Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | January 7, 2019

How purpose reveals itself

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [from Luke 3]

          Luke’s gospel is the one that recounts the announcement by the angel to Zechariah, the father of John. We hear from Luke about the baby’s dedication in the temple, and the two elderly saints who greeted the young family there with prophecies about his future. Luke tells us the only gospel story about Jesus’ developing years, when the 12-year-old teaches in the temple. Then we fly to the grown man, being baptized in the wilderness by that same strange and prophetic cousin John.

          I wonder what those growing-up years were like for Jesus. Not the day-to-day activities, but I wonder how he began to perceive who he was. When did he begin to grow into the knowledge and understanding of his purpose? Was it all those stories his mother must have repeatedly told him, the stories she had treasured and pondered in her heart over the years? Was it a strong sense of the presence of God? 

          Perhaps I am mistaken, but I like to think that Jesus struggled with his knowledge of self, that he had questions—if not doubts—about what he was to be and do, until he reached this day of some clarity when he stood in line with repentant sinners, knee-deep in the Jordan River, to be baptized, and the signs of dove and voice confirmed his coming mission. I like to think that, because it is the way most of us realize some sense of purpose—not in one moment of striking revelation, but in a growing, sometimes faltering, understanding of a bit of direction.

          This way seems right, we may say to ourselves.

  And we take a step down that path.

  Did the 30 or so years of Jesus’ life, up until the day at the river, count for nothing? Did the important part of his life begin with the voice and the dove? Of course not. Why did none of the gospel writers tell any stories from those years? I suspect it’s because those years weren’t all that remarkable. He was following God’s purposes as he learned to read and write, as he played with his brothers and sisters, as he made friendships, as he worked—perhaps at his father’s carpentry trade. I imagine he had a growing sense of his purpose. I surmise he dreamed, the way nearly everyone dreams, of what his future life would be.

          Purpose is something that unfolds over time. It is rarely something we can fully grasp at any one moment, because we never know what new episode is around the next corner, outside our current vision. What new opportunity, or new problem or challenge, may present itself tomorrow? In our rapidly changing world, it’s rare that many of us will stay in one job for our entire working life, or live in one place, as many of our parents or grandparents did. How do we find our purpose when we have less rootedness?

          Part of the answer, I believe, is that we have forgotten that purpose, or call, or vocation, is not a once-in-a-lifetime decision that determines everything you will do from now on. Purpose is something we strive for daily. What is God’s pull on me today? What will I do today to make a difference?

          Purpose is, in its simplest sense, is being in tune with both the world around you and God’s voice in it.

          By God’s voice, I mean that indefinable nudge we get when we know we are doing what is right for us.

          Jesus, I suspect, had many voices in his life before the voice at the river. He had parents and other relatives, friends and rabbis, people who kept pointing the way for a boy—then a young man—who was discovering his purpose.

          We, too, have voices in our lives. If we want to hear God’s purpose, then we make sure we surround ourselves with people who know us, who know our story. We listen, we observe, we hear the subtle voice of God’s purpose. That voice can be as wild as pointing us toward a new career, or as tame as moving us to take on an act of service, to show compassion to a friend, to make peace with an enemy, to make a phone call, to write a check, to speak out for justice.

  When Jesus left his river baptism, he seemed to know what it was he was about, and he headed off in that direction. That was precisely because he’d already had a sense of trajectory. This was just another confirmation of it.

  We find a purpose, too.

  We leave our place of worship, the reminder of our baptism, the ringing in our ears of the voice of God heard in the scriptures and the voices of our friends who encourage us, and we walk back into our everyday life, with a sure sense that God is pulling us forward.

© 2019, Melissa Bane Sevier

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