Monday, March 25, 2013

Having a Purpose

Joe had two loves in his life: golf and Shelia… in that order. It was a rather odd combination given that Joe was a hack golfer at best and that Shelia had never even seen the game played. When the two married, Joe convinced Shelia to go on a golfing honeymoon. “Don’t worry,” he told his new bride, “I’ll teach you how to play.” They arrive at their destination and Joe eagerly escorts his new bride out to the first tee. He sets up the ball, takes a step back, and unleashes a mighty swing with his driver. The club hits the ground a full foot behind the ball, scattering turf and dirt everywhere. The ball does not move. Somewhat embarrassed, Joe takes another swing and misses again. Flustered, he tries a third time sends more dirt sailing. After his fifth miss, Shelia looks at him and says, “I can see where you get a lot of exercise playing this game, but I fail to see the purpose of the ball.”

If I asked you to explain the purpose of golf, you would tell me to hit the ball down the fairway toward the green and into the cup using the fewest swings possible. Some are better at it than others. Let me ask you this: what is the purpose of life? The answer to this question is a bit less clear and varies from person to person. In fact, how we answer – if we have an answer at all – may even vary from day to day. If we don’t know the purpose of life how do we know if we are living it well? In golf you have a scorecard. It tells you how you are doing over the course of eighteen holes. But what about life? How do you measure the way you are living?

Do you remember the conversation Alice had when she first encountered the Cheshire Cat? Confused as to where she was she asks the cat, “Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” the cat replies. “I don’t much care where,” she responds. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” says the cat. Doesn’t it follow that if you don’t know the purpose of life than you won’t care much how you do at living?

The English poet John Dryden didn’t think much of the Duke of Buckingham so he wrote this little ditty about him:

A man so various, that he seem’d to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome:
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
Was everything by starts, and nothing long;
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon.

It is the perfect description of a person who lacks a purpose and a passion in life. It may bring to mind someone you know. Perhaps you even see a little of yourself in it.

I read recently of a gentleman who upon meeting someone for the first time never asked conventional questions such as “what do you do for a living?” or “where are you from?” He asked people “what have you done that you believe in and are proud of? For some it is an unsettling question, but not for all. One woman told him that she was doing a good job raising her two children. A cabinetmaker told him, “I believe in good workmanship and practice it.” Another person she had started a flower shop and that it was the best for miles around.” Perhaps the first step to finding the purpose of life is to have a good answer to the question “what have you done that you believe in and are proud of?”

Every year as I listen to the Passion reading I am always struck by how Jesus was in charge of nothing yet in control of everything. He lived his life with purpose and with passion: healing the sick, calling the lost, forgiving the sinner, lifting up the downtrodden, welcoming the outcast, challenging the proud, confronting the powerful, and proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of God in the midst of a society that looked like anything but. He knew who he was, he embraced his calling, and he accepted the consequences that came with it.

In the preface to his book Man and Superman, George Bernard Shaw wrote this:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

That quote it helps me to understand why I so deeply admire Jesus. He lived with a mighty purpose, he persisted to the end, and strived in all ways to make the world a better place. I admire his singular clarity about living. I suspect that if we could ask Jesus what he had done that he believed in and what he was proud of he would say he believed in the Kingdom and God and was proud of the way he lived and died for it.

As you listen again to the Passion of our Lord I wonder if you come away with the same sense I do, that your life is small in comparison. It is not that I have to be the Messiah, the one who saves all humanity. That is not my goal, my calling, or my purpose or yours. But don’t you sit back and wonder if you are doing something great that is well within your ability? The old evangelist Billy Sunday once noted that more people fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent. I suspect he is right.

Jesus died because he had a purpose to his life; a purpose which called humanity to live as God intends and as a result threatened those in power. I am suggesting that many of us fail to live because we have not discerned a great purpose in life; a purpose worthy of the name ‘Christian’ – a follower of Christ.

For many of us Holy Week will be the most spiritual week of the year. We will attend services, gather in fellowship, read the bible, and relive the last moments of our Lord’s life. There are many ways one can approach this time reverently and prayerfully. I encourage you to use this week to think about your purpose in life; to consider how and when you are living small, going in no particular direction, and not thinking twice about any of it. Perhaps your prayer can be, “O God, I want to be like Jesus. Please guide me to something I can believe that will make me proud of what I do.”