 Cor. 2:7, “God’s wisdom... goes deep into the interior of His purposes... It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest – what God determined as the way to bring out His best in us....”
God is not just the starting point of your life; He is the source of it. To discover your purpose in life you must turn to God’s Word, not the world’s wisdom. You must build your life on eternal truths. Ephesians 1:11 says, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had His eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.”
This verse gives three insights into your purpose:
- You discover your identity and purpose through your relationship with Jesus Christ.
- God was thinking of you long before you ever thought about Him. He planned your life before you existed, without your input! You may choose your career, your spouse, your hobbies, and many other parts of your life, but you don’t get to choose your purpose.
- The purpose of your life fits into a much larger, cosmic purpose that God has designed for eternity.
Because of the brevity of this article, let me suggest five questions that will help you get started in thinking about God’s purposes for your life. I urge you to set aside some time to seriously think about the answers to these questions. They will affect not only the rest of your life, but your eternity.
Life’s Five Greatest Questions
1. What will be the center of my life?
This is the question of worship. Whom are you going to live for? What are you going to build your life around? You can center your life on your career, your family, a sport or hobby, money, or many other activities. These can all be good things, but they don’t belong at the center of your life. None is strong enough to hold you together when life starts breaking apart. You need an unshakable center.
In 2 Chron. 14:4, King Asa told the people of Judah to “center their lives in God.” Actually, whatever is at the center of your life is your god! If you have committed your life to Christ, He moved into the center, but you must keep Him there on a daily basis. How do you know when God is at the center of your life? When He’s at the center, you worship. When He’s not, you worry. Worry is the warning light that God has been shoved to the sideline of your life. The moment you put Him back at the center, you’ll have peace again. Philippians 4:7 says, “A sense of God’s wholeness... will come and settle you down”. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
2. What will be the character of my life?
This is the question of discipleship. What kind of person will you be? God is far more interested in what you are than what you do because you are going to take your character into eternity, not your career. Make a list of the character qualities you want to work on and develop in your life. You might begin with the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22-23 or the Beatitudes of Jesus in Matt. 5:3-12.
3. What will be the contribution of my life?
This is the question of service. Knowing your combination of spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences (your S.H.A.P.E.), what would be your best role and how can you make a difference? To be balanced, you need both a “ministry” to believers and a “mission” to unbelievers. You serve in both the church and the world. What will be your ministry in the Body of Christ?
While you’re shaped to serve others, even Jesus didn’t meet the needs of everyone while on earth. You must choose whom you can best help, based on your shape. You need to ask “Whom do I have a desire to help most?” Jesus said in John 15:16a, “I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.” Each of us bears different fruit.
4. What will be the communication of my life?
This is the question of your mission in the world. God not only has a mission for your life, He has a unique life message that He wants to speak to the world through you. Who needs to hear your unique story of faith? If you’re a parent, part of your mission is to raise your children to know Christ, to help them understand His purposes for their lives, and to send them out on their mission in the world.
Of course, our lives must support the message we communicate. Before most unbelievers accept the Bible as credible, they want to know that we are credible. That’s why the Bible says in Phil. 1:27 “Be sure that you live in a way that brings honor to the Good News of Christ.”
5. What will be the community of my life?
This is the question of fellowship. How will you demonstrate your commitment to other believers and connection to the family of God? To which church family will you be joined as a functioning member? The more you mature, the more you’ll love Christ’s body and want to sacrifice for it. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave His life for it.”
What Will God Say?
I once heard the suggestion that you develop your life purpose statement based on what you’d like other people to say about you at your funeral. Frankly, that’s a bad plan. At the end of your life, it isn’t going to matter what other people say about you. The only thing that will matter is what God says about you. 1 Thessalonians 2:4b says, “Our purpose is to please God, not people.”
One day, God will review your answers to these life questions: Did you really put Jesus Christ (not your ministry) at the center of your life? Did you develop His character? Did you devote your life to serving others? Did you communicate His message and fulfill His mission? Did you really learn to love His family, the Church? These are the only issues that will count. As Paul said in 2 Cor. 10:13, “Our goal is to measure up to God’s plan for us.” This is what purpose-driven living is all about.