Raise your hands… how many of you want to be significant?
Everybody, right? We all want to “make a difference.” We all want our lives to count for something. As Matt, over at TheChurchOfNoPeople.com recently wrote, “We still hold onto the hope that we have a lot of potential, but the reality of the day-to-day is we’re desperately short on purpose.”
Those of us in the church are under even more pressure—we don’t need just any purpose. We need to fulfill God’s purpose! Over and over we’re told that God has a wonderful plan for our lives, that He made us for a specific reason, and it’s up to us to discover what that is and live it out.
I know I’ve certainly struggled with this issue.
I want to be like Esther, who was “born for such a time as this.” I want to be like David, anointed to serve his people as king years before he was old enough to have to choose a career path. Or maybe I could be like the Paul, who left a trail of baby churches in his wake.
However, if we look at all the people in the Bible, most led pretty uneventful lives. There were a few super-stars, but even someone like Ruth, who has a whole book in her honor, spent her time working in the fields, cooking, and cleaning, and then was married to an older man. As she raised their son, Obed, I doubt she felt she was fulfilling a noble purpose. How could she know that Obed’s grandson would be King David?
Sarah’s big contribution was giving birth to Isaac. What did she do during the near-century she waited for that to happen? She wandered around in the desert with her husband (who kept lying about their marriage) and a bunch of sheep. God made his covenant with Abraham, not Sarah. Did God use her? Absolutely. But you don’t see a list of Sarah’s accomplishments mentioned anywhere in the Bible.
I could go on… the Bible is full of people who lived and died, who served God in their time, and who, for the most part, did nothing remarkable. In fact, Paul holds up this sort of unspectacular life as something to aim at. “…that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Tim. 2:2)
Our culture is totally addicted to excitement; we seem mortally afraid of boredom. Every media outlet and advertisement competes for our senses and our minds. It’s no wonder that we want our lives to have the soundtrack, thrills, and special effects of a blockbuster thriller. But for most of us, life just isn’t like that. How many times do you see James Bond doing the laundry, vacuuming the carpet, or cleaning the toilet?
For most of history, an average person’s lifetime was spent in one small village, planting and harvesting cabbage or rice, barley or beans, eating the same food day after day, illiterate, dirty, and raising children who would grow up to repeat the whole process.
It’s not that God had nothing in mind when He made us. It’s partly that our human time frame is so limited. Perhaps He has us here for some reason we won’t see until it’s all over and we’re with Him in heaven. Rahab fulfilled her purpose in one night of calculated risk. Her reward was her son Boaz, who married Ruth. They all became links in the chain of Jesus’ ancestors… significant indeed, but not an honor they could appreciate during their lifetimes.
Maybe, as with Zechariah and Elizabeth, it’s not us but our child who will change the world.
Our missions pastor tells the story of a young woman who had a menial job at a seedy restaurant. As the only believer working there, she was constantly harassed and ridiculed for her beliefs and lifestyle. She hated going to work every day. She was pleading with God to help her find another job, telling him that she just didn’t want to be at that restaurant any more, when God replied, “But I want to be at that restaurant!” Sometimes, the obvious work we’re involved in has little to do with God’s true purpose for our lives.
I think books such as The Purpose-Driven Life have raised our expectations in unrealistic ways. Sure, God tells some of us exactly what He’s up to. For the rest of us, maybe God wants us to have enough faith to obey Him even when His purposes aren’t so clear. Maybe He created us just because He wanted someone to hang out with, to bless, who would love Him and love others.
We need to stop being so concerned with being significant, and learn to focus on acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). And then, as we walk with Him, if He does call us aside to see a burning bush, we don’t miss it.