Robert Jeffress - Discover Your Unique Purpose
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". The Bible represents a collection of amazing stories, but did you know that God is still writing stories, and he's writing those stories through you. Well, today I'll continue our series, "Choosing the Extraordinary Life: God's seven secrets for success and significance," and during the next half hour, we'll see how these seven secrets emerged from the life of Elijah, and how those secrets apply to you. My message is titled "Discover Your Unique Purpose" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Yesterday, I came across a great definition of country music. Three chords and the truth. That summarized most country music songs, doesn't it? Three chords and the truth. It reminded me of Carl Sandburg the poet's definition of life. He defines life not in three chords, but in three words, BORN, TROUBLED, DIED. According to Sandburg, that's the whole of human existence, born, troubled, died. One Chicago sewer worker expanded that definition a little bit as he described his life. He said, "I dig the ditch to earn the money to buy the food to get the strength to dig the ditch". Unfortunately, that's the cycle most people are trapped in in their daily lives, but God means more for us than simply that kind of meaningless existence.
Jesus said in John 10:10, "I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly". Beyond just an everyday existence, God wants us to have an extraordinary life, not just when we die and go to heaven, but beginning now and extending through eternity. And that's the basis for our new series, "Choosing the Extraordinary Life". We are looking at the Old Testament character Elijah, admittedly an ordinary person whom God used and in an extraordinary way. And in this series, we're looking at the seven secrets for spiritual significance and success that Elijah discovered and lived out. And today, we have come to that first and foundational secret for living a truly extraordinary life, and that is discovering your unique purpose in life.
You know, the fact is, your specific purpose in life can be described as the story God created you to tell the world. That's what your unique purpose is. It is that special story God has uniquely created for you to tell the world, but your specific story is connected to a bigger story that God is telling throughout the universe. So let's talk about that bigger story that you and I are a part of, God's general purpose for everybody who lives. If you have your Bibles, turn to Genesis chapter one, verse 27. God has a general purpose for everyone, but he has a specific purpose for your life that is a part of that larger purpose. Let's talk about God's general purpose for every person. Genesis 1:27. "God created man in his own image, in the image of God, he created him: male and female he created them".
God created you and me to be image bearers of Almighty God, and that is, through our lives, we are reflecting to the world that true enjoyment and satisfaction in life can only come from knowing and serving God. That is the general purpose that we have all been created for, to turn people toward God, to be a living demonstration of the satisfaction and joy that comes from knowing and obeying God. Theologians have summarized that purpose like this. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That's the reason we were created, to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Now, let's unpack those two words. First of all, glorifying God. We were created to glorify God. That word glorify comes from a Hebrew word that literally means heavy or substantive. When we talk about glorifying God, what we're talking about is making God look heavy, substantial to an unbelieving world. We were created to point people toward God. Elijah understood that truth. He understood that his whole existence revolved around demonstrating to an unbelieving world that the God of Israel was the only true God. We have been created to glorify God, but secondly, we've been created to enjoy God. Enjoying God is also a part of the reason for our existence, and that in itself gives glory to God.
John Piper said once, "God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him". Christians who go around moping, looking like they have lost their best friend, complaining about this and that, they're terrible advertisements for God, when you think about it. You know, they ought to be followers of Islam or some other religion. Please, if you're going to go around like that, don't claim to be a Christian. You're a horrible witness for Christ. It is when we are satisfied in God, it is when we are happy in God, joyful, I don't mean giddy all the time, but I mean, there is a joy in our life. That is when we glorify him. Psalm 16:11 says, "You will make known to me the path of life: in your presence is fullness of joy: in your right hand there are pleasures for ever".
And when you look at Elijah, he's a case study in somebody who glorified God and also enjoyed God. Remember, Elijah was not a spiritual superman. He was a spiritual everyman. James 5:17 says he was a man with a like nature as ours. He struggled with the same things you and I struggle with. Nevertheless, God used him in an extraordinary way.
Let's look at Elijah's beginning. Turn to 1 Kings chapter 17, verse one. Last time, we looked at what was happening in the nation of Israel. It wasn't unlike what is happening in America today. The nation was sliding further and further away from God in moral debauchery and spiritual darkness, yet against that dark backdrop of Israel's existence, Elijah burst on the scene with the light of God's truth. We don't know anything really about Elijah's past. He just appears in 1 Kings 17:1. Look at this. "Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to king Ahab, 'as the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there will be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word'".
