In this generation, the concept of our ultimate purpose in life has become a powerful theme in the American psyche. We’ve adopted the belief that every person has a life purpose that is is within our reach, and that finding and following this purpose leads to a satisfying, significant life. It’s an extension of the original American dream—that this is a land of opportunity where anyone who works hard can “make it,” regardless of their social or economic background. Life’s ultimate purpose expands this ideal of the Good Life beyond financial and social success to offer significance and personal fulfillment as well. It is life and liberty with an extra helping of the pursuit of happiness.
There is much for believers to celebrate in this new theme. The idea that we are one-of-kind and have a unique contribution to make endows value to the individual human life. Believing that destiny is for everyone and not just a chosen few great leaders is a vital bulwark against controlling or authoritarian leadership. That one’s destiny can be found and followed inspires us to leave a legacy for others instead of devoting all our energy to getting what we want.
The idea of destiny also leads inexorably toward Creator—otherwise, where does this destiny we have built into us come from? Destiny means we are made for something; that life is unfolding according to a plan. There can only be a plan if there is a Planner. Having the freedom to dream up your own destiny sounds fun, but it ultimately leaves you empty. If there is no God and no afterlife, your destiny dies with you. A destiny that doesn’t make us part of some larger purpose loses much of its significance.
Society’s new focus on life’s ultimate purpose signals a change in our definition of success as well. In the past money, power and reputation were the measuring sticks. But now success is also about doing what gives you satisfaction, joy and significance. Many still live as if wealth and fame are the path to the good life, but more and more people are leaving behind these old idols. Some search for significance in causes like saving the planet or working for good government, while others focus on relationships instead of accomplishments, and still others abandon both social and career ambition to live simpler lives. This is a great opportunity for Christianity—pursuing joy in life seems much more likely to lead to God than running after money or power.
Tony Stoltzfus is a master coach, author and coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. A presentation of a thorough, practical toolkit for coaching Christian leaders to discover their identity can be found in his book the Christian Life Coaching Handbook.