121 Good Word: Where to find your purpose with Commissioner Doug Riley
This is a good word from the Good Word with Commissioner Doug Riley.
Here, he preached at this year’s commissioning and ordination meeting of The Salvation Army in the western U.S., when the Army commissions those in training as Salvation Army officers or pastors.
And he had one question: What is your purpose?
While we often start with ourselves and struggle through our identity, importance and impact, Riley said we fail to see the answers are found in understanding God’s reason for putting us here on earth.
God’s purpose, he said, is simple: To know him and to glorify him. Our purpose is found not in what we do, but who we know.
So allow me to introduce to you once again, for this good word from the Good Word, Commissioner Doug Riley.
Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
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[Mission Impossible theme song plays.]
Douglas Riley: And you know what comes next?
“Good afternoon, Mr. Phelps. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to know your purpose and to give God glory. Should you or any of your members of your team get caught, we will disavow any knowledge of their actions. The Messengers of Reconciliation will be your point team, and this tape will self-destruct in five seconds.”
I know some of you out there are a little disappointed that I didn’t use Top Gun, but I didn’t feel like starting off with “you know I’ve got that …”
It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work, but some of you would know that there are five Mission Impossible movies. Some of you who are wiser in the crowd might know that there was actually an original TV series. Yeah, they’re shaking their heads. With these words, “an elite covert operation with a highly sensitive purpose.”
You see, they did the impossible, the thrill of action, the gadgets, the women, the anticipation all coming and trying to fulfill their purpose, their mission, and that’s what I want. I want thrill, I want action, I want gadgets. We live vicariously through these kinds of films, and it’s great to live within your purpose, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was just a sign to you for every episode of your life? We all want that kind of excitement. We want that kind of stuff, that makes us wonder who we really are and what we can do and can’t do without God, a place to go where you can’t do it on your own, a place where you can only do it with God’s help, with God’s source, to go to the edge of impossible, and then to reach the impossible only to have God flick on a switch and make the impossible possible.
Oh, I love that. That’s what I want to do. I want to go to that kind of place where I can’t do it on my own and I have to rely on God to do whatever it is he has for me to do. You know something? In this room, we all have some commonalities.
Our commonalities here today is that we all want to know what our purpose is. We all want to know what our purpose. We want to make sure that we’re in our purpose, that we’re all doing the thing that God has called us to do, and some of us in the room today are searching for that purpose. Everybody wants to know what it is. We’re not unusual, we’re unique, but we’re all united in this way, but perhaps deeper this morning, that we might know our purpose and it’ll give us some peace, some fulfillment, maybe some excitement, maybe some thrill, and maybe some gadgets along the way for the men in the room.
I truly understand that we are all seeking. We’re all learning to find our way through this world, and I’m not talking about what you do in your life, your vocation. I’m talking much deeper than that. I know that’s important for each of us. We often want to know what it is that we’re going to do the rest of our lives, but we get shackled because we’re trying to figure out what we think our purpose is before we truly know what God’s purpose is.
We’ve started this series, it was mentioned earlier, that we’ll see it around the territory, and you see it right here on your program today, where we want to find this word on some banners that are around outside in the foyer and on the patio. We want to find joy. We want to find peace, find our purpose, find our community. Why is that such a common thing? It’s because all of us are looking for something. It’s kind of like, it’s a hidden secret, but it’s not a secret at all because, folks, it’s easy, and you know where the answer is and we have it, and we should share it.
It’s simple but profound. People in this room, you and me are trying to find these kinds of things for our life. Maybe perhaps some of us, all of us in this room have a healthy discontent to wrestle with the very essence of what our purpose in life is. Some of us are fine. We say, “I know my purpose. I know what I’m doing. I know what God created me to do.”
Others are asking me, “Why were we created? What were we designed for?” Others are struggling with all of those kinds of concepts. We’re created by God, designed by him. He knew us before we were born, as Scripture says, and yet, each one of us are given the choice whether to follow him or not.
Those who have gone before us, some of them we know have never found this purpose. Others that we know of went beyond their own understanding. Their purpose took them to places they never thought they would go, to places and doing things like going to brothels and facing labor unions, fighting for rights and exposing the horrors of child prostitution. It wasn’t their vocation, it was from their purpose that they did these things.
Psalms 57:2 says this, I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. The key to understanding God’s purpose for your life? God has your days numbered.
He wants to fulfill his purpose in you. However, we’ve tried to do it on our own, and when that happens, it ends miserably, doesn’t it? I don’t know where you are, but I hope you can get to that point where you no longer hold back. When God tells you something to do, when you hear God’s voice, I hope you get to that point, no matter what it is, that you’re willing to step out and take that risk because you know that God is with you and God will be there because it’s his purpose, not yours.
