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About this series
Discovering God's Calling on Your Life
The word purpose is defined as 'the reason for which something is done.' So what is your life's purpose? The fact is we all long to know why am I here? Join guest teacher Ryan Ingram for this new series “Purpose FULL – Discovering God’s Calling on Your Life.” Ryan unpacks how we can not only discover our God-given purpose, but live it out even when difficulty, hardship, and conflict come. You’re not gonna wanna miss a single message!More from this series
We are continuing our series called Purpose Full. And here’s what we have said so far. We said this, that you are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe. This is a great summary by Dallas Willard of what the Scripture says about who you are. “You’re an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” Here’s what this means. That you were made on purpose. Not an accident, not a mistake, not here by chance. And you were made for a purpose. There is something to give your life to of eternal weight and significance.
Today, we are going to talk about redefining success. If we are going to live a purpose full life, we actually need to redefine or have a brand-new definition for what it means to be successful. See, how you define success will determine whether you actually live out a purpose filled life, because your definition, you know this, my definition of success always is the thing that is leading us or directing our lives.
And so, let me ask you, what is your definition of success? Like, how would you define success, maybe not like this way that you think about it like, Oh…but really. Maybe by the pursuits of your life. I think one way that we define success today is maybe the idea of perfection. You might not use that word, but we want the picture perfect life, right?
Perfect job, perfect kids, you want to raise the perfect kids, you want to have a perfectly clean and organized house. Some of you said, “Amen” in your heart right there. And Instagram and social media has only exasperated our pursuit of perfection, hasn’t it? Because we see everyone’s filtered, perfect lives and so, we want everything in our lives to be perfect.
Maybe you define success by fame. You’re like, “No, not fame.” Okay, well, how about approval? Maybe you write in “approval” there.
I want to be a somebody. I want to be an influencer. I want the prestige, the platform to be known in my industry. Or how about happiness? I think that’s maybe the predominant way that we define success today, right? Especially if you’re raising kids, “I just want them to be” – what?
Happiness, right? We just want to be happy. We want to live a happy life, do what makes you happy. The goal is happiness. As long as you’re happy, and here’s what I’ve seen. So many relationships, so many lives destroyed by the pursuit of happiness. It’s this pleasure-filled, experience-full is the focus and aim.
How about power? Autonomy? To do whatever you want, whenever you want. To have control, to be the master of your domain, to be in charge. I want to be important, I want to be respected. Maybe you define success this way: by prosperity. It’s the American Dream. It’s being financially independent, having wealth, affluence, owning the house, the cars, the clothes, the trips, being upwardly mobile.
Maybe you define success as impact. Something that I love about this generation and over the last year is the desire to make an impact. To be fully “woke”, if you will. Make a difference. Live an enlightened life. Maybe leave a legacy.
What is your definition of success? Because whatever your definition of success is directing the very course of your life.
And the great reveal that I think has happened over the last year or so is simply this: that the pandemic showed us that for many of us, I would say most of us, our definition of success lacked substance, didn’t it? It lacked substance to really weather the storms, weather the crisis, weather the circumstances of our lives. That our success then was so fragile.
And so, how do we redefine success to live out a purpose filled life? How do we embrace a new definition of success that has the strength and the stability to weather whatever storms or circumstances you’re going through?
To do this, we are actually going to look at what some scholars say was the apostle Paul’s failure. Not a moral failure, like, he was on his missionary journey and where they say, “You know, he missed the mark. Not so many people responded to the gospel.
And we are going to learn some, I think, critical elements in how to redefine success.
If you’ve got your Bibles, open up to Acts chapter 17. Acts 17, we will pick it up in verse 16. By way of context, Paul the apostle is going on his second missionary journey from the city of Antioch. And he took along with him a guy named Silas, a fellow helper in the ministry. Then he brought a young protégé named Timothy. They have been traveling to the different cities where they had originally planted churches and just encouraging them, strengthening them. And then they continued on as they were traveling and began to reach new cities.
They went to the city of Philippi in the Macedonian area. And then, and they saw just incredible success there. And then they went to Thessalonica and they saw God do incredible things and they had great opposition, because so many people were coming to know Christ. And so, there were some Jewish people that were jealous and they were just trying to stop what was happening.
And then the apostle Paul goes to Berea and again, incredible success, but then there’s also yet again incredible opposition. And so, they had to get Paul out of the way. And so, they said, “Hey, let’s take you from Berea. We are going to send you to Athens and travel down there and kind of keep you out of the heat for a little bit. Let Paul, let Silas, and let Timothy do the work up here and you just kind of hide out over in Athens.”
And so, this is where we pick up the story of the apostle Paul in Athens by accident and where he has never intended to come and where others would say, “You really didn’t fulfill what was very successful in Athens.”
