Is there purpose in your life – even amidst great suffering?
The contrast could not be greater. Simply flicking channels on the television can show up the most glaring differences. On the one hand you might come upon a documentary or program about folks going through horrific suffering and hardship. It might be the suffering people of Ukraine, or someone dealing with years of recovery from a horrible accident, or those who have gone through years of abuse, and so on. Many are scarred for life.
And then you get various brainless reality TV shows, such as “The Housewives of…” where you seem to have a collection of narcissistic, rich, selfish airheads who seemingly spend their whole lives drinking expensive champagne, throwing lavish parties, and arguing with one another.
Or it could be shows like “Botched” which features a regular supply of brainless bimbos whose only desire in life is to have the world’s largest breasts, or to look just like a Barbie doll, or some other bizarre thing. Even when doctors warn them that such procedures are dangerous and may kill them, they insist on going ahead, spending tens of thousand of dollars (or more) on boob jobs, Botox, nose jobs, etc, etc. They have scars too, but only where the breast implants went in.
Such seemingly empty and vacuous people live for absolutely nothing but themselves. They seem to be completely without purpose in life – at least any worthwhile purpose. The idea that we are here on planet earth not to serve ourselves and pamper ourselves but to actually serve God and others never occurs to them.
And the only thing that I really wonder is this: which is worse, the folks featured in these shows, or the millions of people who slavishly watch these shows every day? Both groups seems to live for nothing, and seem to have no purpose in life. It is just eat, drink and be merry. It is hedonism on steroids (or botox).
I often wonder about fellow Christians and just what they are living for. So many seem to have no real sense of meaning or purpose. Yes, they will go to church once a week – maybe – and they might flick through their Bibles once in a while. And they will pray, mainly when things start going really wrong.
But they seem just as purposeless and without passion for the things that matter as any non-Christian. So let me bring together some various thoughts and experiences I have had over the past few days. Some of these things I have recently shared on the social media. They include:
-If you are like me and easily despair, thinking you are offering little to the kingdom, think again. We all have a divine calling and God will use us for his purposes. The saints of old may have also despaired, yet look at how they are still being used even today. As I discuss in my new piece: Recall that John Bunyan’s classic work was written while he was imprisoned, and it was not published till 1678. How many millions of people have been blessed by that great book? I have been greatly helped by Roger Scruton who in turn was greatly helped by Bunyan who in turn was greatly helped by earlier writers.
-Sometimes it seems like things go pretty smooth and easy for a few weeks, but then all hell seems to break loose: one attack after another, one difficulty after another, one calamity after another. All you can do is cry out to God and tell him you don’t think you can handle it any more. All you can do is call out for his help. And he does get you through, and with the help of his people. Case in point: I was going through the other day, and a few posts by friends helped get me through, including this meme that a friend had just posted: “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17). She had no idea that I needed that, but God used it.
-A meme making the rounds says this:
“I didn’t Speak Up because I’m still in school.
I didn’t Speak Up because I’m starting my career.
I didn’t Speak Up because I have a mortgage & family.
I didn’t Speak Up because I have worked too hard to get where I am.
Face the Truth: You didn’t Speak Up because you are a Coward.”
This of course is modern-day version of what German pastor and Holocaust survivor Martin Niemoller had said: “In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.” And if all this is not because you are a coward, it may be because you are apathetic, indifferent, or cold-hearted.
An incredible example
Let me finish by looking at just one hardcore case of adversity and suffering, and how this person responded to it all. Something that has also been found on the social media of late is the incredible story of someone who may be the very last person on earth to be living in an iron lung.
As you might know, this device helps the patient to breathe. Because of diseases like polio, this machine assists in breathing when muscle control is lost. Today Paul Alexander seems to be the very last user of the iron lung. His is a mind-boggling story.
He was born in Texas in 1946, but contracted polio at the age of six. That left him paralysed for life, although he can move his head, neck, and mouth. He has been in an iron lung ever since 1952. Imagine that: over 70 years living in this machine. I am 70 years old – that is a long time!
Yet incredibly he overcame overwhelming adversity and hardship and actually went on to earn a BA and a law degree, and he became a practising lawyer for some years! All this while still confined to his iron lung. One article about him is found here: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/us-news/man-survives-record-breaking-70-29185101
He even wrote up his own story. The self-published memoir is called Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung. It appeared in 2020 and took more than five years to write. He used an improvised plastic stick in his mouth to tap out his story on a keyboard.
Amazing stuff indeed. If you think you got things bad, try reflecting on his story for a while. You can see an inspiring 28-minute interview with him here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5DOre3MFlw
While the entire half hour is worth watching, let me highlight several bits. One is found at the 13:25 mark. It goes like this: “And you know they said, ‘You’re gonna die. Well why don’t you die?’ Well I didn’t die. God didn’t want me to die. So I kept living…”
And at the 17:40 mark we have this: “You know, I get up in the morning, and I say, ‘What can I do today to accomplish something?’ I look at people and I just wanna say, ‘Why are you here? What is the purpose in your life? What do you do to make things better?’ Because that’s the way I think. And if I don’t have a purpose that day, I’ll create one. And then I proceed…”
Wow. Yet we have countless people who are fully healthy, living in nice homes with nice families and nice jobs but have no real sense of purpose or meaning. They live fully for themselves, and take no thought of others – nor of God. And too many folks who call themselves Christians are little better.
The truth is, we are here for something greater and something nobler than just to exist – just to take up space. We are here to fulfil God’s purposes in our lives. And that DOES mean making an impact on the world and on others. And of course it also means pleasing and glorifying God.
I am not sure if Paul is a Christian or not, but he has a much more Christian mindset and worldview than far too many believers have. And despite all the hell he has been through, including being trapped in this machine for over seven decades, he has a purpose in life and he is making a difference in the lives of others.
Do you have a purpose in life? Are you making a difference in the lives of others? Or is your world so small and narrow that if you get a flat tire or come down with the flu or have a rough day at the office that we come to feel that God does not exist and that he does not love you anymore?
If Paul can have such an influential life while confined 24/7 to this machine, then so can you. And if you have Christ living inside you, then you have absolutely no excuse not to be making a difference. Instead of sitting around moping and feeling sorry for yourself, why don’t you ask God how you can start making a difference right now. There is a world of needy people waiting for you to step up to the plate. Will you?
As Mordecai told Esther in Esther 4;14, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” In one sense I believe that is true of every one of us. God has put us on this planet for a reason. He has some jobs he wants us to do. So will you be all that God wants you to be?
Let me share a closing quote. Inscribed on the tombstone of Leonard Ravenhill are these words: “Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?” It might be well worthwhile to ponder that question right now before you do anything else.