Life is such a loaded word. Is a good life defined by accomplishments or possessions? Surely not. Is it about our contributions or our children? That must be at least a part of it. There has to be more, though. The textbook definition of “life” is written as:
1. The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.
2. The existence of an individual human being or animal.
If only it was this easy, right? Typically when we search for the meaning of life, we are searching from a painful and isolated place. Oddly enough, a textbook definition like the above actually has the opposite effect of what we are looking for in these times. That’s because we aren’t looking for the shell of what life is. We are looking for what life is made up of and what it means for us. We seek to answer this question: What is the meaning of life?
If we break this down further, what we are really looking for when we seek out the answer to this is our identity and purpose. The meaning of life is connecting with the purpose of life. We have this intrinsic, burning desire to know what we are made to do, but before can get on board, we need to understand why we are here.
The Purpose and Meaning of Life: Seeing Ourselves in God
If the meaning of life is to connect with purpose, we must connect with our source. To do that, we must connect with the Creator— that is to identify ourselves as made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created human beings in his own image.” Identifying ourselves with God is awfully difficult to do if we have not explored the character of God first. Understanding His character helps us see ourselves as made in His image.
God is the Creator. Genesis 1:1 gives us a powerful image of the Creator who created the heavens and the earth. He had the ability to see from beginning to end, and He made His vision reality. We, too, are creators empowered by God; we are called to be creative and to work on this earth. Part of our purpose in life is to use this empowerment to sustain life through stewardship, including caring for our children and the earth. We have an innate desire to create that stems from God’s creative character, and we create by being fruitful in our lives.
God is productive. Per Genesis, God worked more than he rested during Creation and His rest was very intentional. He enjoyed rest for the sake of maintaining that level of productivity. He constantly moves forward and everything is done for a reason. Isaiah 55:11 is a common scripture that reveals this part of God’s character. He compares His word, which is His character, to the purpose of precipitation. God says, “It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” This natural desire we have to be productive and to keep things moving forward, toward a purpose, comes from this character trait of God.
God is a comforter. God is often referred to as “Father” and that in itself is a large part of His character. Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” God is a comforter, but not in physical presence yet. His comfort comes through the spiritual presence, which has the power to impact our mental and physical presence. A physical “rod and staff” are not there, but the spiritual disciplines of faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13) that come through the Spirit are. That is where our comfort comes from. These things are not just for us to enjoy, they are for us to share. God is a comforter because of His nature as a Father, which is to respond to us and guide us through these disciplines so we can then use them to comfort others. All of these character traits support the functionality of service.
How to Find Meaning in Your Life
Now that we have explored the character of God, we can explore how connected our character is to His and how we can find meaning in our lives through it. Jesus gives this great direction for effective prayer in Matthew 7:7-8 that guides us to “keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking, for everyone who seeks will find.” When we are searching for meaning in life, we can S.E.E.K.: Serve, Enjoy, Enhance, Kindle.
Serve - Jesus acts as our example, and in Matthew 20:28 He revealed his purpose. He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He also directs us in Matthew 10:8 to “Give freely as we have been given.” Paul then takes this message and begins to share it with relevance to the newly founded churches. He said in Philippians 2:4, "not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” To serve someone is to use the fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22. It says those are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” This fruit enables us to live as examples and to serve others.
Enjoy - After God worked tirelessly with creation, Genesis 2:2 says that God rested upon completion. Rest enables us to move forward and enjoy things. If we constantly toil away at work with no end in sight, we begin losing sight of joy. When that happens, we set ourselves up for failure — without rest we cannot serve others and without rest we cannot enjoy what is around us. God the Father gives us the example to follow; we are called to rest in Genesis 2, which is a blueprint for continued productivity. Many of us work non-stop, abusing this natural instinct of productivity. We often do it to hide a painful place in life that we can’t yet face or that we don’t want others to see. Resting is a sign of peace and trust. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks and answers:
"Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."
Enhance - To enhance something is to improve the quality or value of it. Earlier we talked about God’s character being productive and comforting. We can be productive and comforting as well by taking the first step in a broken relationship or encouraging someone. Sometimes being productive and a contributor in this world means enhancing the environment you're in. Do not underestimate the value of working hard to maintain the relationships within your own family. As for serving the world, simply saying hello to someone or giving them a compliment could change their whole outlook on life. So much of our hope comes from what we expect to be treated like. Society seems to have adapted to being treated poorly. There is no better time to love someone than the present. The world is your canvas here. Don’t worry about what the next person will do, what could you — as someone made in God's image — do to help someone else?
