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What does it mean to have purpose?

There's a scene in "The Little Mermaid" where Ariel and Flounder bring a bag of "treasure" to Scuttle, the seagull, so that he can identify what the treasures are. He picks up a fork and tells the mermaid and fish that it's called a "dinglehopper" and that the humans use the dinglehopper to comb their hair. 

Of course it's outlandish for us humans. It's nearly impossible to brush your hair with a fork — and we all know that's what it's called! Not a dinglehopper. I bring "The Little Mermaid" up to point out that if we don't know what the purpose of something is, we can often misuse it. The "Under the Sea" characters had no idea what the purpose of a fork was so they misused it.

What does it mean to have purpose?

Without purpose, we may be just floating from one thing to another — living a life that we were never meant to live. But often, instead trying to find what our purpose in life may be, we seek being popular. We become a bit over concerned with what people think of us; if they like us; if they approve of us; if we fit in with them and so forth.

Here's a hard truth: no matter how much we try, there will always be people who won't like us.

Yet we try chasing their approval and we end up with a life we were never meant to live because, instead discovering our purpose, we were obsessed with being popular.

But many of us may have no idea what our purpose and calling might be. So many have asked me the question, "What's the purpose of my life?" I used to cop out with the generic and pastoral answer: living your life for God.

I mean, that's not really helpful. I might've well answered the question, "What am I supposed to do with my life?" with a "Yes."

Nowadays, I tend to tell people instead of focusing on the big picture of "what is my purpose in life," I ask that they put their focus on something smaller like, "what is my purpose for today?" "What's my purpose in this moment?"

  • Maybe as you're talking with a friend over a coffee, you sense that your purpose in this moment is to simply listen and be there — not offering any advice — because she's had a real rough couple of days and needs a shoulder to cry on.
  • Maybe you have this overwhelming urge to call a friend and just to check on how he's doing.
  • Maybe you're walking to work and you see a homeless person asking for assistance and instead of just giving money, you feel led to just chat with him for a bit, at the least getting his name.

Those are ways that God is using you to be God's presence to those around you--nd it's (they're?) doable things! You're not being asked to end world hunger, but to get to know the name of someone who's hungry. Then there's excitement and momentum because we've met a need God placed in front of us. That excitement and momentum gives us a sense of purpose.

When we start paying attention to the small purposes that are found in between moments and days, what happens is that we become more in tune with God and what God is leading us to do. Doing these little things; fulfilling these small purposes; focusing on the moment-to-moment things asking, "what's my purpose right now?" it leads us to what our big purpose in our lives is.

There's not a more powerful force than someone living out their purpose. Nothing can stop us because our purpose gives us life and meaning.

There are those who are fortunate who understood what their purpose in life was the moment they left the womb. For the rest of us, it may take some time. And that's okay. I mean, Moses was 80 when he really discovered his purpose in life.

What we cannot afford to do is confuse popularity with purpose. Chasing after approval of people will lead us nowhere fast. We'll stumble into a life that we never wanted nor meant to live.

You can't please everyone. But you can please God.

Don't misuse your life because you kept seeking approval of others. Let your life have meaning and significance by focusing on living your life in ways that honor God and builds up God's kingdom. And start small. This never has to be "go big or go home."

You don't necessarily need to ask God, "What's the purpose of my life?" You can start with, "What's my purpose today?" And say "yes" to where the Spirit is leading you in that moment.

Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves as an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church Pearland. Find more of his writings at

[Published May 14, 2019]