Purpose Within to Purpose Without
Contributed by: Samuel Stone
What is your purpose in life? I’ve discovered that for many people finding their purpose in life can be a daunting task. The Chinese believe that you won’t get clarity of your life purpose until you are fifty years old (五十而知天命). But, does it really have to be so difficult to know your purpose in life that you have to wait until you are fifty? That’s sounds disappointing!
Maybe that’s just for the general population, but there are some special people like Joseph of the Old Testament that apparently knew his life purpose since he was as young as seventeen. He envisioned that one day his family—his parents and all his eleven brothers would bow down in front of him. Of course he didn’t know why and how it could happen.
In fact, he was almost killed by his own brothers who were jealous of him, and they sold him as a slave in Egypt. As a faithful slave, he was again betrayed by his master’s wife and was imprisoned. Even though all these tragic incidents were totally opposite of what he dreamed about his life to be, they all led to his eventual becoming of the historically renowned Prime Minister of Egypt.
One day his family came to ask for help because of the famine in their region. They all bowed down in front of him without knowing initially that he was the Joseph of their own—the one they had mistreated.
In fact, the Chinese wisdom doesn’t really say that you will know your purpose in life by fifty, but it says you will have clarity of your godly purpose by fifty. Maybe Joseph had a vague vision of his future, and he trusted that vision to be God’s plan for his life, but it didn’t become clear until when he was much older, when reunited with his family. Then he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Gen. 50:20)
Do you think knowing your life purpose is too complex a task? I heard of some people spending years away from home for self-searching. But if God has a plan for us why doesn’t he tell us straight forward, so that we wouldn’t waste our lives on earth groping in the dark?
Is it really too complex, or are we making it too complex? Maybe God has already shown us in simple terms but we just don’t want to see it that way.
I stumbled upon a great book this week by Brenda Ueland, a writing instructor at the University of Minnesota, titled, If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. In fact it was recommended to me by Guy Kawasaki, the author of Enchantment.
Ueland mentioned that she likes the great Russian writers best of all Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky because for them truth is more important than all the fancy skillful words.
She quoted Tolstoy who says, “there is nothing in the world that should not be expressed in such a way that an affectionate seven-year-old boy can see and understand it.”
Then she quoted William Blake, who says, "Jesus supposes everything to be Evident to the Child and to the Poor and Unlearned. Such is the Gospel. … Who does not know the Truth at Sight is unworthy of Her Notice.” Wow!
Both Tolstoy and William Blake seem to indicate that Jesus is one of the greatest artists, if not the greatest of all.
But are they also saying that, through Jesus Christ, God has already revealed to us the truth, and our life purpose, in very simple and accessible terms, and if we don’t see it that means we are unworthy of seeing it? They all sound like Calvinists, don’t they?
God said through Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Je 29:11 ESV) God has a plan for you, and the plan is for your own good. It gives you a future and hope. So what is God’s plan?
If the job of an artist is to be able to make what’s complex simple, than being the greatest artist, Jesus must have made the entire plan of God simple. The Old Testament is filled with God’s plans for us, known as the commandments. The religious leaders of Jesus time made these commandments so complex, as if only the intellectuals have the ability to comprehend them.
They challenged Jesus’ intellect by asking him which of all the commandments he would claim to be the most important one. Jesus displayed his amazing artistic aptitude by summarizing the entire Hebrew Scripture in two sentences, now known as the Great Commandment, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Mt 22:37–40
So don’t try to make your life purpose too complex because Jesus has made it simple for you. If you can’t see your life purpose in these succinct words of Jesus, that means you are not supposed to see at it all. Ueland says, “For instance, I know people who consider themselves most refined, and who say that they do not understand the poetry of love to one's neighbor, or self-sacrifice, or of chastity. So that good, great, universal art may be incomprehensible to a small circle of spoilt people, but certainly not to any large number of plain men.” Maybe these people are predestined to burn in the complexity of life!
According to the Great Commandment, there are only three elements in our life purpose: Love God, Love Yourself, and Love Others. You have to use your lifetime to express these three elements in your own art form using the gift of creativity God has given you.
But, don’t tell me that you are not an artist or not creative. Everyone is born an artist and creative. God is the Creator, and this amazing, wonderful, and beautiful universe shows God’s creativity. You are created in God’s image, so you are creative by birth. Just look at the children, from the very young age they are able to show their creativity in various art forms.
The point is, if you say you are not creative, you would be denying the unique gift of art God has given you. It is important to claim your creativity because you will be spending a life time expressing these three elements of your life purpose with your own unique art form—to love God, to love yourself, and to love others.
