What is the Purpose of Life?
by Steven R. Hemler
I believe there are two fundamental purposes in life, in addition to attaining eternal salvation. Neither of these purposes have anything to do with seeking fun, fame or fortune. Nevertheless, it's these two divinely ordained purposes that offer the true potential for finding meaning, fulfillment and happiness in life. These two primary purposes of life are to grow in personal holiness and to serve God and others.
The first primary purpose of life is to allow the grace of God to help us grow in personal holiness (sanctification). This growth seems to occur most often during the hard times in our lives, the times of struggle, pain and suffering. For it's in times of trial that we naturally turn to God and seek His power and presence more fully in our lives. We can never know God is all we need until God is all we've got.
Rick Warren in his bestselling book, The Purpose-Driven Life, explains that God's ultimate goal for our life on earth is not comfort, but character development. Whenever we forget that character development is one of our primary purposes in life, we can easily despair and become frustrated by circumstances in our life. But, God has a purpose behind every problem. God uses these problems to develop our character by drawing us closer to Him.
Of course, nobody likes to suffer or experience hardship. Yet, if we see in these circumstances an enhanced opportunity for personal and spiritual growth, we can benefit immensely and eventually be thankful for all things.
Jesus did not die on the cross so that we could live comfortable lives. No, His purposes run much deeper. He wants to make us more like Himself before He takes us up to heaven. Moreover, becoming more like Christ is not produced by imitation, but by inhalation - by intentionally asking and allowing the Holy Spirit to live through us.
However, the gradual process of becoming more like Christ is not automatic. Many people grow older without growing up. Personal and spiritual growth requires intentional commitment. We must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing. We eventually reach whatever we stay committed to. And, to become more like Christ we must first develop the mind of Christ. That means thinking far less about our own wants and much more about the needs of others.
There seem to be two fundamental orientations that people can have towards life - either to take or to give. Many people, especially when younger, mostly take from life. Infants can only take from others to meet their needs. In adulthood, many people seek to take as much fun, fame and fortune as they can from life. However, I learned in college that constantly seeking our own enjoyment, such as by going to parties week after week, does not bring fulfillment or happiness. Once the present party is over, the next is needed in order to have more fun. It just never ends. We can never have enough pleasure, power, profit or prestige. We will always want more. So, spending all our energies and hopes continually trying to take these from life will ultimately leave us unfulfilled and unhappy.
It seems that something about life can enable us to move from being a more of a taker to being more of a giver. Whereas an infant naturally takes from others, how many of us have grandparents that are remarkably self-giving? The longer we live the more we realize it's in giving of ourselves in loving service to God and others, and not by seeking only our own self-centered gratification, that we find true joy, happiness, and fulfillment. If we aren't serving, we're just existing, because life is meant for ministry.
Thus, the second primary purpose of life is to serve God and others. Our vocation and mission is to seek what God, not me, wants to do with my life. God has a Will and a Plan for each of our lives here on earth. He has a mission, or multiple missions, planned for each one of us. We receive God's call to serve Him at our baptism. Our responsibility is to prayerfully discern His Will for our lives and then act accordingly.
Examining our own unique God-given interests and abilities can help us discern God's Will for our life. For what we are willing and able to do, God wants us to do. We all have personal interests and natural abilities, because "God don't make junk." It isn't necessary to wait and first try to figure out our talents before beginning to serve God and others, especially when it comes to ministry in the church. For, God cares more about our availability than our ability! We often discover our talents just by trying. God doesn't only call the equipped, but He always equips the called.
We are often most effective at serving God and others when we use our gifts and abilities in the area of our strongest interest and in a way that best reflects our own personality and life experiences - especially our painful experiences. That's because our greatest ministry can come out of our greatest hurt. God often allows us to go through painful experiences to motivate us for ministry with others who are facing similar difficulties. For example, who can better help an alcoholic than someone who has successfully dealt with their own alcoholism?
Of course, God doesn't want us to serve Him and others out of a sense of guilt, fear, or duty. Rather, God wants us to be motivated by true joy, sincere love, and a profound gratitude for all He's given us - most especially for the gift of eternal life that Jesus Christ gained for us on the cross. Then, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to faithfully fulfill our mission, our vocation in life by being of loving service to God and others. For as the Danish proverb says, "What you are is God's gift to you; what you do with yourself is your gift to God."
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Copyright © Steve Hemler. Steve Hemler has been involved in youth ministry, pro-life political activism and religious education. His articles have been published in America, Liguorian, Church, Modern Liturgy, Religion Teacher's Journal, Liturgical Catechesis, and National Review.