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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 40: The end or just the beginning?

The Day 40 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life recommends you take some time to prepare a Life Purpose Statement, in which you write your own commitment to the five purposes. I feel I have a bit more work to do before I can truly commit to each purpose but I will say I found the book a worthwhile read.  It has highlighted to me the absence of opportunities to learn a good moral code in general life and now, when I watch TV (which is where I think a lot of people learn their "morals" from), I can't help but notice how it promotes negative behaviours by always showing a positive outcome when people do the wrong thing.

It reminds me of something a friend of mine told me years ago.  He was friends with a journalist who wrote a column in The Age newspaper's Good Weekend magazine. The column presented three people's experiences in relation to a different topic each week.  The journalist was trying to find three people to present different viewpoints on infidelity.  He had found someone who had been unfaithful and their relationship had ended. He had found someone who's partner had been unfaithful and their relationship had ended.  For the third person, he was looking for someone who had been unfaithful, but who's relationship had survived.  He couldn't find anyone. Yet many TV shows had relationships surviving infidelity like its just another issue that people have to deal with in life (I'm thinking of Californication and The Sopranos as examples).

But I digress, as I said in yesterday's post, I'm feeling quite overwhelmed by all the requirements of this book.  However, at the end of "40" days (or 61 actual calendar days) I am more interested in learning about the bible and have downloaded the one year bible reading plan from The Purpose Drive Life website. I have also ran out of excuses and will be starting back at church this Sunday 2 May 2010.  (Now that I've written that, I have to do it).


For those of you who have read through all my posts, you may recall that I undertook a "wellness" test back on Day 8, as a benchmark to see whether following the five purposes would improve my life. Back then, I got a score of 772 and having just redone the test, I got the exact same score of 772. I'm not sure that it proves anything except that I should start exercising.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 39: Balance

Having read 38 chapters of The Purpose Driven Life, I was becoming inceasingly overwhelmed at everything we are supposed to do.  So I was quite encouraged when I saw the title for Day 39 "Balancing Your Life".  Unfortunately, this chapter sets out a bunch of more things to do to keep you on track with all the other things you need to do:

  • talk things through with a partner or group
  • give yourself regular spiritual check-ups
  • keep a journal
  • pass on your knowledge to others
Its all too much.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day 38: Being World Class ...

... a world class Christian that is.

The Day 38 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life is about reaching out to non-believers all over the world. You can start doing this by praying for countries or by going on a short term mission.  I had not heard of short term missions before reading this book, but basically, instead of spending your holidays at the beach or whatever, you can go on a mission and help people overseas.

With a 5-month old baby, I'm not about to jump on a plane.  However, I somehow think that going on a mission to help the people in earthquake devastated Chile would be more rewarding than going to Florence and spending 3 hours in a queue to get into each art gallery.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 37: Testify!

In the Day 37 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life we learn that we are to share our life messages with others because God speaks to the world threw His believers.  There are four parts to your life message:

  1. Your testimony about how Jesus has made a difference in your life. 
  2. What life lessons you have learnt.
  3. Your godly passion - God gives us passions to do what he wants done in the world.
  4. The "Good News" that Jesus died for our sins so we may have eternal life.
Rick Warren writes in this chapter "You may feel you don't have anything to share, but that's the Devil trying to keep you silent."  In that case, the Devil is in my ear today because I cannot think of a "night-and-day difference" that Jesus made for me, when I try to think of what lessons life has taught me I find myself questioning my viewpoint,  I don't feel I have a Godly passion, and I still don't understand the logic of having Jesus crucified and thereby wiping out everyone else's sin.

Perhaps those reading this could share their life message in the comments.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 36: Purpose 5 of 5 - On a Mission

The Day 36 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life introduces the final purpose - to convert non-believers and save them from eternal damnation.

I have issues with this because it immediately reminds me of annoying encounters with people from the Church of Christ when I was at university.  You would be going about your day and out of the blue be approached by some over zealous person with no respect for your privacy.  I'm sure they considered my salvation more important than anything else I had to do that day, but I don't know of anyone who started attending church because of them.  I do know at lot of people who were very pissed off with them, and their approach no doubt created a number of firm atheists.

Rick Warren writes "You are the only Christian some people will ever know, and your mission is to share Jesus with them." Given that I live in a country that grants public holidays for Christmas and Easter, and while there are other public holidays, it is only the Christmas and Easter public holidays that are fully observed - that is, the shops are open on the other public holidays but not Christmas and Easter - given this, I find it hard to believe that I am the only Christian some people will ever know.

