Note: This topic and some of the ideas come from Rick Warren’s "40 Days of Purpose" campaign.
This morning, we continue our series of messages on "The Purpose Driven Life". Last week, we saw that God does have a purpose for each of our lives. We are not the random results of an evolutionary process; we are not just collections of cells being blown about by a blind, uncaring Fate. We were created on purpose by a wise and loving God. He made us for a reason, because everything that God does, He does intentionally. And so He has a plan and a purpose for each one of us here today. Our goal over the next several weeks will be to understand why God brought us into existence; to uncover His purpose for our lives, so that we can live it out, and thereby find the meaning and the purpose and the fulfillment that He intends for us to have.
Today’s message is entitled, "You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure". And this highlights the main point of this series, which is that it’s not about us. It’s about God. The purpose of life doesn’t revolve around us – our needs, our desires, our fulfillment. It revolves around God. It starts with Him and ends with Him.
"For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him." – Colossians 1:16
"All things were created by him and for him." All of creation, everything that exists, was made by God, and for God. Think about this: what portion of the universe is accessible to us as human beings? Very little. Thanks to the Hubble telescope, we can now look deeper into space than ever before. You’ve probably seen the spectacular photos of far-off stars, and galaxies, and nebulas. But as amazing as these images are, they represent only a tiny sliver of what’s out there. Think of all the billions of stars that will never be more than a pinpoint of light to us. All of the remote galaxies, beyond the reach of any telescope. And then ask yourself, "who are they for?" Not for us – we can’t appreciate them. We can’t even see them. The answer is that they’re for God. He didn’t make them for us. He made them for his own pleasure. Does that startle you, to realize that there are things in this universe that couldn’t possibly be here for our benefit? Or how about the fish that live at incredible ocean depths, beyond our ability to descend? Marine animals that live their entire lives out of human view. What purpose could they possibly have? But they weren’t made for us. And so it’s not necessary that we be able to see them. They were made by God for his own pleasure.
And so were we. Like everything else, we were created by God so that we could bring him pleasure. Not like a toy or a pet gives us pleasure, but like our children give us pleasure. Now, does that mean that if we seek God’s purpose for our lives we won’t have our needs and desires met? Does it mean that God will be happy, but we won’t be happy and fulfilled? No. In fact, just the opposite is true. If we focus on ourselves, we will completely miss the purpose for which we were created and we will ultimately lose everything. If you’re heading in the wrong direction, you’ll never reach your destination, no matter how fast you go. But if we focus on God, the true center of our lives, then we will find lasting joy and peace. Because that’s what we were made for. It’s as simple as that. We exist for God. We were made to honor, and serve, and worship our Creator. Any other approach to life is like driving west on I-90 and hoping to reach Miami, Florida. It’s not going to happen.
"If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me." – Matthew 10:39, Msg
"If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life." – Matthew 16:25, NLT
If your life revolves around yourself and your concerns; if your days are filled with a personal quest for what you hope will make you happy; then you are heading for disappointment, and disillusionment, and despair. Because according to God’s Word, there’s only one way to be satisfied. And that way is not by focusing on ourselves or our desires, but by focusing on God and his purposes. Not seeking first our welfare, but his kingdom. As Christ taught us:
". . . he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern." – Matthew 6:33, NLT
I know – it goes counter to everything we’ve been taught by the world. It contradicts everything our instincts tell us. But if we put God first rather than ourselves, in the end we will have, not just what we need, but even more than we ever dreamed possible.
