This is part 2 in our two-part series “The Path to an Inspiring Life.” You can read part 1 here.
As you go about your daily life, have you ever found yourself wondering, Is there anything bigger than this?
I’m willing to bet that you have. Everyone has a sense of divine purpose; it’s how God created us.
He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]-yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 AMP
The question is not whether we have a sense of divine purpose, but how we’re trying to satisfy it. Nothing on earth can do it, which is why that “mysterious longing” is often the thing that draws us toward spirituality. It makes us seek something bigger than ourselves.
Jesus knew this; when he called people to follow him he promised to fulfill their sense of purpose:
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”
And they left their nets at once and followed him.
Mark 1:16-18 NLT
Jesus showed these ordinary fishermen a much more inspiring path than the one that was in front of them. Instead of just trying to make a living day after day, they could change the lives of other people. The appeal of this purpose must have been strong because they dropped everything to pursue it—including not only their literal fishing nets but also their pride. Leaving their nets would have been a humbling decision; instead of pursuing their own success or security, they would have to trust God to provide for them and trust that Jesus’s purpose was better than any pride they could take in their possessions or abilities. They were not disappointed.
Read more: The Church That Changes the World
This devotional is the second part of our series about the path to an inspiring life. In the first part, we learned that an inspiring life is one that shines a light in the world, and that God wants us to change the world rather than crave it. In this devotional, I want to touch on something else that takes us off the path to an inspiring life: clinging to our pride instead of living out our purpose.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
Psalm 10:4 NIV
In the Bible, the sin of pride means thinking we can do things without God. It doesn’t necessarily mean boasting about ourselves; it just means we hate admitting that we need help and we need God.
For me, pride looks like cutting God out of the picture (especially when I am anxious or afraid). For example, a few weeks ago I got an email with some bad news from work. My first reaction was to come up with all the ways I could fix the situation. I hopped on my computer and started typing right away. I didn’t even consider slowing down or processing what I was feeling until my wife suggested we talk and pray before planning anything. I was defensive at first, but she stopped me in my tracks by pointing out that I didn’t even believe in the plan I was making. I needed to stop and ask God for help with my fear before I could make a visionary plan that anyone else would want to follow.
This moment helped me see one of the biggest problems with pride: it makes us live small lives. Pride limits our vision because we only think about what we can see or do, not what God can do. My plan couldn’t be visionary or faithful without God because it would be limited by my own human wisdom and abilities. When all we are thinking about is ourselves and what we can accomplish, we crowd out the God who can do the impossible through us.
Let’s identify some of the signs that we’re clinging to our pride instead of living for our purpose, and then learn how to follow Jesus’s path so that the power and purpose of God can flow through our lives.
What the path of pride looks like
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
1 John 2:15-17 NLT
The achievements and possessions of the world will never satisfy our divine sense of longing. In fact, they do the opposite; they creep their way into our hearts and push God out. We may not outright say we hate God or want to go against God, but the more we focus on ourselves and what we want to get or accomplish, the less we will think about God or his purpose for our lives.
As I mentioned earlier, my pride isn’t always obvious to me, so I have to do some honest reflection to see when I’m clinging to it. Here are (just a few of) the many faces pride can take in our lives.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money, possessions, fame, status, or whatever is valued more than the Lord].
Matthew 6:24 AMP
Pride is having an excessively high view of our ability or importance, and this view of ourselves feeds on things like money, possessions, fame, and status. The more we have, the more we pat ourselves on the back.
When we live on the path of pride, our pursuit of money and status will replace our relationships with people and our love for God. We will value being better than others more than we value being close to them or doing good for them. People around us become tasks to complete or competitors to beat rather than relationships to enjoy.
Pause and reflect
- What do I think about more during the day—things I need to do and achieve, or people I want to connect with and serve?
Our pride can also show itself in a determination to rely on our human abilities rather than God. We cling to the things we can do and control instead of letting go and praying.
This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:5-8 NLT
Think about the trees in this passage: They can’t control the weather. They can’t control how long droughts or heat last. But they are confident because their roots reach deep into a river that will never run dry.
The first few verses, on the other hand, describe the kind of person who relies on mere human strength to survive rather than God’s. They are arrogant enough to think that they can handle life without God’s help, and as a result they are lonely, tired, hopeless, unbelieving, and frustrated.
God doesn’t want us to feel this way, but we need to be willing to let go of control to get the refreshment we’re looking for. We need to admit that we are not strong enough; we need a well that never runs dry.
Pause and reflect
- How do I handle challenges in my life?
- Do I strive to control things on my own by figuring out solutions, or strive to get closer to God?
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
Mark 7:6-8 NIV
Rule-keeping is an especially common face of pride amongst religious people. The “Rule-Keeper” will take pride in all of their religious behavior—like going to church, doing good deeds, and even reading the Bible and praying—rather than humbly examining their heart and coming close to God for forgiveness and help.
So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.
Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
Colossians 2:16-23 NLT
Rule-Keepers can be hard to identify because the way they live their lives seems pious. But in reality, they are disconnected from Jesus. They think they can please God with their own religious merit and good behavior.
