Here are some Saturday morning thoughts from London. A Summit alum had asked about knowing the purpose for, and the meaning of one’s life. Here are some thoughts (not all of my thoughts, mind you).
As I’ve reflected on this over the years, I’ve felt the modern striving for purpose and meaning somewhat self-centered. It needn’t be, though it seems to tend to be. Then I’ve also wondered about what biblical teaching might have a bearing on these sorts of inquiries. What I’ve noticed is that often highlighted in the Bible are patriarchs, judges, kings, prophets, apostles — people in rather peculiar circumstances and positions. At times we read that God directly appears to or speaks to and through these individuals. I think it is rather natural to suppose that these are normal experiences…or, worse, that if we don’t have these kinds of experiences, then we’re not walking with God, baptized by the Spirit, or otherwise being attuned to God’s voice enough. But the scriptures don’t seem to say that everyone is to be like these individuals in their experiences. God speaks to these people, then they speak to God’s people more generally. Not all are called to be prophets or kings or such, though all are called to follow God’s path, to participate in the grand mission of God.
So, as I’ve pondered these things, I’ve been struck by how we are called to love God and to love our neighbors (and this is our calling when stated in the Torah — Deuteronomy and Leviticus, no less — or when restated by Jesus in the gospels). (Love here is not mere sentiment or feeling or emotion; rather, it is seeking to enhance the genuine well-being of others. It is loyalty, allegiance, devotion, generosity, mutual care.) It appears to me that even if we are not granted by God specific guidance — a specified purpose or direct calling, such as “go to Nineveh” — we nevertheless are called, as God’s people, to loyally honor God and to genuinely enhance the well-being of others. As such, when I wonder what our “purpose” might or should be, I think about the needs of the church and the needs of the world. Aren’t we called to seek to meet those needs? Even if it makes us uncomfortable? And, depending on the needs, perhaps, even if we are not otherwise gifted to do the tasks that need doing. They need doing! (Just think of the parable of the good Samaritan.) As I’ve reflected on this over the years, I’ve come to be very satisfied with it, rather than stressing over whether I’ve missed God’s voice somehow. Sure, we could pull a Jonah: hear God’s voice and then flee from it. But God knows how to deal with that sort of response.
One final thought or two or three: I am struck by how some people lived at a time when Jesus walked the earth in the first century. What a special time that must have been. And yet it wasn’t a delightful time, much of the time. It was highly stressful, threatening, even downright deadly. Even so, some people were able to walk and talk with Jesus, and to see him after his resurrection (though some doubted; see Matt 28:17ff). I’ve noticed that these people were called, directly, by Jesus, vocally, and in person. And yet Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen” (John 20:29). There is a deep satisfaction, and even a restfulness, in simply following Jesus, walking in faithfulness and trust, seeking better to know and honor God and genuinely enhance the well-being of our neighbors.
The burden is light.