A bumbler’s guide to the purpose-driven life

by Mark Buchanan

I’m accident prone. I crashed both a bicycle and a car on my first solo outing with each, age six in the first instance, age 16 in the second.

Both were failures of judgment and technique. With the bike, I braked too late on a downward slope, skidded through a stop sign and was pasted by an old Buick. I spent the night in the hospital, hailed a hero for surviving the ordeal, but the bike—my mother’s —was reduced to scrap, which grieved me sorely.

With the car, I turned too sharply into a parking stall and gouged three panels on my dad’s new Plymouth, which also grieved me sorely, and him more so. No hero status was accorded me in that instance.

Both memories make me wince at the recall. In between and ever since, I’ve fallen out of trees, tumbled down stairs, cut myself with knives and saws and scissors and the edges of paper, had my teeth rearranged by a hard ball and torn more clothes than my long-suffering wife can mend.

So when the church got all purpose-driven a decade or so back, I felt at a distinct disadvantage. I like the emphasis enough—I’d rather live with intention and discipline than not—but my experience with the world is that mess and disorder stalk me, that mishaps lay in wait, that fiascos hunt me down. I am master of the gaffe, virtuoso of the pratfall. I am the guy who fumbles the ball, trips the wire, botches the plans, slips on the banana peel.

How could the likes of me ever be purpose-driven?

But then I noticed something, and it made all the difference. Martin Luther summed it up succinctly: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and then do whatever you want.”

The sharp provocation of his remark opened my eyes to how the Bible distils human purpose to a core simplicity: be fiercely, jealously, joyously committed to God, and then trust God for the results. “Abide in me,” Jesus said, “and you will bear much fruit.” Or again: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I like how The Message renders that verse and the one after: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Or here’s Paul’s counsel: “For we know that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called to His purposes.”

Or Solomon’s:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Or again:

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

It’s everywhere, a biblical life principle: seek the Lord first and most, and trust Him to work out the details.

As I said, this makes all the difference. As a man and a pastor, I have never been good at setting clear goals, especially if they involve what the corporate world calls “metrics”—quotas, targets, rigorous deadlines, hard measurements.

I want to. I’ve tried. I just can’t.

But I have, I believe, made the Lord my highest priority. I have a long way to go. I have much to learn. I am still a beginner. I stumble more than leap. But I am resolved to finish what I started.

Paul sums it well for me:

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back” (The Message).

I’ve got my eye on the goal… Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. That’s the real purpose-driven life, and even bumblers qualify.

Mark Buchanan is an author and pastor living on Vancouver Island. The author of several best-selling books, his most recent title is Your Church is Too Safe. He is speaking as several of this year’s Stronger conferences.