Clarifying our Purpose in Life
Until we identify our purpose in life, much of the gift of time we've been given may be wasted. We may not notice it while we are young, but as we mature, reflect on the meaning of life, and have less of life left to lean into, we are more likely to grieve the wasting of time.
God's Purpose as Context to Our Purpose: The first question in this process is to ask the broader question "What is the purpose of life?" The answer to this broader question is not generally about us, but rather about God. Until we embrace this we will continue to search for the meaning of life (with ourselves at the centre) in vain. Broadly then the purpose of life is, as the Westminster Catechism expresses it, "to love God and enjoy him forever."
Us in God's Purpose: This realization needs then to be made more specific. As you and I come to know God more intimately (uniquely-incarnate-in-Christ), discover the strengths God has given us, and how we can best use these gifts to extend Christ's love and rescue mission to others - we come to see more clearly and our more specific purpose in life.
As this discovery comes more clearly into view I believe it wise to write down and refer to it often in evaluating the use of our time and resources. Many people call this foundational statement their "Personal (or) Life Mission Statement." This thoughtful summary points to how we want to spend our time and what we want to leave behind.
Examples: In my life this purposeful contribution has focused on inviting people to follow Christ and multiplying missional communities. One woman walked through her living room and glanced at the television. The program on the needs of orphans in Romania so transfixed her that she stood and watched the rest of the program concluding she was called to make a difference. In the course of the next several years she travelled to Romania, quit her job, formed an organization and gave new life to hundreds of hopeless orphans. It is never to late to identify one's life's focus. I know a British man who upon retirement chose a village in Uganda, helped provide safe water, education, micro-economic assistance and many health benefits. Your calling may focus on helping teens or single mothers in your community or the poor a continent away. Jesus will lead you.
Periodic Review: Personally I reflect on this key thought often and reflect more deeply at the turn of each New Year. At this time my father would normally read Psalm 90 from the Bible and I would reflect particularly on verse 12: "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." In adulthood I would do the same with my family and personally ask the Lord this question: "You know my strengths and weaknesses, sins and passion. How can I use my limited gifts and resources to greater good, to your greater glory, to the greater fulfilment of my life's purpose than ever before?"
As I sense Christ leading me I often identify new year resolutions, goals or other responses which have shaped my life in foundational ways.
Planning with the end in view:
Reflecting on the brevity of life and my life's purpose in it has also led me to "plan with the end in view."
When Carol and I were first married I kept a small lined booklet on which I wrote an important category on the top of each page such as these: growing as a disciple of Christ, growing in our marriage, parenting, discipling our children to know and follow Christ, educational/personal growth goals, financial goals, health goals, fun/vacation goals etc.
Generally on a weekly basis we would review one of these 'ends' and reflect on the appropriateness of our goals towards that end and our progress towards those goals.
I've expanded this process but continued this basic approach all of my life. Some more complex goals need to be broken down into action steps, require planning for more time or money, or need to be purposefully written into our schedule.
Then we come to the beginning of a new day. This is where all of the above matters and life is lived.
Lifetime goals become quarterly or monthly goals and in the end appear on our "to do" list for the day. Yes, there will be distractions and interruptions. Yes, some ultimately important things wouldn't be completed this day or month and will need to be moved forward to the list for the next day or month. And the list is reviewed each day asking the Lord if there need to be changes.
But then some of each day is exchanged for the fulfilment of 1, 2, 3 or more items on the list which reflect and move us forward in expressing the purpose of your or my life. The hour can never be exchanged for another. It is spent, invested, or wasted.
The Important and the Urgent:
Most hours can put into one of the following priority levels. Just as when we prepare to make a financial budget, a good first step is to keep a log of where time has gone, then to evaluate whether we want to make changes.
The following may help in being more deliberate in how we shape our busy days. Priority 1 is important both to avoid burnout for those who are inclined to be driven and to avoid lazyness for those who are not.