I recently hit a major milestone in my life. I turned 30.
30 is a weird one. It’s not quite as significant as 20 (“I’m no longer a teenager!”) or as crisis-inducing as 40 (“how did this happen?”). It’s not old, not young, and not middle-aged. It sits awkwardly between the three.
By 30, some people will have a rough idea of what they want the rest of their life to look like, while others will still be wondering how on earth they managed to fake it this far.
On a personal level, the approach to 30 caused me to take time to reflect on my own life. For many our 20s are a time for us to enjoy, explore, experiment and experience.
And true enough, over the past ten years my social media feeds have been filled with images and videos of school friends exploring the world; from New Zealand to Thailand, Dubai to New York, a large number of my friends have spent their 20s discovering themselves, the world, and their place in it. Some spent their 20s chasing after their dreams, touring and playing music in stadiums all over Europe and the US, while others I grew up with are now internationally recognised sports stars.
Some “accomplish” more in their 20s than others do in their entire lives. It’s not uncommon to hear of people on Wall Street making their first million early in their 20s, ending up with enough money to retire by the time they hit 30.
Many of the most famous and successful musicians of the past 50 years wrote and released their most successful albums in their 20s. Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin – all of these musicians died in their prime at the age of 27, having become musical legends in the years before.
The past few months for my family and I have been…tumultuous, to say the least. As my wife and I both enter our 30s we’ve found that our lives are a bit more unsettled and open-ended than we thought they would be at this point. Having done so much in our 20s (married, had two kids, bought a house, planted a church, etc) we now find ourselves pondering what our place in the world together looks like going into our 30s.
Upon reflecting on all of this over the past few weeks I began to ask the question: how do we define a life lived well? How do we know that we aren’t simply plodding thorough life and wasting our short time on this Earth? I’m sure it’s a question that many of us have asked (or will ask) at some point in our lives. In fact, as a pastor, I’m 100% sure that some of you reading have asked these questions – I’ve BEEN asked the question in the title several times!
So I decided to do what I normally do when I reflect on life’s big questions: I turned to the Bible. The rest of this post will deal with looking at what the Bible says about how we live our lives, and how can live knowing it’s not wasted.
When I first proposed the topic of this post to my wife, her first comment was “The Bible says a lot about that. How are you going to fit it into a single post?”. As it turns out, she was right (as usual). It would take a whole book for me to reflect on everything the Bible has to say about this subject.
With that in mind, I’ve split this post up into two sections. Or at least, I did. Then I realised that even 2 posts wasn’t enough, so you’re getting 3 Parts. Parts 2 and 3 will be released in the coming week. You have to promise me that you’ll read all 3, otherwise you won’t get the full picture and will end up with an unfinished, unsatisfying answer. Promise me? Okay. You can read on.
Before we begin to ask the question about how we live our lives, we first must ask: why do we even have life in the first place? Again, not exactly the kind of question you can answer in a single blog post, but thankfully the Bible has something of an answer to that.
Moulded and Shaped
According to the book of Genesis, God created man and woman (Genesis 1:26). He created us from dust and personally breathed life into our nostrils (Genesis 2:7). Regardless of whether you believe in a literal or metaphorical interpretation of Genesis 1-2, the point is this: mankind is a physical being, and it is God who gives us life. More than that, it is God’s very essence (his breath, which can also be translated “spirit”) that gives us life. God is the one who formed us, and God is the one who gives us life. Whether you’re a devout and humble priest, or the most cynical atheist alive, the Bible claims that the only reason you currently have life in you is because God allows it.
The amazing thing about this is that God didn’t have to create us. He could have spent eternity in fellowship with Himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would have existed together as One in perfect joy and unity. He could have created the angels and stopped there, but he didn’t. He could have created the animal kingdom, the mountains, the seas, the stars and the universe, and simply enjoyed his good creation and stopped there. But he didn’t.
God created us. He created you. He created me. How he did it is a conversation for another time – but the fact of the matter is that God made us because he wanted to.
Think about that for a moment.
God is wholly in control and sovereign over everything that happens; the fact that you are alive today to read this sentence is no accident. The Bible says that before the beginning of time, God thought of you, planned you and created you. He concieved the idea of a universe without you, and decided against it. The same God who flung the stars into space and who paints supvernovae in distant universes created little old you. You aren’t an accident; you aren’t like a weed, grown up unwanted in the garden of God’s good creation; you are more like a pot, personally moulded and shaped by God himself.
Now, you may hate the idea of there being a God who is in control of everything. You may not even believe that he exists in the first place. Or maybe you think that you don’t even deserve to be on this Earth. That doesn’t matter. According to the Bible, if you’re reading this, you’re alive because the God you may or may not give any attention to wants you here – whoever you are, whatever you’ve done. You’re able to read this blog post because you have breath in your lungs, eyes to read with, and a device to read it on. God has given you these things regardless of whether you acknowledge him or not. This is what theologians would call the common grace of God.
I say all of this because it’s important. Before we understand anything about how to live our lives now, we have to first understand why we have life in the first place. And in our case, the Bible is clear: we’re here because the God wants us to be here. Isn’t that a wondeful thought?
