At some point in life, most people think about what their purpose in life is. It’s one of the great ontological questions of life: Why am I here? The day you can affirm God has a purpose for your life is a huge day of self-discovery and self-affirmation. God wants you to be a tool in his hands for the sake of his kingdom.

In the first chapter of Mark, we are given insight into Jesus making some important decisions regarding God’s purpose for his life, which can help us in our journey. Mark tells us that on the Sabbath Jesus left the synagogue and went to Simon’s and Andrews’ house. Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed sick with a fever. Jesus goes to her and heals her of her sickness on the Sabbath Day, something that gets him in trouble on other occasions.

Sundown on the Sabbath marked the beginning of a new day in Jewish society. That is the reason all these sick people showed up at Simon and Andrew’s house at sundown. The Sabbath had ended so religious law allowed the people to walk as far as they wanted. They were free to ask Jesus for the healing they needed.

With a bit of exaggerated pen, Mark says the whole city was gathered at the door. The scripture says, “he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him” Mark 1:34 (NIV).

Suddenly, Jesus is a very popular person in Capernaum. Why wouldn’t he be? Look at all the good he’s doing, all the people he’s healing. Jesus is finding a huge amount of success in Capernaum with his ministry.

How many people do you know who have been ruined by success or popularity?

Meriwether Lewis was half of the Lewis and Clark expedition who explored the North American continent west of the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, after Thomas Jefferson bought those lands from Napoleon. Lewis was a young, dashing hero who did what many thought was impossible. What came next? Upon their return, his friend William Clark married and lived a happy life. Meriwether couldn’t handle the fame. He had no luck with women. He became addicted to alcohol and morphine. He never did publish his famous journals. “President Jefferson made him governor of the territory he had explored, but Meriwether failed in every respect, defaulting on his debts and drinking himself into oblivion. In his mere thirties, only a few years after his breathtaking success, he killed himself in a dingy Tennessee tavern.” (http://tinyurl.com/csx6gu).

In Mark’s gospel, we see the success of Jesus early in his ministerial career. How did he handle his early success? Following a great evening of healing where his popularity as a minister and figure within the region soared, the scripture, says, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (v. 35).

He stayed gone past sunup. Simon and the others began hunting for him. Why were they hunting for him? Because the crowds had begun to gather again at Simon’s home ready to be healed.

This was good news! Wasn’t this why Jesus came? Wasn’t this his purpose? Don’t you think the disciples were overjoyed? They had agreed to follow Jesus because they believed this kind of thing might happen and now it had. Jesus was a star. More than a star, he was the emerging Messiah. The disciples needed to urge their emerging star to get back in there and do his thing. Keep the ball rolling. Heal those people. Keep the crowds coming. This could be the beginning of the first mega-church.

It appears Jesus had been praying about his purpose. What shape exactly was his ministry to take? His answer must have surprised Simon and the others: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” Mark 1:38 (NIV).

Through prayer, Jesus had found his purpose. In knowing his purpose, he actually left some work undone. He left some people unhealed. He left some disappointed people at Simon’s house, perhaps even Simon and the other disciples. There wasn’t going to be a mega-church in Capernaum after all. That wasn’t Jesus’ purpose in coming.

The scripture says, “And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Mark 1:39 (NIV)

In this passage, we learn three things from Jesus about purpose: First, our purpose should be defined by God and not by others. It’s so easy to allow others to set our agendas, define our ministries, fill our calendars, and shape our identity. If we are needy people, needing the praise from others and hungry for attention, rather than being spiritually grounded enough to listen to God and follow His guidance, we can fall victim to our own success.

Secondly, we must understand our purpose and stay on course through the discipline of prayer. There is a hole in Henry Blackaby’s statement in the Experiencing God curriculum. He says that in seeking to know God’s direction we should simply find out where God is already working and join him there. Well, from Simon’s perspective, God was working through Jesus right out of the back door of his house. Since God was working there, he thought Jesus should show up there the next day. However, through prayer, Jesus discovered that wasn’t his purpose.

The point is we can’t always rely on success as our measuring stick of finding God’s purpose. Sometimes God calls us to leave a successful ministry behind to follow Him in a new direction.

Finally, success is not always defined by numbers or whether or we are pleasing everyone. We will, in fact, not always make everyone happy. Success is defined by whether we are doing what God called us to do, whether we are being who God called us to be, and whether we are going where God called us to go. Success is following God’s purpose for our lives, even when we don’t know all the reasons why God has asked us to do what God has asked us to do.

We are all like tools. We each have been designed with a particular purpose in mind. Each purpose has value so we shouldn’t envy the purpose someone else has been given. Rather, through prayer, we should seek God’s purpose for our own lives. Then, like Jesus, we should obediently follow God’s direction.

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The Rev. Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie.

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