What’s My Purpose in Life?
There’s much more meaning in life once you know your purpose.
Consider a hammer. It’s designed to hit nails. That’s what it was created to do. Now imagine that the hammer never gets used. It just sits in the toolbox. The hammer doesn’t care.
But now imagine that same hammer with a soul, a self-consciousness. Days and days go by with him remaining in the toolbox. He feels funny inside, but he’s not sure exactly why. Something is missing, but he doesn’t know what it is.
Then one day someone pulls him out of the toolbox and uses him to break some branches for the fireplace. The hammer is exhilarated. Being held, being wielded, hitting the branches — the hammer loves it. At the end of the day, though, he is still unfulfilled. Hitting the branches was fun, but it wasn’t enough. Something is still missing.
In the days that follow, he’s used often. He reshapes a hubcap, blasts through some sheet rock, knocks a table leg back into place. Still, he’s left unfulfilled. So he longs for more action. He wants to be used as much as possible to knock things around, to break things, to blast things, to dent things. He figures that he just hasn’t had enough of these events to satisfy him. More of the same, he believes, is the solution to his lack of fulfillment.
Then one day someone uses him on a nail. Suddenly, the lights come on in his hammer soul. He now understands what he was truly designed for. He was meant to hit nails. All the other things he hit pale in comparison. Now he knows what his hammer soul was searching for all along.
We are created in God’s image for relationship with him. Being in that relationship is the only thing that will ultimately satisfy our souls. Until we come to know God, we’ve had many wonderful experiences, but we haven’t hit a nail. We’ve been used for some noble purposes, but not the one we were ultimately designed for, not the one through which we will find the most fulfilment. Augustine summarized it this way: “You [God] have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
A relationship with God is the only thing that will quench our soul’s longing. Jesus Christ said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Until we come to know God, we are hungry and thirsty in life. We try to “eat” and “drink” all kinds of things to satisfy our hunger and thirst, but yet they remain.
We are like the hammer. We don’t realize what will end the emptiness, the lack of fulfillment, in our lives. Even in the midst of a Nazi prison camp, Corri Ten Boom found God to be wholly satisfying: “The foundation of our happiness was that we knew ourselves hidden with Christ in God. We could have faith in God’s love…our Rock who is stronger than the deepest darkness.”
Usually when we keep God out, we try to find fulfilment in something other than God, but we can never get enough of that thing. We keep “eating” or “drinking” more and more, erroneously thinking that ‘more’ is the answer to the problem, yet we are never ultimately satisfied.
Our greatest desire is to know God, to have a relationship with God. Why? Because that’s how we’ve been designed. Have you hit a nail yet?
To explore more on this subject, see the feature article Real Life.
More to Life
More to life: three people share where they found fulfillment, acceptance, and purpose in life.
Have you ever felt there must be something more? Something beyond merely existing? The following are some straightforward accounts that offer opinions about real life and God’s role in it.
More to Life: Fulfillment [by John G.]
Maybe you’ve heard about the guy whose life goal was to climb a certain mountain. When he finally reached the top, he was terribly disappointed. There was nowhere else for him to go, and something was still missing in his life. It’s like the pro football player who gets depressed after winning the Super Bowl.
My university experience was a lot like that. By my senior year, I had achieved everything that people were telling me would bring me fulfillment. I was in a fraternity and other campus organizations, had lots of fun partying, made decent grades, and spent time with attractive girls.
Everything that I wanted to do and achieve while in college happened. And yet, I was still unfulfilled. Something was missing.
Of course, no one knew I was feeling this way about life. On the outside I didn’t show it. Maybe some people even wished their lives were more like mine. But they didn’t know how unfulfilled I was on the inside.
The summer after my last year in school, I heard someone reading a passage from the Bible. I had heard parts of the Bible recited before, and had read a little bit of it, but for some reason this time it sounded completely different. I was astounded. “Hey, that stuff’s right-on-the-money.” Like never before, I realized how true and relevant the Bible is.
