By Simone Gregor –
Finding meaning in purpose and meaning in life seems to be a burning question for many of us. Trying to make sense of this can be daunting – there are many voices telling us what the answer to this question is. In this sometimes-confusing chorus of voices, who actually gets to write the story of our lives?
The world defines meaning and purpose in many ways, but one of the most common views is that finding meaning and purpose will bring you happiness. Social media allows us to tell the story of ourselves that we like best – and that we think others would like best. In this way, we become the authors of our own life story. We’re conditioned to think that we need to live exciting, Instagramable lives, and if things get too boring, we create our own adventures. This may be travelling or reinventing ourselves – new hair, new clothes, studying, a career change – there are many ways of doing it. While I’m not against these things, which in themselves, aren’t bad things, I am pointing out that we seem to be subscribing to an idealistic, mostly unattainable set of ideals prescribed to us by the world through social media, advertising and the media in an attempt to create meaning and purpose in our lives.
The thing is, like the illusive unicorns and mythical mermaids that seem to be found on every bit of Typo stationery these days, the reality shaped by the world is just that: mythical. This implies that it may never be attained. For so many of us, huge disappointment sets in when we can’t seem to live up to the fabulous but not-so-real reality of others we see. It happens more easily than we think, and then we end up feeling short-changed and wondering if life isn’t supposed to be better than this. At this point, you may become a little weary at the thought of having to write your own life story.
In sharp contrast to this idea, is Jesus. I love that He’s referred to by Paul as the Author of life. The world tells us to write our own stories, but Jesus, in His counter-cultural way, flips this upside down: He is the author of our story and therefore also dictates our life’s purpose and meaning – if we let Him. I want to unpack this idea a little more to help us understand the true power and beauty of this.
In thinking about this, it’s helpful to understand the meaning of the word ‘purpose’, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as ‘the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists’. So for what were we created? Author Brennan Manning’s answer to this is that ‘God created us for union with Himself: this is the original purpose of our lives.’
You might’ve heard that before – ‘union with God’. But I want to dwell on this a little. So often, we lose the significance of something because we don’t take time to consider what it actually means. So what does union with God mean for us?
Knowing what we do about God’s heart for us, how do we respond to this? The answer might be surprising. He doesn’t need us to earn His love. He just wants us to go after Him – to seek Him. This is very clear from this passage in Jeremiah: ‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:12-13) We seek Him by spending time with Him: reading His word, praying and reflecting on Him. It is in this place, when our hearts are open and willing to hear His will for us, that we will start to understand more of His purpose for us.
It’s one thing to understand this purpose, but another to live it out. This is why surrender is so important. Unlike the world’s idea of surrender meaning ‘game over’, God’s idea of surrender is submitting completely to Him so that He can direct our plans and purposes. It means absolute dependence on Him. With God, life starts after surrender. The beautiful thing is that the desire to surrender grows stronger as you fall more in love with Jesus. I love what missionary Heidi Baker says about this:
‘God is not about using the mighty, but the willing. He is not into using amazing people, just ones who are prepared to lay their lives down to Him. God is not looking for extraordinary exceptionally gifted people, just laid down lovers of Jesus who will carry his glory with transparency and not take it for themselves.’ – Heidi Baker
I want to go back to the idea of us writing our stories versus God writing our stories. When we’re surrendered to Him, we let Him take the pen to write the story. Sometimes, the world makes it difficult for us to believe that He is to be trusted with this. Unbelief and doubt causes us to question the great Author’s ability. This is why surrender, in this context, is also an active word. We must always be moving forwards to claim God’s promises and remind ourselves who He is.
We also need to remember that God is writing each of us our own story. When we forget this, we might be tempted to look to other people’s stories, and compare our stories to theirs. When we do this, we are doing God, and ourselves, a disservice. With the realisation that He made us all to be unique, comes immense freedom and excitement about the fact that we all get to partner with Him in a distinct way. In seeking His heart for us, our purpose becomes clearer. By spending time in His presence, He changes our hearts to align with His purposes.
This is part one of a talk given earlier this year at City Women. The second part, which covers a few more (hopefully helpful) practical points on purpose, will also be posted next Monday.
Picture by Paballo Thekiso