Having said all that, I note that Rick Warren also warns against being distracted by Satan and I wonder whether I have been distracted by Satan (for anyone paying attention, you will note that this 40 day exercise has already taken more than 40 days) or just overwhelmed.

I was listening to a report on an atheist conference recently and one of the speakers made the point that in every other field of study other than theology, things can be learnt from emperical observations. That is, you can't perform an experiment and witness the results first hand in theology, it is just reading things written by other theologists.  This concept did distract me for a while but eventually I realised that there is a way to perform emperical tests - by keeping a prayer log.  This is just a list of the things you have asked God for, the date you made the request and the date it was answered.  It might not be as scientific as, say, dropping two objects of different weights and seeing them fall to the ground at the same time, but it is a start.  This thought came to me after I took a recommendation from an earlier chapter of The Purpose Driven Life, which is to pray for protection from Satan.

I will not be stopping people on the street to tell them about Jesus, or inviting non-believers to come to church with me (particularly as I haven't actually started back at church yet), but I am happy to write this blog because people can choose not to read it if they don't want to.  Alternatively, if someone does read this blog and decides to convert to Christianity - all the better.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 35: Weakness

The Day 35 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life discusses our weaknesses.  I think the point of the chapter is that you should not worry about your weaknesses because God can overcome them. It also makes a number of interesting points, such as admitting your weaknesses to yourself makes you more forgiving of weaknesses in others, while admitting your weaknesses to others will build stronger relationships with them.

I recently saw an interview with Alicia Keys in which she said she prays before every performance and sings for the glory of God.  I have her first album (which I have not listened to for some time) but I can't recall her singing making me think about God. I just thought she was a good singer.  That's how it is when people are good at things, you may be impressed by them, but you won't necessarily be impressed by God as a result.  However, when people overcome their weaknesses they tend to openly thank God, so even if it does not occur to others at first, the message still gets through.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Day 34: What we think we become*

The Day 34 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life sets out five ways that servants think:

  1. Servants spend more time thinking of others than they do thinking about themselves.  
  2. Servants think like stewards, not owners - that is, they know everything, including their time, belongs to God.
  3. Servants think about their work, not what others are doing - they don't compare, critcise or compete with others.
  4. Servants have nothing to prove - because they know they are loved and accepted by God, they willingly accept jobs that insecure people would consider beneath them.
  5. Servants think of ministry (ie serving others) as an opportunity, not an obligation - "because they love the Lord, they know serving is the highest use of life, and they know God has promised a reward".
When I first read this chapter I had difficulties with it.  At the age of 29, I resigned from the worst job in the world and had a bit of a mid-life crisis.  All my life I had done everything you are supposed to do, got good marks at school, gone to university and completed both an undergraduate and masters degree, worked hard in the jobs I'd held and here I was turning 30, single, unemployed, moving back in with my parents because I had no money and feeling miserable.  So when I first read the chapter I thought "well I did all that and it got me no-where".

When I told my husband I was having trouble with "thinking like a servant", he said, "but you are a servant every day to our daughter" (she is five months old).  I again looked over the five ways servants think had to admit it, when it comes to my daughter it was true. Then I thought more about spending 29 years of my life doing "everything you are supposed to do" and realised I had not done it for God or for anyone else, I had done it because I wanted a good life. Even if I had worked long hours for others, ultimately, I had done it for me and in doing so had broken the second commandment and made an idol of success.

After I had moved back home to my parents (from Sydney to Melbourne) I caught up with a friend of mine, who asked me whether I had learnt any big lesson from the whole experience.  I told her no, it was just all crap.  Maybe it has taken 10 years for me to work out what the lesson was.
* The title is a quote by Buddha.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 32: Use it or lose it

 The Day 32 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life discusses discovering, accepting and developing your "SHAPE" (refer my previous post for the definition).

Having had numerous jobs, I have done numerous aptitude tests. So I have had a look over all the results and found a definite bias towards analysis and creativity.  Rick Warren mentions spiritual gifts tests, so I did a google search.  There are a surprising number of them.  I did one on Christianet (  It determined that I had the following spiritual gifts:
  • teacher - This gift enables particular Christians to communicate the truths of God's Word in a manner that others can learn and apply those truths to their own life. (Maybe God has directed me to start this blog.)
  • hospitality - This gift is the special ability that enables the Christian to provide open arms, an open house and warm welcome for those in need of friendship, a warm welcome, food or lodging.
  • exhortation - This gift enables certain Christians to stand beside fellow Christians in need and bring comfort, counsel and encouragement.
  • discernment - This gift allows certain Christians to know through the power of God and with assurance whether some behavior is of God or of Satan.
I was disappointed to learn that I scored 0% for the gift of being a prophet, not that I have ever had any indication that I was a prophet, I just think it would be interesting (although possibly likely to land you in a mental insitution if not handled correctly).