Now, in this single verse, I want you to notice three things about Elijah. First of all, his name. His name. Elijah comes from three components. El, Elohim, meaning God. Jah, J-A-H, an abbreviation for Jehovah. I, a personal pronoun. If you put it all together, literally his name means Jehovah is my God. Jehovah is my God. Now, that's the name his parents gave him. Jehovah is my God. I want you to imagine for a moment what it would have been like to grow up having that be your name. Jehovah is my God. Can you imagine? Hearing your mom shout out: "Jehovah is my God, hurry up and wash up for supper before the meatloaf gets cold"! Or can you imagine his friends coming over and knocking on the door, and saying to Elijah's mother: "can Jehovah is my God come out and play today"? I mean, he grew up his whole life hearing Jehovah is my God. Jehovah is my God. No wonder, when he burst on the scene in verse one, he says, "As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand". He grew up with a God awareness, a God consciousness. Jehovah is my God.
May I stop here? Just give a word of pastoral advice to you parents, young parents who are building your family right now and you want to rear godly children. It starts in the naming of your children. Select a name for your children that has spiritual significance. Don't just pull a name out of a hat from some TV character you enjoy, or some character in some novel you thought was great, or some name that happens to be in vogue. Make sure the name has some spiritual significance to it. Maybe you're naming your child after a relative who walked with the Lord closely, and you'd like your child to emulate that. Maybe it's a name from the Bible of a man or woman, godly man or woman in the Bible. Maybe the name itself has a special meaning to it, a godly meaning to it. It always starts with the naming of that child. Isn't it interesting how the characters in the Bible had significant names that mirrored their future? Elijah did that. He had an important name.
Secondly, notice his home. It said that he was the Tishbite. He came from the town of Tishbe, do you know until very, very recently we had no idea where Tishbe is? The archeologists discovered it, and guess what - it is absolutely nothing. It is as nothing today as it was back then. It wasn't a thriving metropolis. It was a fork in the road. It would be like today Mud Lick, Kentucky: Oatmeal, Texas: or my favorite Boogertown, North Carolina. Did you know those are all real towns? But I bet you hadn't heard of them before. Well that was Tishbe in Elijah's day. But you know, what was significant was not the geographical location of his home. It was the spiritual temperature in his home, because what we know about Elijah's house is his parents taught him the Word of God. We don't know anything about his parents, but we know they taught him the Word of God. You say, "How do you know that, pastor"? Well, because of what he said to Ahab in this opening verse. He says, "I say to you, it shall neither dew, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word".
How did Elijah come up with that prophecy? He didn't just make it up on his own. Did you know he was quoting from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy when he said that? See, we think, well, Elijah lived in the Old Testament. The Old Testament had not been yet written. Well, some of it had already been written. The Pentateuch, Moses' writings, had been written, and in Deuteronomy 11, verse 17, God had said to the Israelites what would happen to them if they began to worship other Gods. In Deuteronomy 11:17, God said, "I would shut up the heavens so that there will be neither rain and the ground will not yield its fruit: and you will perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you". Elijah knew the Word of God. It was the foundation of his life. Parents, the most important thing you can do is to instill in your children a knowledge of God's word.
You know, we only have our kids for 18 or so years, and they are gone so quickly. How important it is to use those years to teach them the truth of God's word. You know, I've talked to you last time about my own parents, who are in heaven, and how they came to this church and so forth. My father was really the spiritual foundation of our home. He was a very quiet man. Many people didn't know him, but he was the spiritual foundation of the home. He was not only responsible for leading my mom to Christ, but all of us as well, and he worked for Braniff Airlines, along with Orville Rogers, and he worked for Braniff, and because of that, they would get free passes to travel.
When I was two years old, my dad got one of those passes, and he flew to Chicago, Illinois, to go to the bookstore, the Christian bookstore at the Moody Bible Institute. That was in the days before Amazon. If you wanted a book, you actually had to go to a bookstore, and the biggest bookstore in the country, Christian bookstore, was at the Moody Bible Institute. He went there when I was two years old, this is 1957, to buy $200 worth of Christian books for me. That was one month's salary he spent on Christian books for me. I don't know what he thought I was going to do with those books at two years of age, but he wanted to be sure I started reading them as soon as possible.
Parents, let me encourage you to make whatever sacrifice necessary to make sure your kids have a spiritual foundation. Look, your primary responsibility, this isn't popular to say, but it's true. Your primary responsibility is not for their scholastic development or their athletic development or their social development. Your primary responsibility is their spiritual development, teaching them that the most important thing in life is knowing and obeying God. And fortunately you don't have to do that by yourselves. We have the most marvelous program here at our church ministry of teaching our preschoolers, our children, our youth the Word of God. They don't just get babysat, they are here being instructed in the Lord: and if I were a parent right now, I would make sure I had my children and youth here every time the church door is open.