1 – Love God
Your primary purpose of life is to love God. How are you going to love God is your life time task. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Three ways to express your love for God:
First, you need to love God “with all your heart,” which means with passion. Jesus didn’t just say that your of purpose in life is to love God and drag your feet to church. He said you must love him so passionately that you can’t wait to worship him. Your expression of your love for God should be no less than the work of Beethoven, Mozart, Da Vinci, or Michelangelo. I am not talking about the quality of their music or paintings; I am talking about their passion expressed in their artwork that touches lives. You can do it in your own way too!
How do you express your love for God “with all your soul?” The Hebrew word for soul, “nephesh,” means breath. To love God with all your soul means to love God with all your breath, meaning with every moment of your consciousness. Jesus didn’t want you to be a Sunday Christian, or once a week Christian. There are people that I call Christmas Christians because they only show up on Christmas. But Jesus wants you to be every day Christian. In fact every moment of your consciousness—every breath you take—you are to use it to express your love for God. That’s what he meant by loving God “with all your soul.”
How do you express your love for God “with all your mind?” Your mind is your intellect. That means you love God with your mental effort by studying and gaining knowledge about him so that you can express your love for him intellectually. That’s why it’s important to be part of a Bible Study group. Jesus wants you to love God passionately, consciously, and intellectually.
The second element of your life purpose is to love yourself.
2 – Love Myself
The reason I mention that you must love yourself is because you can’t love others more than yourself. Jesus doesn’t tell you to love others and stop there. He says that you must love others “as you love yourself.” It’s a fair request because most of the time we can’t love other’s because we don’t love ourselves. Most of the criminals on earth are those who don’t love themselves, as a result they can’t love others.
It is pretentious to love others if you don’t love yourself. So it is important for you to “be loved,” as well as love. How? We live in a fallen world and we don’t always receive all the love we need from our families and friends. Everyone needs a perfect love to live an emotionally healthy life. But you cannot expect the imperfect human beings to meet your need for a perfect love. Only God can fill this gap with God’s perfect love for you. So you need to accept God’s love for you. The more you receive God’s love, the more you are able to love others.
Each time you get on a commercial airplane, the flight attendants would teach you how to use the emergency oxygen mask. She would tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before trying to help someone else. The point is, you need to be healthy first, before you can help others. Otherwise, you are risking both your life and others’.
It’s important to keep yourself spiritually fed with God’s love and grace. How do you do that? Meditate every day on God’s love for you that was expressed through Jesus Christ on the cross. Imagine the stretching arms of Jesus on the cross as a sign of God saying to you, “I love you this much!” Remember that God loves you so much that he died for you. Even if you are the only person on earth, Jesus would still die for you. That’s how much he loves you. Meditate on the message of the cross and you will be overflowed with love.
Now the third element of your life purpose is to love others.
3 – Love Others
If you have done the above, you will be able to love others much easier. Don’t force yourself to love others because there are enough forced and pretentious lovers on earth. The Bible says that your love for others must be genuine. (Rom. 12:9) When it comes to loving others, sincerity is the best policy.
Your love for others is actually the litmus test for your love for God and yourself. It is the purpose without, from the purpose within. If you find yourself difficult to love someone, you need to rekindle your love for God and allow God’s love sink into your heart. If your love doesn’t flow out naturally, you might need to check the blockage within yourself. You might need some healing by reconnecting with God and allowing yourself to be loved.
Do you know why Jesus mentioned two commandments when he was asked to point out only one? It’s because your love for God can only be proven by your love for God’s people. It’s like the song title, “Love Me, Love My Dog.” If you love God, you must love the people God loves. The Bible says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8) Your ability to love people proves that you know God and love God. That’s simple!
In life, there will be ups and downs, good times and bad times, good economy and bad economy, happiness and tragedies… But God can turn all these experiences for good for those who love God and fulfill their life purpose, just like Joseph’s story. Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
To sum it up, your purpose in life is:
- First, to love God—with passion, consciousness, and intelligence;
- Second, to love yourself by allowing yourself to be loved by the Christ who gave his life for you on the cross; and
- Thirdly, to love others genuinely as the litmus test of your love for God and yourself.
From this day forward, for the rest of our lives, let us express these three aspects of love in each of our own unique art form with our God-given creativity, and we will see all things work together for good in our lives. May God bless you! Amen!
[Thank you for reading this message. You are invited to join us in cultivating a Fruitful Life—the Art of Living, Loving, and Leading. For more information about our faith community, please email me at Sam@SamuelStone.com.]