3 Mistakes We Make When Seeking Purpose in Life

search for purpose

Finding satisfaction in our unique role in God’s Kingdom

What am I doing here?

Surely you’ve had that thought. It happens every so often when we get caught up in some task of the day and find ourselves spinning our wheels or spending an undue amount of time trying to fix a problem or figure something out. At some point, we see through the fog of frustration and take a step back and just ask that question: What am I doing here?

That happens at a micro-level, but it also happens at a macro-level. That is, we might get frustrated when trying to change a tire or help our 7th grader with math homework and silently ask, What am I doing here? or we might be on a deeper quest. A more meaningful search. We might be coming to the end of ourselves, an end brought on by a lag in our career, a failed relationship, or some other disappointment that has caused us to wonder if the things we spend so much of our time and resources on are actually worth it. It’s during those times, we ask that same question, but with a deeper answer desired.

We ask, “Why am I here?” and we are talking about our purpose. About how to find meaning. About whether we are living and working and caring about the right things.

For the Christian, the question of purpose is an essential one, though it might be phrased a little differently. The Christian might not ask, “Why am I here?” but rather “What is God’s will and desire for my life?” In both questions, the search is for meaning and purpose, but in the second one there is the recognition that true meaning and purpose can only be found in God. This is the best first step to finding actual purpose—it’s to recognize that all of everything flows from God, including meaning and purpose. A search for those things apart from him is fruitless indeed.

But even if we are on that right track, we might still make some mistakes in our search for purpose. Here are three of them to avoid:

1. The Mistake of Overestimation.

You are not me. And I am not you. That’s more than okay; that’s how it should be, because God has specifically and intentionally designed us as individuals:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” —Psalm 139:13–14

Because we are unique, it’s a good and right thing for us to recognize that my purpose in life is an individual one. And yet we might make the mistake of overestimating the importance of that individual purpose. That doesn’t mean that our individual purpose is non-essential, because it is essential. It does mean, though, that we can get so caught up in making sure we find my purpose that we actually start to treat the discovery and living out of that purpose as an idol.

We might overestimate our individual purpose to the degree that we lose sight of all the good that can be done in our normal, everyday lives around us.

2. The Mistake of Thinking too Small.

Similarly, we might also make the mistake in thinking too small about our purpose. That doesn’t mean that God has some kind of bigger purpose for our lives than just being an accountant or a mom or a Sunday school teacher; it means that we might think so much about my purpose that we lose sight of the place of my purpose in the bigger purposes of God.

Yes, each one of us can find individual purpose and meaning, but that individual purpose and meaning is meant to be experienced inside the larger purpose and meaning of God’s people and kingdom. The Bible is full of analogies to help us understand how this works. Take, for example, the analogy of the body in 1 Cor. 12. Paul was reminding the Corinthians that even though some people’s gifts might make them more visible, those people are not more valuable than the others. Just as the eye is not the hand, and though they serve different purposes, each one is vital to the whole body. So it is with us: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).

Be careful, then, in your search for purpose that you do not neglect the larger purposes for God’s people of which you are a part.

3. The Mistake of Shortsighted Goals.

How might we make this mistake when we look for purpose and meaning? It’s because we might think about purpose in terms of an activity we do. That we find meaning through a vocation. And while that is partially true, we should always remember that God’s long-term aim for us is not to do something, but to be something:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” —Ephesians 1:3–4

God’s endgame for us is not a certain job or role; it’s to be conformed to the image of Christ. Throughout our lives we will all change jobs, move to different cities and be a part of different groups. And God will use all those things not to be our purpose, but instead to help us become like Christ. We are shortsighted when we lose sight of this. 

We must always keep in mind that we are on a journey to become like Jesus, not just to do some activity.

What am I doing here? We have all asked it. We will continue to ask it because we all want to live lives of meaning. Let’s make sure and not stumble as we search for that meaning and instead keep our eyes fixed on Christ rather than some elusive place in the world. Let us find our satisfaction in him rather than what we are doing.

Read more from Michael Kelley »

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This article originally appeared on Thinke.org and is reposted here by permission.