Researcher Christian Smith uncovered some fascinating insights while working on the National Study for Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill a few years ago. When asked the question, “what is the purpose of this life?” a majority of Americans answered simply:
“To be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise. In fact, you might even agree with that sentiment. You don’t have to look very hard to see that personal happiness and fulfillment is the central theme of modern Western culture. Follow your heart! Chase your dreams! Do what you love! These are the mantras of our civilization.
And with the right nuance, there is some truth to these things. We certainly weren’t created for a miserable, meaningless existence. But placing personal happiness at the center of our pursuits is actually a sure-fire way to find misery.
We weren’t designed to be the central character in a story we are writing, we were made to be beloved members of the supporting cast in a Divine masterpiece God has been writing since the beginning of time. Look at Genesis chapter 1:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
We were made to be image bearers, vice-regents (a person who acts in the name of another) reflecting the glory of God and carrying out His purposes in the world. God has been, and always will be, the central character of The Story, and we will only find our true joy in fulfilling our creative role in His grand narrative.
We were created for the glory of God.
This is true of our everyday work as well.
Flip the Script
In the 1500s, the common belief was that the earth was at the center of the universe and all the rest of the heavens – the moon, sun, stars – revolved around us. It wasn’t until a scientist named Copernicus confronted this falsehood that the truth finally won out.
The Gospel creates a kind of “Copernican Revolution” in our lives as well. It flips the script! It removes us from the center of our own story and puts God in His rightful place. This is the story we were meant to live, as vice-regents, image bearers, and reflectors of God almighty! This is the context for our everyday work.
Here’s the reality – God did wire each of us a certain way, he gave us talents and passions and dreams for this life we have to live. And He undoubtedly wants us to pursue those giftings, to His glory and for His purposes!
If you want to pursue more meaningful work, if you want to find more purpose in your day job, start here. Pastor JD Grear says it this way:
“Whatever you’re good at, do it well for the glory of God. Then do it somewhere strategically for the mission of God.”
Pursue your own happiness and find your own misery. Pursue God’s glory and you can find joy in the expression of your God-given giftings in wherever your daily work leads you.
“For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.”
This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.