“It’s not about you.”
With those words, evangelical pastor Rick Warren opens his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life.
“The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness,” writes Pastor Warren. “It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”
Rick Warren’s message is one that the world needs to hear, and apparently wants to hear. As of 2007, after only five years in print, The Purpose Driven Life had already been translated into 56 languages and had sold more than 30 million copies, making it one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time!
People are hungry for meaning in their lives. They long to discover and understand their life’s true purpose. But, says Warren, “we typically begin with the wrong starting place – ourselves. We ask self-centered questions like, ‘What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future?’”
What is the purpose of your life? Of one thing we can be sure, says Warren: “It’s not about you.” It’s about the God who created you.
His emphasis is not a new one. Others have encouraged us to find our life’s purpose and meaning in God and in the praise of God’s glory:
In the Principle and Foundation of his Spiritual Exercises, written in the 16th century, St. Ignatius of Loyola states that “Man is created to praise, reverence and serve God…”
The Westminster Catechism, an 18th century outline of the Christian faith, asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.”
The psalmist writes, “Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, nor anything like your works. All nations you have made will come and worship you, O Lord, and glorify your Name. For you are great; you do wondrous things; and you alone are God” (Psalm 86:8-10).
In the Rule of our Society, we echo that truth when we say, “Human beings were created to bless and adore their Creator and in the offering of worship to experience their highest joy and their deepest communion with one another. In our fallenness we continually turn in upon ourselves to seek fulfillment without self-offering. We squander on lesser things the love which is due to the one source of all being” (SSJE Rule, chapter 16)
It’s not about us. It’s about God, who created and redeemed us, and who sustains our life day by day. We have been created by God and for God, and we will find our deepest joy and satisfaction when we live in union with God.
One of the early Church Fathers, St. Irenaeus, commenting on Genesis 1:26, suggests that the primary meaning of humanity’s being made in the image of God is that God has made humanity sufficiently like himself for communion between God and human beings to be possible. Being created in the “image” of God, says Irenaeus, expresses the possibility of human communion with God. Being created in the “likeness” of God stands for the existential or moral similarity with God into which humanity is to grow as it actually lives in communion with God. We are to become more and more like God as we live in union with him.
“Our hearts are restless, O God, until they find their rest in You.” (St. Augustine)
This evening we are beginning a seven-part preaching series entitled “Teach Us to Pray,” which will examine the seven types of prayer named in The Book of Common Prayer. We rightly begin tonight with the prayer of praise which orients our whole being towards God, in whose image and for whose purposes we are made.
We are created in the image of God in order that we might enjoy communion with God. But that is not to say that the relationship is symmetrical. The proper relationship of human beings to God, in Christian eyes, is the relationship of worship. We are God’s creatures and we are meant to give worship and praise to our Creator. The psalmist rightly exclaims, “Come, let us bow down and bend the knee before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:6-7).
Prayer is the means of that communion between God’s creatures and their Creator, and the praise and worship we offer God in prayer reflect that relationship properly understood. “To glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” says the Catechism, is the purpose for which we have been made, and the starting point for prayer.
This prayer of praise finds expression not only in our personal prayer, but in the prayer of the Church as expressed in its liturgy. We come together to praise and worship God. In the liturgy we enjoy that communion of love that we share with God and with one another. We listen as God speaks to us in the reading of Scripture and in the interpretation offered by the preacher. We call upon God in the language of worship, offering our praise, our thanksgivings, our petitions, our oblations. In the act of worship, we “experience [our] highest joy and [our] deepest communion with one another” (SSJE Rule, chapter 16).
But the offering of praise to God goes beyond our personal prayer and beyond the collective prayer of the Church. Praise is to saturate our entire lives!
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds them that God chose them even before the foundation of the world (1:4). He tells them that through Jesus Christ, God has poured his grace upon them, forgiving their sins and adopting them as his beloved children (1:5-7). He reminds them that God’s purpose and plan encompasses far more than their individual salvation. God plans “to gather up all things in [Christ]” (1:10), setting creation right, and ordering all things as he intended. “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,” Paul says, “having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory” (1:11-12).
All this has been done for us, says Paul, so that we might live for the praise of his glory! That is God’s purpose for us. That is the purpose for which we have been created.
As we are well aware, it is possible to “squander on lesser things the love which is due to the one source of all being” (SSJE Rule, chapter 16).
Some of us have seen our lives in terms of fulfilling our duties: going to church, raising our kids, making a decent living, being a good citizen.
Others of us have seen our lives in terms of fulfilling our desires: acquiring lots of good stuff, enjoying all sorts of physical pleasures, filling our lives with excitement, demonstrating to others just how successful we are.
For most of us, the reality lies somewhere between the two extremes of duty and desire.
But today I am reminding you that God’s purpose for your life transcends whatever personal goals you might have adopted. God’s purpose for you, simply put, is to praise and glorify God – in everything you do and say!
The psalmist proclaims, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). Praise God – in prayer and in worship, in words and in actions, in solitude and with others, in everything you do and say! Praise God – with songs and dance and musical instruments, with shouts and laughter and tears. Praise God – today, tomorrow and forever. In everything, glorify the Lord!
When we live for the praise of God’s glory, we experience life in its fullest sense. That is why we are here and that is why God sent his Son to dwell among us: and so that all nations and peoples will learn to praise and bless his glorious Name!
Don’t settle for anything less. This is the very work of saints and of angels! Let this be your highest calling as well as your greatest joy. Let this truth capture your heart, let it motivate your behavior, let it transform your life. Let it enrich your every moment and guide you into the fullness of that real and eternal life that God makes available to us through his Son.
Praise the Lord.
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