I’m thirty weeks away from my thirtieth birthday, and I’ve started listing things I want to do before I hit big 3-0. Nothing crazy like bungee jumping or skydiving—the list is full of simple activities like re-watching the Avengers movies chronologically, finally learning to ride a bike, and trying a new cuisine. But with the newness and excitement of my twenties slowly moving into the rearview mirror, I join other twenty-nine-year-olds asking the bigger question looming over the next decade: What is my purpose?
It’s valid question, one that even characters in the Bible asked of themselves. King Solomon wrote an entire book about trying to find his life’s purpose in money, women, and pleasure. But Solomon came to the conclusion, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:3).
That’s not the kind of answer we like to hear, though, when it comes to our purpose. In our hyper-individualized culture (even Christian culture), we prioritize a purpose that is unique to us. We’ve overbuilt the concept of purpose, believing each person has a singular, specific purpose to life that they must work to find—or their life might be meaningless.
While God does sovereignly ordain meaning to each person’s life, it’s not the flashy concept that’s perpetuated by one self-help book after another. Our culture says that we are the leading actor in our own story—we must discover the narrative that will lead us to our happiest ending. Yet Solomon tried to write that story for himself, and it fell flat. Instead of the leading role, we are actually each a supporting character in God’s story of redemption. These minor roles don’t make our lives less purposeful, but more. Instead of trying to write our own fleeting story, we’re part of a story that will last for eternity. It takes faith, though, to lay down our own ideas for grandeur and accept God’s role for us in his story.
When we search for God’s will for our lives, we often look to the “big heroes” of the Bible as examples. We desire legacies like Abraham, Moses, and David in the Old Testament or John, Peter, and Paul in the New. While each of these few men played their part in God’s story of redemption, there are countless other people whose lives were not marked by extravagant miracles but everyday faithfulness. Two of my favorite such characters are Shiphrah and Puah, Hebrew midwives whose small acts of courageous faithfulness saved the Hebrew line from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s infanticide.
You’ll find their story in the first chapter of Exodus, before Moses recounts the grand stories we heard in Sunday School—the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, the daily manna. Four hundred years after Jacob moved his family to Egypt, a new Pharaoh came to power who had forgotten Joseph and feared the growth of the Israelites. He enslaved them, and when they still grew exponentially, he ordered the midwives like Shiphrah and Puah to kill any male babies to be born.
“But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Exodus 1:17). The midwives chose to fear God, to honor him as their king above all else, and to do the everyday tasks that he had given them. Through their faith and obedience, a generation of Israelites were saved.
I wonder if Shiphrah and Puah were alive when Moses recounted their bravery surrounding his birth story. Were they alive when the baby they saved returned from his exile in Midian to save them all from slavery? Did they see God part the sea through the man they had faithfully kept hidden? Were they there when Moses’ face shown with the glory of God, a face that never should have exited his mother’s womb? Did they hear their names read, two women out of hundreds of thousands of people?
They most like died before they could join the Hebrew exodus out of Egypt. They probably never would know that their names would not only be known to generations of Israelites, but their story would also be read by Christians thousands of years later. Yet fame and glory were not their motivation; I doubt they were sitting in their homes, wondering what their purpose was in Egypt. They were simply doing what God had called them to do—the business of bringing life into the world. It was not a glamorous job (I can’t even imagine what birthing mothers went through as Egyptian slaves), but these midwives did their gruesome jobs with faithfulness, integrity, and courage. They did it because they believed God’s promise, that a Savior would come through the offspring of woman—that their inheritance was found in the seed of Abraham. They feared their God, put their hope in eternity, and did the work set before them. This was their purpose.
This is our purpose, too, as Paul wrote, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:22-24). Our purpose is not to make a “40 under 40” list, but to serve the Lord with everyday faithfulness. Our reward is not fame here on earth, but eternal inheritance in heaven.
I continue to plan and dream about how God will work through me and my family in this next decade of life. But I also pray that in my thirties I will continue to learn contentment in God’s call to everyday faithfulness. I want to trust him that all my work has purpose—from washing dishes to writing articles to rocking my children. As I obey in the little things, God is bringing about his great redemptive plan and my eternal inheritance.
I desire to serve the Lord Christ with what he has given to me to do today, just like those midwives did, with faith and courage. Sometimes it’s mundane. Sometimes it’s messy. But it is always meaningful work when it done in God-fearing obedience. God is not laying down clues for me to unlock the mystery of what the next ten years will hold. God has clearly spoken to me and to you—fear him, obey his commands, and trust him with the rest of your story.