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Monday, January 30, 2012

Finding Your Purpose Through Obedience

On a recent trip to a thrift store in my area, I noticed that the "Christian/Inspirational" section of donated books were almost exclusively works about discovering God's purpose or plan for our lives.  It was clear by the number of repeats that this collection was not taken from only one person's library. By my reckoning, this shelf represented dozens of failed searches on this topic, spanning several decades and generations.

I wonder what this really indicates. Maybe these books were all purchased in the midst of a crisis, and had made it to those shelves when their owners found what they were looking for.  Maybe it shows a general feeling of discomfort, or a yearning for a chance to be a spectacular servant of God. I will never know.

I can say that there is a purpose for each of us, which God has prepared in advance for us to accomplish (Ephesians 2: 10).  It isn't to serve ourselves, and contrary to popular belief, it isn't to serve others, either.  Our most basic purpose is to serve the Lord (Ecclesiastes 12: 13).  Beyond this, God may plan for us to do some things that benefit us, and some things that benefit others, but this is a different situation for each person.  If we are looking for our purpose, we should start there, with submitting our hearts, wills, and plans to the Lord.

Many of us want more than just "a life lived for God," and such answers are unsatisfactory to our ears.  We want to be known for our obedience; we want to be great leaders and distinguished servants.  We ask God to show us this kind of purpose, so we can get started living it right away.

Here is where it gets trickier.

It seems that God doesn't take us to spectacular lengths until He has put us through training of some sort.  Sometimes this can take year after long year to accomplish.  Esther had grown up, and went through months of rigorous training as the king's wife, before her purpose, to save her people, was revealed (Esther 4: 14).  Her grand purpose wasn't apparent until the moment it arrived, but her faithfulness and obedience had become ingrained in her through all those years of trials.

Oftentimes, the wait is much, much longer than Esther's.  The premier English poet and politician John Milton (1608-1674) dreamed of authoring an epic poem for England of the quality of Dante's Divine Comedy, but his work Paradise Lost was not completed until he was in his 50s, blind, and broke.  Moses took even longer to discover God's plans for him; he did not receive his commission to lead the nation of Israel to the promised land until he was already in his 80s (Acts 7:23-30).  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Today, I can't tell you where God is taking you, and what kind of grand plans He has made for your life.  I can't tell you if you will be as famous as Moses, or if you will only be known to a small group of people in a little town somewhere in the world.  I can't tell you if your greatest purpose is just now being revealed, or if you still have years of waiting ahead of you.  All I can say is that wherever you are right now, the basic requirements are the same: "fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12: 13d NIV).  Don't spend time worrying about the revelation of your purpose; God is taking care of that part (Exodus 4: 11-12; Matthew 10: 18-20). While you are waiting, just work on training your heart to love and obey God.  Then, when the time comes, you will be ready.