An orienting landmark.
I live in Portland, Oregon. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen and my favorite place I’ve ever lived.
One aspect of my city that I love is the view of Mount Hood. This solitary mountain towers east of the city, a snow-capped beauty mark. As you travel through Portland, the mountain plays hide and seek. You can’t always see it, but it’s there. As your street winds around the next hill, or you catch a glimpse through a break in the trees or building, there you’ll see it.
Because you can see the mountain so frequently, it has become an orienting landmark for me. When I get turned around, unsure which direction I’m heading, I can invariably find my way to a vantage point where Hood is visible. Need to head north? The mountain should be to my right. Need to head downtown? The mountain should be behind me.
Having this landmark has frequently kept me on track. When it comes to knowing how to live your life, and in particular, where to find your purpose, there is a similar landmark.
Which way to my purpose?
I suggested in a previous post that you can discover your purpose by exploring three areas of God’s design:
- Your identity in Christ,
- God’s universal design for all of us, and
- God’s unique design for you.
At this intersection you will find a vibrant place to live your life.
That first area of exploration is covered here. Today, we look at the second, God’s universal design for everyone. There are quite a few things that scripture teaches us about God’s will for humanity.
- God wants every person to believe in Jesus. (John 6:40)
- God wants everyone to be saved. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
- God wants every person to serve others (Ephesians 6:5-8), to mature (Ephesians 4:15), and to experience joy as a result (John 15:11)
There are so many others, but don’t get bogged down or confused. All of them fall under one central and universal purpose. This is the orienting landmark. God’s purpose for every human being? That we would know God.
Wait?! Isn’t God’s main thing that people to be saved? Sure (Back to 1st Timothy 2:3-4) But what does that mean? Jesus defines it for us. “This is eternal life,” He said. Well, what is it? That we would know God. Not know about God. This isn’t facts and formulas. It’s not about right doctrine or the right ways to be religious. This is interpersonal knowledge, relational knowledge.
God’s universal purpose is that every person would know God relationally. (Tweet that!)
Everything else in scripture that reveals God’s will is an expression of this. The narrative stories in the Bible? Meant to show us God’s heart. The law? Meant to show us what sin is so that we can know our deep relational need for God. Instructions to do good and avoid evil? Meant to keep our hearts available to relationship with God, rather than numb with pride and self-satisfied self-deception (to steal a phrase from a great J.I Packer quote.) Even the incarnation, Jesus coming into our world, is all about helping us know God. After all, Jesus said himself, “If you have seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”
How does this help me know my purpose?
The question you ought to ask now is how this information helps you know your purpose. That takes us back to Mount Hood. A landmark provides orientation. You see the mountain; you know what direction you’re headed.
The more you understand God’s universal purpose, the easier it is for you to see the paths that lead away from life, health, community, and growth. (Tweet that!)
When you are evaluating the detours and intersections on your life’s path, this orienting landmark can provide direction. You can ask yourself, “If I take this path, will it help me or hinder me in my pursuit of knowing God?”
We wish God’s will for us was more concrete, right? We’d like to hear the Booming Voice say, “Take this job, not that one,” or “Marry this person,” or “Here’s how to solve the overwhelming problem in your life.” But God is often less concerned with those choices than with how those choices impact our desire to seek God and our ability to hear from God.
Bottom line? It is always God’s will for you to be moving toward stronger relational knowledge of God. It is always against God’s will for you to be moving away from relational knowledge of God.
(Allowing of course, that God’s will from our perspective more often seems a winding path full of back-tracks and unexpected turns instead of our preferred express shuttle from problem to solution.)
As you’re exploring for your sense of purpose and direction, you can always look up and see how the options you are considering stack up against this landmark.
Invest in knowing, and then you’ll know.
A well-used pastoral illustration tells about the Secret Service agents tasked with tracking down counterfeit currency.
You’d expect that their training would include spending hours and hours pouring over all the different examples of counterfeit money that had been confiscated over the years. After all, they need to know what they are looking for, right? But that wasn’t the case.
The majority of their training consisted in examining in infinite detail real bills, getting to know their color, their texture, the details of their printing and the qualities of their security measures. The more familiar they are with the real thing, the more quickly they can spot counterfeits. (Turns out John MacArthur is the source of that well-used illustration, and in fact, unlike so many pastoral illustrations is actually true! Amazing what you can find on the internet.)
There are an infinite number of possible life purposes out there. When you start factoring in vocation, calling, temperament, passion, gifts, strengths, and life experience, the options are wide open, limited only by how many dollars it takes to make your month work.
We will look more closely at some of the more personal details in the next post, but, for now, don’t let the array of options intimidate or confuse you.
Consider all these personal details the side streets along your life’s path. So many ways you could go! Along the way, you have this simple tool. Just keep the orienting landmark in sight. If the path you’re on is allowing you to know God better and grow deeper in relationship with the great Artist who made you, then keep moving forward. If the path you’re on is obstructing your view of God, it’s time to try another road.