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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Made In The Image Of God
Applying a Theology of Human Identity
The question of our identity is one that runs deep. In the marrow-of-our-bones deep. In the deepest-well-of-the-soul deep. It’s a question that matters to us at a core level.
When considering the various evidence to the very existence of God, I think this inner longing in all people is my favorite, because I can speak from experience! More than just a logical argument, there is a yearning within me to know who I am, which speaks to a Creator in whom I might find that identity. Blaise Pascal talks about this as an “infinite abyss [that] can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, by God himself.” (1)
This inner longing goes beyond a scientific interest to know what we are, and beyond an understanding of our biological makeup. More than just a mass of functional cells, we are individual souls, who want to know our identity. Beyond knowing what we are, we desire to know who we are, and discover to who we belong.
I’m so thankful that God chose to not only reveal Himself to us but also has much to say about who we are. I hope that as we dig in to what Scripture has to say about our identity, three things will happen:
We will be more confident in who we are.
We will be better prepared to love others well.
We will love our Creator more.
We Are Image-Bearers
Let’s start at the very beginning, which Julie Andrews says is “a very good place to start”. The origins of man, and particularly the material creation of the world, are topics we will save for another time. For the moment, let’s look at what God says in reference to our design.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Genesis 1:26, (ESV).
One quick clarification is necessary for the word “man,” because the English translation is gendered male, and the Hebrew word is not. The word used here is ‘adam (אָדָם), and it refers to a human person, male or female. Perhaps a clearer translation might read, “Let us make [humans] in our image”. I find it interesting that while the writer of Genesis does distinguish between men and women, he first established that both were created in the image of God.
So what does it mean to be “made in God’s image”?
Let’s start with the original reader. The ancient Israelite audience was very familiar with created images, as every culture around them was filled with “images” of their god(s). These cultures would have created visible representations of their deity out of wood, stone, cast metal, etc. These were the idols that caused Israel so many issues over the years. They would have clearly understood what God was saying in Genesis 1:26. It probably knocked them off their feet.
Imagine being a people surrounded by cultures with many idols, which is maybe not so hard to imagine. Then God Himself declares, “I made YOU in my image”. In all of breathtaking creation, God imprints His image on humankind. Let me be clear that I am not saying we are the exact image or a replica of God in some way. (2) Rather, as Genesis 1:26 states, we are made “after the likeness” of God, a representative picture of a God who does not fit inside our imagination or understanding.
We are image-bearers, who are in some incredible way created as living, breathing statements to the nature and likeness of God! In the same way, dead stone idols represent dead silent gods, we reflect the living, breathing Creator who placed His image on us.
The implications of this certainly go beyond a single article or book for that matter, but I’d like to at least touch on a few ways this might change us today.
How does this change how I see myself?
You are wonderfully made.
Psalm 139:14 says “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”, and submitting to a Biblical definition of your identity, means recognizing that you are “wonderfully made”. I say ‘submitting’ because this verse leaves no room for either your own self-doubt over your value, or the questions others may cast on your value. What joyful submission! What a joy to say to self-doubt, “take a hike, I’m wonderfully made!”
When we rightly understand our identity as being a God-given quality, it provides a firm foundation for understanding our value. We are created as image-bearers, and we don’t have to do or accomplish anything to prove our worth. We are rightly called human beings because our value is established by simply being made in the image of God. Just by existing, we reflect the glory of God to all of creation.
Second, in addition to our identity being a God-given quality, it’s also a God-defined quality, and it is wonderful! Each of us is “wonderfully made” in the image of God! Perhaps it is helpful to know that the word translated here as “made” more literally means “set apart”. God set us apart to reflect His glory. No person made in the image of God, is anything less than wonderfully set apart. No other label supersedes this. God defines each one of us as wonderfully made, and all other attempts to identify us must first submit to this God-given, God-defined identity.
How does this change how I love others?
I’m sure you already see how the above statement might impact how we love other image-bearers. However, let’s briefly touch on a few of the ways this might play out.
First, a person’s value is established by who they are and not what they can accomplish. Modern societies are not so different from ancient ones in their belief that a person’s contribution to society determines their worth. I am not opposed to the idea that people should strive to be contributing members of society and work hard. I don’t think the Bible is either. Scripture has plenty to say about working hard (Prov 14:23, Gal 6:4-5, Eph 4:28) and about the heart which we bring to our work (Prov 16:3, 1 Cor 10:31). Here’s what I’m saying: our inherent worth is not tied to that.
I think this changes the way we look at many of the most marginalized in our society. It changes the way we look at the very young and the very old. Their lack of contribution doesn’t make them any less valuable. It changes how we look at the sick and the disabled. Their illness or disability doesn’t diminish their value to God or us.
People are more than human capital, and they are more than expendable resources. Instead, they are infinitely and eternally valuable to the God who made them and should be valuable to us too.
Second, I think there are significant implications for how Christians should deal with issues of race, ethnicity, and gender, but each of those topics deserves more than a paragraph or so that I can afford in this article. I think two places in scripture might direct our thoughts and still allow us to move forward.
In 1 Samuel 16, God tells Samuel to not even pay attention to the physical characteristics of David’s other brothers because “the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, ESV). I don’t think this verse is saying God does not see the outward appearance, but rather that He does not consider it when evaluating a person. We need to recognize that our limited vision, confined to only the outside, has the potential to mislead us. God is wholly concerned with the heart, which He can see, and we cannot (Jer 17:9, Acts 15:8).
Samuel anointed an earthly king, but Revelation gives us a glimpse of what life will be like under the Eternal King in the kingdom of Heaven. It describes “a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). Here we see a physically diverse but united multitude of people gathered together, fulfilling their purpose, worshipping God.
So how does this change how we love others? When we begin to challenge social concepts of value based on only productivity, we begin to elevate the value of the marginalized. When we begin to recognize the limitation of our own eyes, and we become aware of their potential to mislead us. When we ascribe value to every person, it should shake our prejudices to their foundation.
When we develop a desire to see all people in the heavenly multitude one day, we start to see them with the heart of God.
How does this make me worship God?
We could continue talking about this topic until Jesus comes back, but I’d rather finish up this article and send us out to do some image-bearing, and practice loving some people well.
I’d like to close by going back to Psalm 139:4, which shows us the proper response to this identity of being an image-bearer.
David says, “I praise You, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” His response is one of praising God!
There are two things contributing to his praise in this verse.
The first element inspiring his praise is awe-inspiring fear, resulting from the recognition that we have been made to reflect the Almighty God. After Israel witnesses the Red Sea parted by God for them to walk through, they use that same word (fear) to describe how He is “awesome in glorious deeds” (Ex 15:11). The nation of Israel witnessed their people be mightily rescued from Egypt. King David in Psalm 139 recognizes that he was mightily created. In the same way the Israelites witnessed the mighty works of God in their exodus from Egypt, and King David in Psalm 139 witnessed the mighty works of God in creating him! The second element is awe and wonder, which we discussed earlier, but worth bringing up again.
Let’s go back to the creation account just for a moment. God creates the heavens, sun, moon, galaxies full of stars. God creates the oceans full of every type of swimming creature, and the land with soaring mountains and green valleys. In all the splendor of creation, He only places His image on one thing: us.
Psalm 8:3-4 wonders at this very thing saying,
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
We are surrounded by people, who more than anything in creation, bear the image of the One we were created to worship! Therefore, our response to people should include worship, not of people, but of a worthy God.
Grace and peace,
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(1) Blaise Pascal’s Pensees, p.75, New York; Penguin Books, 1966
(2) The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer, p.7, New York; Harper Collins, 1961
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