"That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, ’No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’" – 1 Corinthians 2:9, NLT
If this is true, then how do we do it? How do we give God pleasure? Let’s start with a definition. What we’re talking about here is "worship". Now, when we hear that term, we usually think of specific activities, like singing. Especially the singing of slow, meditative songs. Perhaps prayer or Bible reading. And those can be very meaningful worship experiences. But they are only a small part of all that worship involves. Because fundamentally, worship is not about religious activities. As you know, it’s possible to be involved in so-called "worship" and yet not truly be worshipping at all. Haven’t we all done this? Singing or praying on autopilot, not thinking about what we’re doing, not even really hearing the words coming out of our mouths? Or worse yet, conducting our own little religious performance for the benefit of those around us, so that they can see how pious we are; how quickly we can turn to the right verses in our Bibles, how well we know the words to all the hymns; hoping that others will admire our voice or musical skill. And when God sees that kind of "worship", needless to say, he isn’t impressed. As Christ said to the Pharisees,
"You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ’These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." – Matthew 15:7-8, NIV
You see, God isn’t satisfied with our pious words, or our acts of devotion. He wants the real thing. He wants our hearts. As the ancient Israelites were told:
"I don’t want your sacrifices – I want your love! I don’t want your offerings – I want you to know me!" – Hosea 6:6, LB
But the more important reason that we cannot equate worship with singing, or with any other religious activity, is that worship is much broader than this. It is the process of giving ourselves completely to God in every sphere of life. It involves offering ourselves to God for His use, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. It is a heart attitude of devotion, and submission, and obedience that begins when we get up in the morning, continues until we retire at night, and that influences everything in between. In other words, properly understood, worship isn’t just a part of our lives; it is our lives:
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship." – Romans 12:1, NIV
"So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering." – Romans 12:1, Msg
Worship is a continuous offering to God of all that we have and all that we are. It is giving ourselves utterly and completely to God, and being willing for him to direct our lives however he sees fit.
One more thing about the "what" of worship before we get into the "how" -– worship is a response of our love to God’s love. Just as Christ gave himself utterly and completely for us, willingly laying down his life on the cross as payment for our sins; in response we now give ourselves to God without reservation. As the apostle John put it,
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . We love because he first loved us." – 1 John 4:10, 19
We were all at one time separated from God by our sin; we were alienated from Him by our stubborn insistence upon going our own way, without any reference to the One who made us. We were absolutely determined to do what we wanted; to do what we deemed best. Unwilling to tolerate any interference from God; refusing to acknowledge his rightful authority over us. But Christ changed all that. He was both God and man, and in his death he bridged that gap between humanity and deity, so that once again we can have fellowship with God; we can have a relationship with our Maker. He took the initiative, and our part is to respond. Worship, then, is the response of our love to the love that God showed us in sending Christ to rescue us from our sin.
Now, there are three areas of life in which we can offer ourselves to God; three areas in which we worship: our minds, our emotions, and our wills. Another way of putting it is that God wants our attention, our affection, and our actions. Or you could say that He wants us to serve him thoughtfully, passionately, and practically. But no matter how you phrase it, these three areas comprise the totality of who we are.
Let’s begin with our the first area; our minds. How do you worship God with your mind, your thoughts? We could approach this in several different ways. For instance, there’s the importance of developing a Biblical world view, filling your mind with the truth of God’s Word and resisting the world’s attempts to press you into its mold. That’s what Paul is referring to when he writes:
"Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." – Romans 12:2a, NLT
This process involves things like regularly reading and studying the Bible; memorizing key Scripture verses; spending time in good Christian books. For example, take some of the hours that you spend reading the newspaper or watching television, and devote it to reading something by C.S. Lewis, or J.I. Packer, or even A.L. Perkins. I’d be happy to recommend some excellent titles.
But I’m going to take a different tack this morning. Another aspect of worshipping God with our minds is simply cultivating an awareness of His presence in our lives; learning to give Him our attention throughout the day. "But we’re busy people", someone might object. "We have families, and jobs, and responsibilities. Our lives are filled with activity. We don’t have the luxury of sitting around all day in a lotus position contemplating the mystery of the Trinity." "Like pastors." Well, believe it or not, a pastor’s life can be pretty hectic. I doubt that I could even get my legs into a lotus position, and if I did, I wouldn’t be able to contemplate anything but my pain. I understand the difficulty of focusing on spiritual matters in the midst of a busy week. Nevertheless, if we are willing to invest a little time and effort to discipline ourselves, over time we can develop habits which will help us be more mindful of God. Friends, what I’m talking about is not some strange, exotic religious practice. It doesn’t involve incense, or candles, or robes, or shaved heads, or sitting on a mountaintop saying "om". What I’m talking about is simply the practice of turning our thoughts to God throughout the day. Is this something beneficial; something the Bible says we should do? Yes.
