Living the Examined Life (102)


Examining our Life Purpose

Are You Living Your Life on Purpose or by Accident?

To develop a thoughtful and effective Master Stewardship Plan, a couple really needs to begin the process by getting away as a couple for what I call a Discovery Retreat. We developed a Life on Purpose Questionnaire to guide couples in their discussions on the retreat. People have often asked why I call it a “Life on Purpose” Questionnaire. My answer is simple. You can choose to live your life one of two ways: you can either live your life on purpose, or you can live your life by accident. In other words, you can plan your life and live your plan, or you can simply let the flow of life events and circumstances sweep you down the river of time taking you wherever it will. The latter, sadly, is the way most people live their lives—by accident. The former is how God created us to live—on purpose. (See Ephesians 5:15-16, Psalm 90:12.)

Some might claim that there is something unspiritual about making plans, but for those of us who do, we are in good company. God made plans. (See Hebrews 11:40a, Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 1:11.) Paul made plans. (See 2 Corinthians 1:15-17, Romans 15:24.) And we are encouraged to make plans. (See Proverbs 16:3, 20:18, 21:5.)

Unfortunately, when it comes to building one’s financial “empire” we can often find ourselves doing it without any real divine purpose behind it. Successful people continue to build up their “pile of stuff” because they have become exceedingly good at what they do. They also find great emotional enjoyment and personal satisfaction in building, so they keep on building without ever giving much thought to where it will end up.

However, I think there is a foundational question that we, as believers, need to ask ourselves, “What is my purpose for continuing to build my financial empire when my pile of stuff is already higher than I will ever need it to be?” Jesus tells us plainly that accumulating excess wealth as a sole end in itself is entirely futile. Jesus states, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). For those who do this they are like the rich farmer who planned to tear down his smaller barns and build bigger barns to hold his surplus wealth. Remember, Jesus called him a fool.

There is no greater example of the utter folly of building without a purpose than the story of Sarah Winchester. Sarah was the wife of William Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester, the founder and owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Sarah and William had a daughter who died shortly after birth in 1866. This was followed by the death of her father-in-law (1880) and then her husband just a few months later (1881), leaving her with a fifty percent ownership in the company and an income of $1,000 a day (about $21,000 a day in 2008 dollars).

Sarah believed that her family was under some kind of a curse and consulted a medium to determine what she should do. The medium told her that her family was indeed cursed by the spirits of all the people that the Winchester rifle had killed. She should move out west and build a house for herself and all the tormented spirits who suffered because of her family. The medium also told her that if construction on this house were to ever cease, she would immediately die.

In 1884 Sarah moved to California and began one of the most bizarre building stories in American history. She began spending her $20 million inheritance and regular income to buy and begin renovating an eight-room farmhouse in what is now San Jose, California. From that day forward construction continued nonstop, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week until Sarah’s death at age eighty-three—a total of thirty-eight years. She kept no less than twenty-two carpenters busy continuously. The sounds of hammers and saws could be heard throughout the day and night for almost four decades.

At its zenith, this seven story house contained 160 rooms, forty bedrooms, forty-seven fireplaces, seventeen chimneys, and 10,000 windowpanes. What made Sarah’s lifetime building project so bizarre was that it had no discernable architectural purpose or plan behind it. Closet doors opened to solid walls. Windows were in the floor. Stairways led to nowhere. Railings were installed upside down. Drawers were only one inch deep. Trapdoors were everywhere. Blind chimneys stopped short of the ceiling. There were double-back hallways. Doors opened to steep drops to the lawn below. Many of the bathrooms had glass doors. The list of oddities runs into the dozens. Could there be a more classic example of the ultimate outcome of “building without a purpose?”

We may think that what we are building is not bizarre like Sarah Winchester’s construction project. Let me suggest that unless there is a divine purpose behind why we are doing what we are doing, God may actually find it as meaningless and bizarre as the Sarah Winchester Mystery House.

Paul addresses this very issue in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 when he says,

Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

May I ask, “What foundation are you building on? What materials are you building with? And whyare you building what you are building?”

I think John Wesley had it right when he said, “Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” If we adhere to this compelling “financial triad” as we labor on our building projects, we will be building on a solid foundation utilizing building materials of heavenly “gold, silver, and precious stones.” And in our building efforts we will discover that we are indeed living life on purpose.

Life Application Questions

Q1: What is your initial reaction to this lesson?

Q2: Share your thoughts on whether it is a lack of faith to make plans for the future? - Read about purpose: Ephesians 5:15-16, Psalm 90:12 - Read about God making plans: Hebrews 11:40a, Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 1:11 - Read about Paul making plans: 2 Corinthians 1:15-17, Romans 15:24 - Read about people making plans: Proverbs 16:3, 20:18, 21:5

Q3: In what ways do you think it might be wrong to make plans for the future? Read James 4:13-17 and compare the above verses with this passage. Why is making plans considered right in some places and then wrong in others?

Q4: Do you consider yourself rich? Who are you comparing yourself to? Why must we be very careful about failing to recognize just how rich we are? Will knowing your income compared to the rest of the world’s income change your current lifestyle, attitudes and/or behavior? If so, how? If not, why not?

Q5: Read 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 and discuss what kinds of materials might be categorized as the “heavenly materials” that we should be building with?

Q6: What do you think of John Wesley’s statement, “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can”? How might this way of thinking change the way you are currently working, handling money and giving?

Q7: What is your assessment of what Sarah Winchester spent her life and her vast fortune to build? (is it important to keep in mind that it was all built of the highest quality materials by hundreds of highly skilled craftsmen?)

Q8: What do you understand your unique God-given purpose to be? Why has God put you on this planet – at just this time in history and in just this place – America (and not the slums of Calcutta or the rural bush in Africa)? What are you here for?

Q9: How is what you are currently doing with your time, your talents and your treasures helping you to fulfill your unique life-purpose?

Q10: If you continue on the course your life is headed now, will you be happy with what you have spent your life “building?”

Q11: What is going to change in your life going forward because of this lesson? What are you going to start doing differently?

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Living the Examined Life (102)
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