Edward Lorenz was a mathematician working in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the computer modelling of weather systems back in the 1960s. He devised a program, which once he typed in certain data, could calculate what the subsequent weather pattern was going to be. One day he made a mistake. It was only a small error, however the difference in the weather patterns were enormous. It was as if a tiny atmospheric disturbance in China, no greater than the beat of a butterfly’s wing, a week or so later becoming a force twelve hurricane in New York. His discovery became known as the ‘Butterfly Effect’.
The depressing thing is that, on the whole, there are no ‘Butterfly Effects’ magnifying the little contribution that we make to this world. Our individual actions are a bit like stones tossed into a very large lake. A big splash but then the ripples just die out. Most of us have to face the fact that we will drop the little pebble of our lives into the turbulent ocean of world events and in no time at all the surface will bear no trace of our passing. We are remembered by just a few, and our contribution to humanity remembered even less. It is this sense of purposelessness that is one of our chief anxieties.
There is, in every one of us the longing that our lives be well spent - that our lives count for something, that they have significance and usefulness, that we don’t come to the end of our days and say, it was all in vain, empty, pointless, useless, insignificant, or pitiable.
The good news is that the ripples of one life did not die away at death. The ripples of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus have increased in amplitude, and expanded in diameter right across the globe as great multitudes of people have come to saving faith in him.
The book of Acts sets out this grand agenda. In 1:8 the Lord Jesus commissioned his disciples to take the good news of salvation in him to the four corners of the globe. He said: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
This is God’s mission - for his church, and for you. The book of Acts is the evidence that Jesus reigns, and nothing will stop the good news from advancing and changing lives. Hypocrisy, squabbling, execution, imprisonment, cultures, language, even the might of the Roman empire could not hinder the word of God increasing and spreading.
Jesus is still at work in his world. He is not dead, and he is not absent. He is alive and he is present. Jesus is still speaking and working to build his eternal kingdom from every culture, and nation, and language and generation. God’s big plan for time and space is for people to come under the authority of Jesus’ name, turn to him in repentance and faith, and receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and live for the honour of his name. This is what God cares about.
The Lord Jesus calls us, his disciples, to follow him and align our lives with what God cares about. When his first disciples dropped their nets on the beach and left their tax tables to follow Jesus it wasn’t for a gap year of travel and adventure around the Holy Land. They signed up for Jesus to reign over the course of their lives.
1 Corinthians 15 is a great chapter on the implications of the resurrection of Jesus. It ends in v58 with the words: Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. Not in vain! That’s the longing of our lives. Christ is risen and everything done in his name—by his strength and for his glory—is not in vain. It is enviable. Significant. Valuable. Eternal. When we pursue God’s purpose for our lives we get to be part of his eternal agenda and find lasting significance. We get purpose.
I look forward to our Vision series each year at St Paul’s (this is my 10th). It’s a time for us to reflect about where we are and to look forward to how God is going to use us to take the gospel message to all peoples.
Each year we get greater alignment around why we exist (Mission), who we are (Values), what we want our future to be (Vision), and how we are going about it (Strategy).
This year we are spending five weeks on God’s purpose for your life, my life, and our life. You and I exist to glorify God (a life of magnification), to treasure Jesus together (a life of participation in a church community), to be like Jesus (a life growing into maturity as a Christian), to serve God and others (a life of ministry), and to take part in God’s purpose for his world (a life of mission).
My prayer for us is that we would linger over, meditate on, think through, pray about one question: Am I living out all of God’s purposes for my life?