When I was a boy, I would sometimes think about what I wanted to be when I grew up, as well as other aspects of being an adult; I settled on being an astronaut. By the time I was in high school, I had decided to become an astronomer, realizing that if I wanted to get married and have kids, perhaps being Earth-based was better! While I retained my love for astronomy, I eventually became an ESL teacher. By the time that happened, I had become a Christian, and while my job was very important to who I was, I discovered that being a child of God was my identity.
So, my identity had been established; I knew who I was. Then I started to think more about my purpose in life; in other words, I wanted to live in obedience to Christ in my actions, but what overriding goal was to pervade everything I did? I was still single, but that would soon change. Was becoming a good husband and father what I should strive for? While I realized that both of those would be incredibly important, I understood that they would not completely define me in terms of what the Lord wanted. Eventually, as I was systematically reading through the Bible, I found it, in I Corinthians 10:31, which says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I knew immediately that was it, and I was excited about sharing it!
At the time, I was teaching in a Third World country, and two American friends and I were getting together with a group of Americans to worship the Lord–at least that’s what we thought at first. Different people in the group took turns leading, and early on there was one young gal who spoke about how Jesus believed in His disciples and others who came to Him. Thankfully, one of my friends spoke up and said, “You’ve got that turned around. Jesus called people to believe in Him.” As the weeks went by, different members of the group enjoyed raising an issue and then almost gleefully asking, “Where do you draw the line?” It soon became apparent that they had no real interest in answering the question. One Sunday I said, “Here’s what I Corinthians 10 says: Do everything for the glory of God.” People in the group looked at me like I was an alien, and one guy said mockingly, “Oh great; yeah, that’s really helpful, Keith.” Although there were two people in that group who seemed like they were on the right track spiritually, my friends and I decided that it was time to spend our Sundays elsewhere. Thankfully, we were regularly receiving sermon tapes from my friends’ home church, so we usually listened to one of them on Sunday mornings. I should also add that a couple of years later when my wife and and I taught in that same country as newlyweds, we found a group of American believers that we enjoyed true koinonia (fellowship) with.
A few years later, in an advanced ESL class back in the U.S., I had my students listen to and discuss a couple of songs, including U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and Styx’s “Man in the Wilderness.” I then assigned them to write an essay about their purpose in life. The vast majority of them wrote about being a good spouse or parent, or being good at their job–very similar to the thoughts I had before I discovered my true purpose. One student, however, wrote about how she didn’t know what her purpose in life was, but that she was looking for her “signpost.” What an open door! I met with her privately and shared my faith with her. She said that she wanted to become a Christian, so I prayed with her. After the semester was over, I introduced her to my wife, who regularly met with her to study Scripture. Not all stories have a happy ending, however. She subsequently said she didn’t want to follow Jesus and divorced her husband. Later, she remarried, and although we have since lost touch, I pray for her every time I think of her.
I have written two posts about humility; here is a link to the second one, which I wrote last summer: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/06/03/more-about-humility/ As I thought about humility in relation to my purpose in life, I realized that the two dovetail perfectly because at the heart of it, humility means giving the glory to God and not yourself.
I try to evaluate virtually everything I do by my purpose in life. When it comes to entertainment, for example, I like to ask myself whether a given movie, TV show, or book is likely to have any redemptive value. (The Internet is a wonderful tool!) Are there likely to be any negative consequences for bad behavior? If it involves some criminal activity, for example, is there likely to be justice of any kind? Is there any depth of character, whether good or bad? If it’s a sitcom, does the humor mock the Lord in some way? Does the show portray family life in a positive way?
Have you ever thought about your purpose in life? If you’re a Christian, maybe it isn’t exactly what I decided on all of those years ago; that’s for you to work out with the Lord. If you can define it clearly, then you can evaluate anything you do by it. If you’re not a Christian, my prayer is that you will investigate what it means to be one.