Saturday, 12 March 2016

Life with purpose

The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me... Psalm 138:8

One of the first things I was taught as a teenage convert was that God had a purpose for my life.
This conviction has never seriously wavered over the succeeding half-century. In fact, it has been so much part of me that I have rarely even so much as thought about it.

That doesn’t mean it has always been easy. There have been times when I have wondered just what God’s purpose for me was. Times when I have feared that I have drifted away from it. Times too when it has been very hard to understand how things that have happened can possibly be part of his purpose. 

But the fact that there is a purpose - that, I have never seriously doubted. I hope you can say the same.

For me, this bedrock conviction of every Christian is neatly summed up in these simple words from Psalm 138. 

All right, somebody could say, “But Psalm 138 was written by David, the great king of Israel, the ancestor of Jesus himself! Of course God had a purpose for his life! But me - well, I’m not remotely in that league!”

You could say the same thing about other great Bible characters. There’s the prophet Jeremiah, for example: “The word of the Lord came to me - ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations’” (Jeremiah 1:4-5). I don’t know what the Hebrew is for “Wow” plus half a dozen exclamation marks, but I reckon Jeremiah must have said something very like it when he received that word.

In the New Testament there is Paul. Of him it was said: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Another wow moment.

Great stories. But... we mustn’t let them cow us into feeling insignificant. All right, most of us are not chosen by God to be world-changing prophets or apostles. But we are chosen to live out, and to work out, his purposes for us.

If these thoughts are right, where are they taking us? I suggest two thoughts.

First, life isn’t just an arbitrary, meaningless muddle.

Sometimes you look at people who have no faith in God or hold upon him, and, without wishing to judge or criticize, you wonder what kind of sense they make of life. It seems to be just a case of “Stuff happens”, and they don’t expect to see any pattern or meaning to it. 

True, even the most committed Christian’s life might sometimes seem to be an arbitrary and meaningless muddle; but a pattern asserts itself over time, and the purposes of God stand out clearly. And even when that takes longer than we would like, it is the role of faith to trust that that day will come. That much-quoted verse, Romans 8:28, really is wonderfully true: “ all things God works for the good of those who love him...”

Second, God’s purposes don’t only involve easy things

Not at all! -  sometimes they takes us “through fire and water”, as the psalmist put it (Psalm 66:12). That beautiful verse is well worth quoting in full: “You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” (Don’t miss those first two words, “You let...”)

I quoted earlier the words spoken about Paul in Acts 9:15 - that he was God’s chosen instrument to bring Jesus to the gentile world and its rulers. But I didn’t go on to the next verse: “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Ah! - to be living within the purposes of God is no guarantee of an easy life: on the contrary.

Whenever I read the story of the man born blind in John 9 this truth strikes me afresh. “Why was this man born blind?” the disciples ask Jesus, assuming that his parents (or even he himself!?) must have done something bad. To which Jesus replies, Sorry, you’ve got it all wrong: “... this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

And I stroke my chin and think, “Mm, that poor chap certainly drew the short straw! Yes, God clearly had a purpose for him - I’m just glad it wasn’t me.”

I hope you share my belief in God having a purpose for your life. The message is simple... Find it through prayer, follow it by faith - and trust that (borrowing the words of a great hymn) even though the bud may have a bitter taste, sweet will be the flower.

Loving heavenly Father, thank you for countless generations of people who have believed in your purpose for their lives; please count me worthy to be numbered among them! Amen.

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