30 – Man’s Search for Meaning
A MAN’S GREATEST NEED
Pounding in the breast of every man is an intense desire to lead a significant life. A man’s most innate need is to find meaning and purpose. It is the underlying motivator of our behavior. It is what brings us joy, pleasure, peace, and contentment. How many times have you said or felt…
I want my life to count — to make a difference!
I want to make a contribution in the lives of people around me.
I want to be useful, to do something with my life.
THE DESIRE FOR MEANING
We each have an inbred, intuitive sense that we are created to make a difference. We are not frustrated because we think significance cannot be found. Rather, we are sure it can be found, and our frustration is that we have not yet taken hold of it.
Viktor Frankl, survivor of four Nazi concentration camps, tells the story of a diplomat who began therapy with a psychiatrist because he was unhappy in his work. The psychiatrist repeatedly urged him to reconcile his relationship with his father. Yet, after five years he was more unhappy than ever. He went to see Frankl.
After a few meetings, it was clear that this man’s desire for meaning was frustrated by his vocation. He yearned to engage in some other line of work. At Frankl’s urging he changed jobs and became quite content.1
Frankl’s point: In most cases of unhappiness we need only assist a man (or woman) to find meaning in his life. As Frankl says, “Man’s search for meaning is the chief motivation in his life.” How can you and I go about finding all that God intends for our lives?
THE FOUR CORE SOURCES OF MEANING FOR A CHRISTIAN
God has created us to find meaning, but God’s meaning only comes in God’s way. We will find our “meanings” in four core purposes.
1. The Great Commission. Can you remember the most inspiring speech you ever heard? Down through the ages, spellbinding challenges have fired men’s imaginations, ignited heroic responses, and exhilarated men with the call of duty and honor. But by a wide margin, the last earthly words of Jesus have consistently mustered the singular largest response.
These few pregnant phrases incite men and women to devote incalculable millions of hours and billions of dollars to fulfill His challenge. This is the most compact, compressed distillation of the Christian mission ever uttered.
All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).
It’s all there. Authority. Challenge. Mission. Adventure. Power. Direction. Purpose. Comfort. Eternal Security. It is our task. It is our mission. And it is great.
2. The Cultural Commission. God calls us to build the kingdom and tend the culture. While the Great Commission is how we build the kingdom, we tend the culture through the Cultural Commission (Gen. 1:28). This is our calling to make the world a more livable place, raise families, and engage in productive work and service.
Your work is not merely a platform for you to serve God — it is serving God. In other words, we don’t simply endure work until a coffee break so we can witness to our co-workers; the work itself is important to God.
What if you can’t figure out your calling, or if it seems to have faded on you? A man in his early 30s experienced frustration because he couldn’t figure out where he was going. “What should I do with my life?”
His mentor counseled him, “You don’t need to know where you are going. Relax. Let it come to you. Simply remain faithful to do what is already before you with excellence. Moses was 40 years old when he was called, spent 40 years in preparation, and another 40 years living it out. Two thirds of his life passed before God released him for his ultimate service.”
3. The New Commandment. Jesus did not say, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you perfect your theology.” Right theology is important, and bad theology is deadly. Yet, lost and lonely people are not attracted by excellent theology (though ours should be excellent).
What Jesus did say was, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). People are attracted to us by the way we love one another.
In the second century church Christians were accused of treason (not pledging allegiance to the Emperor), cannibalism (drinking Christ’s blood and eating his body), and sexual immorality (“the kiss of peace”).
Yet, against this backdrop the early church expanded rapidly. God was at work in the way Christians loved each other and the unlovely. Julian the Apostate, a pagan, said, “Those impious Christians. They support not only their own poor, but ours too.” It had quite an effect. It still does.
4. The Great Commandment. Jesus said the “greatest” commandment is for us to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. In other words, we are to love God with every ounce of our energy. We should bring intensity to the loving of God.
Job lost his business empire in a hostile corporate takeover. His children were tragically killed. His health failed. Finally, his wife said, “Why don’t you just curse God and die.” “Oh, foolish woman,” he said. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Job knew what it meant to love God with the totality of his being.
The greatest meaning in all of human existence comes from humbly kneeling at the foot of the cross in full surrender to the Lordship of Christ.
PERSONAL SOURCES OF MEANING
Within these four purposes, every man will find meaning in his own way. After reading Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, I reflected anew on where my own “meanings” come from.
First, I realized that my life does not have much meaning unless I have a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Then, out of the overflow of my love for Him, I have the desire to share my faith which also gives me meaning.
Second, I discovered that my meaning as a husband comes from a strong emotional “connectedness” to my wife, Patsy. Third, my meaning as a father comes from the progress my children are making toward spiritual maturity.
Finally, it dawned on me that I don’t sense meaning as a worker unless I have been able to express my “creativity” and be “productive.” I tend to produce high volumes of work, and if I’m not careful I can feel “down” at the end of a day that seemed less than fully productive. For me, productivity can range from polishing off my “do list” to helping a man think through an issue that has him perplexed.
How about you? Do you know where your “meanings” come from?
1. Where do your “meanings” come from presently? Jot down two or three.
2. Are you happy with your answers? Do they fairly represent the four core sources of meaning for a Christian mentioned above? What would you like to do differently, and how?
3. Do you derive meaning from your relationships as well as your tasks? Are you “tilted” toward your vocation at the expense of other sources of meaning and purpose? What should you do?
1 Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning, (New York: Simon and Schuster, A Touchstone Book, 1959, 1984), 107. 2 Ibid, 105.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
© 1996. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved.