Finding Yourself

Psalm 139:13-14

Last week we finished up a sermon series on the names of Jesus. The most important question you will ever ask is “Who is Jesus, and why does he matter?” But the most compelling question we will ask is “Who am I and why am I here?”

I’m not sure it’s a question we will ever completely and finally answer this side of heaven. It’s one we all wrestle with and at some point come to some kind of conclusion.

I am convinced that if we try to answer that question without the Holy Spirit involved in the process and Jesus included in the equation, we will come to a very wrong and unsatisfactory conclusion.

There is a substantial body of modern thought that reduces you to the value of the chemical elements that make up your body. By those estimations you are worth about $160. But other than those elements, you are no more valuable than a tree or a cricket. Those who eliminate God from the equation and evaluate a human’s value based on mere science see no value in a human life, and perhaps less value than other forms of life – claiming that you take up more resources, do more damage to the environment, and threaten other life forms by your existence. They would claim you and I are malevolent parasites on an otherwise pristine world.

You are more than the sum of your parts. You are far more valuable than the chemical elements that make up your body.

David had a much different perspective on the value of a life. He wrote in Psalm 139: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Ps 139:13-14)

In Psalm 8, he wrote: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.” (Ps 8:3-8)

So you see, if you start out with the assumption that you and I are merely a collection of elements that accidentally got our start in the primordial ooze with a stray lightning bolt, then there is no reason to think that our lives have any value whatsoever. But if you believe that God created us and knows us and crowned us with glory and honor – that we are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” – well, that changes everything.

You not only have worth and value, you have a purpose and a place in this world and in God’s kingdom. And to find that purpose and place is your first and foremost goal.

You are unique. God made you different from everybody else in this world. Even if you are identical triplets, you are different from everybody else and God has a purpose for you that is your calling in life, not anybody else’s. Your gifts, your desires and dreams, your inclinations are yours. And because you are unique, it is crucial that you find yourself so that you can fulfill the role God created you for.

But, while you are unique, it is not all about you. When Paul was writing about the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to each Christian to bless the body, he reminds us: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom 12:3-5)

When we look at ourselves, it’s not all about us – we need to examine ourselves in our relationship with God, in our families, in the church, at our work, in our friendships, in the community, in the context of all the relationships and all the people with which we find ourselves.

The Beatles sang a song:
He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,
making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me?

I’m afraid that song speaks for a lot of people these days who have no sense of purpose, have never given any real thought to who they are or why they are here. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Over the next few weeks I want us to give some thought to how we can find our unique purpose and place in life. Why did God make me who I am, and what does he want me to do? And I can’t answer those questions for you. I can point you to some scriptures, and send you in certain directions, and hopefully offer some clarity to your search, but you are the one who must do the work of examining your life.

The book of Ecclesiastes, written by Solomon, is the reflections of a man who has tried everything under the sun in his search for meaning, from work to pleasure to the pursuit of knowledge – and he realizes it is all “meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” But at the end of the book, he draws this conclusion: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl 12:13) A life lived without God – a life spent pursuing meaning apart from him will leave us empty and hopeless. And when you boil it down, only a life that is built on a foundation of a relationship with God will give us any sense of meaning and purpose.

That’s really the only place we can start. And I weep when I see people who are struggling with life and they quit coming to church until they get their struggles worked out. They think that somehow God is only relevant when I have life figured out – that he is the window dressing on my neat and orderly life that I have worked out without him.

What we’re talking about is not just a belief that God exists, but that he is the core of our lives – that apart from him our lives would not exist, that without him there are no answers for the questions and struggles of our lives. Meaning only derives from purpose. If my life has no purpose then of course I’m going to flounder in a sea of meaninglessness.

There are those who claim that humans invented a god to give their lives meaning, and then perpetuated that notion of god to explain the things around them they couldn’t explain. This god, made in their own image was a powerful being who dabbled in their lives, sometimes with blessings and sometimes with disasters, and so they determined that he required sacrifices to keep him appeased and bring his favor upon them. But with our modern scientific understanding of the world we’ve explained all of the unexplainable and are capable of controlling our own destinies and no longer need this antiquated notion of deity. (That’s a very brief and incomplete summary of life since the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries.)