In relation to accepting and enjoying your "SHAPE", Rick Warren writes "Nobody is good at everything, and no one is called to be everything. We all have defined roles."  I love this because it means I can stop feeling guilty about not caring about things that don't interest me.  For example, some people seem to get so excited about the emmissions trading legislation.  It will be 20 years before they work this stuff out and get a bill passed, so I really just don't care.  This doesn't mean that I don't think the environment is an important issue - I am a member of greenpeace.  I just think politians waste a lot of time squabling and calling each other names and my time is better spent on other things.

However, it also means we need to "be all we can be".  When I look at the two results of the aptitude tests - analysis and creativity - I see that I have spent a lot of time on my analytical skills and virtually no time on my creative skills.  The two don't natually fit together - have you ever thought of a banker as creative?  But if I could find a way to mesh them together in my life it would be great.  (If you have any ideas - please leave a comment)

To develop your talents, you need to use them.  The Snowball, the biography of Warren Buffett, relates an incident in which both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates were separately asked "what is the key to success?" Both answered "focus".  The more I think about this, the more I agree with it.  There are so many distractions available that it can be hard to concentrate on what you need to do. It is only by staying focused that you can achieve anything.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Day 33: We remain your humble servants*

I've jumped over Day 32 because I need some reports that I don't have with me at the moment.

The Day 33 chapter of The Purpose Driven Life  talks about how we are to use our gifts to serve others, rather than for personal gain, and makes the point that sometimes we are called to do things at which we are not particularly gifted because there is no one else around to help.

Rick Warren defines a real servant as having the following characteristics:
  • they make themselves available to serve even when it is inconvenient to them - can God mess up your plans without you becoming resentful? Hmmm, that would be a "no" from the control freak in this corner.
  • they pay attention to needs - you can begin by looking for things no-one else wants to do.  Coincidentally, I was watching Rowena McEvoy on the latest Biggest Loser Master Class today.  Leaving school she wanted to be an aerobics teacher, so she went to a gym and asked to do the classes no-one else wanted to do.  This turned out to be the Sunday morning class.  She started with 3 regulars in the class and soon had 60 regulars.  She is now one of the richests people under 40 in Australia. 
  • they do their best with what they have - you don't have to be able to do things perfectly
  • they do every task with all their heart - "God will never exempt you from the mundame." That's a shame, I really don't cope well with the mundane. I must try remember that while I'm doing the dishes and putting away clothes tomorrow.
  • they are faithful to their ministry - in other words, they are reliable
  • they maintain a low profile - it is only God that you need to impress.  Rick Warren cites Joseph as an example here (I talk about Joseph in my post on Day 28), and pointed out that because of his servant attitude he was blessed by God. He goes on to write these words that I feel are directed right at me "You may be serving in obscurity in some small place, feeling unknown and unappreciated. Listen: God put you where you are for a purpose! ... You had better stay put until he chooses to move you."  No wonder switching jobs has never got me to a better job. 

As you may have realised by now, I have real issues with my job.  But it occured to me while reading this chapter that if I thought about what my boss needs me to do and said to him, why don't I do X, rather than just sitting around complaining about the stuff he does get me to do, we might both be better off.

Note: I managed to track down A.J. Jacobs book The Year of Living Biblically. In it he mentions buying The Purpose Driven Life but only discusses how Rick Warren tithes 90% of his income and keeps only 10%, rather than the standard tithe 10%, keep 90%. In any case, well worth a read, I couldn't put it down and read it in only three days.


* Years ago I worked on a project to select a consortium to build a new building for the County Court.  This was the sign off (that is, in place of "yours sincerely") on the cover letter presenting the County Court's annual report to parliament.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Days 30 & 31: Getting in Shape

[Have been on a short holiday, so doing these two days together.]

In the Day 30 and 31 chapters of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren presents the SHAPE acronym detailing how God "shapes" each one of us.

