What On Earth Am I Here For?
October 11, 2003 | Brian Bill
Note: This sermon is based on a message idea by Rick Warren and is used by permission as part of the 40 Days of Purpose Journey.
Life is filled with questions, isn’t it? I came across a few this week:
- Here’s one for Cub Fans: “Why do we sing, ‘Take me out to the ballgame,’ when we’re already there?
- Continuing on the Sports theme: “What would a chunk of cheese say if it got it’s picture taken?” Go Packers!
- Here’s a question for animal lovers: “Why do they call it ‘getting your dog fixed’ when things don’t work afterwards?”
- “How many people thought of the Post-It Note before it was invented but just didn’t have anything to jot it down on?
- Here’s one you may not have pondered before: “What do you get when a piano falls down into a coalmine shaft?” A flat miner.
- Here’s one that’s a little deeper (no pun intended): “If you spend your day doing nothing, how do you know when you’re done?”
Last week we looked at why we don’t want to spend our days doing nothing as we asked and answered three important questions of life.
- What does God want? He wants my whole life.
- What does it take? Discipline.
- Why should I do it? Because of the Cross.
During this message we’re going to tackle three more questions that have been asked down through the centuries.
- Why am I alive? That’s the question of existence.
- Does my life matter? That’s the question of significance.
- What is my purpose? That’s the question of intention.
In order to answer these questions I want to direct your attention to an amazingly honest book of Scripture called Ecclesiastes. It’s found almost exactly in the middle of the Bible. This book is really a journal of one man’s pursuit of purpose. His name is Solomon and his reputation is known not just in the Bible — even secular historians are impressed with his unusual wisdom. He was a man who had all the money, all the power, all the time, and all the energy to make his dreams come true. As King, He could literally have and do anything he wanted.
But, he was also restless. He wanted to figure out what life was all about. So he launched out on a no-holds barred, existential safari that cost him millions of dollars and many years of his life. He was on a quest to find the reason for his existence.
Question #1: Why Am I Alive?
As Solomon surveyed the world around him, the opening lines in his diary of despair reveal that he was deflated, depressed and disillusioned. The best word to describe how he felt is empty. In fact, his motto appears right at the beginning of the book in Chapter 1, verse 2: “Meaningless! Meaningless!’ Says the Teacher, ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’” In this type of literature, when the same word is repeated even once, it’s for the purpose of emphasis. It’s like our exclamation point. It’s as if he was saying, “Super empty. No substance. There’s nothing to it. Everything is blah!”
The word for “Teacher” in this verse is the Hebrew word Qoheleth, which literally means, “the one who gathers, assembles, or collects things.” Solomon was a searcher who tried to put things together in an attempt to figure out why he was even alive. His diary has a lot to say to us today. Whether or not we are willing to admit it, deep within most of us there is a restless, adventuresome itch.
In verse 3, the Searcher asks a question, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” The word, “gain” literally means, “that which is left over.” He had sucked the delight, joy, and pleasure out of everything. And now he wanted to know what he would have to show for himself when it was all said and done.
Years after Solomon’s search, the prophet Jeremiah’s journey ended with a similar question in Jeremiah 20:18: “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” Have you ever felt like that? Was I born only to have a bunch of problems? Was I put on this planet just to have heartache, grief and stress? After you’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t satisfy, then what? Arthur Brilliant once said, “My life is a superb cast, but I can’t figure out the plot.” It was Jack Hanley who added, “I hope life isn’t a joke, because I don’t get it.”
Several years ago, Dr. Hugh Moorhead, who is the Chairman of the Philosophy Department at Northeastern University, wrote to 250 well-known philosophers, scientists, writers and intellectuals from around the world and asked them to answer the question, “What is the purpose of Life?” After getting their responses, he published a book that is both discouraging and depressing. It sounds a lot like the Book of Ecclesiastes. Some wrote back and said they could only guess at the answer. Others reported that they just made up a purpose for life.
A number of them admitted they didn’t have any idea and wanted Dr. Moorhead to tell them. Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist said, “I don’t know the meaning, the purpose of life, but it looks as if something were meant by it.” Isaac Asimov once retorted, “As far as I can see, there is no purpose.” Joseph Taylor wrote a book with a despairing title, “I Have No Answers To The Meaning of Life And I No Longer Want to Search For Any.” What a sad commentary when even the smartest people in the world have no idea about life’s ultimate purpose! Solomon, arguably the wisest guy who ever lived, could do no better in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” In his mind, life was just a rehash of what’s been before.
Solomon’s safari for significance led him to several different stopovers.
- His search first led him to look within.
