What Is My Purpose?
Rooted in Identity, Found in Worship
You’ve probably been hearing some form of this question since you were barely old enough to answer it with words. It probably began with various adults inquiring, “What will you be when you grow up?”
Only a few hours ago, I asked two of my sons this question at the table. My 5-year-old said he would be a “worker guy,” which I understand to mean he wants to be in construction. My 3-year-old, on the other hand, is going to “play music and feed dinosaurs.”
One is more plausible than the other, but I love that they both answered passionately and with a confidence that makes me a little jealous.
What are you going to be?
It’s a good question, but as we grow and change, so does the question. For one, people begin to have some expectations that your answer to it will become more realistic. At some point, someone mentions that dinosaur feeding musicians aren’t in super high demand.
A second shift happens within the question, and it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. We stop asking, “What are you going to be?” and start asking, “What are you going to do?”
It’s a shift from being to doing, and from who to what.
Purpose Comes From Identity
In a culture that loves to define who we are by what we do, how I wish we spent more years talking with our children about who they want to be and not just what they want to do.
How do we identify as unique individuals created by God as well as the community—Christ's body? How do we understand both being a disciple of Jesus and a disciple-maker? A follower and a leader? How do we become fathers and mothers while retaining our identity as sons and daughters?
Perhaps we need to spend a little less time thinking about what we’ll do for a living, and more time thinking about what we’re living for.
I am not suggesting that questions of “doing” are unimportant, but rather those questions proceed from “being". Even if the world around us desperately wants to see our capability and productivity, internally, we still long to know our identity and purpose.
Seeking answers to questions about vocation and purpose is vital! I just want to establish that those answers will always proceed from an understanding of identity.
God has a lot to say about our identity, but let’s look at a few highlights:
If you’d like to read more about identity, begin with this article on our identity image-bearers.
Purpose Is Found In Worship
When we begin to understand our identity as wonderfully-made image-bearers of God, the “children of God” through Jesus’ saving work, our purpose begins to emerge.
From our identity as an image-bearer of God, comes our purpose to reflect the glory of God!
From our identity as children of God, redeemed from our sin by Jesus, comes our purpose to show how worthy our Savior is! From the idea of showing God’s worthiness comes our word “worship,” which means “showing the worth”.
In the book “Pursuit of God,” A.W. Tozer describes this process like this:
"Being made in His image we have in us the capacity to know Him. In our sins we lack only the power. The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life in regeneration our whole being senses its kinship to God and leaps up in joyous recognition.” (1)
In other words, if wonderfully-made, image-bearing, redeemed children of God are what we are, then worship is what we do. While our worth is inherent, this response of “showing the worth” of God is intentional! This “joyful recognition,” as Tozer puts it, is not a passive activity, but a response in which we choose to engage!
So how do we do that? Let’s talk about worship.
How To Engage in Worship
There is a sense in which we worship in everything we do.
We worship or show that God is worthy by the way we live our lives before him.
Worshiping Generally in All Things
Romans 12:1 says to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The 1st-century audience this was written to had seen temple worship firsthand, including the sacrifices made as part of it. In one analogy, Paul gave his audience a vivid understanding of both the quality expected of the sacrifice and the total surrender of it.
This general “act of spiritual worship” concerned living all of life before the Lord in an acceptable way and totally surrendered to Him.
Perhaps a personal and more modern example would be helpful for us:
I love my wife.
On the day we were married, I made vows that clearly stated how I would show that love to her in the years to come by being faithful, loving her in all conditions, etc.
Almost 9 years since that day, I strive to show my love for her by making specific choices.I worked extra hours at jobs I disliked because I wanted to provide financial stability. I worked fewer hours at jobs I liked because I wanted to prioritize time with her. Sometimes I do the dishes because I want to surprise her with a clean kitchen. I often dirty the kitchen immediately afterward so I can have dinner with her.
Have I perfectly done this? Of course not. Let’s be clear—I am a sinful, selfish person who often prioritizes myself, and is still becoming like Jesus. When I choose to prioritize my love for her over myself, I am actually loving her in practice.
Showing that God is worthy (worship) should show up as the motivation behind every priority in our lives, if we are to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice”. Colossians 3:23-24 describes this type of motivation as doing work “as for the Lord and not for men”.
No matter your occupation, your decided college major, or choice between dishes or laundry, you can worship God by doing it for His glory.
Worshiping Specifically with Words
We worship generally in all things by the posture we have toward God, and the repeated decision to honor Him with our lives. This is not a passive pursuit, but an active reorienting of our lives for the glory of God. A part of this “active reorientation”, should also include the specific activity of giving praise to God.
Looking again to the example of marriage, imagine a marriage where both husband and wife did all of the tasks necessary to operate a home together, but never spoke a word to one another.
Never an “I love you”.
Never a note or a card.
Just checkmarks in checklists and tasks completed day after day.
Perhaps this doesn’t take as much imagination as you would like. These verbal expressions of love to one another take a different kind of effort than the tasks on the checklist, but they are essential!
My mind goes to the cinematic masterpiece, “The Princess Bride” (2). At the beginning of the film, the princess repeatedly asks the farm boy to do various farm chores, and he simply responds, “as you wish.” The narrator lets us in on the secret that what he really means is “I love you,” and by the end of the segment, the princess is scrambling to find one more thing to ask of the farm boy, just to hear “as you wish” one more time.
We see a heart of love demonstrated through actions, but how we also long to hear it expressed!
A clarification here: God does not long to be made complete in the same way Princess Buttercup longed to hear Wesley say, “I love you.” He is not somehow completed by our worship—He is worthy of it.
Psalm 63:3 says, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” The writer recognizes the steadfast love of God, and his response is to praise Him with words.
What About Songs?
You may be wondering at this point if we’re ever going to get to singing. I suspect some of you may be surprised we’re nearing the end of this article with worship in the title, and haven’t talked about it yet.
The truth is, the Bible has a LOT to say about singing, and it is often an activity paired with the proclamation of praise to God. In fact, you’ll find that singing comes up well over 100 times in the Bible, either as an instruction to sing to God, or an example of a time when people did. So yes, singing is important and probably deserves a separate discussion altogether.
Bear in mind, however, that for our songs to be worship, they must come from a heart near God. A warning is given to the people of God in Isaiah 29:13, that they were honoring God with their words, but their hearts were distant from Him. Jesus takes this a little farther in Matthew 15:7-9, and says that their worship is in vain.
In other words, they were singing all the right songs but still failed to worship.
So How Do I Worship?
We were made in God’s image with the created purpose of reflecting the worthiness of a worthy God. If you're looking for a better understanding of life's meaning and your personal purpose, begin with worship. Begin with knowing and being known by the God who both made you and redeems you through the work of Jesus. See the way He loved you first, and respond to that love by holding nothing back. He is worthy of our hearts, our lives, our words, and our songs.
In closing, I’d just like to give a few practical steps you might take to worship God in the weeks to come:
Consider your identity.
Consider your priorities.
Grace and peace,
(1) Tozer, A.W., The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948)
(2) The Princess Bride [Motion picture]. (1987). Santa Monica, CA: MGM Home Entertainment.
(3) All Scripture quotes taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
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