One of the biggest problems with this is that none of us can please God with our good behavior; we are humans, and we are sinful (Romans 3:23-24). We need Jesus’s forgiveness, and our humility is actually what makes us close to God (Luke 18:9-14). We also can’t live out our purpose if we are obsessed with perfectly following religious rules. We’ll get too self-focused, and instead of helping people see God’s love and mercy we will present a God whose rules are too burdensome to follow (Matthew 23:1-13).
Pause and reflect
- How do you see rule-keeping in your life?
- How do you think it affects your relationship with God?
What the path of purpose looks like
When I start seeing all my pride, I usually feel a little overwhelmed and unsure that I can live differently. Thankfully, Jesus’ disciples felt something similar when he tried to help them think beyond themselves. Jesus’s advice to them can help us find our way to a more inspiring, purposeful life.
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”
“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”
John 14:1-7 NLT
The first step we can take to get ourselves on a more purposeful path, especially when we’ve been stuck on the proud path for awhile, is simple: just ask! The disciples didn’t think they knew the way to live an inspiring life, so instead of trying to pretend like they did, they asked Jesus for help.
Jesus answered by saying that he is the way. If we want to live a purposeful life, we need to start with doing things Jesus’s way.
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?
Luke 9:23-25 NLT
Jesus’s way involves three key choices:
- Giving up our own way – This means leaving our old way of doing things behind because we can’t live for ourselves and Jesus at the same time. Instead of seeking status, we serve. Instead of seeking control, we pray. Instead of following rules, we humbly come close to God.
- Taking up our cross daily – This means making the necessary sacrifices so we are able to follow Jesus. This may include sacrificing time, energy, finances, or physical or emotional comfort.
- Following Jesus – This means learning from Jesus how to walk with God, how to change, how to build relationships with others, how to love, how to serve, and how to help others change their lives too. We no longer base our choices off our own opinions or emotions. We give our lives over to God. To do this, we have to read the Bible regularly; otherwise, we won’t know how to follow Jesus in our everyday lives.
Pause and reflect
- What would it look like for you to give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow Jesus?
- How can you put that into practice this week?
The path of purpose is the path of love
How do we know that we love God’s children? We know because we love God and we obey his commands. Loving God means obeying his commands. And God’s commands are not too hard for us, because everyone who is a child of God has the power to win against the world. It is our faith that has won the victory against the world. So who wins against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
1 John 5:2-5 ERV
Great power comes when we love God and obey his commands. No longer shackled by the status, control, or rules that keep us proud and self-absorbed, we will genuinely care about those around us. This is a much bigger, fuller, and more powerful life than anything our pride could do for us.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love [for others growing out of God’s love for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction].
 Love never fails [it never fades nor ends]. But as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away.
 And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1,8,13 AMP
Love is powerful. Human pride has limits; achievements will fade and possessions will wear out, but the impact of our choice to love far outlasts anything else we could accomplish or achieve.
The moment we choose a life of love is the moment we discover our true purpose and meaning.
I always wanted to make a difference with my life, and when I was in college I tried to do this by working at a group home and counseling center for at risk youth. Unfortunately, it became clear very quickly that my ability to help the young men in this home was limited. One night, two of the residents got into a fight, but policy prevented me from making any physical contact so I had to try to stop the fight verbally. That night was a very clear picture of how powerless I was in making a real difference in these young men’s lives. I showed up, and tried to be kind to them, but I had no idea how to effect real change.
The issue, of course, was not the group home policy; it was that I did not know how to change myself and live a life of love. I was very religious, but I was hiding sins like unfaithfulness, drinking, and a ton of selfishness. I said I wanted to make a difference, but I wouldn’t even do things like give my roommates a ride to work.
Later, a friend of mine asked me if I would like to study the Bible together. As I read the Bible, I started to become aware of the truth of my selfishness, my self-righteousness, and my deceit. This process was humbling, but in a good way. It changed me; I saw my need for God instead of trying to be a good religious guy. Seeing my sin helped me understand the love of God in a new way; I was amazed that he sacrificed his Son for me in moments I definitely didn’t deserve it.
God’s love and His Word began to change me from the inside out. As I experienced the grace of God, I wanted others to experience it too. Since then, God has worked through me to study the Bible with countless young people, and I have seen their lives change in the same way mine did. In fact, he has guided me to a career in ministry, and I get to be part of changing lives as my full-time job.
Living a life of love is an ongoing process, but every time I choose it, I see God work more powerfully through my life. I’m grateful that God guided me to discover my true purpose and that he works through me to change other people’s lives for the better.
God planted a divine sense of purpose in each of us, and he wants to help us live it out. Our lives can make a difference greater than we could ever imagine in the world, but we can’t do it alone. Striving to fulfill our purpose without God will lead to an empty life that is limited by our human pride. Letting go of our pride and living Jesus’s way will teach us to love, and a life of love is more powerful than anything we can imagine.