That's what Elijah's parents did. We've looked at his name, his home, thirdly, his manner. His manner. Elijah was not a man to mince words. He was not like many pastors today. My seminary professor once described as so many pastors today, being mild-mannered men preaching mild-mannered sermons, teaching people how to be more mild-mannered. That wasn't Elijah. There was nothing mild-mannered about him. He burst on the scene and he confronts Ahab, the wicked Ahab and Jezebel, and says, "As the Lord lives, it is going to rain no longer in this land 'til you get your act together". That's basically what he says.
Now, that took guts to do that, to stand before Ahab and his wife, who made a sport of killing God's prophets, to make that kind of bold declaration. You know, I can only imagine what it was like for Elijah to stand in front of a hostile king, an unbelieving king, and deliver this condemning and politically incorrect word. "You've had it, Ahab. Until you shape up, it is not going to rain in this land forever". That took courage, but that was Elijah. He knew his purpose in life. That was Elijah. God had given him the general purpose that we all have of glorifying God, but his specific assignment was to deliver this hard message to a wicked and wayward nation.
Now, before we discover how you can discover your story, your unique purpose in life, I want to talk for just a moment about the three benefits of discovering God's unique purpose for your life. Turn over, hold your place here, and turn to Ephesians chapter five. Ephesians five, verses 15 to 17, and I want to read this from the Phillips paraphrase. This is Paul writing. Notice what he says here. "Live life with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. Don't be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of God".
Knowing your purpose, the specific story you were created to tell, clarifies three challenges we all face in life. First of all, knowing your purpose clarifies your priorities in life. When you understand the specific story God created you tell, it helps you arrange your priorities in life. When Paul says, "Make the best use of your time," literally he's saying buy up the time. That is, purchase the very best things you can with your time. He's not talking about choosing between good and evil. We all know we're supposed to run from evil, but he's saying when you know your purpose, it gives you the ability to choose between the good things in life and the best things in life. When you understand what that purpose is that God has created you, it helps you to learn to say no to other good things, but things that don't contribute to your purpose.
Yesterday, I was going through my files, and I have a file folder where I keep all of my goals and priorities that, going back 30 years ago, and I pulled out this old, it was a really old piece of paper. It was dated November of 1984, and I remember the date very well. It was when I was sitting in the coffee shop at the Houston Intercontinental Airport and I was struggling with some decisions in my life at that time, and it really was a day I had an epiphany of what God's unique purpose for my life was. And I remember I wrote it there, and I looked at this piece of paper yesterday. I wrote at the top, "To be an effective communicator of God's word". That was my goal 30 years ago, I knew God had given me a passion to do, and that unique purpose statement for my life became the beacon that gave me direction throughout the rest of my life and ministry.
You know, as a pastor of a church like this, there's so many things I could fill up my time doing. I could counsel people 24/7 a day, if I wanted to, people wanting to come in and counsel with me. Nothing wrong with that. That's a good thing to do to help people. Now, my only thing is I'm not gifted at that. I tell people I wouldn't go to myself for counseling, much less recommend somebody else go, but it's not that that's not a good thing to do, but that's not what I'm created to do. That's not the best use of my time. We have other people on the staff to do that.
You know, there are other pastors. They take mission trips. They're gone 10, 12 weeks out of the year taking group after group here and there and there and there. Wonderful ministry. That's a great thing to do, but that's not what I'm created to do. I was created to be an effective communicator of God's word, and that gives me a prism through which I view, okay, is this an activity I ought to be involved in? Is this contributing to the story God has created me to tell?
So knowing your purpose clarifies priorities in life. Secondly, knowing your priorities clarifies uncertainties in life. Paul said we ought to be wise when it comes to understanding God's will for our life, and when you face a difficult decision in your life, knowing your unique purpose is like a beacon that gives you direction in the darkness, and even in the fog.
For example, maybe your company has offered you a promotion that will take you to a larger city, with a larger salary. The only thing is, it's going to mean more hours at work. Should you do that or not? Well, it depends. If you've got young children still at home and your primary purpose is to raise godly children who will carry on your legacy of faith, that may not be the best thing to do. You may say no to that. If it's later in life and your children are out of the house, maybe you can see how taking that position would increase your influence for God. But knowing what your purpose is can help clarify uncertainties and decisions that you make in your life.
Thirdly, and this is so important, knowing your purpose clarifies difficulties in your life. When you understand your specific story you were created to tell, that gives you a prism through which to view even hard things that come into your life.