S is for Spiritual Gifts
Rick Warren contends that when you become a believer, God gives you special abilities to serve Him. I was baptised when I was only three months old and some of my earliest memories are of going to church, so I can't say whether I suddenly developed new abilities as a result of believing in Jesus.  If you are reading this and started believing in Jesus later in life, please let me know if you found you had new abilities after accepting Jesus into your life.

H is for Heart
"We instinctively care about somethings and not about others. ... God has a purpose in giving you these inborn interests ... Don't ignore your interests.  Consider how they might be used for God's glory.  There is a reason that you love to do these things."

I find this quite a radical view for a religious book, but maybe that's because, growing up, it was made quite clear to me that nothing I was interested in was important (including a university degree).  When I was 12 or 13 years old, I taught myself the computer language BASIC from a book, using paper and pen (for those of you born in the 1990s - virtually no-one owned a computer in 1983). Then for my 15th birthday I wanted a computer (a Commodore 64 if I remember correctly) so I could write computer programs, but at the time I also wanted to give up piano lessons (is there anything worse than being forced to learn how to play the piano? Well yes, there are plenty of things that are far, far worse, but I digress).  What do computers and pianos have to do with each other you ask? In the absurdly heated discussion that ensued when I told my mother I wanted to give up piano lessons, and having no logical reason to convince me to continue, my mother eventually said "if you give up piano, you are not getting a computer for your birthday." I hated piano lessons so much I said "Fine."  Perhaps this made my mother realise that she was not going to win, or perhaps she had no-more ammunition left in her arsenal, but the "discussion" ended there and I had to wait another two years for a computer (a lifetime at that age). 

Anyway, enough therapy, back to the book. You know you are using your spiritual gifts when you feel enthusiastic about what you do and this leads you to do it well. (Definitely need to find a new job.)     

A is for Abilities
Your abilities are like your spiritual gifts, but you are born with your abilities. Again, God wants you to use your abilities, not just to make a living but to make a difference at your church. 

P is for Personality
God gave you your personality, just as He gave you your abilities.  Your personality affects how and where you use your abilities. Growing up I thought I was too quiet and believed that only extraverts had self-confidence. But a few years ago I was at a work training course where we had all done personality tests. We had drinks afterwards and I got into a conversation with someone who described his score for being an extravert as "off the chart".  So, under my theory, he should be extremely self-confident.  However, he openly admitted he was not.  He felt he often put his foot in his mouth and said the wrong thing because whatever he was thinking came out of his mouth. I realised that the two things are not tied together and didn't need to worry about being an intravert. 

E is for Experiences
God uses experiences to mould you. All experiences matter, but it is your painful experiences which most equip you to help others. By sharing your experiences in how God helped you overcome a problem, you can help people currently going through the problem. People generally keep their problems secret, as if having difficulties is some sort of failure on their part.  I used to be envious of successful people becuase I assumed their lives had been one achievement after another with no obstacles getting in their way - for example, surely someone like Warren Buffet (one of the contenders for richest man in the world) never had a bad day in his life.  That was until I read his biography, The Snowball, and found out he had to deal with some serious issues including a verbally abusive mother and a wife who left him for another man and staying married to him while living in another city and keeping the affair secret from him.  Somehow, learning this made me feel better about my life because it made me realise that having problems in life is normal.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day 29: Purpose 4 - Serving God

Day 29 introduces the next purpose - serving God.  We serve God by serving others, in other words, meeting their needs.

In one sense, this purpose seems the easiest to understand.  It was what I was looking for when I first read the book The Purpose Driven Life - what am I supposed to be doing with my life? 

In another sense, I find it also the most challenging.  In my work (before I went on maternity leave) I met people's needs all day, but I didn't feel like I'm making a contribution. I felt like I was taking up a position that someone else would be grateful to have, while I had long ago taking a wrong turn and was now irretrievably lost.   
The question to consider for this chapter is "what is holding me back from accepting God's call to serve him?".  I have to say, I seriously just do not know what to do.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day 28: For the impatient among us

The Day 28 chapter talks about how it takes a life time to become like Christ, explains why it takes so long, and recommends patience.  I have to admit, I'm not at all impatient about this.  I think its because I don't really aspire to be like Christ, I aspire to be like a buddhist or taoist monk - nothing seems to bother those guys, they appear constantly serene, and their koans seem a lot cooler than Jesus's parables.  Maybe that's just because I grew up with Jesus's parables but the koans remain exotic. Maybe if I knew more about Jesus, I would find becoming like Christ more appealing.