Verse 16 says, “While Paul was waiting for them,” that is Silas and Timothy, “in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see the city was full of idols.” That’s no understatement. In fact, Athens was the cultural city, the center city for culture, philosophy, and religion in its day. Even when Rome overtook it, Rome so wanted to be Greek that they continued to populate or perpetuate the Greek philosophy.
I mean, this is the home of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. And in Athens, it was said that there was more idols in Athens than all of Greece combined. It was said that you could actually find or run into an idol more than you could run into a person there. I mean, it just was pile upon pile.
There was one road that had so many, you couldn’t really walk through this street, there were so many idols. No understatement; the city was full of idols.
“So, he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” And while he’s seeing what is going on and seeing the pain in the city and their pursuit for God, but not really knowing how, he’s like, “I’m going to reason with you. I want to bring the gospel and the good news.” And so, he’s reasoning with Jews, he’s reasoning with God-fearing Greeks.
And then some Epicureans and Stoic philosophers begin to debate with him in the marketplace. And they have this incredible debate going back and forth. And, in fact, they start to make fun of Paul, say he’s a babbler. And then others actually lodge a very serious accusation that he was promoting other religions.
And this was actually the same accusation that Socrates, if you remember, four hundred and fifty years later – or before – had that he eventually was killed for.
And so, they said, “Would you come to the Areopagus and would you come here?” And this is this world-famous center of supreme council for religion, for philosophy. And this is not just a casual conversation, it’s as if Paul is being on trial in this moment. I mean, it’s incredible. He is in the supreme council of Athens that is known around the world, invited into this moment to share what he has been talking about on the streets.
And so, “Paul then,” verse 22, “stood up at the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”
And then he talks about the God who created all that there was. Then he talks about the God who sustained and is the sustainer of all that we have, that He is the ruler and that He is ultimately Father.
He, in his speech, he actually quotes their own philosophers. And he closes with the God who is revealed in Jesus, through the resurrection. And this is where he kind of lost his audience, because they didn’t believe in a resurrection. “And when they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers.” If you have your Bibles, that word “some”, it just means “some”. But everywhere else you look through it, it says, “Many people responded.” “Some.” This is where people go, like, “Yeah, Paul, you missed the boat. You didn’t reach your audience here. “Among them, Dionysius, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”
What do we learn about redefining success from the apostle Paul in Athens from his, maybe “failure”? As we begin, I just want to give you a new definition for success.
Take it from Pete Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Disciples [Emotionally Healthy Discipleship]. In it, he says, “According to Jesus, success, success is becoming the person God calls you to become and doing what God calls you to do in His way and according to His timetable.” What is success? It’s becoming, first and foremost. It’s who you are becoming. And then it’s simply doing what He has called you to do.
And so, I want to highlight three incredibly important areas for us if we are going to really live a purpose filled life where we need to redefine success in our lives. The first is simply here. Here’s what we learn from the apostle Paul in redefining success: Be present where God has placed you. Be present where God has placed you. The apostle Paul had no intentions of going to Athens. It was not part of the plan.
He had a plan and it got completely messed up. He had a plan to follow this road and actually work his way all the way to Rome. Eventually, Rome got closed off. I don’t know if you know, but Nero expelled all the Christians at one point and he wasn’t able to go to Rome even that way.
But because of persecution, because of what was happening, his plans got changed. He finds himself, he’s not even with his team anymore. Silas and Timothy are still in Berea.
And here’s what he didn’t do. He didn’t go, “Well, you know,” throw himself a pity party. “This sucks. This is terrible. I’m stuck in Athens, look at all these idols, I don’t even have my team.” He didn’t go, “Well, whatever. You know what? I’m just going to take a vacation. It’s been long. It’s been hard. I’m just going to, I’m just going to vacation for a while.”
What did he do? He did what he did everywhere else. He did what God had called him to do. And everywhere he went, he began to speak with people about this Jesus who changes life. He couldn’t help it. He just went to, first to the synagogue, then to the God-fearing Greeks, and then into the marketplace. Anyone who would hear him. He just did what he always did wherever he went. He was fully present where God had him placed.
He didn’t choose that place, he wasn’t intending to go to that place, that wasn’t the place he really ever wanted to go, but he said, “Since I’m here, I’m going to be present and do what God has called me to do in this place.”
See, what happened for the apostle Paul was his circumstances changed, but his calling didn’t. His purpose, his plans changed, but his purpose didn’t. See, you go, Okay, God, You have me placed here. I am here for a purpose in this season and so, I’m going to be present to it and You have the freedom to work through me in this moment. You have made me a mom, You have made me a dad. I am going to be present with my kids and work through that. You put me at this job. I’m going to be present here with what You have for me to do.