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Living Life On-Purpose...It's No Breeze
By Ken Stevens

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of Rick Warren’s phenomenal best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life (PDL). With over 40 million copies sold worldwide the past three years, this is a groundbreaking manuscript on the meaning of life and a guide for living life on-purpose. I would agree with Rev. Warren’s own declaration that he is presenting nothing really new in the book; but he speaks to our generation - and ever so poignantly. Therein lies the enormous appeal of PDL.

For the past two years, under the leadership of Fr. Andrew Harrison, members of St. Luke and sister OCA churches in the area have been meeting on Friday evenings to discuss the five primary purposes presented in the book; i.e. worship, fellowship, spiritual growth, spiritual service and evangelism. We have consistently drawn 10-15 participants, which is really a perfect number for generating healthy give-and-take.

While PDL considers all key dimensions of Christian living, we have been asked to comment specifically on the time and patience required to grow in Christlikeness. Since I myself am a prototypical Type A, one frustration that I have and often share with my fellow PD Lifers is how difficult it is to actually see personal growth in faith and Christlikeness. It seems like a pipedream. Is it just an ideal to want to live the maxim, "...a truly faithful life is a life without worry?"

PDL devotes an entire chapter to time and patience required to arrive at spiritual fulfillment. I must confess it’s frustrating when I hear clichés like, "...there are no shortcuts to maturity... it takes a full season for fruit to mature and ripen... the development of Christlike character cannot be rushed... spiritual growth, like physical growth, takes time... etc." While these are indeed cliché, they are also honest, and Warren’s takeaway is spot-on; i.e. "while we worry about how fast we grow, God is concerned about how strong we grow."

What is discussed in PDL is the notion of the process of conforming to Christ...arriving at real maturity by attaining the fullness of Christ...it’s what we in the Orthodox church refer to as "putting on Christ." This is a lifetime journey - sorry, no shortcuts. PDL also tackles the question of why it take so long to mature spiritually. Hey - we are humans and humans are slow learners...we are constantly reverting to old patterns of behavior, even when we know it’s wrong and/or have confessed it over and over again.

In our pill-popping society, wouldn’t it be nice to just take a pill to heal personal, relational, or spiritual problems...and put on Christ instantly? The truth is that habits take time to develop - sometimes a lifetime. And once they do, our character is changed and must remain changed...or we can’t claim it. We can take solace in PDL’s encouragement to believe God is working in you, even when you don’t always feel. Improvement is almost always gradual: "everything on earth has its own time and its own season."

Moreover, as Pastor Warren so aptly describes, "...your character is the sum total of your habits. You can’t claim to be kind unless you are habitually kind...you can’t claim to have integrity unless it is your habit to always be honest..." The only way to develop the habit of Christlike character is practice...and practice just takes time. Even then, spiritual transformation in terms of developing Christlike behavior will never be completed here on earth. Let’s face it - Putting on Christ is what we must continually strive for, but it will never be fully attained in our earthly life - it is in fact one of those paradoxes of our life on earth.

PDL also makes a very important point of emphasizing that God is more interested in what we are than in what we do. "We are human beings, not human doings. God is much more concerned about our character than our career, because we will take our character into eternity, not our career...you must make a counter-culture decision to concentrate on becoming more like Jesus." Rev. Warren boldly criticizes Christian self-help books that emphasize personal fulfillment and emotional stability. He even calls that notion narcissism, not discipleship. Christ never promised a comfortable life...discipleship is tough, and we can’t always "fit in."

For me personally, PDL has been a great stimulus to helping me live my life more on-purpose. It is a great complement to reading Scripture. The difference is that Rick Warren takes Holy Scripture, with all it’s eternal truths and makes it relevant for the 21st century culture and society we live in, which in many ways is incredibly different from that of Christ’s time. While deep-felt human needs and character attributes are eternally the same regardless of time or culture, the way our specific culture has defined and acted upon them is quite different. PDL fills that void and helps bring clarity to Christian behavior and right action today.

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