Why do you exist? Why do I exist? That’s the question to kick off the week, and it comes from a regular listener to the podcast named Tyler, a young Christian. Pastor John joins us over the phone.
“Pastor John, hello, and thanks for taking my question. I’ve found that I flourish in almost anything when I understand the big picture. When this is true, I understand the ‘why’ behind everything I am doing, and where I am going.
“Unfortunately, as I’m now laying the foundations for the rest of my life as a Christian, all too often I find myself asking ‘why’ and not getting an answer. It seems that every sermon at church and every lesson from fellow believers is ‘in the weeds’ of immediate life application, and doesn’t relate back to the larger storyline of God’s purposes in creation and re-creation. So, what is the overarching concept for my life, my reason for existence, and relationship with God? I know if I better understood this, I could dive into the details and perform them more effectively and joyfully within the larger context.”
Wired for Why
Yes, that’s exactly the way I think about it. Tyler and I are wired very similarly it seems. Actually, I think all human beings are wired this way. Some feel it more consciously than others.
I think we’re all made to find our significance by being attached to the ultimate. All human beings are created to attach their tiny, little lives to something absolutely majestic and glorious so that their life takes on a sense of wonder and eternal significance. It takes on significance not because of who or what we are in ourselves, but because of how we’re attached to and participate in the life and purposes of the Creator of the universe. Yes — amen, Tyler.
God’s Goal: Glory
Oh, how I remember the tumultuous and wonderful days between 1968 and 1971, when my world was being destroyed and rebuilt by an understanding of the overarching, sovereign purposes of God to be glorified in this world. It was a kind of Copernican revolution to read Jonathan Edwards’s The End for which God Created the World. Or when I read Daniel Fuller’s distillation of that book in his unpublished class syllabus called “The Unity of the Bible with the Glory of God at Its Center,” or reading his essay in a collection called “Things Most Surely Believed by the Faculty of Fuller Seminary,” in which he gave an exposition of Isaiah 43:6–7: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
“Live to make Christ look magnificent.”
I remember reading that chapter and feeling, “O God, this is awesome.” What was new about this for me was not that I was to live for the glory of God. My mother and my father continually quoted for me 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Johnny, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.”
I knew that was my duty. But what I had not seen was that this was God’s design for himself, not just my duty toward him. God’s purpose in creating the universe was that he would glorify himself in all that he does in creation and providence and redemption.
All that he ever did, he does for his own glory. He obeys 1 Corinthians 10:31 as the reason for his very existence, because it’s built into his nature as the sovereign God. This was the great, ultimate purpose of all things. It wasn’t just my duty — it was the grand design of the universe.
I remember kneeling with Noël in our beat-up, old used couch in our new home as newlyweds in Pasadena as I was learning these things. I remember kneeling in prayer with her and turning to her and saying, “Isn’t this amazing how our prayers have changed as we are discovering what we’re saying when we say, ‘Hallowed be your name’?”
I think I mouthed that prayer without realizing I am calling upon the living God to fulfill his ultimate purpose for the universe in bringing all things to reverence, and treasure, and glorify, and value his name above all things.
That’s what happens when your universe is being turned upside down. One of the first evidences is in your prayer life — how everything now is revolving around the prayer “Do your great purpose. Glorify your great name. Hallow yourself. Do your will. Bring your kingdom. You’re the center. Make it happen.” All this instead of praying, “Me.”
Root of All Roots
I recall how my own sense of calling to the ministry of the word took on a clear purpose in the light of Philippians 1:20: “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
“Almost everything I’ve done in the last fifty years has been working out what it means that God created the universe for his glory.”
I wasn’t just arbitrarily pulling out of the Bible a purpose for my life. I was being swept up into the grand purpose of the universe, which Paul himself was part of. Paul had drawn it down from God’s great, glorious purpose for creation and redemption. He’d made it part of his life and said, “Whether I live or whether I die, I have one passion: magnify Jesus.”
In other words, live to make Christ look magnificent. Almost everything I’ve done in the last fifty years has been a working out of what it means that God created the universe for his glory. The greatness of being human is to join him in that eternal purpose.
This is where Christian Hedonism came from. This is where the sovereignty of God finds its root and meaning. This is where the meaning of worship is rooted, the ministry of the word is rooted, global missions is rooted, acts of justice are rooted, sacrifices of marriage are rooted, routines of daily work — they all get their meaning here.
Everything else finds its ground and its significance in God’s purpose to create and do all acts of providence and all acts of redemption for his glory.
I want to say to Tyler, yes, you will be able to dive into the painful and happy particulars of your life if you keep in view this great overarching purpose. That purpose is to live in such a way as to make the surpassing worth of God in Christ look like what it really is — to live in such a way as to make the infinite value of Jesus more plain than if you had not lived.
This doesn’t answer all the detailed questions of ethics in our lives, but it does give direction for how to pray, and how to meditate, and how to pursue God’s wisdom in the world in our daily life.
Tyler, let me just give you those three passages again, because they made all the difference in my life.
“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6–7)
“Our purpose is to live in such a way as to make the surpassing worth of God in Christ look like what it really is.”
Here we see that God created you for his glory — created everything for his glory. This is the great overarching purpose for you and everything else.
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:20)
Paul says that whether he lives or dies, he does everything for the goal of magnifying Jesus Christ, showing his supreme value over everything.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)
Cry out to God every day, “Father, hallowed be your name.” I’m doing this at 71 years old. I’m crying out to God every day, “Oh please, let the last decade (or whatever) of my life be a greater-than-ever magnifying of your supreme value.”
This is the great unifying vision of human life, and may the Lord make it clear to you and free you from any sins of wasting your life.