Practices, Reflections

Rick Warren on Life’s Meaning

God's purpose gives life meaning and value by Rick Warren

One
of the reasons life is devalued in today's culture is that many people
value their own happiness and fulfillment over God's purposes for their
lives.

As a pastor, one way you can protect the sanctity of human life is
to help your people understand that the purpose of their lives is far
greater than personal fulfillment, peace of mind, or even happiness.
It’s far greater than our families, our careers, or even our wildest
dreams and ambitions. If they want to know why they were placed on this
planet, they must begin with God. Each of us was 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 be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future? But focusing on ourselves will never reveal our life’s purpose. The Bible says, “It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone’s life is in his power.” (Job 12:10, TEV)

Contrary to what many popular books, movies, and seminars tell us,
we won’t discover life’s meaning by looking within ourselves. We didn’t
create ourselves, so there is no way we can tell ourselves what we were
created for! If I handed you an invention you had never seen before,
you wouldn’t know its purpose, and the invention itself wouldn’t be
able to tell you either. Only the creator — or the owner’s manual —
could reveal its purpose.

Bertrand Russell, the famous English atheist once said, “Unless you
assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” He was
correct; if there is no God, then our lives really don’t matter. We are just random accidents of nature, and neither our births, our lives, or our deaths have any meaning or value.

God, on the other hand, tells us that we are not accidents and that
our lives have significance — because God had his reasons for creating
us. The Bible says, “For everything, absolutely everything, above
and below, visible and invisible … everything got started in him and
finds its purpose in him.” (Colossians 1:16, Msg)

To understand your life’s purpose, you must begin with your Creator.
You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for
God — and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is
only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our
purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a
dead end.

Many of your people try to use God for their own self-actualization,
but that is a reversal of nature and is doomed to failure. We were made
for God, not vice versa, and life is about letting God use us for his
purposes, not using him for our own purposes. The Bible says, “Obsession
with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out
into the open, into a spacious, free life.” (Romans 8:6, Msg)

I have read many books that suggest ways to discover the purpose of
my life. All of them could be classified as “self-help” books because
they approach the subject from a self-centered viewpoint. Self-help
books, even Christian ones, usually offer the same predictable steps to
finding your life’s purpose: Consider your dreams. Clarify your values.
Set some goals. Figure out what you are good at. Aim high. Go for it!
Be disciplined. Believe you can achieve your goals. Involve others.
Never give up.

Of course, these recommendations often lead to great success. You
can usually succeed in reaching a goal if you put your mind to it. But
being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not at all the same issue! You could reach all your personal goals, becoming a raving success by the world’s standard, and still miss the purposes for which God created you. You need more than self-help advice. The Bible says, “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.” (Matthew 16:25, Msg)

How, then, do you discover the purpose you were created for?

You have only two options. Your first option is speculation.
This is what most people choose. They conjecture, they guess, they
theorize. When people say, “I’ve always thought life is …,” they mean,
“This is the best guess I can come up with.”

For thousands of years, brilliant philosophers have discussed and
speculated about the meaning of life. Philosophy is an important
subject and has its uses, but when it comes to determining the purpose
of life, even the wisest philosophers are just guessing.

Dr. Hugh Moorhead, a philosophy professor at Northeastern Illinois
University, once wrote to 250 of the best-known philosophers,
scientists, writers, 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!1

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 — to
worship, fellowship, grow in Christ, serve others, and share Christ
with others.

The Bible is 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, “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.” (1
Corinthians 2:7, Msg)

As pastors, we must help our people understand that God is not only
the starting point of our lives, but he also is the source of them. To
discover our purpose in life, we must turn to God’s Word, not the
world’s wisdom. We must build our lives on eternal truths, not pop
psychology, success-motivation, or inspirational stories. The Bible
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.”
(Ephesians 1:11, Msg)

This verse gives us three insights into our purpose that we can share with our people:

  • You discover your identity and purpose through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • God was thinking of you long before you ever thought about him.
    His purpose for your life predates your conception. He planned it
    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.

Andrei Bitov, a Russian novelist, grew up under an atheistic
Communist regime. But God got his attention one dreary day. He recalls,
“In my 27th year, while riding the metro in Leningrad (now St.
Petersburg) I was overcome with a despair so great that life seemed to
stop at once, pre-empting the future entirely, let alone any meaning.
Suddenly, all by itself, a phrase appeared: Without God life makes no sense. Repeating it in astonishment, I rode the phrase up like a moving staircase, got out of the metro, and walked into God’s light.”

Many of your people are in the dark about their purpose in life. You
may have felt that way yourself. Stop looking within or without, and
start looking up — to Jesus Christ and his Word. It is only in Christ
that we discover God’s five purposes for our lives.

From Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox #191, March 2, 2005, © Copyright 2005 Pastors.com