The Power of Purpose

What are you doing with your life?

Just about everyone wants a meaningful life, even though it can feel meaningless, pointless, and absurd at times. Humanity’s desire for meaning reveals the power of purpose. Once you know why you’re on this speck of dust hurtling through the universe, your life will take off in a direction.

Purpose is powerful. Purpose is what gets you up early in the morning and puts you to bed late at night. When you know why you’re giving your life to something, you will give your life to it! The power of purpose is illustrated in Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why. Until you’re clear of why you’re doing something, what you do may not matter all that much.

Purpose is discoverable. Christians have long understood that our purpose can be found in the pages of Scripture. Summarizing Scripture, the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks in its first question, “What is the chief end of man?” In other words, what is a person’s ultimate purpose?  The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That’s why you exist–to glorify God. To enjoy Him. To delight in him. We were made by God and for God.

So the purpose statement for your life will be broad and big: glorifying God. Or loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5). Or knowing God (Philippians 3:8). Or however you want to phrase things. Each of those things is a perspective on our ultimate purpose. But the main purpose of your life will not change.

Making Purpose Practical: Vision

But besides a “large” purpose for your life, you also a vision for your life. Many other leadership resources talk about mission statements or purpose statement or vision statements. It doesn’t really matter what lingo you use. What matters is having both a large aspect of purpose and a smaller, more clearly defined aspect. In my terminology, I use the term purpose to answer the questions, “Why do I exist?” I use the term vision to get clear: “Where am I going?”

The advantages of having a huge purpose is that it applies to all of your life and roles. So if glorifying God is our purpose, then we will seek to glorify him in our work, in our families, in our marriages, with our children, etc. Vision, on the other hand, is a specific application of your purpose to a specific role or context, e.g., work. You know you’re supposed to glorify God, but what does that actually look like in your work? Where do you want to go in your career? Those are the kinds of questions, vision attempts to answer.

Vision is also incredibly powerful because your vision will set your priorities. Once you begin prioritizing the things you will pursue in your life, you will naturally begin to include certain things and exclude other things. Anything which falls outside the vision you have for your life should not be pursued! A common objection to this kind of thinking is, “What if a good opportunity comes along?” I think such a question is actually the wrong question to ask. Such a question falls prey to what Cal Newport calls the any-value fallacy. The “any-value fallacy” claims that if something can bring any value to your life, it is good to pursue it. Such advice, however, could lead someone to distract them from what’s best and most meaningful. In other words, just because a good opportunity comes along doesn’t mean you should pursue it.

Instead of pursuing any good opportunity that comes along, it’s better to evaluate the opportunity in light of your vision. Some questions you could ask to evaluate an opportunity could be like these:

  • Is this the best use of my time?
  • Does this fit with my vision?
  • Is this something only I can do, or can someone else do it just as well or 80% as well as me?
  • If I pursue this opportunity, what will I have to cut? (Remember, time really is a zero-sum game, so any new opportunity you pick up will naturally replace something else).

I’ve heard it said that the biggest threat to fulfilling God’s calling on our lives is doing good things because good things steal us away from God things. Good things steal us away from doing what’s best. You can pursue what’s best when you dig into the Scriptures and get clear on your purpose for your life. You can also make progress in your life when you get a clear vision of where you want to go and allow it to shape your priorities, what you will pursue to get there.

Questions to Consider

  • What passages of Scripture speak to your purpose in life?
  • Why is purpose so powerful?
  • What is vision? How does it make our purpose real and concrete?
  • What are your top priorities in life right now? What do you need to add, change, or delete?

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