What is the meaning of life?
It’s a question most of us have asked ourselves at one time or another. In fact, 75% of Americans believe that there is a higher purpose and meaning for their lives and nearly 70% believe that finding that deeper purpose is a high priority. This isn’t 75% of Christian Americans or religious Americans, this is 75% of all Americans. An even higher number believe “there is more to life than the physical world and society.” 88%! Even a surprising number of atheists ponder the meaning of life. In a Pew Gallop poll, 35% said that they often think about the higher purpose of their life. Over a third of atheists OFTEN think about this! That’s amazing! They don’t believe in God or an afterlife, but they do believe there is a higher purpose for their life. Why would they think that? Why would people who don’t believe in God or an afterlife or divine providence hold on to this fiction that there is any meaning to life at all? Unless it’s not.
As a kid, I thought I had it all figured out.
When I was five years old, I had to have a tonsillectomy. I don’t know what it was about my tonsils, but they would get infected seemingly every other week. I’m sure it wasn’t that frequent, but it seemed like it. I would complain of a sore throat, my mom would make an appointment, Dr. Thom or Dr. Crehan would look tell me to say “Ahhh” and about 10 minutes later I was pulling down my pants and getting a shot in the rear. The only good part was that afterward, my mom would take us to Tommy’s Hamburgers, the original one in downtown LA and I’d get a burger and a soda and eat it on the floor of our car. I had a lot of Tommy’s Hamburgers. But going to the doctor’s office inspired me, even at five years old to want to do something to help other people and I knew I wanted to be a doctor. I went through all of elementary school, junior high, and high school with the same goal in mind, but when I got to college that all changed. I realized that being a doctor wasn’t going to be the path for me. So I switched directions. A lifetime of wanting to be a doctor and instead I double-majored in psychology and political science. I still wasn’t sure which way I’d go, but I knew I wanted to help people and I thought either I would go into child psychology or I would be a campaign manager who would help the first truly honest politician get elected. As you can imagine, there weren’t a lot of people to work for. But I discovered when I was called into ministry that all along I wasn’t being called to a specific job, but to find a way to help people. My calling, my meaning in life was to help others in whatever way I could.
What I’ve found interesting is that I’m not alone in this.
Teens who are notorious for drifting away from church and for feeling disheartened by traditional means of faith have a deep sense of purpose to their lives. Eighty-seven percent report they believe there is an overall purpose to life. 87%! When asked what they thought that purpose was, the two most common answers were to help people and to be a good Christian. Number three was to be a good person. Nearly 50% of teens thought that one of these answers was the meaning to life. Helping others. Being good. A 17-year old in Kentucky said, “I think that my purpose in life is to help people. I’ve gone through hard times myself, and I can’t even imagine the situations some kids are in — much worse even than the life that I’ve had growing up. I think that as long as I have the ability, and want to help people, that’s what I should do.” A 17-year old from Utah said, “Everyone is here to fill in the holes in other people’s lives, whether little or big holes. Not everybody is the same, and we all need to share our talents and strengths to uplift other people.” And a 15-year old girl from CA said, “I am here to mourn with those that mourn, help those in need, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and to stand as a witness to God at all times and in all things and in all places. I am here to stand for faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, and integrity.” I can’t believe she’s 15-years old. But what is it that inspires us to believe these things? What is it in common between believers and non-believers, in church-goers and non-church-goers, and in young and old that tells us we are made for a purpose? It’s God. God created us to search for meaning. We are just wired that way. We are wired to find the meaning of life.
Whether or not you believe in God, you are wired to search for the meaning of life.
If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone would you go to Matthew 5 beginning with verse 14. Matthew 5:14. There is something within us that compels us to search for life’s meaning. There’s something within us that craves to know what that meaning is, what purpose we are meant to serve. But without God, we are constantly searching and never quite finding the answer. Because the answer lies in God. Serving God is the meaning of life, and helping others is a big part of serving God. Because serving God is the meaning of life, and helping others is a big part of serving God. It was a big part of it for me. It was a big part of it for those teens. And I’m betting it’s a big part of it for you, too. We like helping others. Helping others gives us a sense of meaning. Because we know that achieving some material goal like having the most money or the most cars or the most Twitter followers isn’t something that will last or in the end make much difference. But helping others, making a difference in someone’s life, somehow that does. It makes a huge difference in not just their lives but our lives as well.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, or even God’s.
