Book Remarks: The Purpose Driven Life

by Michael Baker

Book Remarks are not book reviews, but topical posts inspired by books. This post was inspired by Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

In The Purpose Driven Life (2002), Rick Warren discusses five purposes for every Christian’s life: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and mission.

It is, perhaps, that last one that gives Christians the most pause.

Mission? Do you mean, I have to go to a foreign country to help spread the Gospel?

After all, we’ve heard church leaders talk about the Great Commission:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20; NIV).

Well, in college I went on a one-week mission trip to help build a church in Haiti. That counts, right? Can I check “mission” off my Christian “to do” list?

Well, yes and no. Certainly, a short-term mission trip is a good thing – and if you haven’t participated in one, you absolutely should consider doing so; they can be life-changing experiences.

But we shouldn’t just think of “mission” as something done over there. Yes, some of us will be called to leave our homes. Jesus said to the original disciples: “Come, follow me” (e.g., Mark 1:17). These men dropped what they were doing, left their homes, and literally walked with Jesus.

We might also remember, however, the story of Jesus casting evil spirits out of a man who had seemed crazy and was living in tombs. Once healed, the man asked to be allowed to go with Jesus; instead, he was told, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (see Mark 5:1-20).

This story illustrates that our “mission” isn’t something we do once or twice in a foreign country. It’s a lifestyle. It’s something we do on a daily basis. It can be accomplished in a foreign country, yes, but it should also be a priority when we are at home.

In Warren’s words, “Your ministry is your service to believers, and your mission is your service to unbelievers” (page 279).

That means our mission field is spread out before us. It’s at school, at work; it’s the places we go as we run errands. In fact, we might think of “mission” more in terms of “witnessing.” That is, sharing the Gospel with others.

Okay, I guess. But I can’t really “share the Gospel.” I don’t have a seminary degree. And I’ve never been good at memorizing things, even Bible verses. And, honestly, I’m not always sure I remember the difference between terms like sanctification and propitiation. And I don’t really know how to explain the “Triune nature of God,” or how Noah could fit all those animals in the ark, or how—

Relax. In The Purpose Driven Life, Warren offers some very encouraging words: “Jesus said, ‘You will be my witnesses,’ not ‘You will be my attorney’” (288). In the previous paragraph, Warren noted:

In a courtroom, a witness isn’t expected to argue the case, prove the truth, or press for a verdict; that is the job of attorneys. Witnesses simply report what happened to them or what they saw. (288)

Now that doesn't sound so hard, does it?

You don’t need a seminary degree to share your own experiences with other people. You don’t need to study apologetics to justify the accuracy of the biblical account of creation.

In fact, it’s not your job to convert people to Jesus – the Holy Spirit does that.

Paul even says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Elsewhere, Paul talks about being “saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).

So, all we need to do is share our experiences with God, and let the Holy Spirit take over from there.

And what then? Sometimes, we might see immediate results; the person we’re talking to might want to pray and receive salvation. When Philip was talking to the Ethiopian eunuch, the man suddenly asked, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” (Acts 8:36). We should certainly accommodate someone who wants to take the next step in their faith journey.

More often, however, we’re just planting seeds that others will harvest later (e.g., Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23; John 4:37-38). You may never see the seeds you’ve planted get harvested, but that doesn’t mean your planting is in vain. If you do your job faithfully, the Holy Spirit will do its job with what you have planted.

And remember, Paul writes, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). So, do your job as often as you can.

Okay, but I’m still not sure how to be a witness.

Warren recommends writing out your testimony, memorizing the key parts, and being ready to share it when an opportunity presents itself. He lists four parts to think about (289):

1.     What my life was like before I met Jesus

2.     How I realized I needed Jesus

3.     How I committed my life to Jesus

4.     The difference Jesus has made in my life 

By thinking through these simple elements of your own testimony, you will also be following Peter’s instructions to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). 

You don’t have to explain the concept of sanctification; you don’t have to discuss the Triune nature of God. You don’t even have to convince someone that God is real.

You just have to tell people about the difference Jesus has made in your life.

That’s not so difficult. It’s not so scary.

If you need to simplify things further, then reduce your testimony to B.C. and A.D. That is, Before Christ and After Dedication (to Christ).

Write out what Jesus has done for you in your life and pick out a few of the most powerful details. Rehearse them with a friend or a small group. Be prepared to give a cogent answer when someone asks you, “So, why do you believe in God, anyway?”

By being prepared, you can answer with confidence: “Why do I believe in God? That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you what my life used to be like, and what it’s like today…”

Quotations from The Purpose Driven Life come from the 2012 Expanded Edition.

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