Kindle - At the heart of service is evangelism, which is simply sharing the good news about Jesus Christ. The world currently has a bad taste in its mouth with regards to evangelism. If you are new to Christianity, evangelism could make you uncomfortable. There are records of Christians going out shouting at people, accusing people, blaming people, misrepresenting people and places, and proudly overpowering people, all in the name of evangelism. If we do it this way, we miss out on the wonderful opportunity to start a fire in someone through relationship building. Discipling someone in their Christian walk can encourage them to light their own torch and carry it. Think back to your first experience hearing about God. Our first time hearing about God probably did not come to us through the above mentioned harsh evangelism. It likely came by way of a gentle nod of understanding, an ear offered, or an arm around your shoulder that says you are not less than anyone else, that God loves you as you are. We are the carriers of the Spirit of God and how we treat people is a direct reflection of who God is to them. If anyone has ever mentioned, “you just have a light about you!” That light is because the Spirit lives in you and is helping you produce fruit mentioned in Galatians 5:22: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Let us use these to show people the goodness of God so they might also glorify Him (Matthew 5:16).
Bible Verses about the Meaning of Life
- Matthew 10:39 - “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”
- Luke 12:15 - “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
- John 17:3 - “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ who you have sent.”
- James 1:12 - “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life.”
How Does the Christian Worldview about the Meaning of Life Differ from Others?
The call to action for Christians is service. It isn’t sacrifice (Jesus did that), it isn’t religious practice, and it isn’t fame. What makes Christianity different from other worldviews is that it is founded on service for the gospel, with love for others at the core of it. It is the acknowledgment of the love we have been given that equips us to then go out and love others. Jesus demonstrated a servant’s heart in the way He taught, His demeanor with children and the poor, and of course, by giving His life as a ransom for many. Perhaps one of Jesus’ most important teachings is found in Matthew 22:36-40. This is where He teaches us that all the commandments are covered by two: “Love the Lord with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Hebrews 10:24 gives us insight to how we can serve others at a foundational level. It says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Jesus taught us that if we aim to find our life, we must lose it. This means the focus of our life should not be on ourselves. Keep in mind, though, the reason we serve others is not for personal gain. If we lose sight of the reason we serve others, we become clouded all over again. The reason we serve others is to point them to our loving God and share the knowledge of Him preserved in His Word. If we serve others with the intent of personal gain, the chances of them continuing the chain of service is unlikely as the reputation of service becomes damaged to them.
How to Measure Our Progress in Life
In the book The Outward Mindset by the Arbinger Institute, the way to implement an outward mindset, which is to serve others, is found in the acronym S.A.M. We need to See the need for a change, then Adjust our efforts to focus on others rather than ourselves, and finally, we need to Measure the results and continue adjusting as needed.
So, how can we measure ourselves when it comes to life? The answer is found in Luke 2:52, which says, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and people.” If we are focusing on ourselves, we will likely find ourselves feeling separated from God. If we are doing all we can to just get by or get ahead of others, we may find ourselves with fabricated relationships, if any at all. God has given us grace, so we cannot earn a better right-standing with Him, but we do feel either distance or closeness with Him. Good works can draw us closer to God and encourage us to spend time with Him; good works do not enable us to earn righteousness or improve our right-standing as accomplished by Christ.
If we don’t see fruit in our relationships with God or people, that means there is an opportunity to start growing and then continue growing. The more we act according to God's example, in service to others, the closer we will feel to Him. Serving others also enables us to feel closer to our fellow man allows us to grow together. If we find it difficult to serve others, we may need to examine who we are in Christ and pray for God to change our hearts. God often uses aspects of our personality, our skills or talents, and the environment we live in to orchestrate opportunities for conversations and relationships that point to Him.
The true meaning of life is finding joy in God; we can trust Him through challenges, defining moments, and the lows and highs. Our purpose on this earth is to follow God and enjoy Him and to spread the good news about Him to others. We are commanded to love God and to love others. Take what you've learned about God, what you’ve been given, and share it with those around you with a full heart. Knowing we belong to God, and wanting to share that grace and truth with others, is when we feel most alive.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/AleksandrLedogorov