From a purely scientific point of view, helping others gives meaning to our lives. Researchers have studied this and have found that helping others gives us a sense of free will, it helps us to feel like we are good people, and it strengthens our relationships to others both in a specific and a general sense. But it also gives us a general sense of purpose. Helping others makes us feel that life has meaning. And if you’re a Christian that all makes sense. Most of what the prophets and the disciples record for us tells us to help others and to build one another up. There is testimony after testimony recorded in the Bible of different people who believe this to be true. New Testament. Old Testament. It doesn’t matter. The prophet Micah tells us that God asks of us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).” Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Galatia, “…do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 5:13-14).’” Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).” And God himself tells us in Leviticus, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Helping is a part of who we are and who were created to be.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
We are meant to be a city on a hill.
We are meant to point the way to God. As Christians we understand God has already done so much for us that we are compelled to do good things for others. We know Christ sacrificed everything so that we might have eternal life and so we dedicate ourselves to helping others receive God into their lives too. We join together in God’s quest to bring as many as possible to him. So for us, doing good, helping others is not only what we feel compelled to do to love our neighbor, but is our way of honoring what God has done for us. Anybody can do good, but knowing why we do good and where this drive comes from gives us a sense of peace and wholeness that comes from nowhere else.
But this isn’t some magic formula.
Knowing God is at the heart of things and believing he is are two different ideas altogether. Knowing God is at the heart of all things and believing he is are two different ideas altogether. Finding that peace in your life doesn’t come from the head but from the heart. And most people don’t spend enough time thinking about God for it to really sink in to their heart. When asked how often they think about the deeper meaning of their lives at least half thought about it monthly and nearly 20% thought about it daily, but 13% thought about it only yearly and over a quarter of people don’t think about it at all. 38% of all people barely think about it if at all. When asked if they thought about going to heaven the results were even worse. Only 11% thought about it yearly and a whopping 46% never thought about it at all. And it only gets worse. When asked if they agreed with the statement, “I think often about what I must do to experience peace in the afterlife,” 50% disagreed with 60% of them strongly disagreeing. As a society, we pay lip service to knowing God and finding the meaning of life, but too often we don’t think about it at all. Part of that is because we are so busy trying to handle the day-to-day chores of living, we don’t have much time left over to ponder such things. But part of it is that we just don’t make it a priority.
If there is an afterlife and God is a part of that, then this really is the single biggest question of our lives.
We owe it to God and we owe it to ourselves to work on this and to make it a part of who we are. So if you are a Christian and you do believe in God, I want to ask you to do two things. One, think about this way more than once a year. And two, make it a priority to know God better. I promise that if you do, you’ll be even more at peace than you already are and you’ll feel more fulfilled than you already do. Help others with the mindset that we do so to honor God and to light the way for him. And if you don’t believe in God or you have doubts, please at least consider that this desire you have to find the meaning of life might just perhaps really come from God. That this deep longing you have to figure out they “whys” and “wherefores” of life have to do with something beyond this world. And then open your heart to the possibility of more.
There weren’t a lot of stories in this sermon and that’s unusual for me.
I love telling a good story. But I am so fascinated and so compelled by the evidence we find not only in our own lives but in research and scientific study that goes to support what God has already told us. Often science is our biggest friend in matters of the heart and spirit. And for any of you who are having trouble believing God is really at the center of your life – whether you know it or not – I hope this helps you to better understand how God has been behind it all. Because in the end the meaning of life rests in God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Data about teens comes from http://www.gallup.com/poll/11215/how-many-teens-see-purpose-life.aspx
 All data in this section comes from http://www.lifeway.com/Article/Research-Ultimate-purpose-and-meaning