What Is the Purpose of Life?

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The Meaning Of Life And Other Important Things

The meaning, purpose, and significance of our lives are found only by aligning our lives with God’s purposes, in lives committed to following Jesus Christ. – Unfinished, p. xviii

One of the subplots in the 2003 movie Finding Nemo is about of a group of fish who long to live in the ocean but are trapped in a dentist’s aquarium. They can see the harbor from their prison in the dentist’s office, but no matter how many escape plans they devise, they can never quite get there. Finally they succeed. As the last of the group plops into the sea, the newly freed fish silently take stock of their situation: they’re floating in individual plastic bags in the midst of a vast harbor, with no tools or opposable thumbs with which to get out of the bags. After a moment, one of them humorously asks the obvious question, “Now what?”

“Now what?” indeed.

“Now what?” is a question many Christians find themselves asking after they make an initial commitment to Jesus. They truly love God and have a sincere belief in Jesus, but they sense something missing. They wonder what they are supposed to do next. Is there more to this life of faith than simply going to church, praying, reading the Bible, and waiting to die? The answer to this question is a resounding yes!

Over the last century, American Christianity has become hyper-focused on believing the right things. We have produced thousands of theology books, used countless bytes on the Internet defending our religious particulars, and even left old churches to start new ones based on differences in doctrine. But what if belief is only half the story? Yes, it is important to trust God and believe in Jesus, but that is only the first step. What comes next is just as important but also much harder: actually doing what Jesus commands. Over and over again, Jesus insists that His followers and friends are the ones who both “hear” and “do” the things he teaches (Luke 6:49; John 15:14). Which brings us back to that very important question from Finding Nemo: “Now what?”

Chances are you are engaged in this study because you are interested in Jesus. You believe in Him and trust Him as Lord and Savior, but you want to know more about how to live out your faith. You know that Jesus has things to say about the way we prioritize our time and what we do with our money. You know that God expects His worshipers to have a particular relationship with the poor and people in need. You know that God’s agenda is for the renewal of all things, but you wonder how your life fits into that big plan. If this is the case, then you have come to the right place.

These kinds of questions are questions about story. They ask what kind of story God has been and is still telling in this world. They ask who the main characters of that story are and, more personally, how each of our individual stories fits into God’s big one. They ask what is the ultimate purpose and meaning of life. And that is why it is such good news that we wonder about these things, because such wonderings come from a place of hope. Hope that things can be different. Hope that God has not abandoned this world but is indeed rescuing it. And hope that the significance, satisfaction, and peace we long for are not actually found in the pursuit of money, sex, or power but in something far more exciting. However, pursuing the answers takes courage and intentionality. Jesus is inviting you to join Him on this journey of discipleship. Do you want to accept that invitation?

Reading the Word

Read Matthew 7:24-27 out loud twice. If possible, use two different readers. Then answer the questions that follow.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

What word or phrase stuck out to you most when the Scripture was read?

Why do you think Jesus uses the metaphor of a house in His teaching?

Watch the Video

Watch the session one video clip and take notes. When the video ends, take a moment to jot down one or two things that you learned, disagreed with, or were surprised by.

Study Questions

First Impressions

  1. Before everyone shares in the large group, turn to one or two people next to you and finish this sentence, “After watching the video clip, one question I now have is …”
  2. As a group, summarize why Rich says the book is called Unfinished. Why is this concept a challenge to the church today?
  3. How do you define the “meaning of life”? Does your life and lifestyle match up with your definition? Why or why not?
  4. Rich says that “truth matters” and that “truth has consequences.” What do you think this means? Do you think there is any such thing as truth? Why or why not? Where does your definition of “truth” come from?
  5. In the video, Rich suggests that there are three ways to answer the question, “What is the meaning of life?” The first option is that there is no meaning to life and everything is purposeless and ran- dom. The second option is that life only has the meaning we want it to have. Here we make up our own code of ethics and hold that what’s true for me may not be true for you. The third option is that we decide to become part of God’s story and find our purpose in His will for our lives.
  • Do you like these categories? Do they work, in your opinion? Did any of them particularly resonate with you? Did any of them not? Why did you answer the way you did?
  • Which of the three options best describe how you are finding your meaning in life right now?
  1. God has invited us to join Him in changing the world. Does this sound like good news to you? Why or why not? Are there any places in your life you think you might already be joining God? Are there any places where you know you are not joining God? Explain.

Exploring the Word

Reread Matthew 7:24-27. 
Does the text sound different to you now? Why or why not?

Jesus says that the wise person hears His words and puts them into practice. Are there any of Jesus’ words that are harder to practice than others?

What is at least one implication of Jesus’ words on your life this week?

Doing the Word

Jesus’ teaching about houses built on either rocks or sand is the conclusion of a much larger sermon. Earlier in that same sermon Jesus instructed those who call Him Lord to do the following:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:43-45

Call to mind someone you experience as an enemy or persecutor. Offer a one-word prayer of blessing for that person. The word can be general (like “peace”) or something more specific. Afterward, answer these questions:

Was this a hard or easy exercise?

If you prayed for your enemies every day, how do you think it would change you?

Is there a way to pray for your enemies that would “miss Jesus’ point”? If so, what would it be?

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Your Turn

Come share your answers to the study questions or leave a comment on our blog about the question “What is the purpose of life?”! We would love to hear from you!

Richard Stearns

Richard Stearns brought nearly 25 years of corporate experience to World Vision when he became its president in June 1998. Stearns holds a bachelor's degree form Cornell University and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. His professional career began in marketing with the Gillette Company. From 1977 to 1985, he held various roles with Parker Brothers Games, culminating in his appointment as president in 1984. In 1985, he became a vice president at The Franklin Mint, then joined Lenox in 1987 as president of Lenox Collections. In 1995, Stearns was named president and chief executive officer of Lenox Inc. As president of World Vision Inc., Stearns is responsible for U.S. operations, which include fund raising, advocacy, and program development. Stearns and his wife, Renee, have been World Vision supporters since 1984. The couple has five children and live in Bellevue, Washington.

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