I don’t know where you are this morning, but I know this. I believe that God wants to do amazing things through this, his Salvation Army. I believe he wants to take us to places where we’ve never been, where we can only go by his grace and by his leading. I believe that God has a purpose for each one of us. It’s not our purpose, it’s his purpose, and if we follow his purpose, we will be in his will and his design for our lives. He created you.
He formed you before you were even known, and he has a purpose for you. Let me make it clear today if I haven’t already, everybody in this room has a purpose. Everybody in this room, God created for that purpose. He has a purpose, he has an assignment, and no matter how many mistakes we make in trying to do it, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made in our past, he will make it true. We need to know our purpose. We need to know why we were put here on earth.
Why did God put me on earth? What am I here for? Is it to have a career? Is it to make lots of money, maybe to entertain myself and to have a good life, maybe to get involved in social media or social issues of the day or whatever it is? How do I find my purpose?
Until you answer that fundamental question and you are willing to accept the consequences and surrender ourselves to God’s purpose for our life, we’re never going to be happy, we are never going to be fulfilled because we’ll never line up with God’s will for us and why he created us.
In the classic book, Lord of the Rings, J. R. Tolkien wrote a poem that included this line, “Not all who wander are lost.” Not all who wander are lost. The same applies to you and me today. Even though you feel like you’re wandering without a true purpose, that doesn’t mean you’re lost.
You can regain your sense of purpose and discover what God has for your life. We all know that Proverbs 19:21 says, Many are the plans for a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. I don’t know if you ever saw that. We all have plans, we all have purposes in our hearts, we all have desires, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. You had ideas, perhaps you were wandering, but he prevails.
Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper, not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. You see, secondly, you need to know you are not insignificant to God. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows because he designed you. You are beautifully created and wonderfully made. He knows.
Romans 8:28, that was read earlier, And we know that God causes all things to work together for those who love God and those who are called according to his purpose. The search for purpose has lasted thousands of years, thousands of lives of people who’ve been trying to find out what that purpose is, and the problem is we start at the wrong starting point. We start at the wrong starting point because we start with ourselves. We start with our self-centered questions like, “What would I do with my life?”
“What are my goals? What are my ambitions? What are my dreams?” And we seem to struggle through three basic issues. Number one, the identity, “Who am I?,” your importance, “Am I valued? Am I important?”
“Am I worthy? Do I matter?,” and the impact, “What is my purpose in life?” We fail to see that the answers are found in the understanding of God’s reason for creating us and putting us here on earth. For ourselves, we will never be revealed for our life’s purpose because the Bible says, Job 12:10, It is God who directs the lives of his creatures. Everyone’s life is in his power, so here’s the answer, his purpose.
Notice I didn’t say your purpose.
God’s purpose is this, simple, to know him and to glorify him. I can’t make it any simpler or clearer. God made you. He has a purpose for you, a wonderful purpose for you. His purpose is to make you like Christ.
God causes all things for good for those who love God. We waste so much time in our lives trying to figure this out. The number one thing God is doing and he is trying to do is to just simply make you like Christ. That’s why he created you. That’s why he formed you.
Andrew Barton on Friday at Commencement said it this way, “It’s not about you, it’s about making us like him.”
Let me be clear again. What you do in life is not necessarily your purpose, it’s about who you are. We all know the story. We all know Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a cupbearer. He had that job, which you know, he had to eat the food or the wine or drink to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.
It’s a terrible job, I mean, because one slip of the bad stuff, and you’re no longer in a job. You’re out of a job. Then, he hears about the temple and the temple being constructed, erected, and he hears about the wall, the wall that they couldn’t finish, the wall that would surround and protect this beautiful temple, and his heart, it says that Nehemiah cried. Nehemiah’s job, his vocation was a cupbearer, but don’t you think that God had a little different purpose in the way he used Nehemiah to rebuild that wall? That wasn’t his vocation, that was God’s purpose. Quite frankly, folks, back to what I was saying, he couldn’t have done that in that record time without God.
That’s something that he could only do because God was there and God accomplished it. God’s purpose for your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. You were placed on this planet. You must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.
2 Timothy 1:9 [a] says this, He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
You get to choose your career. You can choose your spouse, you can choose your hobbies, but he made you for his purpose. Know this, when you’re in his purpose, your life fits into a plan far greater than you’ll ever comprehend, a plan for eternity. I realize that I’m sitting before the choir, so to speak today, brothers and sisters, officers, friends of the family of the cadets and others that are here, and I would say that if you know your purpose, and many of you might say, “I know what my purpose is,” “God made me,” “He formed me,” “I’m in his will,” I’m doing what he says,” then I would just say get on with it. Get on with it.
