“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John the Baptist (John 8:28-30)
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
It was May 21, 1527. The years surrounding this event mark the “continental divide” of Christian history. The church was rediscovering what it meant to be a Christian. Major figures in church history were doing the things for which we now remember them: Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Huldrich Zwingli. In the midst of these major figures was a small group known as the Anabaptists. They sided with neither the Reformers nor the Catholic Church. On this day, one of these men was facing execution for his faith. The indictment read:
Michael Sattler shall be committed to the executioner. The latter shall take him to the square and there first cut out his tongue, and then forge him fast to a wagon and there with glowing tongs twice tear pieces from his body, and then on the way to the site of execution give times more as above and then burn his body to powder as an arch-heretic (McDow & Reid, 1997, p. 160).
As this gruesome plan unfolded, one sympathetic observer recorded:
When the ropes on his hands had burned through, he raised the forefingers of both hands, thereby giving the signal he had agreed on before with his fellow believers to indicate that such a dying was bearable and that he remained in the faith (McDow & Reid, 1997, p. 161).
While there are many questions that could be raised about the brutality this event executed in the name of God, the question relevant for this chapter would be: What enables a man, in the midst of such unimaginable suffering, to maintain his focus on God’s glory and the edification of God’s people?
Our answer, in a word, will be “purpose.” Michael Sattler had one resounding goal—to spend his life for Christ. Whether his life was spent over the 30 years of pastoring or a few hours, he wanted it to be used for God’s purpose.
The intent of this chapter is not to promote martyrdom or extremism as Christian ideals. Rather, the goal is to communicate how God’s presence in the life of an individual provides a stable and satisfying sense of purpose across the full breadth of human experience: intense suffering, treasured pleasures, and the monotony of everyday life.
Defining “Biblical Purpose”
Biblical Purpose is an over-arching objective in life that brings cohesion and direction to the apparent disconnectedness of life. Purpose is what allows an individual to measure progress and have a sense of accomplishment. Purpose defines why you do things (i.e., big picture), more than what you do (i.e., little tasks).
We must realize the same action can stem from multiple purposes. For example, how many different potential purposes are there for a young boy to help an old lady across the street? A short list includes: sincere compassion; to earn a Boy Scott badge; she is his grandmother and he will get a guilt trip if he lets her cross alone; he works on commission at the business across the street and hopes to make a sale; or she is the grandmother of the girl he wants to date and he hopes she will put in a good word for him.
Because the same what (action) can emerge from many whys (purposes), focusing only upon what we should be doing can easily truncate the Christian faith to an unsatisfying set of duties. Only when the actions of faith are practiced in a love for God (worship being our “ultimate purpose”) and in keeping with our created design (the key to discovering our “particular purpose”) will our acts of obedience fill the nagging void in our heart.
In America, life carries many relatively predictable elements: many years of education, working even more years to support oneself and possibly a family, the challenges of starting a career, an intense time of reassessment at mid-life, and adjusting to a slower pace as one ages. Without some grander purpose, life can become so predictable or seemingly pointless that it promotes depression or disillusionment (Ecclesiastes 1:2-11).
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