It was as if God was trying to get my attention… but I still didn’t want to let him in. I kept thinking about how my life would change and how my friends would think I was weird. I was frightened. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized (no doubt, with God’s help) that choosing Him over anything and anyone else makes sense and is the right choice.
What happened next is difficult to describe. I can only put it this way: I discovered that God Himself is the source of true fulfillment. My experience is not unique. It’s what He impartially offers anyone who seeks Him in the way He wants. He said (and still says), “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”1
Of course, life still has its ups and downs, disappointments, and struggles. But what gives life true meaning is God Himself – knowing that He is alive and real, that He is the Reason for my existence, and that truly finding Him is what it’s all about.
More to Life: Acceptance [by Robert C.]
Growing up, I remember watching The Wizard of Oz on TV. Maybe you remember the story. Dorothy and her friends go to the Wizard of Oz for help, and instead are greeted by an angry, frightful voice that demands a near-impossible task for proving themselves: obtaining the wicked witch’s broom.
So much for the wonderful Wizard of Oz.
When I was growing up, God, to me, was a lot like the Wizard of Oz. I thought he was mean and short-tempered and that he actually knew very little about me. The few images I saw of him in church as a child made him seem distant, other-worldly, unreachable. His death on the cross — a constant image — I understood as a great sacrifice, but one he seemed to do reluctantly. What really counted with him, I thought, was how well I behaved, and how well I lived up to his standards. If I was ever going to be accepted by him, I needed first to prove myself worthy. As you can imagine, God was not a great figure in my life. Wonderful was not a word I used to describe him.
Then, in my freshman year of college, all this changed. The curtain was pulled back. For the first time in my life, someone showed me in the Bible — a book I’d always thought was full of a lot of smoke — who God really was. He was not angry or mean — just the opposite. He was loving and compassionate. He knew I was incapable of living a perfect life and of ever keeping his standards. So, out of his great love, he became that perfect human being and met those standards for me.
Jesus Christ, I learned, was not my example, he was my substitute. I wasn’t supposed to imitate his suffering, but to take advantage of it. In his death on the cross — which I discovered he did willingly — my sin and my failures were judged. On the cross God demonstrated his great love for me. It was there he showed me how well he did know me. It was there he accepted me. As the Bible says, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”2
Real acceptance, I discovered, lies in the someone new behind the curtain. I challenge you to pull it back and discover him for yourself, and to consider his offer of acceptance and forgiveness.
More to Life: Purpose [by Marilyn A.]
I have always thought that life should be meaningful. Not necessarily every moment of every day. I mean, how meaningful is it doing laundry? Nor should life always be serious. We all need extremely large doses of just having a good time!
But life has to be more than pleasure-seeking, partly because the enjoyment doesn’t last. It’s here for a moment, then gone. Author Ravi Zacharias said it well: “If there is no larger meaning to life…then life is without a driving force, without overall substance or explanation.”
For several years I studied the philosophies of Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Nietzsche, Socrates and many others — looking for an overriding, motivating purpose to my life. Every few weeks I would “try out” a new philosophy to see if it could work. But I found these philosophies disappointing when applied to actual life situations. My search continued.
An international news correspondent for TIME Magazine, Dr. David Aikman, shed some light on this subject. He has a couple of post-graduate degrees, is an expert in Russian and Chinese history and communist affairs, has worked in more than 30 countries, is fluent in six languages, and is a serious thinker about life issues. He said, “Each of us has a purpose, a reason for being here, that no one else can tell you, but you can find out from God.” Dr. Aikman recommended beginning a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Dr. Aikman gave this account, “When I heard the words of Jesus [in the Bible], it seemed to me he was speaking to my heart, and he was saying, ‘I am the way to life. If you follow me and do what I say, your life will change.'” He then talked about taking the first step to starting a relationship with Jesus Christ, by asking him to enter his life. Dr. Aikman concluded, “I can promise you…anybody that takes that first step toward Jesus Christ will have a very exciting life.”