We see this in Ecclesiastes 1:17: “Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom…” We could call this the Mystical approach, which says: look for your purpose within. Have you ever tried that? I have and I didn’t find it there. It takes more than looking within. You can go into any bookstore and find hundreds of books that talk about discovering your life purpose. They all say basically the same thing: “You’ve got to invent your purpose. Discover your dreams, go after your goals, have some ambitions, aim high, believe you can achieve, have faith, figure out what you’re good at, and never give up.”
The queen of talk, Oprah Winfrey, did a show some time ago on the purpose of life. When she came to each commercial break, she said something like this, “Now, come back because we’re going to tell you your purpose.” When the show came back, they talked some more but never gave an answer to this ultimate question. This happened three or four times during the program. At the end of the show, as the credits were rolling, Oprah summarized the whole program by saying, “And remember, you’ve got to figure it out by yourself.” In other words, you must discover your purpose on your own because even Oprah can’t tell you. Friends, looking within is not the answer. Solomon found that out at the end of 1:17: “…I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.”
- If we can’t find fulfillment within, then maybe we need to look around.
When we look around we can see at least three different philosophies of life.
- The survivalist says, “The purpose of life is just to stay alive.” In other words, live as long as you can. Solomon sees through this one quickly when he realizes that no matter how long he lives, no one will even remember him when he’s gone. Look at Ecclesiastes 1:11: “There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.” He concludes that life is a let down.
- The Hedonist says, “The purpose of life is pleasure.” Listen to these amazing words from his journal in 2:10: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” After all, if he could just laugh all the time, he would be happy, right? After guffawing for a few minutes, he comes to grips with reality in 2:2: “I said of laughter, ‘It is madness’ and of pleasure, ‘What does it accomplish?’” His next stop was the world of alcohol. He experimented with the finest wines and liquor available from all over the world. But, when the buzz wore off, and the hangover went away, he was still empty. Next, Solomon turned to the pleasures of intimate relationships. In fact, we know that he had 700 wives and 300 mistresses. They were available to him any time of the day or night. Yet his boredom could not be described. He now recognizes that pleasure does not provide purpose.
- The Materialist says, “Life is all about the acquisition of things.” Some of us might measure the meaning of our life by how many things we own. The problem with this is that the one who dies with the most toys…still dies. I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a Uhaul. Solomon learned this the hard way in Ecclesiastes 2. He starting spending money and acquiring things. He designed and constructed several cities and palaces. His own home took 13 years to build and became one of the 7 Wonders of the World! He then purchased hundreds of servants and possessed flocks and herds that were larger than anyone had ever owned. He collected precious gems and silver and gold. This is hard to comprehend! Everything he coveted, he eventually owned. Every fantasy was fulfilled on the spot! And yet, it still wasn’t enough. His assessment of his acquisitions is brutally honest in 2:11: “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Materialism doesn’t bring meaning.
When none of this brought him lasting satisfaction, he turned to something that is still very popular today — his career. He threw himself into his job. Work became everything to him. None of his 700 wives ever knew when he would be home! After keeping up the frenzied pace of workaholism, Solomon writes in 2:22-23: “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.” When it comes to figuring out why we are here, work doesn’t work.
By all outward measures of life, Solomon was successful. He had more money than he could spend, more possessions that he could ever enjoy, and more pleasures than he could dream of, but he knew that something was missing. He had looked within and found emptiness. He looked around and experimented with everything this life has to offer and found meaninglessness. He was struggling even though he was “successful.”
That means that God has placed a big question mark within each of us
Friends, listen. You can be a success in life and still never find the answer to the question, “What on earth am I here for?” Why is that? It’s because the purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment. This gnawed at Solomon because by all worldly measures, he was a success. After exploring all that life had to offer, he realized in 3:11 that “God has set eternity in the hearts of men…” That means that God has placed a big question mark within each of us. There’s a void within that only He can fill. God made us on purpose, with a purpose, for His purposes. And until we understand that, life isn’t going to make much sense.
Friends, you and I will be restless until we figure out our purpose. While most of us aren’t obsessing about the meaning of life like that guy, if we were honest we’d have to admit that we’ll never find our purpose within and we won’t find it by experimenting with everything around us either.
- If we want to find out why we’re alive, we must look up and discover what God has to say.
I like Ephesians 1:4 in the Message paraphrase, “Long before He laid down the earth’s foundation, He had us in His mind and settled on us as the focus of His love to be made whole and holy by His love.” This might be difficult for some of you to hear but God made you to love you. You and I were created to be loved by God.
