This is a question I’ve asked myself for years and I imagine one that plagues the minds of many. In the past I would have answered it with something like “to help people” or “to tell people about Jesus” or perhaps a more vague “to serve God”. Those are great aims in life, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think they’re quite there. As a church worker, I’ve tried to do those things. I’ve worked very hard at helping people. I’ve told lots of people about Jesus. I’ve tried to serve God through giving talks, writing studies, organising events, hosting parties, driving people round, baking cakes, brewing tea, mopping floors and being a shoulder to cry on. But somewhere in the midst of all that, I forgot that my primary purpose in life is to glorify God, and that starts with simply knowing Him (John 17:3).
You see, if I had suddenly been struck down by an illness and became unable to do any of those things, I would have felt like I’d lost my purpose. And that’s always a bad sign. If we live for anything – anything – other than to enjoy and glorify Jesus, then we’ve misunderstood his desires for us (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Those who have suffered with illnesses that keep them bed-bound have not got less purpose than those of us who are physically able. Those who have one small, simple gift have not missed out on a full life, even if the person next to them has been blessed with a hundred talents. Those who cannot give to others because they themselves need 24-hour care do not have less meaningful lives than those who are able to serve daily. God created us equally, in his image, and his plan for one of his children is no less than his plan for any other, even if their lives look very different (Romans 2:11). His purpose in us can be worked out regardless of how gifted or tenacious we are, because we can know him whether we are in hospital, in the kitchen, in parliament or in the pulpit.
After years of trying to “help” people, I found myself broken. Despite hours of listening, of talking, of weeping with and for many of those people and of countless prayers, plenty of them appeared to be not much better off (by my own flawed estimation). Some of them seemed worse. And for those that were better, it was because God had done something miraculous in them that had little to do with me. On top of that, everywhere I looked I saw more need. I was hopeless. Why? Because I’d failed to achieve what I had set out to do. My purpose had been to serve God by trying to fix people, and I had realised that 1) there were too many people to fix and 2) I was not capable of doing anything of significance for even one of them.
If I’d spent more time worshipping my creator and seeking his face, perhaps I would have done more good. But without realising it, my desire to serve had subtly surpassed the desire to know my saviour.
Living for anything else will let you down eventually. It will disappoint you (Isaiah 44:9). But there is one thing to live for – only one – that will never fail. And that is because our relationship with Jesus is not dependent on us. If it were, like anything else, we’d lose faith in that purpose very quickly, because we as humans inevitably screw things up. But this relationship is initiated by Him (1 John 4:19), and sustained by Him, the faithful, unchanging God of eternity who has promised to keep you, so this is the one purpose that will endure.
If you think I’m promoting faith without works, I’m not. This picture is not one of lazing around on a couch all day, sleepily comfortable in the knowledge that God has saved you. That shouldn’t even be a possible outcome, because it’s out of knowing Jesus that serving Jesus comes. You can’t do the latter without the former, and if you do the former, the latter should happen automatically. You can’t truly know Jesus without loving Him, and you can’t love Him without serving and thereby glorifying Him (John 14:15). So if I want to fulfil my purpose in life, to do any good here on this planet, I need to simply start with this: knowing God. And in that, His great name will be glorified.
The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.