The enormous success of The Purpose-Driven Life shows many people are wrestling with life's big questions. Questions like "Why am I here?" and "How do I live a life that's significant?" The following article presents answers from two theologians who are teaching the next generation of pastors and Christian leaders.
"I believe there is an intrinsic motivation, a soul quest, to search out satisfactory answers to those questions," says Dr. Roger Trautmann, assistant professor of pastoral ministry at Multnomah Biblical Seminary. He cites Proverbs 20:5, "The purposes of the human heart are deep waters, but those who have insight draw them out." Some people enter the deep waters of this search later in their lives. They reach a plateau. They've achieved financial success, met their goals, but the sense of significance they expected is missing.
Trautmann believes the Bible gives a unique answer in the search for significance. "It is my view that meaning in life is never ultimately satisfying until it is found in relationship to God," he says. "Scripture reveals that we are made 'in the image of God.' The discovery of that fact calls us to live as an expression of that divine image."
Theologian Dr. Russell Moore says the search may be a struggle. "Sinfully, there's a grasping for significance apart from Christ. The temptation to all men is the same as Satan offered to Christ after 40 days in the desert. He offered all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would bow down to him. In the same way he says, 'Bow down to me, and I'll give you all the kingdoms.' But it's a significance that comes without crucifixion. And that's a satanic form of significance."
Moore, the dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Scripture teaches that man experiences a frustrated longing for significance. It goes back to Genesis, Moore says. "God established Adam and Eve as king and queen of creation. And in Psalm 8, the Bible says 'What is man that you are mindful of him?' The chapter ends with the phrase 'You put everything under his feet.'"
Moore says this crown of creation God established for Adam and Eveand uswas ruptured by the Fall, by sin. That rupture means man's longing for significance cannot be completely fulfilled until Christ returns. Moore says the book of Hebrews confirms this. The writer of Hebrews 2 quotes Psalm 8, but adds this important line: "Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him." He says it may help to remember that man is part of God's grand cosmic drama, which is still unfolding. At present we may not see what is truly significant. "There are going to be many faithful heroic church janitors and nearly anonymous rural pastors who will be granted great glory and ruling authority at the judgment time of Christ. Significance to God is found here in ways we sometime don't recognize or refuse to recognize," says Moore. "During Bible times, no one would have viewed Ruth's life as significant. It is only later that we see where she fits into God's larger story."
Believers may be living lives of similar significance, one not apparent to the world around them. Moore concludes, "We may be playing a role now that may not make sense until one looks back from a resurrection perspective."
Trautmann says drawing near to Christ can help a person develop this new perspective on significance. "As God indwells the believer, regenerating him through the power of the Holy Spirit, and directing him through Scripture, his worldviewbeliefs, feelings, and valuesare rearranged." Trautmann says believers may even sense a new value to their life as they seek to know Christ and please him. "One of my heroes is Eric Lid-dell, portrayed in the 1980's movie Chariots of Fire. Liddell, defending his participation in the 1927 Olympics before traveling to missionary work, said 'When I run I sense his [God's] pleasure.'"
This sense of one's life mattering to God can develop regardless of circumstances. Jesus "called a blue collar fisherman, a money-hungry tax collector, and a turn-coat to be his disciples. He didn't seem to have the right people on the bus but he called them to find significance in him."
As Christ lives in us and loves us, we develop a desire to live a life of doing good and loving others, and like Eric Liddell, we may sense God's pleasure in that. Trautmann explains, "Because we experience God's love and grace, we express that love and grace in a social context.
Paul noted that it was his goal to please God [2 Cor. 5:9]. Peter admonished his audience that their lives were lived to demonstrate 'the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light [1 Peter 2:9].'"
Both Trautmann and Moore assert that Scripture commands Christians to find significance through serving. Both mention 1 John 4:20, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."
Moore puts it this way, "When you're serving the body, you're actually serving Jesus and recognizing 'I'm living for a kingdom that is coming.'" Trautmann adds, "We may be able to serve others without loving God, but we can't love God without serving people. Love, as a former seminary professor taught me, is 'taking initiative, and acting sacrificially to meet human needs.'"
A Christian's desire for godly significance through service, impacts not just her free time or time at church, but even the type of work she chooses. "Our work will take on a new perspective. We will ask the significant questions as to whether our vocation is actually beneficial to what God would do in a broken world," Trautmann says.
Moore says people should examine their gifts and how God has designed them. They should seek to be good stewards of those gifts regardless of how that works out in salary or glory here on earth. "If someone is called or has a burden to preach the gospel to Muslims in Indonesia, he or she should pour his or her life into the task, without worrying about whether or not others will consider that to be a waste of a life."
Trautmann says making a career choice that adds to a life of significance requires wisdom, discernment, and preparation. For some, that search leads to seminary or Christian graduate school. "Some have come to a Christian graduate school to gain biblical wisdom and spiritual formation so as to navigate the times with a sense of divine pleasure," Trautmann says. "This type of training is not limited to those going into a Christian vocation, but also those who want to be committed to Kingdom purpose in the secular marketplace.
This training helps us think through our lives in relationship to divine purpose."
The complexities of life also demand preparation, says Trautmann. "The anxieties of life have escalated so that our personal stability is consistently challenged. Concentrated training takes us to the depth of Scripture and theological reflection, cultivating a biblical worldview through which we can navigate these changes."
Moore agrees that a significant life takes planning and preparation, even for ministry. "That's the pattern you see of the Apostles in the early church. Someone called to ministry must be as prepared as he can be to preach, teach, and shepherd the flock."
Both say flexibility is important. "It is the nature of people to make plans and prepare. That fact is affirmed by Jesus, who said that a wise man first 'counts the cost' before launching into a building project. (Luke 14:38) There is a dynamic relationship between practical wisdom and spiritual discernment. Both are logical components in career planning," says Trautmann.
Moore says, "I may plan to be an inner city pastor, and then be called at the last moment to serve in a suburban congregation. I must have a sense of flexibility about where God is going to call me."
Russell D. Moore serves as senior vice president for academic administration and dean of The School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also an ordained minister who preaches frequently at his local church.
Roger Trautmann is assistant professor of pastoral ministry and director of the internship and career center at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, in Portland, Oregon. Trautmann also served as a senior pastor for 25 years.
Kara Miller is a freelance writer and TV producer in Chicago.