It made me think of Paul’s speech before the Athenian Areopagus: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:24-31)

God did not spring from our imaginations, nor does he only have existence because we perpetuate him. God exists separate and apart from us. In fact, we have our existence because God created us and gives us “life and breath and everything else.” If you choose to think of God as an antiquated leftover of pre-enlightenment thinking, you are doing it in the face of all the evidence that demands otherwise.

And there was one statement Paul made that I want you to underline and memorize: “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”

The reason God created us and sustains us is so that he could have a relationship with us – that we would seek him and find him. Your meaning – the reason you exist – is to seek God and find him and have a relationship with him. He doesn’t want you to fear him from afar, nor does he want you to settle for an intellectual belief in his existence. He wants you to seek him and find him and live in relationship with him.

If you start with that core – not just a belief in, but a relationship with God, then you have a solid place to begin finding out who you are and why you are here.

God created you, and Genesis 1:27 says that he created you in his image. Now that doesn’t mean he has blond hair and blue eyes, or is 6’3” and skinny or 5’4” and portly. It’s not a physical description at all, but a description of your kinship to him. That you were created in the image of God means that you share certain qualities with him:
1) He gave you dignity (meaning you not only have a right to respect from others, but a responsibility to treat others with respect.)
2) Being made in God’s image also means we have the capacity to act in ways that only God acts – with love and compassion and self-sacrifice.
3) And being made in God’s image also means that he gave you freedom to choose (which means you are different from all other living creatures who operate out of instinct and self-preservation.) That freedom to choose comes with an upside and downside: He allows us the freedom to choose to believe in him or to reject him. But with the freedom of choice also comes consequences for our choices. We can choose right paths where we find happiness and wholeness, but God also allows us to choose destructive paths which ultimately lead to misery and death.

All human beings are created in God’s image, and God is jealously possessive of his creation. When Jesus was asked what the greatest command is, what did he answer? “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and then added, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

That’s the essence of being created in God’s image: that we were created to love God as he loves us, and to love people like God loves people. If you are going to figure out who you are, it needs to start there – in a right relationship with God and the ability to live in relationship with other people.

The truth is, what once was perfect, has been tarnished by sin and faded from neglect. Though we are created in the image of God, we live far from that perfect reflection. But God sent his son to display that image in a way that we can see and be drawn to. In fact, only in Jesus can we be remade in that image and become what God created us to be. In 2 Cor. 3, Paul describes that process: But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:16-18)

In Jesus Christ, you not only see God’s perfect image, you are empowered through the Holy Spirit to be transformed into that likeness.

Jonas and Elisabeth were a simple couple who lived in London. They were uneducated, neither could read, but they had good hearts. Jonas wanted to do something meaningful – something to help others – so he began volunteering at the Salvation Army mission. He loved the work, providing food and clothing to homeless people. But one day he came home dejected and downcast. His wife Elisabeth asked, “What’s the matter?”
He said, “All of the people down at the SA wear red sweaters, and I don’t have a red sweater.” She said, “I’ll knit one.” So she knitted him a red sweater. He was thrilled.
The next day, when he came home, he looked sadder than before. “What’s wrong this time?” she asked. “Everyone else’s sweater has yellow writing on it.” “Don’t worry, I’ll embroider some writing on it for you.”
Now, she had no idea what the yellow writing on the red SA sweaters said. (It says, “BLOOD AND FIRE.” That’s their motto.)
Since Elisabeth didn’t know and couldn’t read, she chose the most convenient writing she could find – the words on a sign in a store window across the street from their apartment.
When Jonas came home the next day, she asked him, “Did they like your sweater?” “They loved my sweater. Some of them said they like my sweater better than theirs.”
What neither of them knew, was the sign on the storefront read, “UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT.”

That’s the message of the cross and the empty tomb, that God can take a person who has surrendered their life to him and give their life meaning and purpose.