Listening to Oprah’s “SuperSoul Conversations,” with leading spiritual teachers, I’ve observed eight recurring questions Oprah asks of her guests. As I’ll likely never be a guest on Oprah’s podcast, I thought, “Why not write a series of blogs, based on Oprah’s questions?” This is what I might tell Oprah, if given the chance.
“What do you believe is the purpose of life?”
I’ve always liked the Westminster Catechism’s answer:
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Let’s break that down….
The purpose of life is to “glorify God.” I understand “glorify” to mean, “to reveal.” God’s glory is the revelation of God’s nature. When we glorify God, in all the ways we attempt to do so, we’re revealing what we know of God – God’s beauty, power, and goodness. When I speak of God’s glory, I’m honoring the Truth of who God is. When I glorify God in worship, I’m revealing God alone is worthy. When I glorify God with my character, I’m revealing the work of transformation God is doing in me. When I glorify God in service, I’m revealing a heart being shaped by God. When I glorify God with my values and lifestyle choices, I’m revealing God as my highest priority.
A God-centered life glorifies God by revealing God.
Pope Francis writes, “God has no need of this world, but he creates it out of the intense desire to share his infinite goodness, to manifest his glory.” In other words, God invites us to be living expressions of his glory, by sharing in his glory!
I believe God is uniquely glorified when we seek to live as faithfully and as authentically as possible. “Purpose” implies something more than going with the flow, or going through the motions. “Purpose” implies more than merely surviving. “Purpose” is living far beyond duty, obligation, or conformity. Living with purpose suggests divine direction, calling, or even destiny. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
So, God is also glorified by discovering our life’s purpose, and living it fully. On one level, we’re all called to live faithfully, following Jesus’ teaching and example. But, on a higher level, each of us are created intentionally individual and unique, in the image and likeness of God. No two persons are alike. We all have different, God-given talents and abilities. We each have unique personalities, and dispositions. We all have different life-callings. God invites us to a life of self-discovery.
Thomas Merton writes, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree. The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give Him less glory. No two created beings are exactly alike. And their individuality is no imperfection. On the contrary, the perfection of each created thing is not merely in its conformity to an abstract type but in its own individual identity with itself. This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or will do.” Like a tree, we glorify God when we consent to, and embrace, being who God uniquely created us to be.
Merton uses the language of obedience: “For in being what God means it to be it is obeying him.” Obedience isn’t always popular. It seemingly implies fear, threat, or coercion; demanding faithful and consistent adherence to a rule or law. Yet, I think obedience is better understood as a gracious invitation to live in harmony with God’s best plans and intent for our lives. God didn’t create laws, or require obedience, to make our lives difficult. He created laws for our good. Our obedience is cooperation with God’s wisdom and best intentions, trusting the One who knows what is truly best for us.
For instance, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15) And, Jesus’ highest law is love: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) In essence, if we love Jesus, we’ll obey Jesus, and we’ll love each other as he loves us.
Is God ever more glorified than when we love?
Which brings us to the second part: to enjoy him forever.
We’re made to know and enjoy God. There’s joy in knowing, serving, and loving God. There’s joy in discovering our purpose.
No doubt, life is challenging. Joy is, sometimes, elusive. Most of our days fall short of fulfilling our destinies, as we’re consumed in the mundane, trivial tasks of survival. We’re distracted, in countless ways. We’re confronted by a barrage of lies, each vying for greater shares of our time, attention, and resources. We, inevitably, bow to false gods, pretending to offer more satisfying versions of life. We experience disappointments and despair, and risk becoming disillusioned. Sometimes, life feels more like endurance, than purpose-centered joy.
Which is why the question – “What do you believe is the purpose of life?” – is so critically important. Without daily reminders of God’s purpose, we become lost, like sheep aimlessly wandering. That’s why we need worship: weekly reminders of God’s glory, made manifest in us, and the world around us. We need reminders, again and again, to lift our heads above the mundane, to daily seek God’s glory. We need constant reminders that we are loved, that we are made in God’s image, that our lives have purpose, meaning and value.
We are – when we remember our purpose – unique reflections of God’s glory.
My purpose is NOT necessarily to be a pastor. I do believe God called me to be a pastor. But, “pastor” is nothing more than a role, a title, a position, an office. Pastoral ministry is a sacred duty, but a “duty” nonetheless – not my purpose. And, truthfully, the life and duties of a pastor can be just as mundane as anything else. Being a pastor does not, in and of itself, fulfill my purpose.
But, HOW I pastor CAN fulfill my life’s purpose: IF God is glorified in my ministry, IF my ministry best uses my God-given abilities, and IF I find joy and fulfillment in my work. Equally, my purpose is potentially filled in my marriage, as a father, and as a friend. My purpose is potentially fulfilled in my daily interactions with colleagues, friends, and strangers. My purpose is fulfilled in any and all of the ways I seek to know and serve God, using the gifts God has given me. Perhaps, my purpose is fulfilled, in part, even as I write this blog. My purpose is fulfilled – or in the process of being fulfilled – as I keep my life, work and relationships focused on God, and am vigilant and faithful to all God is revealing in me.
I believe that’s life’s purpose: to know God and ourselves, as deeply and honestly as possible, and to be faithfully true to both.
What’s your purpose?