Ephesians 2:10, We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
If he prepared it in advance for us to do, then what are we waiting for? Let’s get on with it, but if God’s purpose was not first, it wouldn’t matter what you did. It wouldn’t matter what you tried to accomplish. his purpose is to make you like him. Let me just speak to you, but also to myself right now if I can. We let the things of this world, the things of this world distract us.
Scripture tells us don’t look left or right, look straight ahead, focus on Jesus. Don’t be distracted. Your desire is to be more like Jesus, then don’t let it become routine. We often get caught up in the busyness of routine and we lose the focus and we lose our passion, which is a desire to be like Jesus. It says right in our own covenant, that this is our utmost purpose, to love and to serve him, to win souls, making salvation, our first purpose of my life.
These years have been filled with distractions and we have all gotten caught up in it, talking careless banter. That’s scriptural, by the way, where we hurt brothers and sisters, where we divide his kingdom. I know we all want what’s best for this Army. I believe that in our heart, and we want to grow the kingdom for God’s sake, but let’s not get caught up in these things of the world. Let’s not get caught up in the banter and the distraction.
Let’s fix our eyes straight ahead and ignore those things because I’m not meddling here. I’m just telling you what Scripture says, and what it says to me is that you’re supposed to look straight ahead and you’re not supposed to allow the things on the left and right to disturb you, to distract you. I think purpose starts with surrender, created in God’s love to be more like him, and we become more like him.
This Army isn’t easy either. I think we have one of the finest bureaucratic processes that perhaps is the most advanced in the world.
That was a joke. Some of them over here got it, but let us not deny that the Lord has led us by his purpose into 132 countries around the world. Let us not deny that in Africa, the soldiership is doubling. Let us not deny even that in America, in the United States, it has pretty much plateaued for the last 20 years because I believe that we’re not listening. We need to be attentive to what God wants and what he desires, and to his purpose in our lives, and then something will happen, and all of a sudden, the soldiers will be filled with his spirit, and things will happen, and we’ll do things that are amazing far beyond our control because we can’t control them anyway. This is not my Army, this is his Army.
It is not about me. When people want to criticize our Army, I’m like, “There’s no entity that I know that I can say the Army.” We are the Army, united in spirit and in mind. We are the Army.
We are his workmanship. We are his messengers. He designed us for this purpose, and dare I allow anything in this world to distract us from that. I’m talking to myself this morning—I want to know him and I want to give him glory. Period.
I want to be found with that desire to know Christ, to bring him glory. I am so happy that these lieutenants are here today. It’s hard to watch them and commission them. Every time I look into their eyes and you see Jesus, you see them from the last 22 months until they come into this place where they’re commissioned in The Salvation Army.
You know some of their lives, you know the challenges that they’ve had, you know what they’ve experienced that has brought them to this place. I’m excited that these folks, let me just say, they’re focused. They’re focused on the mission of God. They know their purpose. It’s not a personal one. It’s a God purpose, and they’re going to do some amazing things, and they’re a good reminder to each one of us.
They want to know God, they want to serve him, and they want to draw others into his saving grace, his will and his purpose, and may I add for them today, where he wants them to go. They’re ready for what that something might be that only God can do through their lives. They’re ready. Beyond their own gifting, beyond their own understanding, they’re ready, something that only God can do. They’re about to set out on an episode of Mission Impossible.
Robert Street says it this way, “Know God, know yourself, know your mission, and live it out.”
If we, officers don’t have passion, well, how can we reveal Christ to a world? Kierkegaard says it this way. He warned us that the danger of losing our passion for the gospel if instead, we treat it like a piece of information. Weak desires bring weak results. We’re not an Army of Doing the Most Good, folks. We’re an army of individuals who want to be like Christ.
And our purpose is found in not what we do, but who we know. I think I just have a question for all of us, and we’ll finish this in just a few moments. These words are not new to you today. Many are found in Scripture, many of you in this room could preach this and know this like the back of your hand, but I have to ask you today, “What is God speaking to you about? What is he saying to you today? What does he want you to do?”
Perhaps some of us in this room, we’ve known our purpose. We were commissioned 30, 40 years ago, whatever it is, and we tried to live true to that, and maybe you just need to renew that purpose that he has for you today. I don’t know. The other day on Friday night, we had all those long service recognition and certificates. They represented 865 years of service.
That was awesome. You’re going to see them march across there in a minute, and I hope you really do encourage them because they represent faithful officers who did not know perhaps what God had in store for them, but they were faithful and they marched on and they did it. They kept their eyes focused, and he took them to places, he introduced them to people, he had impact in their lives, but only he could do it. It wasn’t on their own. It was through his power.
We need each other. We need the Spirit of God to fill our lives and renew our spirit, and allow him and his presence to infiltrate us and allow him to do the work that only he can do through us. It means full surrender. I said that earlier. I’m going to say that again if I can. It only works if we’re ready to completely surrender to his will and be ready for the consequences.
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