Trending Christian Blog and Commentary

Spring Sale! Get 50% off your PLUS subscription. Use code SPRING

What You Can Learn from The Purpose Driven Life and Michael Phelps

  • Liz Kanoy What topic related to Christianity, faith, and the Bible is trending online and in social media today?
  • Updated Aug 15, 2016

If you’ve been watching or reading anything Olympics related then chances are you’ve seen or read updates about Michael Phelps—his 5 gold medals and 1 silver medal in Rio, his retirement from the Olympics as the most decorated Olympian of all time, and possibly even his thoughts on Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life.

At 31 years old with 28 total Olympic medals Michael Phelps has accomplished a lot by today’s standards. However, Olympic gold is not guaranteed to bring you happiness and neither will accomplishment itself. You can win your whole life and still be missing something because, as cliché as it sounds, winning isn’t everything.

A couple of years ago, Ray Lewis—former American football linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and friend to Phelps—gave a copy of The Purpose Driven Life to Phelps during a dark time in his life. You may remember that Phelps had some not so positive headlines in the news related to his partying habits. Lewis knew his friend needed a reality check and decided that this book would be a good starting place.

In Christianity Today’s article, Celebs from Michael Phelps to Kim Kardashian Want a Purpose-Driven Life, writer Kate Shellnutt tells us:

In an ESPN special, Phelps said the book “turned me into believing that there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet” and “helped me when I was in a place that I needed the most help.” It spurred him to reconcile with his dad.”

The Purpose Driven Life answers one of life’s most basic questions—Why am I here? This is a question most people will ask themselves or someone else in their lifetime, why am I here and what is my purpose? It’s a question that hits straight at the heart. There will be those who find comfort in false answers, there will be those who attempt to ignore the question, and there will be those who never stop seeking until they find the answer.

Whether you have read Rick Warren’s book or not, whether you like the book or not, the book is a tool that God can use to bring people closer to His truth. The book contains scriptural truth and is written in a way that is easy for readers to understand, especially those who are unfamiliar with the Bible and what a relationship with God actually looks like.

Shellnutt states that Manny Pacquiao, a championship boxer from the Philippines, who also read the book told Warren that the first time he read it he cried through every chapter and handed copies out to everyone he knew. When your heart is transformed you want everyone to know the truth that set you free and the God who made you new.  Shellnutt explains,

Warren’s message—that life isn’t about you but about finding God and your life purpose in him—proves a welcome change.”

Even though the book came out several years ago, it keeps popping up in the headlines—as prison reading material for Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Capo” Guzman, as well as being listed as a favorite book of Kim Kardashian in an Us magazine interview—says Shellnutt.

Before we start scrutinizing the behavior of all of these celebs and wondering if their belief is true, let us remember that only God can change the heart and only God knows the heart. What is amazing is that God’s truth continues to be proclaimed through the mouths of believers, through the Word of God, and through different tools like Christian books, videos, articles etc.

As Paul writes in Philippians 1:18,

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

The Purpose Driven Life and the Bible (even more so) are two of the most translated books around the world according to Zondervan and the easiest to get a copy of. Of course, these two books are not equals by any means nor would The Purpose Driven Life or its author claim such a thing. The Bible is Truth—it is God’s Word relevant to all peoples in all times—and The Purpose Driven Life is simply Christian literature that can be used as a tool to introduce people to God’s Word and His purposes. The book isn’t a classic nor is it overly theological or academic, but it is reaching people for the gospel—and we can rejoice in that!

But even more importantly than handing someone a copy of a book is the relationship you have with that person. A book like this or a copy of the Bible needs to be given in love as part of a caring relationship, whenever possible. It is highly likely that if someone reads a book that discusses Christian beliefs they will have questions and thoughts afterward, and they will need someone to talk to and someone to encourage them and guide them.

In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren explains, “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.” 

Christian Headlines Editor, Veronica Neffinger, reports that Ray Lewis not only encouraged Michael Phelps to take a look at his life and read the book but also to enter rehab, which Phelps reluctantly agreed to do. She writes, “While he was in rehab, however, Phelps not only gained some needed perspective on his life, but his life was changed forever when he read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life which Lewis had given him.”

Sometimes we may be tempted to analyze the faith of “celebs” when we should be rejoicing in the truth that is being learned. Instead of analyzing, let’s continue to share God’s truth through as many means as possible to reach as many people as possible for the gospel. Only God can change a heart, but He delights in letting us work for His glory to spread His truth.

People all over the world are continuing to read The Purpose Driven Life 14 years after its publication, and for the purpose of God’s glory it continues to draw people near to the only true God and His holy Word. I will rejoice in that.

To read the full article, Celebs from Michael Phelps to Kim Kardashian Want a Purpose - Driven Life, written by Kate Shellnutt please visit

Related article:
God and the Games: What Role Does Religion Play in the Olympics?

Related video:

Publication date: August 15, 2016

Photo courtesy: The Evolution of Michael Phelps on YouTube

Liz Kanoy is an editor for