Did you know that when God thinks of you, He breaks out into song? Zephaniah 3:17 is one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Friend, God doesn’t want to give you a piece of his mind, He wants to give you a piece of his heart. Why are you alive? To be loved by God. He made you to love you.
Question #2: Does My Life Matter?
The prophet Isaiah pondered his purpose when he wondered if his life was worth anything. Listen to what he said at the end of a bad day in Isaiah 49:4: “But I said, ‘I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.’” We were made for meaning, and life just doesn’t make sense without knowing what it is. Solomon came to this same conclusion in Ecclesiastes 2:17: “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
People today live at one of three levels.
- Survival mode. This is where we just try to make it through the day, where our only goal is not to thrive, but to survive.
- Success level. Honestly, this is where most of us are. By the world’s standards, we’ve got it made. Most of us have some possessions, an OK job, freedom, and a place to live.
- Significance level. The only way to live at this level is to figure out the meaning of life, to understand how much you matter to God, and to live out His five purposes.
If you want to know how significant you are to the Savior, listen to Isaiah 44:2 in the Contemporary English Version: “I am your Creator. You were in My care, even before you were born.” Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” That’s how much you matter to the Master. He paid so much attention to your life that every detail was recorded in His book, before you even took a breath.
Does God play games with us? Does He intentionally try to confuse us? Does He like to keep us in the dark so we don’t know why we’re here and what our meaning is? Is that part of His plan? – No, not at all. God wants you to know the meaning of life. He wants you to know the five-fold dimension of His purposes and He has extremely long-range plans for you. Psalm 33:11: “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.”
Now listen, the purposes we’re going to talk about in the next 40 days are not just for the rest of your life on earth, they’re forever, because God’s purposes are eternal. When we talk about the five things God put you on earth for, He just wants you to practice here, what you’re going to do forever and ever in eternity. God says, “I have plans and purposes for your life, but they don’t end at death.” You’re far more than a body. You were made to last forever because this life is not all there is. You mean so much to God that He wants you to live with Him forever in eternity.
One of the biggest ways we can waste our life is by thinking that this life is all there is. You and I are going to spend far more time on the other side of death, than we will on this side. We may get to live 60, 70, 80 or 90 years or so. But that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to eternity. The time we spend on earth really isn’t very long. Imagine a rope stretched out from New York to Los Angeles. The first millimeter of the first inch of that rope would not even equal how short your life is compared to all the time you’re going to spend in eternity. You were made to last forever and life is just a temporary assignment. You matter so much to God that He wants to keep you with Him for the rest of eternity. That gives meaning to our meanderings, doesn’t it?
Question #1: Why am I alive? God answers this by saying, “I made you to love you.”
Question #2: Does my life matter? God says, “You matter so much that I intend on keeping you alive for the rest of eternity.”
Question #3: What Is My Purpose?
We’re going to spend the next 40 days attempting to answer this third question. What on earth am I here for? The atheist Bertrand Russell, once said, “Unless you assume the existence of God, the question of life’s meaning and purpose is irrelevant.” You see, if there is no God, if you’re just a freak chance of nature, if you’re just complex pond scum, then guess what? Your life doesn’t matter. But God made you for a reason, and He made you for a purpose. And the only way we’re going to know our purpose is by looking to Him.
Now let’s go back to Solomon the Searcher for a minute. As he neared the end of his extravagant excursion, he realized that many of his fantasies had turned out to be nothing more than bad dreams. This guy who had it all, and could do it all, was looking for something of substance in life but nothing ultimately satisfied. A pastor friend of mine suggests that Solomon was empty-headed despite his wisdom, he was empty-hearted in spite of his pursuit of pleasure, and he was empty-handed as his life just seemed futile.
I suspect that some of you feel the same way that Solomon did. You realize that your life lacks meaning and purpose. Those things that you always thought would bring you happiness: laughter, alcohol, partying, hobbies, buying things, relationships, and work…have left you feeling empty. It’s like chasing after the wind. You can’t seem to get hold of that which will ultimately provide your life with meaning. Everything that you’ve tried has left you feeling blah and unfulfilled.
The good thing about Solomon’s journal is that it doesn’t end on a note of despair. After experimenting with everything he could think of, he realized that there had to be more to life. If life is only lived on the horizontal level we will be empty. In his wisdom, Solomon concluded that life is also meant to be lived on the vertical level. To use Solomon’s expression, nothing under the sun will satisfy because we have been created to live in an interactive relationship with the loving and faithful God of the universe.
