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What Is the Key to Purposeful Living?

hand holding up camera lens to view of mountain lake, prayer for finding life purpose

No one wants their life to be boring. We all want to live with purpose, with energy, and with excitement for what each new day will bring. As we move away from the COVID lockdowns and restrictions and head into a bright new summer, it is a good time to reevaluate what it is that gives us the purpose and meaning that we all so long for, and how Jesus gave us the template for doing just that.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’”. - Matthew 16:24

Deny Yourself

Strangely enough, the key to the self-fulfillment we all seek is the exact opposite of what we may think it is. Our natural instinct is to fill ourselves up with the things that we think will make us happy. And our culture certainly offers us plenty of that: binge-watching, video games, endless apps, and web exploring can quickly fill up every moment of our day. There is no reason for any of us to ever complain about being bored or unstimulated. The problem is that we are often looking to so many places for fulfillment while avoiding the One that will truly bring it. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ is enshrined in our nation’s founding documents, and has echoed across the centuries and across the globe as a call to find things that will make us happy.

However, Jesus teaches that what makes us happy and fulfilled is not cramming in more and more of what the world has to offer, but the exact opposite. Self-denial does not seem like it would bring us joy and fulfillment, but this is exactly what Scripture teaches. The more we let go of our desires and lean into what Christ has for us, the more we will find joy, fulfillment, and happiness that we could have never imagined otherwise.

Take Up Your Cross

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life”. - Matthew 16:21

This one is even harder than simply denying ourselves. We have to first realize that we don’t see the cross as the first disciples saw it. The idea of taking up our cross has taken on a definitively religious and devotional meaning for us. We see the cross as an object of redemption and beauty: at church, on necklaces, as works of art, and even on t-shirts. It is not a stretch to say that we are actually used to seeing crosses and don’t generally think much of them. But in the first century, prior to the resurrection of Jesus, there was nothing beautiful about the cross. It was a symbol of agonizing, humiliating, torturous death at the hands of a ruthless Roman occupation. The cross of crucifixion was painful, brutal, and generally disgusting in every way.

This instruction to take up our cross came on the heels of Peter proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus accepting this title, and then discussing how he will build a Church that not even the gates of hell can stand against (Matthew 16:13-20). This was a glorious moment and must have filled the disciples with joy and anticipation of the coming Kingdom and all its splendor. They had indeed been walking with and learning from the promised Savior, and he is now explaining what his rule and reign will be like! Yet this all seemingly comes to a screeching halt with his next words.

When Jesus tells his disciples to take up their cross, they are repulsed. They realized he is not speaking metaphorically, but literally suggesting that he, and those who follow him, will have a cross or some other form of painful death in their future. This does not sound like the pursuit of happiness, nor does it sound like the words of a Messianic King who has come to rule the earth. It sounds miserable and worse than if they had just stayed home and gone about their business before Jesus came along. Yet it is this acceptance of something greater than our own life, even at the possible cost of our wants, desires, safety, and life itself, that allows us to find eternal life, and with it ‘complete joy’ (John 15:11).   

Follow Me

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” - Matthew 16:25-26

Giving up the things we want, desire, and make us comfortable does not seem to be a way to bring us joy and peace. So how does it work? Jesus tells us that the way to this kind of a life is not by mere self-deprivation, but by following him. We are not simply called to live an empty, joyless life, denying ourselves of things that will make us happy. Not at all! We are instead tearing down the things that offer no eternal significance, no true meaning or depth, and replacing them with the one who brings us all of this and more.

Christianity gives us a road map to a meaningful life, not through just giving us a list of things that we can’t do, or asking us to give up ‘fun,’ but through a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus that will allow us to see the world through new eyes, and observe beauty in each and every day.

Jesus tells us that the way that leads to life is narrow, and few find it (Matthew 7:14). It is hard to find because it is so counterintuitive. The first step into faith is difficult, but the joy and eternal reward that comes from it cannot be overstated. It is a glimpse of what it will be like to spend eternity with Christ, and the only true way to find peace, joy, fulfillment, and purpose this side of heaven. If your daily prayer is to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ, it is certain that you will be a person people want to be around, and you will live a full meaningful life.

Related Resource: Listen to our FREE podcast, Reframed: The Power of Perspective. In each episode, Carley provides practical techniques for identifying and reframing negative thinking patterns. Listen to an episode below, and check out all of our episodes on LifeAudio.com.

Photo credit: Unsplash.com/Paul Skorupska

Jason Soroski is a homeschool dad and member of the worship team at matthias lot church in St. Charles, MO. He spends his free time hanging out with his family, exploring new places, and writing about the experiences. Connect on Facebook or at JasonSoroski.net.


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