"I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips." – Psalm 34:1, NIV
"Oh, how I love your law! I think about it all day long." – Psalm 119:97, NLT
One way of looking at this is that it’s learning to think of God in the second person instead of the third person. When we think of God as "he", it can almost be an abstraction, something far away. But thinking of God as "you" makes us aware of his constant personal presence , in the midst of all our daily activities. Most of our days are composed of long periods during which we operate independently of God and are largely unaware of his presence, punctuated by short periods of devotional activity. But learning to be aware of God’s presence changes this, making our lives into a continual experience of fellowship with the Lord.
How do we do that? Begin by establishing a daily time of Bible reading and prayer. That’s essential.
Many people have found that first thing in the morning is best; before the rest of the family is awake and bustling about. But if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t open your eyes until you’re halfway to work, perhaps some other time would be better. Just keep in mind the old rule that "what gets done first, gets done". And so, if you find yourself frequently getting too busy, or too tired, and skipping your time alone with God, then it might be better to make it first thing in the morning, even if you aren’t at your absolute best then. Try turning off the TV a little earlier the night before.
A daily "quite time," as this is sometimes called, is a good foundation. But it’s probably not enough to keep you mindful of God for a full twenty-four hours. Within a short time, the world will come crashing in, and your thoughts of God will be scattered to the four winds. So what else can you do? Here are some ideas: If you have a programmable watch, you can set it to beep on some regular interval, say every 30 minutes. And when it goes off, no matter what you’re doing, you simply pause briefly to offer up a silent prayer. "Lord, I thank you that you are always with me. Please help me to honor and please you with what I am doing right now." And then go back to work. You could make it a practice to send up a short prayer whenever you get into the car, or whenever you come to a stop light, or whenever you turn on your computer. And you might consider placing some visual reminders into your environment. For example, I have Bible verses taped onto the edges of my computer monitor. You could buy one of those "page-a-day" desk calendars with Bible verses. The possibilities are endless, and you should experiment to see what will work for you. But the goal is to develop the habit of bringing your thoughts back to God throughout the day. And if you do that, you will soon find yourself experiencing a peace that you have never known before:
"He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in him, whose thoughts turn often to the Lord!" – Isaiah 26:3, LB
Second, we worship God by offering ourselves up to him in the realm of our emotions, our affections, our passions. Most people think of God as being very somber, and stoic and severe, like those two characters in the painting, "American Gothic". But nothing could be farther from the truth.
The Bible teaches that God is passionately in love with us, and he calls us to be passionately in love with Him. For example, how many of you have read the Old Testament book called "Song of Songs," or "Song of Solomon"? In some versions, it’s named "Canticles". If you have, then you know that expressions of passion are not foreign to God. Song of Songs is a love poem, and although it uses a lot of symbolic imagery, it’s still frank enough to make a Baptist blush. A lot of people, the first time they read it, can’t believe this stuff is actually in the Bible. But Song of Songs is about more than just the love between a man and a woman. Like every book in the Bible, it’s about Christ. It’s a picture of the love between Christ and his church. In fact, the New Testament refers to the church as the "bride" of Christ. Who do you think invented love, and affection, and passion? Not us. God. He delights in us. He treasures us. He is passionately in love with us, and he calls us to be passionately in love with Him. Listen to these verses:
"The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love." – Psalm 147:11, NIV
"You must worship no other gods, but only the LORD, for he is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you." – Exodus 34:14, NLT
"O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you . . . Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself; how I praise you! I will honor you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest of foods. I will praise you with songs of joy." – Psalm 63:1, 3-5, NLT
"Jesus said, ’The first in importance is, "Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy."’" – Mark 12:30, Msg
What the Lord wants from you and me is not rituals, not rule-keeping, and not religious activities. What he wants most of all is a relationship. A love relationship. Perhaps that’s a difficult concept for you to embrace. For many folks, Christianity is about going to church every Sunday, and putting a set percentage of their income into the offering plate, and serving on the Missions Committee when it’s their turn. Following the Ten Commandments. Being upright, and respectable, and decent. But you can do all of those things, and entirely miss the one thing that Jesus says is of first importance: loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let me ask you this question: Do you love him? Do you have a relationship with God? Or are you just going through the motions of religion?