The Chief End of Man
This summer Scotland has, like many places in the world, seen a series of unusual heatwaves. For us pasty white, ginger haired, freckled Scots, the heat is unbearable. I mean, some days it gets as hot as 16℃ . (You think I’m joking, but the truth is I once got sunburnt in a snowstorm).
(It’s almost as if the Earth is getting hotter – warming on a global scale, if you will…)
In the midst of this heatwave, my wife and I have come to rely on electric fans (for my US friends, most homes in the UK don’t have Air Conditioning). We have two electric fans which have stayed on pretty much all of the time, much to the delight of our electricity company. There have been many nights this summer when I simply haven’t been able to sleep if the fan wasn’t on (and many nights when my wife hasn’t been able to sleep because the fan was on…The key to a happy marriage is accepting that you can’t win).
In fact, as I type this sentence our fan is on besides me, blasting my face with cool air. It’s doing what it’s designed to do, and it has been for the past several weeks. It’s a cheap fan, and didn’t cost much money, but because of the use we’ve got out of it I can say with full confidence that it was money well spent. It has served its purpose well, and will hopefully continue to do so until Autumn comes and we get a very welcome break from this blistering heat.
The life of our fan isn’t wasted because it’s faithfully doing what it was designed to do: keep us cool. If it didn’t do that, or if it did the opposite and somehow blasted hot air, it would not be fulfilling it’s purpose, and thus would be considered a waste of money.
The same is true for anything. If something is serving its purpose well, it isn’t wasted. Food that is eaten and enjoyed as it should be isn’t wasted. The money that goes into my bank account to pay my mortgage and feed my kids isn’t wasted. The hammock I got for my birthday and have used at every opportunity since (and am currently lying on as I edit this sentence) hasn’t been wasted – it’s been treasured.
This principle is also true of us. If we’re to know whether or not our lives are wasted, we need to think about what the reason for us being here is in the first place. For Christians (actually, for everyone, if what Christians believe is true…) our purpose in life can be found in the Bible. But since the Bible says so much about this topic, I decided to find something to help me sum it up: The Westminster Shorter Catechism 
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism famously asks the question: What is the chief end of man? In other words, what is the purpose of mankind? Why are we here?
The response is simple, but glorious. The WSC answers: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Why do human beings exist? What is our ultimate purpose? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That’s it. That simple statement superbly sums up the purpose of our lives. The rest of this post will look at what it means and looks like to glorify God in our day to day lives.
To Glorify God: Created with Purpose
If you’ve read the Bible or been in church circles much, chances are you’ve heard the word “glorify” a lot. It’s a word featured in many of the most famous and well quoted Bible passages, it’s in countless worship songs, and it’s a favourite-go-to jargon phrase of anyone who’s ever been lost for words in a prayer meeting.
What does it mean to glorify something? In its simplest form, to praise, worship or make much of it. If I get a fancy new haircut (hah) and someone says to me “Wow, your hairdresser made a great job of that!” you could say (weirdly) that my hairdresser was receiving glory for the work he/she had done. When my daughter or son draws me a particularly good picture, I want to put it on the fridge for everyone who comes in our house to see – I want them to see the beauty of my child’s creation and to praise them for it. You could say I’d want them to receive glory for it. When a musical artist sells out an arena and thousands of people flock to hear them and cheer at them, that artist is, in a way, being glorified.
As human beings who have been made, shaped and worked on by God, our purpose, similarly, is to bring glory to the God who made us.
Psalm 115 is a Psalm that talks of all of the great deeds God does and has done, and how he cannot be compared to anyone or anything else in all of creation. It famously begins with the cry:
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,Psalm 115:1 (ESV)
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
The Psalmist starts this Psalm of praise with a declaration: we don’t want praise! We don’t want glory! Only God alone should receive that!
Human beings should not receive any glory that is meant for God. It is right and good for us to be praised, encouraged and applauded for doing good, but at the end of the day, the glory should never be about us.
In Isaiah 43, God speaks to his people and reminds them of his love for them, and of his constant presence with them. Look at this verse here:
bring my sons from afarIsaiah 43:6-7 (ESV) [emphasis mine]
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
God explicitly says to his people here that they were created for his glory. They were created to glorify him. They were created so that people from all nations would see them and give praise to the God they followed. In Christ, the same becomes true of us. In Jesus we become part of God’s family, meaning the above verse becomes true of us too, wherever we’re from. Christians are God’s people. We are here for his glory.
Let Your Light Shine
How do we do this, then? How do we glorify God? There are several ways. Jesus himself gives the answer to his disciples in Matthew 5:
“…Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 5:16 (ESV)
Believers in Jesus are to live our lives in such a way that when people see us and the good things we do, they will bring glory and praise to God. It’s a hugely challenging command. I mean, if we’re being perfectly honest, how many of us think that’s the current case when people look at our lives today? I certainly don’t think so.
Whether it’s the way we talk, the way we act, the things that we do (and don’t do) – they are all to serve as signs pointing to Jesus.
