The Big Questions
Who am I really? Why am I here? What purpose does my life serve?
These are the fundamental questions that shape our lives. Some of us have thought long and deep about these things; others not so much. Either way, you have answers to these questions deep in your heart.
The answers you hold may be painful. I think of a long-time friend whose answer to the “who am I?” question is that they are an unloved, abused child who can never make the right decisions. Their life has become a litany of choices and circumstances echoing that painful self-definition. Different answers might offer courage and hope.
These are the questions that every religion, philosophy or world view attempt to answer. Your life is an expression of the answers you hold, and perhaps, a cry for new or better answers.
I’ve been thinking about these questions for a long time, both personally and as a pastor and spiritual coach, always looking for a simpler way to understand.
The Big Answers
As a follower of Jesus, the Bible is for me the final word on these questions. I’ve spent many years searching the depths of scripture for principles that could best guide my life. What were the answers to these core questions? I guess it’s fair to say that my preaching and writing is an attempt to highlight these answers, bridging between this ancient text and contemporary life.
In the past six months or so, these thoughts have been coming together for me in a new way, a mash-up of years’ worth of reflections on Biblical passages, spiritual principles and theological ideas. Something is being born.
The goal is something simple. Not a simplification of the complex messages of scripture, trying to take away or dumb it down, but instead a simple expression that would offer a road-map through the complexity. A perspective that would make sense to someone I’m leading in the very early stages of faith with no Biblical background, certainly. But also that would provide a useful matrix for someone’s whose head is full of a life-time of Christianese, giving them a way to think holistically about their lives and what it means to follow Jesus.
The 210 Framework
I want to share a sketch of this framework with you. A couple of stipulations first, if you don’t mind1. I’m not offering this as a perfect and complete statement. It’s not a systematic theology by any means. I expect the framework to continue to evolve as I think and study and interact. I’m also not suggesting that this is the only way to see the Biblical story, or even the right way. It’s probably woefully inadequate. But it’s a first draft, trying to put into words, a way to get at the core questions of life that is both Biblical, Christ-centered, and immediately relevant to contemporary people. As I develop this, it will shape what I write about here, so I thought it would be interesting to share it with you and get your thoughts.
For a long time Ephesians 2:10 has been one of the most compelling verses in scripture to me. It addresses these core questions of identity and purpose in a succinct and, I think, beautiful way. The verse says: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”2 It is the guiding passage for this entire perspective.
Identity Leads to Purpose
For now, I’m calling this the 210 Framework. It’s an attempt at a Biblical and holistic framework for understanding who we are and how we can move forward in a purposeful and beautiful life.
- That purpose is to bring glory to the Artist who made you. Glory is honor, fame, credibility, significance.
- You bring glory to the Artist by living up to and into the good and beautiful purpose you were made for. This reflects the Artist’s heart into the world.
- You live up to and into your good and beautiful purpose by:
- Learning your true identity in Christ,
- Understanding the general purpose the Artist intends for everyone and
- Seeking the unique purpose woven into you. As you explore these things they emerge in your life through your thoughts, words, relationship, and actions.
- Living up to and into your good and beautiful purpose will bring you spiritual vitality.
- Spiritual Vitality is the quality of a life marked by the strong sense of identity, value and purpose that comes from an engaged and intimate relationship with the Artist leading to satisfaction regardless of your circumstances.
- A Spiritually Vital life will show growth towards maturity in the 5 aspects of life identified by Jesus: Heart, Soul, Strength, Mind and Neighbor.
- Heart – The aspect of our emotional lives. This includes Emotional Vitality (How well do we give and receive love?) and Devotion (The state of our love for God).
- Soul – The aspect of our identity. This includes our Accepted Identity (Who we believe we are) and Alignment (Choosing lives that align with our God-given identity.)
- Strength – The aspect of our will. This includes Effort (Living with intention and focus.) and well as Stewardship (How we care for and use the tools and resources we’ve been given: Time, Attention, Money, Health.)
- Mind – The aspect of our understanding. This includes Growing Knowledge (A commitment to grow intellectually), and Maturing Wisdom (Pursuing God’s mind.)
- Neighbor – The aspect of our interwoven relationship with others. This includes Life-giving Relationships with family, friends, faith community and others, and a Generous Attitude towards the world around us, expressed in service and care.
The questions of identity and purpose are wrapped up in this sequence. You were hand-made by God. You are a piece of art. The word “workmanship” in Greek is poiema. That’s where we get our word poem from.
You are a piece of art meant to communicate something about the Artist who made you. That answers where you came from, and it says something about your value. It also leads to your purpose. You were made by God for good and beautiful things. Pursuing that purpose brings God glory and it also helps you find your very best self.
A Good and Beautiful Process
Along the way, there are several Biblical concepts that, if they guide us, will give us a solid foundation:
- Inside-Out Focus. Seeking the Artist’s purpose, you focus on identity and character rather than appearance and performance, trusting that when core things are healthy & growing, external things will follow as a result.
- Gracious Expectation. Knowing that the Artist is working in you, often in unseen ways, you expect that to be true of others, and look for it in your interactions with them.
- Heart of a Steward. You are the artwork, not the Artist. You are not the CEO of your life, but one entrusted to carry forward the purpose of the One who made you, using the resources entrusted to you.
- Open-Handed Intentionality. As a steward you are responsible to plan and act, but always leaving flexibility for the Artist to do something you didn’t expect, or move in ways you don’t understand.
- Change Through Attention. The Biblical principle woven into your created nature is that by beholding you become changed. Instead of attempting to change through great effort, you change by focusing your attention on the Artist, His heart, and His presence in the world around you.
So, there you have it. What do you think? This is not meant to be comprehensive. The tip of an iceberg does not adequately describe the body of the iceberg beneath it. It’s meant to provide a clear path with signposts that can direct to deeper reflection and application.
But, having said that, is there something necessary you find to be missing? How can I shape this better? Be gentle–it’s just a first draft. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.