The Necessity of Purpose
I worked my way through seminary by managing an office for a family practice physician. I learned a lot about health care, and even more about people. During those years I noticed that people who retired early and just sat around watching television aged very quickly and died young. However, people who continued working into their 70s and had many meaningful relationships and activities throughout their retirement seemed to stay vibrant and live to a very old age. In other words, being stagnant led to death, while growing and serving led to more life. Feeling purposeless led to isolation and desperation. Having a purpose led to a vibrant spirit and a positive influence on others.
Twenty years ago, Rick Warren published his book "The Purpose Driven Life." Translated into 137 languages and selling more than 50 million copies over the last two decades,1 the popularity of the book demonstrates a universal human desire to find and live with purpose. We need to know that our lives matter and that we can make a difference in the world.
The Bible tells us that the primary purpose for the follower of Christ is to love God, love others, and then, by principle, love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). We can and should have a life of love in all domains of life, including our work. As God calls people to various vocations, they can live out the purpose of loving God and others by serving the world in many different ways.
Teachers profoundly influence their students’ lives — not only through teaching them to read, write, and solve equations — but by helping them learn to cooperate with others and develop a vision for their future. Engineers influence others by bringing order and functionality to the world, making life more efficient and safer. Healthcare professionals show that people have intrinsic value and worth as they spend time, attention, energy, and effort helping people’s bodies heal. Social workers impact others as they advocate for those without a voice or connect people with resources. Artists of many disciplines influence the world for the better as they reflect beauty, goodness, and truth through their work.
Purpose Leads to Influence Influencing Others With Your Purpose
People influence the world for the better by working purposefully and with excellence. This idea was modeled by Jesus. He stayed singularly focused on his purpose and mission of bringing healing, hope, salvation, redemption, and restoration to people and to the broken world. He brought the good news that life with God was available to everyone, not just to the rich and powerful as many people thought at that time. He attended to the people who were usually overlooked. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and gave sight to the blind. He loved and served, ultimately sacrificing his own life so that people could be restored to relationship with God. The influence from his life of purpose cannot be overstated.
Just so, when people follow the example of Jesus and live out their purpose with faithfulness and consistency, they influence the world for the better. There is a leadership maxim that says leadership is not about role or title, but about influence. In an organization, the person with the title of leader (such as supervisor, manager, or CEO) may or may not be the actual leader. The actual leaders in an organization are those with influence. To identify the true leader, pay attention to who people follow. Leaders may exert a positive or negative influence. By following the model of Jesus and loving and serving others, people influence others in a beneficial way. By loving and serving others, the purposeful leader demonstrates that they see the image of God in others and find them worthy of love and respect. In return, the leader receives the inner assurance that his or her life is making a difference.
Tuning Into Discerning Your Sense of Purpose
Author and pastor Frederick Buechner articulated the importance of recognizing the work God calls us to do. In explaining how to discern our vocation, he noted that we are called to the intersection of the world's deepest thirst and our deepest joy.2 In other words, we live out a life of purpose and influence when we do the work we the world needs most — and that we feel called to do.3 By doing this work, we make a contribution to the world and reflect God’s design for us to exercise stewardship over his creation. By working in our areas of passion and giftedness we experience joy and delight. We live with purpose when we do the work for which God has gifted us and called us.
Influence Comes from Living With Purpose Long Term
Living with purpose and a sense of vocational calling enables us to be people who think, communicate, contribute, and lead with influence. It is through living humble lives of love and service that we are most influential. As Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his live as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28, NIV). True and good influence comes from living with purpose in ways that change lives and whole communities by placing the interests of others before our own.
1 Rick Warren. (2022). Simon & Shuster, Inc. https://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Rick-Warren/39904606
2 Buechner, F. (1993). Wishful thinking: A seeker's ABC. Harper Collins. Page 119
3 Buechner, F. (1993). Wishful thinking: A seeker's ABC. Harper Collins. page 118.
Approved by Faculty for the College of Theology on Oct. 3, 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.