Finding Your Purpose in This World
It seems to me that very few people today seek to understand life’s big picture. We live our day-to-day lives happily on the whole, but often disconnected from any wider understanding of life; free from any true sense of a wider meaning or purpose. When considering this fact author Charles Drew says, “We are free to be ourselves, but we are fuzzy about who we are and how we fit in with what is going on around us. We lack vision, in other words, and because we lack vision we lack the passion we need to cut our way through the inevitable setbacks and frequent dullness in whatever we have set out to do. In the absence of a story that connects us to what is going on around us (and to other people), life grows lonely and its purpose often shrinks down to the hollow and even frantic pursuit of whatever pays the biggest dividends (emotionally, spiritually, or materially).” To address this fuzziness, this lack of vision, Drew wrote a book he called A Journey Worth Taking. It is a book that addresses the universal human quest for meaning or what some would term calling.
A Journey Worth Taking is, quite simply, a book about living. It is a book about calling, about meaning and about worldview. It is an attempt to provide a framework around which we can understand life. Drew, a Presbyterian pastor who serves Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, writes in a way that is relevant but Scriptural, up-to-date with the culture, but always dependent upon the ancient Scriptures. And what a grand combination this is. Drew clearly has his finger on the pulse of the culture and is able to speak its language, even while remaining faithful to Scripture. He is able to use terminology that the culture will understand, but to do so while giving those terms biblical meaning and import.
The book is built around four great ideas, all of which are drawn from the Bible. They are:
- Human life comes with built-in purpose.
- Something goes wrong with how we express our purpose.
- What gets ugly and destructive can be remade beautiful and right.
- What we do matters, because we are going somewhere.
These big ideas are otherwise known as creation, fall, redemption and consummation and through the book’s 270 pages, Drew moves very deliberately through these ideas. He distinguishes between three levels of calling. In our primary calling, God calls us to Himself and to other people. Second, He calls us to self-discovery–to understanding and expressing who He has called us to be. And third, He calls us to serve in this world–to just do the things in this world that need to be done. We can only truly understand any sense of calling when we first understand that there is One who calls and that we are called first and foremost to know and to glorify Him. These levels of calling are examined through the biblical grid and are shown to provide a way that we can understand how life works. At the end of each chapter he pauses to provide insightful questions for discussion and reflection.
Though this is certainly not the first time I’ve encountered this four-fold grid, I was delighted to see what a useful tool it is to understand life and the reason God made us, the fall into sin, the redemption brought through Christ and the glorious consummation we anticipate with eager longing. It is useful in explaining why life doesn’t work the way it is supposed to and equally useful in showing how life can be redeemed.
Around the same time that I read this book I also read Joel Osteen’s Become a Better You. Though both books may be found on the same shelf in a bookstore, and where both claim to assist the quest for self-discovery, there is a marked difference between them. Where Osteen really acknowledges no authority outside of himself, Drew returns constantly to the Bible; where Osteen seems to turn to the Bible only to look for proof of what he already believes, Drew allows his understanding to be shaped and molded by Scripture. Osteen looks for no authority; Drew depends upon the authority that is his as he faithfully explains the Bible. The difference is pronounced; the difference makes all the difference. A Journey Worth Taking is the rare kind of book that I would confidently give away to either a Christian or a non-Christian friend. Unlike so many authors who deal with a similar subject, Drew carefully distinguishes between the Scripture’s promises for believers and its promises for unbelievers; he does not extend to those who do not know Christ rights and privileges that are rightfully meant only for those who do.
Anyone looking for a life lived with purpose, a life where meaning is both assumed and understood, will find here a strong introduction to the kind of framework that can help a person understand the complexities of life. In the Foreword to this book David Powlison points out that Drew deals with topics of great importance. He summarizes in this way: “You find your true self…as you stop thinking so much about yourself. You live a wonderful life…as you learn to do mundane things well. You discover yourself…as you discover someone who is far more fascinating than you. Inspirational pep talks, techniques, and strategies can never get you to any of these places. Instead you need reasons. And Charles Drew gives you reasons. Good reasons.” And, indeed, he does, for he gives reasons that are based on the word of the Creator rather than the word of mere humans. He looks to the Bible for his source and his authority and simply lets God’s Word do the talking.
This is a book that is sure to vie for a position on the list of my favorite books of 2007. I can’t think of another that has given me so much to think about. And I certainly cannot think of another that, when I finished it, I immediately started over and read it again. It is that good and that thought-provoking. I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself reading it again before long. After all, this is the kind of book that can change a life.
The book is available from Westminster Books for a very good price. And, of course, you can also find it at Amazon (though you’ll pay a few dollars more there).
I conducted an interview with Charles Drew and have posted it at Discerning Reader. You can read it here: Interview with Charles Drew.
“A current fashion is to assume that all statements about God are in actual fact statements about the speaker. ‘G-o-d,’ in other words, is a three-letter symbol for talking about our religious feelings and hopes, our religious perspectives and fears and frustrations–all of which have arisen as a result of a complex assortment of evolutionary instincts, psychological needs, and cultural (including family) training.”
“God is too creative to make any two of us precisely the same.”
“If we try to define ourselves by something we think we can control (our weight, our children’s development, our creative output), or by some special talent or genetic endowment we happen to possess, that thing will inevitably begin to control us.”
“The road to self-discovery and God-discovery is marked not so much by solitude and introspection as by simple decisions, made every day, to do what is right.”
“People who understand that their creativity is a gift of God, rather than putting it in the place of God himself, discover a paradoxical freedom. They are both free to work and free from work. Motivated by love and gratitude (powerful motivators) they are free to work very hard, giving their best back to God. At the same time, because they know that neither they nor their work is God, they are free from the burden of taking themselves or their work too seriously–as if their giftedness mandated perfection.”
“Ironically, the best way to find out who you are is not to spend too much time trying to find out who you are.”
“God means the church to be the best and safest place to discover and be yourself. It is the environment where my gifts are ‘for the common good,’ the place where self-giving love triumphs in the safety of the heavenly Father’s love. It is God’s ‘sneak preview’ on the heavenly society that the Messiah died to create.”