Jesus’s teachings show us how to do this. They sound easy to do on paper, but they are much harder in practice. For example, Jesus tells us that when we see someone different from us, we’re to love them. When people try to take things and hurt us, we’re to bless them. While others would curse, scoff, and laugh at others, we’re to seek to love them and build them up.
When others talk slanderously and with vulgar words, we’re to speak gently and kindly.
When others would pass by an opportunity to help someone in need, we’re to step in and provide what we can, even if it costs us.
These are all things Jesus commands his followers to do, whether we’re a CEO or a doorman, whether we’re currently living our dreams or are stuck in limbo. Doing these simple things while being open about our faith is one of the many ways we can bring glory to God in our day to day lives, whichever situation we find ourselves in. Don’t buy into the lie that you have to wait for the right time in life to live for God!
Don’t buy into the lie that you have to wait for the right time in life to live for God!Tweet
Now, the simple truth is that sometimes living differently will make us seem weird to the non-believers in our culture. Many in our culture simply can’t understand some of the things Christians do.
Whether it’s saying no to something, or doing something that could be seen as beneath you, how insanely generous you seem to be with your money or possessions, or how you respond to the way others treat you – there will be times when people just don’t get how or why you do some of the things you do.
Our church has recently gone through a bit of a tough time. The former staff, including my wife and I, found ourselves without paid jobs, and it has been a tough couple of months on top of that. But we haven’t gone without – the generosity and support of our church has been astonishing. The church members set up a support fund to support the former staff, which has been a huge blessing. On a personal level, people have annoymously given us money. A couple of weeks ago a woman from our church got in touch to say she wanted to help pay for our mortgage the month. Last month our car died, but someone annoymously bought us a new car!
It’s been amazing, and my non-Christian friends and family are baffled. I have a good friend who just can’t wrap his head around how people can be so selfless. A non-Christian family member even commented that they should join our church if that’s what the people are like!
We’ve had support from other churches and networks, too. Leaders from other churches and denominations – even those from churches completely different to ours, who we may sometimes disagree with on secondary issues – have all poured out their love, support and provision, which has been amazing to see. The support from all sides of the Evangelical spectrum has been overwhelming, and the sense of unity among God’s people right now is wonderful.
When Christians act the way the Bible teaches us to, it’s totally counter-cultural and noticable to everyone looking in. The past two months have been difficult, but through the difficulty God’s church has shone it’s light for all to see. Through the trials, God is seeing to it that he is glorified in everything.
But it’s not just the things we do: God can also be glorified in the things that we don’t do, too.
In the early days of the church Christians could be arrested and sometimes executed for refusing to partake in the sinful practices of their day. For example, there were times in the early centuries of the church when it was required that citizens of the Roman Empire had to make offerings to the Emperor. Many Christians, believing that God alone deserved worship, often said no to this.
The result was that some were arrested, some were tortured, and some were killed.
Those early believers could have chosen to go along, so as not to be seen as weird, or to save their own lives, but the early church took the words of Jesus seriously when he said “Do not fear those who can destroy the body – fear the one who can destroy the soul”. When they heard the words of Paul, who proclaimed “Your life is not your own – you were bought with a price” – they took it seriously.
The early church in particular were so concerned with bringing glory to God that they allowed themselves to be mocked, beaten up, imprisoned, and sometimes even killed by those in power if it meant choosing to glorify God above the world. That didn’t kill the church – in fact, if anything, it caused it to grow.
For many of us today, glorifying God with our lives probably won’t result in death. But saying “no” to something the world says is okay when the Bible claims it’s sinful might mean being sneered at, mocked or abused. That’s okay, though. Jesus tells us to expect it (Matthew 5:11).
Our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price. And when we live our day to day lives in the love, security and fear of the God who made us, knows and loves us, it acts like a giant neon sign above our heads that flashes constantly and points to Jesus. People may scoff at it, and they may even get annoyed by the constant flashing. But as Jesus says, our faith, when lived out, will be like a light that simply cannot be hidden.
So, what’s the first way we can tell we’re not wasting our lives? If we’re living for the purposes of God. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, unemployed, in your dream job, or just in a transitional period – if you are currently living your life for the glory of God above all else, you can know that your time isn’t currently being wasted. And if you’re not, then hey – there’s grace for you to start right now.
So there you go. Part 1. Your purpose in life is to glorify God. Next time we’ll look at our jobs, and the work that God calls us to do.
Agree? Disagree? Want to say something? Please leave a comment, and if you enjoyed this post please feel free share it on social media!
- For those unaware, the WSC is a document compiled by the Churches of England and Scotland in the 1600s, who sought to sum up some of the key doctrines of the Protestant Church. The Shorter Catchemism is laid out in a series of questions and answers, with each of them based on the teachings of the Bible. ↵
- Note that when I talk of refusing to partake in sinful things I’m talking of things the Bible is clear about. I am NOT talking about things like masks, vaccines, voting, politics, etc. We need to choose the right hills to die on, and topics like that are NOT that. In fact, those things aren’t even hills. ↵