This chapter again contends that God creates problems in our lives so we will draw near to him.  I note, however, that unlike practically every other point the Rick Warren makes in the book, he has no bible versus quoted to back this contention.  I'm glad that it might just be his point of view, because the only sane response to someone who trys to attract you to them by causing you problems is to slowly back away from them making no sudden movements until you are out of the room - then run like hell.

The chapter does have some good suggestions on how to "cooperate with God":
  • believe God is working in your life - while somethings happen quickly, other things take time
  • don't get discouraged - a delay is not a denial by God
  • keep a notebook of lessons learned - it will help you remember the lessons so you don't need to be taught them again! [I also find there is something about having things in black and white that is impossible to ignore.  For a decade now my natropath has been at me to give up diary foods because it blocks my sinuses, and I've been sort of off diary in a half hearted way for a few years now.  A few days ago I decided to start writing down everything that I ate so I could monitor what gives me energy and makes me feel good and vice versa.  The first day I had a glass of milk on my cereal and within minutes my sinsuses where congested.  Staring at my notes that night before going to bed (with a still congested nose), I thought, "why do I do this to myself, its just stupid" and now I just don't want to go near the stuff.]
  • be patient with God - his timetable rarely matches ours.  This reminded me of Joseph (he of the amazing technocolour dreamcoat), he was sold to slave traders by his brothers (who then told their father he was dead), he is then sold to the captain of the guard in Egypt and serves him faithfully until the captain's wife accuses him of attempted rape when he resists her advances.  Joseph then spends years in jail until he is give the opportunity to interpret two dreams for the pharaoh and recommends a way to deal with a forecast famine in the land. As a reward, the pharaoh puts him in charge of all of Egypt.  When I first read this story I thought it unfair that God made Joseph wait so long in prison, just to be in the right place for the pharoah to find him when he needs him.  However, reading it again now, it strikes me that as a child he helped on his fathers farm, as a slave he proved his worth and was put in charge of an estate, in prison he refined his dream interpretation skills, so when the time came, he was ready to meet the pharaoh and had the skills required to run a country.  All the while, he trusted God and did not complain.
    I think I want to be like Joseph even more than I want to be like a buddhist monk.

Friday, April 2, 2010

An alternative perspective

If you are interested in the views of an atheist on The Purpose Driven Life, check out The Battleship Cerebral.

It's author, Ryan Schneider "atheist English major" is writing the occasional post on each chapter.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Day 26 & 27: I can resist everything except temptation*

I'm blogging on days 26 and 27 together because they are both about temptation and I don't really have much to say about them.

Interestingly, the Day 26 chapter is the first in which Rick Warren really talks about Satan.  He sets out the steps Satan takes to tempt you:
  • Step 1: Satan identifies a desire inside of you - can be either a good or bad desire - and plants a thought in your mind to give into an evil desire or to fulfil a legitimate desire the wrong way
  • Step 2: Satan gets you to doubt that what you want is wrong.
  • Step 3: Satan lies to you about the consequences of what you are tempted to do.
  • Step 4: You take action and sucumb to the temptation.
Rick suggests the following will help you to overcome temptation:
  • know that it is OK to be tempted - it is a sign that you are following God's word if Satan is after you.
  • recognise what leads you to temptation, eg when you are alone or when you are with a certain group of friends, and prepare for it
  • ask God for help when you feel temptation
  • think about or do something else so you don't focus on the temptation
  • get help from a friend or support group
  • resist Satan by quoting bible versus (don't think you can talk your way out of it, Satan has more practice at tempting people that you have at dealing with Satan)
  • accept that we are all vulnerable to temptation and work to avoid it
I'm not entirely sure I agree that temptation comes from the devil.  It's a bit too convenient to have a scapegoat, even though you are still required to resist temptation.  Having said that, if I am going to buy into this line of thinking (which was what I said I would do when I started this blog), perhaps I have never really been tempted by Satan because I have never been a good enough Christian.  When I think about what tempts me, I immediately think of food, but I don't think it is a sin to eat and even those of you reading who might think of gluttony, I'm not overweight so I don't think it applies. 

Rick writes that the closer you grow to God, the more you will be tempted - which is all a bit scary. Even when you are praying, he will try to distract you (in this case, the advise is: don't allow him to, put the thought aside and continue praying).  My husband, Michael, said it is probably more likely that you are more aware of these things when you focus on them. I suppose I will just have to wait and see what happens.

* The title is a quote from Oscar Wilde