How to Live with Spiritual Purpose
What plan do you have for your spiritual life? Where do you want to go spiritually? And how are you going to get there?
My hunch is that most of us don’t have a plan for our spiritual life. Most of us live hoping that we’ll drift into a better spiritual life. But that is a faulty assumption. Have you drifted into losing weight? Or becoming a better father? Or into your Master’s degree?
For some reason, we think that even though we make plans for improvement and we set goals in other areas, it’s not necessary or spiritual for us to set out these kinds of plans for our spiritual walk.
Jesus himself lived an incredibly purposeful life. If you pick up the gospel of John, you see that Jesus is very sensitive to discerning and following God’s purpose for his life. His purpose was not about self-fulfillment but self-giving at the cross. In John 17:1, Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”
How do we live a spiritual life with such purpose and awareness?
Just as we need a plan to study for a business exam, or to lock in our workouts to lose weight, so we need a plan for our spiritual life. So, what’s your plan? What do you want? How are you going to grow in your understanding of God’s Word? Or how are you going to grow in your prayer life? What current habits do you have? Do they need to be changed to grow? Do you need a shock to your system? Or maybe you need to expand what you’re doing?
We need both the habits and the goal. On the one hand, there is a power in developing purposeful habits that we consistently practice over decades. On the other hand, many of our spiritual habits are without purpose or have lost their purpose. We need habits directed toward a finish line.
Paul says this to the Corinthian church:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control…[i]
That is pretty abrasive language. Are we disciplining our spiritual life so as to run the race God has called us to run with the same purpose as a marathon runner? How are you disciplining your life purposefully? The thoughtful pastor and author, Eugene Peterson, in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, encourages us to look not for quick fixes or spiritual jolts, but rather for patterns of discipleship that will stand the test of time. What in your spiritual life will stand the test of time?
The first question for us then is what is the finish line? Paul says that he doesn’t run aimlessly. He had a specific aim in his spiritual life. We see in his letters that his aim was the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles, all the way to Rome and then Spain. Paul knew exactly where he was running. Do you?
What is your destination? What is the lasting impact you hope to have? The spiritual legacy you hope to leave your children, your friends, your church? Start by fixing the destination. For me, that has led me to write and revise a personal mission statement that reminds me of my identity of Christ and then sets my calling as a husband, father, and pastor in front of me.[ii] I don’t want to run aimlessly.
The next question is: how are we training to get to the finish line Christ has set before us?
Our tendency is to do what we’ve always done, but just as the guy with the lopsided body in the gym who only bench presses and curls and never does cardio or lower body has a body that displays that workout routine, with biceps the size of cantaloupes, a generous gut, and legs that don’t look like they should be able to support the structure, so too do many of us have spiritual routines that have created top-heavy spiritual health.
If our spiritual disciplines have created imbalances, we need a change.
Do you read the Bible every day but your prayer life is constrained to inch-deep requests to God? Do you journal daily but are disconnected from meaningful community? Do you study scripture deeply, but don’t serve the body of Christ meaningfully? When was the last time you fasted? Meditated? Memorized scripture?
Is my spiritual life aimless? Is it a lot of effort without actually moving me toward my destination?
May we dream, plan, and go after what God has for us: for his glory and our good.
Next we will dig deeper into the question of what the destination is that God is calling you to.