Surely no one wants to live a life without purpose. It would be the same as living a life without value or meaning. Waking up and knowing that nothing we might say or do was of any consequence is a soul crushing experience. yet for the Orthodox Christian, more than any one else, there should be purpose, meaning and value in each moment. When we live without a clear knowledge of or commitment to that purpose, then our life is lived without direction or meaning. We might fill it with all manner of activity, and we may create a purpose for ourselves, but if it is not the purpose revealed by the living Creator God who made us and renewed us in His Word by the indwelling Holy Spirit, then it is no purpose at all.
It is possible that we can create a purpose for ourselves that is practically no different to that of the non-Christian people around us. We can make becoming wealthy our purpose, even if we also give some space to being religious and even spiritual. We can make becoming highly educated our purpose, and seek to gain as many qualifications as possible. We can make becoming important and gaining prestige among others our purpose, in our employment, or even in the Church. We can make being happy, self-fulfilled, self-satisfied, our purpose, and can spend all of our time finding ways to enjoy life as far as we understand it. None of these are any different to the purposes that non-Christians adopt for themselves, and none of them are a worthy purpose for the one who has been united with Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit. But we can deceive ourselves, and convince ourselves that these are God’s purpose for us, and that some experience of the spiritual life, and some commitment to religious behavior, even religious service, is enough to fulfill our obligations to God, so that we can create a purpose that satisfies ourselves.
When something fulfills its purpose, then it is doing and being exactly what it was made for. If we use a lawnmower on a carpet then it will not be fulfilling its purpose. If we try to use a car underwater it will not be fulfilling its purpose. We can think of countless examples of how things have a specific purpose for which they have been made. When they are used for something else, something inappropriate, then they will fail in the end, and may even cause harm. This is why so many of the devices we can purchase have instructions about what they should not be used for, as much as what they should be used for.
We should not imagine that our human life is any different. Just as a car must be used as car to fulfill its purpose, so each human is called to live according to a certain purpose that manifests our own human nature authentically, and any other purpose must lead to us becoming less completely human as God intended. For the Orthodox Christian, this purpose should be the basis of our life, our ambitions and every activity. It is not enough to engage in some religious and spiritual behavior, while living according to our own purpose. That cannot make us truly human, and is not properly Christian. Indeed, it is not Christian at all. If we are not living out the purpose of the Christian life, the authentically human life, then we are not really Christian and not really human.
This is why so many of us live in anxiety, fear, loneliness, compulsion, anger, frustration, boredom, and emptiness. We are not living as God intended. We are not living out the purpose of God for our life. We are not authentically human.
What does God say? He has not failed to communicate his purpose for us. In Exodus 9:16, God gives Moses a message to speak before the Pharoah. He says,
For this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.
God is speaking here to a man, a violent ruler who has enslaved the Israelites, and is not a believer in the true God at all. But this man has a purpose in God’s will, because all of mankind has just such a purpose. It is not exclusively for those who are Orthodox Christians, as if others can choose some other purpose. Rather it is the universal purpose of all human life, and all of mankind must embrace this purpose in order to be authentically human. What does God say that the purpose he has for the Pharoah is?
It is threefold. In the first place, we see that our circumstances belong to God and not to ourselves. I have raised you up. We cannot say, look at what I have achieved, I will give God this little worship and attention, but all of this belongs to me. On the contrary, all that we have already belongs to God. In the parable, the Lord Jesus warns us of the man who lives for himself. The fool says to himself,
“Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
This foolish man thought that all he had was due to himself. He thought that having worked hard he could take credit for his own success. But in fact in one night the one who is truly Lord and Master of all calls him to account, and he is found to be desperately poor, since he can take none of his wealth with him, and his self-importance in this life is of no consequence before God.
When we really believe that all that we have is of God and that we belong to God, and that we find our purpose in this belonging to God, then and only then is there lasting meaning and value in our life. God gives us all that we in turn give to him. When we think that we own ourselves then we are with-holding what properly belongs to God, and relying on our resources we can create nothing with any eternal value. When we give ourselves entirely to God, he gives us silver and gold to build our lives with. When we think that we are the masters of our own destiny then we discover that we have built with hay and straw, burnt up in the furnace of the divine presence.
In the second place, the purpose God has is that He may show My power in you. The purpose of God, even for the unbelieving, is that he may come to have a relationship with each one so that his power might be manifest in each life. This power is the Holy Spirit. Indeed, when the Angel Gabriel announced the incarnation to the Virgin Mary he said, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Our relationship with God is not an external one. We do not recognise God as the distant and remote deity we must obey, since he gives us life and all things. On the contrary, we discover that together with all of our daily needs, and more importantly, he gives us Himself, and is found dwelling within our hearts, as the power of God, the Holy Spirit who brings Christ to birth in us.
The purpose of God for each of us, is that we live in the light of the loving gift of all things from God’s hands, and the ownership of God which brings us to life, but also with the unceasing experience of union with God by the indwelling power and energy of God. There is no value in our life, we are not truly experiencing human life at all, when we do not live out of the power of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Therefore we must make this our aim, since this is our purpose, that we be filled more and more with the divine power, the life and love of God. At every moment we must choose that which will help is to grow closer to this power. Nothing else matters. Nothing at all.
And in the third place, this divine purpose, worked out by the power of God in us, is so that My name may be declared in all the earth. It seems to me that this points to our purpose in life as expressing the quality and character of God in the world. Now often we can jump to this third step and be very active, but in our own strength and building with hay and straw, even while we are engaged in religious, even spiritual service. This is a grave mistake. It represents the same attitude of the foolish man, but in a slightly different context. It allows us to say – Look at this ministry I have created, or this service I have built. Yet this would not lead us into God’s purpose for us. We cannot do things and then give them to God, asking for his blessing. We have to begin with the first step, believing and confessing that we belong entirely to God, and that everything we have is of God, and therefore that all we do is in obedience to God, and not according to our own will.
It is better to wait patiently to discover God’s will for us, and then in obedience and in the divine power which God gives, to act according to God’s purpose, than for us to leap into action ourselves and in our own strength and according to our own will, and then offer this self-will, however well intentioned we might think it, to God as if he must bless it.
But this last phrase does show us how our lives are to be oriented. We are to give our whole lives, day by day to God, who is the giver of all we have, and the Lord and Master of our every moment. We are to seek always to be filled with the divine power and energy of the indwelling Holy Spirit, so that nothing we do causes us to lose this power that does not belong to us but overwhelms and sustains us. And finally, we are to be living out these two aspects in obedient service in the world, as God wills and gives grace, so that in all things it is God who is glorified, and not us at all.
How is God manifested in my life? That is what matters and what makes us truly human. We are to be the presence of God in the world, not as if he was absent and we were representing him instead of him. But truly present in us and through us and with us. He gives himself to us, as we give ourselves wholeheartedly to him, and in his gift, the power of God in the indwelling Holy Spirit, God is present in his world. Nothing else matters. Nothing else makes us authentically human. This is our purpose.