The famed motivational speaker Zig Ziglar was known to say, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” There’s a profound truth in that quote, even if the quote itself is almost laughably silly.
If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.
It’s a quote about purpose, vision, and direction. Many of us live day by day without much sense of purpose. We’re just getting by. We’re just trying to manage our full schedules. We’re just trying to have a little fun.
While my parents didn’t direct my path exactly, they did at least aim for me to go to college. It was never a question of whether or not that was a good goal for me. It just was. People graduating near the top of the class go to college. So, that’s what I did. To finish, I knew I needed a major — that is, something to aim at — except I bounced rapidly around the various departments. From accounting to religion to philosophy to English, where I settled both because I wanted to graduate in four years and because I loved the ideas embedded in well-told stories. The aim of graduating would be met, but what was next? I had no idea.
During my last semester, my mom suggested I visit the career office, so I did. They helped me prepare a résumé and encouraged me to attend a couple of job fairs. I’m good at listening to the advice of others, so I went to these job fairs, my paltry résumé in hand, and tried to see what kind of work I was qualified for. The problem was that most businesses aren’t hiring people who like reading books. I’d talk to someone representing a bank. “I like going to the bank, and I am good at math,” I said. They took one look at my résumé, set it down, and never reached out. I’d go up to an insurance company. “I have insurance on my car, and I’m a fast learner. Maybe you’d like to hire me.” They representative smiled, took my résumé, and never contacted me.
Things weren’t dire, but they would be soon if I didn’t figure this out. Later that semester my parents offered me this advice, “Troy, you’ll want to find a job that offers health insurance.” Blessedly, a position came up doing publicity for a publisher in Grand Rapids. It involved reading, editing, and promotion, all things I actually could do. It also had health insurance, so, boom!, there was my first job straight out of college. I had something to aim for — a job with insurance — and I got it.
Living with purpose does make a difference, although for today’s sermon I want to reframe purpose a bit for us. Sure, it’s helpful to go through life with direction, setting up short- and long-term goals to help chart the course for what’s ahead. There’s nothing wrong with that and lot right with it. But God made you for more and with a deeper purpose that has nothing to do with the kind of job you have, the kind of house you live in, or the kind of car you drive.
Today’s theme is this: God is purposeful, so I am designed for purpose. We know this is true from the earliest pages of the Bible. God created everything on purpose and with purpose. Creatures — human, plant, and animal — are supposed to be fruitful and multiply. Humans are also to cultivate the earth, progressing the creation towards its fullest potential. But we humans struggle with this task. Sometimes we get it so right, creating societies that are just and loving, but so often we get it wrong, languishing in our selfishness, greed, and violence.
Despite our failings, God’s purpose never fails. Constantly God is making a way forward for the creation. God sends Adam and Eve from the garden because of their rebellion, but he promises to heal what is broken on their way out. God makes covenants with Noah (never to flood the whole earth again), with Abraham (to make of his family a people that will bless the whole earth), with David (that his heirs will lead God’s people). God’s purpose gets reiterated in all of these covenants. Why? Because God’s purpose to bless the creation never ends, but also because in between all of these covenants people have messed up dramatically.
That’s what’s going on in Jeremiah. This prophet is active in an era where God’s people have lost their way. All that God had promised to them was stripped away because they had failed so miserably at keeping up any part of the bargain. In swoops enemy Babylon, and out go the people to exile. Their sense of purpose was gone — no more homeland, no more growing nation, and no more blessed to be a blessing. They were forced migrants, and nothing they understood about their world made sense anymore.
But into that despair God speaks and makes promises. “This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with Israel when the time comes. I will put my law within them — write it on their hearts! — and be their God. And they will be my people. They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about God. They’ll know me first-hand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget they ever sinned.”
Circumstances cannot thwart God’s purposes for you or for the whole creation. Sure, for a time things may not seem right, but God’s purposes will eventually come to bear, whether we live to see them fully realized or that’s the blessing another will receive down the line. What is more, God is progressively making the way wider and clearer for any who would come. In Jeremiah, God says that the law — the thing that was to assist the people to know God’s way in the world — would now be written on their hearts. Sort of like you know the rules of the road after years of driving without reciting the law, so God’s way becomes second nature to those learning to trust God. God is purposeful, and that purpose becomes clearer the more we open up to God.
Our gospel text is in a similar vein. Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples — a major part of God’s plan — and so he leaves them not with an extensive list of dos and don’ts. He gives them a singular command. “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.” These disciples had devoted three years of their lives to following Jesus and learning from him. Now, he was leaving them behind. They wondered if their purpose would disappear with him. Not so, Jesus says. You have a job to do: You are to love like Jesus loves. It’s that simple. That’s the way to know the heart of God. That’s the goal of life. Love God and love others.
God is purposeful, so we are created with a purpose. That purpose is to know the deep, deep love of God and to live with that love directed into every place we go. That is the chief purpose God has given us in life.
But here’s the sticky part. That purpose is so fundamental, so basic, so seemingly simple, that other purposes take over the driver’s seat. We set out noble goals. We want to be healthy. We want to meet someone who will love us for the rest of our lives. We want to get promoted at work. We want to find healing in a broken relationship. There’s nothing wrong with any of those aims, but it’s when they take away the steering wheel from the fundamental purpose in life — to know and live God’s love — that we start to forget that God’s love is present and true for us. We’re more concerned with gains and losses that are fleeting. Our sense of self, our identity starts to become about the things we do, not who we are. Those things — the promotion, the healed relationship, the life partner, the trim body — those are all icing on the cake, but the actual substance of life is already the gift of believing that God’s purpose of bringing the whole creation to healing includes you and that no job or circumstance or relationship can ever change that.
All of our seeking will not end until we find ourselves at peace with what God in Christ offers. Finding that treasure is worth more than anything the world has to offer. God’s purpose for you is found in God’s never-ending, never-failing love for you and the whole world. Your purpose is found in awakening to that reality and living into it on a daily basis. The rest of it is simply the icing on the cake.
God’s covenant love for the whole creation has always existed. God’s purpose for the flourishing of life carries on. Nothing will stop that purpose, especially not our unfaithfulness. But, thanks be to God that we do have a purpose — to love God and the world.
Followers of Jesus should be purposeful because God is purposeful. That’s who we are because that’s who God is.