If you ask a millennial what their purpose in life is, they often are still thinking about that question, but in often in terms that are general – kind of the “what do I want to be when I grow up?” type of question. These questions are now coming later than ever since most millennials are slower to become adults and be on their own than prior generations. Most of them think of their life’s purpose in terms of their occupation – their job – what they will be doing. Few, if any, think of their purpose as being related to their identity. Who they are, not what they do. Many have great dreams, but those dreams mostly deal with doing, not being. They might want to be a firefighter, architect, doctor, or an Olympic medal winner, a singer or actor.
We often ask them “What do you want to be?” which they translate to “What job do you want to have?”. This is a mistake. What happens is that from an early age they identify who they are with what they will be doing, rather than who they are. Most will spend their lives identifying themselves in terms of what they do. When I retired from law practice – my chosen profession – it didn’t change who I was. In fact, it was an opportunity for me to do things in life that I didn’t have time for – singing on a worship team, volunteering to do leadership training in an Institute or in foreign countries and even writing this blog, and having time to play with my grandchildren who are growing up fast. I figured out my identity years ago, and although part of my identity was associated with what I did, it didn’t really identify me. When I retired from law, my identity did not change.
As the title suggests, I consider this to be mistaken identity. If you look at how Christ chose his disciples, he didn’t look at their accomplishments in their jobs – their degrees, accomplishments or awards. He looked at their hearts and said “Follow Me.” The most important thing about you is who you are, not what you do. You might believe that achieving recognition in your profession or accomplishing your goals is satisfying – well it is, to a point – but outward accomplishments won’t change who you are on the inside and what God has done to make you who you are. Who you are is your identity, not what you do. The recognitions that I received practicing law – peer reviews of excellence – really was more of a recognition of my competency, not of my identity.
As a late-blooming Christian who came to faith at age 38, I had to totally rethink my identity in Christ. It was a game changer for me. Up until that moment of conversion, I was settled in my identity as a lawyer and father, but not as a spiritual leader of my family or a follower of Christ. It took me several years to come to grips that the primary purpose of a Christian is to glorify God in all that you do and say. That comes first, not somewhere down the line, or something that you do only on Sunday. God is concerned with what you do on Monday through Saturday, not just the worship experience on Sunday. You don’t leave church and then check your faith life at the door, so that when you step into your office on Monday morning, it’s as though you have left that all behind. Christianity is now beginning to turn to the concept of the integration of your faith life with your work. Two authors recently have written good books on the topic. One is Tim Keller of Redeemer Church in New York whose book is entitled Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work with God’s Work. The second is by Tom Nelson, a pastor in the mid-west who came to the realization that his weekly messages did very little to inspire his congregation to live their work lives for God. His book is entitled Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. I’ve used both of these books when I speak to businessmen who are interested in a marketplace ministry. It helps them determine their real identity in Christ – not by just what they do, but who they are.
My challenge is for you to see that your identity is not tied up in what you do, but who you are. If you can connect the dots of your faith and your work, you have come a long way to becoming the man or woman who God wants you to be. He has planted you in a place for a reason, and He wants you to grow there for His kingdom.