He begins to see this in Ecclesiastes 5:7: “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.” God alone is the provider of purpose and the master of meaning. Solomon’s bottom line is really just a simple statement recorded at the end of his diary. Take a look at 12:13: “Now all has been heard: here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
The meaning here is this: Respect God and do what He says, for this is the wholeness of man. This is how we learn to be a whole person. It can also be translated this way: “This is what you were made for.” Who wants to go through life being unsatisfied and unfulfilled? To be whole is only possible if we honor God for who He is and obey what He tells us to do. Period. A proper understanding of God always leads to greater faith and trust and obedience. Always.
Friends, God expects us to give Him the rightful place He deserves in our lives
When you shake everything down, there are really only two things that matter. First, we need to take God seriously. We need to hold Him in the highest regard, to respect and revere Him because He is holy, majestic and awesome. Friends, God expects us to give Him the rightful place He deserves in our lives because He knows that if we don’t worship Him we will find something else to worship — whether it be a job, a family, a relationship, money, a sport, or ourselves.
Solomon’s second conclusion is that we need to do what God says. Because He is God, we need to obey Him. Verse 14 challenges us with these closing words from his journal: “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Friends, let’s learn from Solomon’s experience. We need to revere God and respond to Him. We are to honor Him and obey Him.
Do you want to understand the meaning of life? You will only find your purpose by getting to know God. Look at Colossians 1:16: “…All things were created by him and for him.” And, Ephesians 1:11 summarizes how our search for significance should end: “It is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for…part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.”
The more we get to know God, the more we’re going to understand the ways and the wisdom of God and the more we’re going to comprehend the meaning and purpose of life. You’re not going to learn it on some talk show. You’re not going to learn it reading tealeaves. You’re not going to learn it going to a seminar. The only way you’re going to discover the meaning and purpose of life is to get to know God through His Son Jesus Christ. It all starts with God, because it’s all about God. “In the beginning, God.” I love how the “Purpose Driven Life” book begins. Listen to the first four words of the very first chapter: “It’s not about you.”
If you’re going to get to know God’s purpose for your life, then you have to get to know God. It’s just that simple. I love that line in the drama when Heidi says, “This may take a while.” It is going to take some time to figure out God’s purposes, but it’s worth it. That’s why we want to devote the next 40 days to the beginning of the pursuit of God’s purposes. In the Bible, when God wanted to prepare people, He often took 40 days to do so.
Would you please take out the 40 Days of Purpose commitment insert that you have in your bulletin? “Believing that God created me for His purposes and that the best use of my life is to fulfill those purposes, I commit the next 40 days to better understanding of God’s five purposes for me.”
I added up the hours that it will take to be involved in these 4 commitments and I came up with less than 40 hours total. That sounds like a lot, but then again, is the rest of my life and the rest of eternity, worth 40 hours in the next 40 days? You bet it is. Would you fill this out and put it up on your refrigerator to remind you of the commitments you’ve made?
I realize that all of us are at different stages in our spiritual journey.
- Some of you are seekers, and you’re saying, “I’m not even sure I buy this, but I’m intellectually honest enough to check it out.” I respect you for the courage it took to come to this service. Could I encourage you to sit down and read the Book of Ecclesiastes? You’ll be surprised by its honesty and I think Solomon’s conclusions will resonate within your own spirit.
- Several of you are spiritual infants because you’ve just recently put your faith in Christ for the first time. I’m very excited because you’re going to get to start off right, like many of us did not. Jump into this journey with both feet and take full advantage of this opportunity to get grounded in your faith.
- A number of you are stumblers. Maybe you’re a believer, but you don’t really feel close to God. Perhaps you’ve been living for your plans and not for God’s purposes. Friend, these next 40 days is the time for you to come home.
- Many of you are strong saints, and you’re going to go deeper with God than you’ve ever gone before and you’re going to bring others along with you.
Regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey, allow the words of Acts 10:35 in the Message to soak into your soul: “It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as He says, the door is open.” George Herbert once said, “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” It’s not too late.
Would you pray this prayer with me in your heart? “Dear God, I realize that if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be alive. But because you made me, you must have a purpose for me. I admit that I have been focusing on my plans for my life, not yours. But I want to know your purposes for me, and so I commit the next 40 days of my life to learning about them. Thank you that you made me so you could love me. Thank you that you cared for me even when I didn’t know you. Thank you that I was made to last forever. I want a life filled with meaning. I want to start by getting to know you better. So as best as I understand, I turn my life over to you, confessing that I am a sinner and recognizing that you died in my place on the Cross. I ask you, Jesus Christ, to come into my life, forgive me for my sins, and help me to understand your purposes for me. I want to take the first step today. In your name I pray, Amen.”