Like Dr. Aikman, I came from an atheistic background. And like him, I found that Jesus’ statements about himself were quite unique. Jesus didn’t point people to his philosophy on life, he pointed people to himself. Jesus said he could forgive our sins, give us inner peace in the midst of tough circumstances, and guide us to a life of freedom.
I determined that if there really was a God, I wanted to know him. But I was still skeptical. I debated and challenged the Christians I knew. I wanted proof that Jesus was God. One day I took an honest look at the evidence for God’s existence and Jesus’ deity, and I was shocked to find so many logical, historical facts. I then knew I had a decision to make. Was I going to ask him to enter my life and influence it in whatever way he wanted, or was I going to close the chapter on this part of my life and refuse to consider the possibility of “God” ever again?
After reviewing the concrete, intellectual reasons to believe in Jesus, I asked Jesus if he would come into my life. And that very day my search for the meaning of life was completely resolved.
It amazed me that I could have a relationship with God. I talked to him and, through changes in circumstances, he indicated that he heard me. He led me in career paths that are far more expansive and exciting than I ever dreamed. And I asked him questions and he guided me to appropriate, helpful answers in the Bible.
These things didn’t occur just on one obscure, stormy day. It was a genuine two-way relationship with God that I was enjoying on a consistent basis, and still do. It wasn’t because I became a saint, but because Jesus Christ will enter anyone’s life who truly wants to know him and follow him.
There is a deep joy that comes in following God. Unlike anything or anyone else, knowing Jesus Christ has brought real purpose to my life.
More to Life: Jesus Christ
Real life is a life filled with fulfillment, acceptance and purpose. We find it in a relationship with Jesus Christ. No one in human history has made the claims Jesus made and given such great proofs to back them up. He claimed to be God, to be able to forgive sins, and to be the only way through which we can know God the Father. Jesus backed up those claims through his resurrection from the dead. He is, truly, the most unique person who ever lived…much more than a great teacher.
The Bible says that Jesus was God who became man — “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”3 He was “the exact representation of his [God’s] being.”4 In short, Jesus Christ revealed exactly what God is like. So how do we begin a relationship with him?
We don’t begin a relationship with God by trying to be a better person. Trying harder to win God’s approval is not the way he wants us to live. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone in which you had to try to win that person’s approval? It’s no fun.
God has such a genuine love for us that he himself provided the way for us to get close to him…but there is a problem. Currently, what stands in the way of us connecting with God is our sin (our self-centeredness shown by our anger, our hurtful words, our impatience, our selfishness, greed, etc.). If you’ve ever wondered why your prayers seem to go nowhere, that is why. Our sin has separated us from God, who is holy.
So what has God done so we can have a close relationship with him? Jesus Christ (“God in the flesh”) took all of our sin on his shoulders while he willingly died on a cross. He did this so we could be completely forgiven, completely acceptable to him.
Our problem is illustrated by the college student who is charged with a crime. The judge sentences her to 30 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. The student can afford neither the time nor the money. The judge, knowing this, takes off his robes, walks to the front of the bench, and with his own checkbook pays the fine. Why? Because, as a just judge, he cannot overlook the offense. But, because he is the student’s father, he chooses to pay the penalty on her behalf.
This is exactly what Jesus did for each of us on the cross. He made the great sacrifice of being beaten, humiliated, whipped and crucified on our behalf. He now asks us to respond to his sacrifice by inviting him into our lives.
More to Life: Knowing God
He wants us to know him and to experience his love, joy and peace. When we ask him into our lives, we receive his forgiveness, and we begin a relationship with him that’s meant to last forever. Jesus said, “I stand at the door (of your heart) and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him (or her).”5
If this is now the desire of your heart, the following is a suggested prayer (but the words aren’t as important as the attitude of your heart):
Dear God, I confess that I have sinned against you. Thank you for taking all of my sin upon yourself on the cross. I want to receive your forgiveness. I want to enter into a relationship with you. I ask you to come into my life as my Savior and Lord. Please give me the real life that comes only from you.
For more on the meaning of life, please see The Source of a Changed Life or other articles on this site.