Somewhere, sometime, somehow, someplace people come to a point in their lives when they stop to ask the questions: Is there a meaning to life? For what reason are we placed on this Earth? “Does our life have meaning if we don’t achieve our purpose?” is the question that comes from the latest Disney movie ‘Soul.’ So, what is the purpose of life?
PROBLEMS FINDING A PURPOSE
As soon as you begin seeking to find a purpose in life, you are faced with a dilemma. You look at the world in which we live, and at first sight, there appears to be very little purpose. What do you see? Is it nothing but wars, conflicts, trouble, crime, disunity, pandemics, violence, hate, pain, and suffering?
Coming down to the individual level brings out more problems still. Life on a personal level can seem so unfair. It appears that some people have more opportunities than others. It seems that some people get more chances to accomplish great things while others get no breaks at all from their struggles.
Look at the length of lives people live. Some reach three score years and many more, while others don’t make it to twenty-one. Surely, you might think the longer you live, the better chance you have to fulfill your purpose in life? These problems are very real as we search for God’s purpose in a chaotic world.
MY OWN JOURNEY
When I was about 20 years of age, I began to think seriously about that question: “What is the purpose of life?” I had been confined to home from work for about three weeks. At the time, the doctor thought I might have had something quite serious, but it turned out not to be the case. Anyway, during those three weeks, I was required to rest, and so I spent time reading books. The first book I read was Paul Brickhill’s “The Dam Busters.”
The story deals with the famed 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, who, using bombs made by a man named Barnes Wallis, were able to destroy many important key German targets. The highlight of the story is the bombing of the dams of the Ruhr Valley. An exciting story, as anyone will know who has read the book or seen the film. Guy Gibson, the leader of the raid, received the Victors Cross. You tend to forget when reading these stories of war is the cost of human life. In the raids on the dam, 56 men, out of the 133 who took part, were lost, most killed in the raid. Gibson himself was dead within a year as his plane crashed in France.
When I finished reading the book, I asked the questions: “Oh God, how can these young men, killed in a war they were unjustly drawn into, be able to fulfill a purpose for living? Was their destiny in life nothing more than to be pawns in a game of war?”
So then and there, I asked myself the question, “What is the purpose of life?” and began a search for the answer. I eventually concluded that there are five basic requirements to be fulfilled if one is to find purpose in life. There are five goals to be aimed for if life is have meaning. Here are three things to note about the five goals:
- The first three goals in life apply to anyone and everyone. They are basic and universal
- The fourth goal varies according to each individual person and their circumstances.
- The fifth goal is a background to them all.
Five things in all. Let’s look at them one by one.
I believe there is one great purpose in life that each one of us can fulfill no matter whether a person lives to be twenty-one or one hundred and twenty, provided we reach the age of decision and reason. Anyone can fulfill this purpose. It is simply this: “To Find and Know God.” To come into relationship and fellowship with the God who created us. There is a question in old church catechisms: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer given is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
This is what life is all about. Man was created by God to enjoy fellowship with Him. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth in which He placed the stars, the sun, and the moon, etc. Everything was good, and then He finally created mankind.
Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created man in His own image. Then, Genesis 2:7 (NKJV) tells us, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” Is it any wonder that we can’t expect to find meaning or true happiness in life without God? Until we know Him as we come to Him through Christ Jesus, God’s son who died on the cross to remove the barrier of sin between us and fellowship with God, our hearts will be empty and restless.
St. Augustine put it so well when he declared, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless without Thee.” This is the supreme purpose of all: To come to a real, vital, and living experience of the God of all the universe. To find Him and to know Him.
The second great purpose in life is to find ourselves. This goal follows naturally enough from the first. Having found God and the peace that He gives us as He redeems us and we are cleansed from sin, we are brought into a new relationship with Him. It is Sonship: We become part of the family of God; We become sons and daughters of God. In doing so, we suddenly find ourselves, who we are, and who we are meant to be. We find who we are in Christ Jesus and how we are being formed into to likeness of Christ.
The third basic requirement for life’s purpose to be fulfilled is to find our neighbor, the “others” God has put in our lives. Genesis 2:18 (NKJV) declares, “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’ ” Then God created a woman, and this was the beginning of family and community life stemming from the fact that we are never meant to live in isolation by ourselves.
The world, as God made it, is such that we are continually dependant upon other human beings for our own well-being and survival. This is how God planned it. To fulfill life’s purpose, we must remember our responsibility to others.
These are the three basic goals and purposes for life.
- To find God
- To find oneself
- To find our neighbor/others
Christ summed it up when He gave the two great commandments:
- “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, NKJV)
- “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, NKJV).
It is important to note that these three goals are interwoven. You can’t find real purpose in life without finding all three. To seek God and ignore the needs of others won’t work. To seek after one’s own needs and leave God and others out of our lives won’t work. To seek to help needy people but ignore God’s place in it all won’t work. We need all three. They go together. God comes first, of course, but they can’t be totally separated from one another. These first three goals are basic requirements for all men and women who desire to find their purpose in life.
The fourth goal varies according to each individual person. It is the goal to fulfill our personal purpose according to the will of God. It stems from the fact that God has a special purpose for each of His people. A plan for each one of His children to fulfill.
To a man by the name of Abraham Lincoln, his special purpose was ending slavery in America. To a young girl named Gladys Alwood, it was to go as a missionary to China, and this small lady, with little education, made her own way to China, and God used her story to inspire others. But you don’t have to be a famous person to have a purpose. God has something for all of us to do, big or small, as long as we are faithful to Him.
It is here that the matter of unequal opportunity is seen in its true place. If we remember, the more we are given, the more is expected of us (See Luke 12:48). God expects something of all of us. So let us do it and fulfill our personal purpose in life.
There is one more goal, which is the background to the previous four. It is eternity. When Dorothy and I first got married, the financial loan for our proposed home was not yet approved. So, we, with the help of friends and family, built a garage as a temporary dwelling on the land we had purchased. We lived in this temporary dwelling for nearly twelve months, through a hot summer and a cold winter, through difficulties and troubles. We got flooded out on one occasion. It was, however, a happy experience considering it all, even if conditions were cramped and we didn’t have all the room and facilities we would have liked. But in the back of our minds throughout the time we lived in the temporary dwelling was the fact that eventually, we would be moving into a new bigger permanent home, which was even then being built.
Life is like that. This life we live, this world we live in, is only a temporary dwelling place. At the back of it, all is the knowledge that there lies before us a permanent home – Eternity.
“The story is told of a young airman, here in Australia, during the last war who became convinced that he would, somewhere in the course of the war, lose his life. One day, he sat in a room and wrote a letter to his parents with instructions that the letter be opened when the end came.
One day, he was killed. In his plans, then, it was that his parents read these words. ‘As I sit in my room, I know that sooner or later in this war I shall lose my life. I am writing this letter to you so that it may be forwarded to you when the end comes. When you read this letter please don’t grieve. With the knowledge we have in Christ, death is not an ending but the beginning. It is only when we realize death is a possibility that we really appreciate life. I feel now as if I want to grasp all the beauty of the world, make the most of life, combat all things of ugliness and sin, to lead the cleanest life that I can… Be of good heart, I go upward ever upward. I have the green light now.'” (Taken from a book by Dr. Alan Walker)
THE LAST WORD
Somewhere, sometime, somehow, each one of us is going to come to the same place – to the edge of eternity. I wonder as we look back on life what we will see. Will we see our lives as having fulfilled life’s purpose? What we search for now will determine what we see then.
These are, for me, the purposes of life, for which we were born.
You can fulfill your purpose in life. Go, do it!