Take It To Heart: Purpose
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Some of you may have seen or at least read about the new television series that debuted back in November of last year called The Crown. The Crown is a British series that looks at the life and reign of Elizabeth II who has been the Queen of England for over 60 years. When completed, the series expects to be 60 episodes long and to span 6 years on television with each year or season focusing on one decade of her life and rule.
In the first season that deals with Elizabeth’s ascent to the throne as well as her first years in office, one of the episodes is entitled “Act of God”. It centers around a real historical moment in December of 1952 in which London was shrouded in an intense smog for five straight days. The smog, which was caused be a freak combination of just the right weather and the heavy amount of coal being burned in London at the time, literally led people to be able to see only a few feet in front of them. Before the five days were over, at least 3,500 to 4,000 people died. Their lives ended as a result of everything from breathing issues, to hospital conditions to accidents. It was a major early issue for the young Elizabeth to deal with when for five days you could literally not even see out your own window. (The Crown, wikipedia.com)
All of us, I think, feel like we are living in the midst of a great fog ourselves from time to time. As a result of all sorts of life situations, we struggle mightily with a sense of what to do next, where to go or with the meaning of our lives. Because of work situations, family situations, unfulfilled dreams, dashed hopes, illness, lack of finances and all sorts of other issues, it is easy to feel like we are floundering or wondering around aimlessly with no direction or purpose for our lives. We may not be literally in the middle of the “Great London Smog” but mentally, emotionally and spiritually, we sometimes feel like we have no ability at all to see or get our minds around what is ahead for us.
This so often happens in the midst of the longings that exists in all of us to do something with our lives and to be someone of value. I have quoted the statement before of the writer Donald Miller who once said that all of us simply want to know that we are here “on purpose and for a purpose”. We all want to be able to say that there is a significance about us and about our lives. We want to be able to emphatically say that we matter and there are concrete things that we are here to do and to accomplish.
This, I think, is where Jeremiah 29:11 is such beautiful, helpful and hopeful verse. Therein, God is quoted as saying, “I know the plans that I have for you…plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.” All of us want to believe this verse and to cling to it. For indeed, we do want to be able to say that we are here “on purpose and for a purpose”.
Without question, this verse speaks to that longing like few others in the Bible. But, it speaks even more clearly and directly to this longing, I think if we understand it in light of its context in Jeremiah and in terms of life among the Israelite people at the very time that these words were first uttered.
You see, Jeremiah 29:11 comes about with the Israelites very much in a fog themselves. Many of them had been deported to Babylon after the Babylonians had overtaken Israel and they did not know what was next for them. Would their time in Babylon only last for a short period or would they spend the rest of their lives in a foreign land and in captivity. If they were going to be in Babylon for a long time, what meaning did their lives have? And, what now was their purpose? Jeremiah’s response to those questions as God’s messenger was and is powerful. First and foremost, Jeremiah disputed some other voices of the day and was very clear with the Israelites that they had better get comfortable because they were going to be in Babylon for quite some time they were not going to come home quickly. But, he was also clear that in the distant future, God would bring them home. In essence, Jeremiah wanted them to rest assured that during their years in Babylon, God had a plan and purpose for their lives. And, God wanted them to know that he had a plan to one day bring them home and help them recreate life back in Israel. Said another way, God had short term and a long term purposes for them- for their welfare and full of hope.
I fully believe that God has the same for us. I think God has short term and long term purposes for each of us and a huge part of our lives becomes understanding what these purposes are and committing ourselves to them.
I want to talk further about both short term and long term purposes but first I want to remind us of two critical things about this verse and about discovering what God wants to do with our lives. First, I want to remind us how this verse reads. It is God saying, “I know the plans I have for you…” It is not God saying “I know the plans you have for yourself and I am good with them!” Finding our purpose, Biblically speaking, is not about getting God to endorse what we have already decided, it is about discovering what God wants us to be. At the same time, I am not saying that God’s purpose is something we will hate. More times than not, God’s purposes for us square beautifully with our interests and our gifts.
Second, I want to remind us that discovering God’s purpose begins as we give our lives to Christ as our savior and always happens best as we engage ourselves weekly in God’s community called the church. If our purpose begins in Christ then we must belong to Christ, we must become his child and accept his salvation. And if we want to know how God wants to use us, we need to regularly sit at his feet and with others to listen for his voice.
Again, I think these purposes come in short term and in long term packages. On the one hand, God has short term purposes for our lives. There are things that God wants each of us to do this year for him. There are place this year that God wants to use us in his work. They are not things we are going to be involved in for the rest of our lives. But, right now, this is where God is calling us to engage and find meaning.
Thursday morning, we had a meeting with church leaders from all over our county. There are some of us, myself included, who believe we need to start a homeless ministry here for homeless children and homeless families. In Laurens County, we have shelter opportunities for women dealing with domestic abuse or for men who are wrestling with substance abuse and those are good resources. But, we do not have a place in our county for a family who has no place to call their own and it is a bigger issue than many of us might think. For several of us, we sense this is something God is calling us to do right now and that we have gifts and a desire to see it come to fruition. We are not saying that this is our purpose for the next twenty years. We are simply saying this is where we feel called to right now.
I believe all of us have such a calling in the short term. God told the Israelites to settle down and become a part of life in Babylon. For a season, he had things for them to do there. In this year, what is it that God wants you to do. In 2017, why are you here? How is it that God wants to use you? If you know right now – are you willing to do it? If you don’t know are you willing to honestly ask the question and seek the answer?
At the same time, I believe that God has long term purposes for our lives. I believe that all of us are gifted, prepared and able to do particular things in this life for the kingdom of God that not everyone else can do. Again, if you look at the text, God speaks through Jeremiah about the long term plan – they would eventually go home. This was the end game.
What does that look like for us? What is it that we are here ultimately to do with our lives? What is the one or two things that God wants to use us our whole lives long to accomplish or to be about? What is it that is the place where our gifts and our passions connect with God’s kingdom needs and God’s calling on our lives?
I recall an accomplished football player who graduated a number of years after me from the same small High School that I attended. He was not only good enough to play in college but also to play in the NFL. For ten plus years, he started as a lineman for the Tennessee Titans where he made millions of dollars. But, as much as he liked football, that wasn’t where his heart kept calling him. All he really wanted to do was to return to his family’s land and be a farmer. Once he had made enough money for a lifetime and qualified for the NFL’s pension fund, he bought hundreds of acres, built a house and finally began to do what he loved. I have heard that on Friday nights he stands against the fence at our high school field wearing overalls and work boots literally having just walked out of the field and driven to the stadium. There he watches young men wear the uniform he once wore while he stands against the fence attired in the uniform he has always dreamed of and longed to wear.
What is it that you long to do that is in keeping with what God is calling you to do and has created you for? What is your purpose? How will you find a way to that spot where God is calling you and where your heart will finally find peace? Amen.