[Fiddler on the Roof]
Tevye: "Golde, I have decided to give Perchik permission to become engaged to our daughter, Hodel."
Golde: "What? He’s poor! He has nothing, absolutely nothing!"
Tevye: "He’s a good man, Golde. I like him. And what’s more important, Hodel likes him. Hodel loves him. So what can we do? It’s a new world... A new world. Love. Golde..." Do you love me?
Golde: Do I what?
Tevye: Do you love me?
Golde: Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You’re upset, you’re worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it’s indigestion
Tevye: "Golde I’m asking you a question..." Do you love me?
Golde: You’re a fool
Tevye: "I know..." But do you love me?
Golde: Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?
Tevye: Golde, The first time I met you
Was on our wedding day
I was scared
Golde: I was shy
Tevye: I was nervous
Golde: So was I
Tevye: But my father and my mother
Said we’d learn to love each other
And now I’m asking, Golde
Do you love me?
Golde: I’m your wife
Tevye: "I know..." But do you love me?
Golde: Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that’s not love, what is?
Tevye: Then you love me?
Golde: I suppose I do
Tevye: And I suppose I love you too
Both: It doesn’t change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It’s nice to know
In this clip, Tevye is asking his wife, Golde, if she loves him. She responds with a list of all the things she’s done for him over the years – cook his meals, cleaned his house, milked the cow. But Tevye isn’t satisfied. Does she love him? And finally, she realizes that she does. And so my question to you, again, is "Do you love God?" Or are you just going through the motions? If you don’t, then be honest. Confess it to God and ask Him to do a work in your heart to create that love. And if you do love Him, then express it. When you pray, tell God how much you appreciate what he has done for you; praise Him for who He is. And if you don’t know how to express your feelings for God, then read through the Psalms. Pray through the Psalms, one at a time. Use David’s words as your own. And after a while, you’ll get the hang of it.
Finally, we worship God by giving to Him our actions; by living in obedience to His commandments, and by offering up to him our abilities. And again, it’s not so much what you do – whether you’re a nurse, or homemaker, or accountant, or pastor, or schoolteacher. What matters is who you’re doing it for. Because literally everything we do, from morning to night, should be done as an expression of our love for God. Our desire should be to please Him in everything, no matter how ordinary or mundane. As Paul wrote:
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." - 1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV
"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. . . Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." – Colossians 3:17, 23, NIV
Rick Warren has a phrase for this which I really like. He calls it "turning your work to worship". In order to increase your worship, you don’t necessarily have to pray more, or read the Bible more, or go to church more. All you have to do is change your attitude toward your work. Do it with the intention of pleasing and honoring God. Seek his guidance in carrying out your work responsibilities. Do it as an act of worship, whether you’re preparing sermons, like me, or debugging computer programs, or changing diapers. What God cares about is not so much what we’re doing, but how and why. It’s possible to sell tires for the glory of God, and it’s also possible to preach the gospel out of pride and selfishness. In heaven, there will be many plumbers at the head of the table, and many ministers at the foot. Your attitude and your purpose in working make all the difference in the world.
In conclusion, are you worshipping God, not just here on Sunday morning, but every day of the week? Are you worshipping him with your attention, and your affections, and your actions? That’s your purpose; that’s what he made you for. And the more you embrace and fulfill that purpose, the more you will know the peace and fulfillment he intends for you to have.
(For an .rtf file of this and other sermons, see www.journeychurchonline.org/messages.htm)