What Purpose is NOT
In our last post, Dr. Rich Carney discussed finding purpose, and shared a personal story of how he discovered his own. Today, we are exploring six things purpose is NOT to better help clarify this journey.
- Purpose is not a destination.
A friend of mine attended an event where thousands upon thousands of college-age young adults gathered for worship and teaching. In an effort to gain clarity and direction in her life, she signed up for two breakout sessions about ways to discover and/or determine your purpose. Both sessions featured well known authors and Christian thought leaders. Both speakers used a travel illustration. Paraphrased…
Speaker #1 – God has a specific plan for your life. He not only knows if you need to travel north or south, but He has planned the specific highway, to the specific exit, and if you need to turn left or right off the exit.
Speaker #2 – God may guide you in a general direction, maybe even nudge you north or south but He is way less concerned with what highway you travel or what exit you choose.
She was confused.
I shared that I felt both responses applied in different ways, and that God was capable of being activity engaged in both the specifics of our lives as well as the seeing a picture big enough to allow us space to journey.
Too often we are taught that your purpose is a precise end, a certain destination that you need to discover. Which leaves us asking ourselves, how will I know? What if I miss it? What if I spend a lifetime navigating to one locale only to realize my purpose was else where? Or if you happen to land on the illusive isle of purpose, then what? What’s next?
Purpose is the journey, woven into the longitude and latitude of every step you take, and every misstep you take.
As Paul said, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
Perhaps it is less about finding a pin point on a map of life, and more about striving to see your purpose exactly where you are currently walking.
- Purpose is not defined by your career.
David was a shepherd.
David is anointed king.
David goes back to being a shepherd.
David is summoned as a court musician.
David becomes a military leader.
David sits as king.
And all the while, God walks with David.
We often glamorize purpose through what we also note as our career, work or title. People do often find themselves fortunate enough to find work that directly correlates with the passions and talents given from God, but many find themselves working to pay bills as they explore purpose through relationships and serving both at work, and in their community.
We all know you can have a prominently public career and be spiritually and morally bankrupt. Conversely, you can find widows sweeping dirt floors in underdeveloped countries that have a deeper sense of purpose than most.
Samuel anoints David as king and what does David do? He goes back to tending the sheep. When fanfare and celebrity should abound, David goes back to the every day, the mundane, and exactly what he had been doing all along. Yet, God’s hand was still upon him, just as it would be later on the battlefield, in the presence of Saul, leading Israel, hiding in caves, and writing many of the Psalms.
In 1 Samuel 18 we read regarding David, “In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him.”
The key was God’s presence, not David’s position. God delights in helping us see how our purpose is woven within our work, but when we begin to define ourselves by the titles we hold or the paychecks we cash, we will often find ourselves devoid of purpose.
Perhaps we discover our purpose more fully when we fix our eyes on who we work for rather than where we work.
For an inspirational sermon series on David’s story check out Michael Todd’s “Marked.”
- Purpose is not concrete.
When we hold to a concept of a concrete purpose, something stepped into and then solidified, as to avoid shifting and moving, we run the risk of God’s movement through seasons.
Solomon observes in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” It is through the seasons of our lives that purpose can be clarified, built upon, or shifted all together.
My childhood purpose would have been to become some type of actress, approaching any platform as an invitation to perform.
My teenage purpose would have to become sort of attorney, fashioning arguments around every corner.
Through my college years and as a young adult I was “supposed” to be a teacher or musician.
Later, it would appear I “should” be in ministry, with facets of being a wife and a mother intertwined.
Yet now, I find myself not on stage, nor in a courtroom, or at a pulpit.
Those purposeful seasons in my life have served me well. They have served their purpose. But thankfully, not hindered by concrete boots, I continue to allow Christ to do His unfolding work of purpose in my life. If what I am “supposed to do” is immovable, what room have we left for God’s spirit?
God moves in and through our work positions, the evolution of our talents, the seasons of our physical body, the ebbs and flows and our responsibilities. The question is less, “what is my purpose?” and more “how can I be attune to God’s work in this season?”
- Purpose is not unique.
While you are uniquely made, we share a common purpose. The Psalmist declares, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” It is obvious, as we observe creation, that God loves diversity. But His delight in variety and intimacy was not intended for devalue through comparison. We are uniquely crafted as a means to draw each of us closer to Him, not to be distracted by contrast. In a culture that prizes the “biggest and best” we can easily allow our view of purpose to become a measuring stick. We can covet purpose.
Proverbs 4:25-27 reads, “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not swerve to the right or the left.”
As you run your race, don’t be tripped by looking to the left or right.
In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus clearly articulates our collective purpose, “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul… and love your neighbor as yourself.” The nuances of where, when, and with what talents we love both God and neighbors are as varied as our fingerprints. Fix your eyes on these two great commands and enjoy the journey of allowing your uniqueness to unfold within them step by step.
- Purpose is not singular.
When we frame purpose as a singular treasure we often find ourselves searching for some secret key to unlock what feels like an ultimate enlightenment or path to completion. In turn, we worry that if we have not found our “one thing,” we we will wander aimlessly, or worse, miss entirely what God has planned for us.
When Christ uttered, “It is finished.” He meant it. Our part is to simply receive His invitation. This invite is access to a dynamic relationship with God through Christ. Then, “all things will be added” as we allow ourselves to surrender further and further into God’s love. Consider this purpose with a capital “P.” Within that larger “P”urpose we find a myriad of smaller roles and responsibilities in which we are purposed to serve.
At ABBA, we spent the greater portion of 2020 collecting and sharing stories of purpose through our ATX Leads conversation series. Think on the variety of roles these men and women hold. They simultaneously strive to live with purpose, on purpose, in their homes, their friendships and their communities.
Consider Paul’s wisdom to Timothy as he outlines responsibilities of an overseer:
“Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well…” 1 Timothy 3:2-4
As Paul continues, we see a figure that is a leader, a spouse, a parent, a host, a teacher, a steward. Consider these purpose with a little “p.” Like the turning of a prism, each angle represents an opportunity for God to both mature and grow us, as well as for us to be a vessel for Him. All these roles vary yet come together to reflect an image in the midst of a spectrum of purpose.
God is not dangling a carrot to lure you to labor toward one singular pinnacle moment, rather He desires to see your labor, in all facets of your life, through His eyes.
- Purpose is not on a countdown.
When Jesus requested, “Come follow me,” his followers had little perspective of the journey ahead. Was this opportunity for a moment, for a meal, for a season, or for a lifetime? Still, they followed.
We have a tendency to define our seasons of purpose ourselves, rather than accepting an invitation to follow daily. Purpose does not have a retirement plan. Your gifts and talents are not on a limited payout. God is not limited in His use of a willing heart by youth or aging.
Paul encourages Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
Isaiah reminds us as he speaks over Israel, “You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)
Too often I hear people place purpose on a timeline, as if we arrive at some perfect age before we should be taken seriously, or as if we reach a season in life where we cannot be used by the Potter. When we decide to submit, to be a vessel used by the one that stands outside of time, we avoid the kiln of purpose. May we strive to answer the call to “come follow me,” daily, without timelines attached.