Tim Challies, one of my favorite pastors, published a series of articles a few years ago to help men of faith passionately pursue greater purpose or their lives, but the information applies to both sexes.
Although originally published in 2017, his timeless advice is rooted in Biblical principles rather than cultural fads. He notes that all of us are in the process of running a race, whether we are sitting on a couch or actively pursuing a plan. Some of us are sprinting toward a prize, while others are simply out for a leisurely jog.
Pastor Challies is “calling men away from apathy toward a zealous pursuit of the imperishable prize, away from worthless habits toward godly disciplines, and away from aimless wandering toward purposeful living.”
Personally, I have wasted more time on worthless habits than I like to publicly admit. To get a better understanding of the biggest time-wasting habit that controlled my life for decades, you can read my first book, Pornocide: Why Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.
When men turn their backs on their true God-given purpose to chase after fantasies and comfort instead, they wind up aimlessly wandering. Wasting time on idle pursuits — or should I say “idol pursuits?” — kills their faith in knowing there is a genuine purpose for their lives; it steals their joy by leaving them perpetually angry; and it works to destroy their lives by unraveling everything that is important to them one thread at a time.
Pastor Challies explains, and I wholeheartedly agree, that “only when you know your purpose will you be motivated to run this race and to run it with all the effort required to win it.”
It’s like the old adage that if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know you’ve arrived at the right location? Too many of us spend too many years wandering aimlessly without having any real idea of where we are headed or why.
Having a clearly defined purpose allows us to filter out everything that doesn’t line up with that to give us more time and energy to pursue things that really matter. Many of us often wonder what the real purpose is for our lives beyond the mundane tasks that occupy so much of our time. We do this whenever we say, “There has got to me more to life than what I’m doing right now.”
Elements of a purposeful life
Pastor Challies identifies several essential elements to identifying a purpose for your life. They include:
First, asking why God saved you or, better yet, created you in the first place. Whenever we create something, we do so for a purpose. God is no different. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I lived centuries ago. But, it’s a moot point because I was created to live at this time because I was given skills, insight and desire to perform jobs essential to this period in history.
There wasn’t much call for professional writers a few centuries ago and zero need for online content producers until 20 years ago. That’s good because I would make a lousy farmer, nor do I have any mechanical inclination to work with my hands as a blacksmith or builder.
Second, understand that God saved you to sanctify you, or separate you from the rest of the world for a specific reason. In other words, he saved you to give you a “a new longing to put to death those old deeds and the desires that motivated you and to bring to life new deeds born of purer desires,” Tim wrote.
Some people live as though they were created only for leisure. The workweek provides financing for weekend activities. But, when you’re pursuing a genuine purpose, even work becomes play.
Have you ever met someone who never seems to get tired the more he works? Those folks are often operating within their specific purpose by doing jobs they were created to perform.
I firmly believe God creates us for specific purposes at different points in our lives. All those experiences guide us toward our ultimate destiny.
When we are miserable in life for long periods of time, it’s generally because we aren’t doing what we are supposed to do. We go off the course established for us by chasing things we weren’t supposed to have. Then, life becomes hopeless, as being trapped on a hamster wheel, going around and around without really accomplishing anything meaningful.
“God saves you to sanctify you, to restore you to the life he intended for you before you gave yourself to sin,” Tim wrote.
Third, once we realize that we were created for a specific reason, and set apart from others for that reason, we often understand it was to help people in a certain way. We become “zealous for good works” performed for the benefit of others.
“You are to live as a good-works extremist, a man who will stop at nothing to be a blessing to others,” Tim explained.
Again, that’s easier to do when we are working in areas for which we are uniquely gifted. It’s like the alternator on a car which generates energy while the vehicle is using energy. The act of serving others by using our unique skills, talent, aptitude, etc., works to restore ourselves in the process.
Operating within unique giftedness
Fourth, we know we are operating within our purpose when we give glory to God for what we’re doing, and others give glory to God for what we’ve done. Somewhere, someone is calling out for help in an area you’re uniquely gifted to provide. What seems easy and commonplace to you, is actually a profound mystery and incredible challenge to others.
I remember working at a hospital many years ago in a fundraising position. Yes, it was completely contrary to my skill set. One of my co-workers was tasked with producing a monthly newsletter for the staff and local community. She hated the work, dreaded doing it, often put it off until the last minute and it literally took her several days of full-time effort to get it done.
One day, she was so far behind that I offered to write the newsletter for her. I had it done within a few hours in a way that astonished the rest of the staff. Why? I was operating in my area of unique giftedness. For me, it was easy, pleasurable work that I enjoyed doing. I was asked to take over the responsibility and I looked forward to doing the work.
In doing so, I eliminated a major burden for a staff member and our entire department. My work made the hospital look good and brought greater understanding of its mission and the people behind it. Several people silently thanked God for my ability to craft stories that were easy and enjoyable to read.
“God does not save you so he can make much of you, but so you can make much of him. The good deeds you do are not meant to make yourself look great but to make God look great,” Tim explained. “They stand as proof of the great change he has worked within you, for only by his grace can you turn your desires away from your own comfort, your own enrichment, your own fame.”
There were other jobs I pursued only for the ability to improve my visibility/status and increase my income. When the desire to help others was absent, then my work became a burden. I was using my skill and talent for selfish reasons.
I was on a Zoom meeting the other day where one of the participants noted he started to create a list of 100 dreams or things he wanted to accomplish in life. When he got to 40, he hit a wall. He couldn’t go any further because he was focused only on what he wanted to accomplish. But, when he changed his focus on what he could do to help others, he easily completed the list.
Legendary motivational speaker Zig Ziglar often said, “You can have everything you want in life, if you just help enough people get what they want.”
That can only happen when you’re embracing your real, God-given purpose. When people become Christians, the Bible says they are new creations with entirely new hearts.
“With new life comes a new purpose! Let go of the ridiculous notion that your life is about you. Let go of all of the selfish purposes you once held on to. Let go of the cultural wave of apathy and self-indulgence that is plaguing so many,” Tim wrote.
“Once you have let go of all that might hinder you, grab on to a lifelong pursuit,” he added. “Embrace your purpose, and align every area of your life with it: You are here to glorify God by abounding in good works.”
Pastor Tim Challies’ full article can be found at www.challies.com.
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.