Life has many challenges. If I asked you to name some right now, you might mention passing your weekly math quiz or making the cut on the school football team or controlling your temper. But I want to add one more to the list. I say that the greatest challenge you will ever have is trying to discover your purpose in life. That’s right—your purpose.
Life is a gift from God. God wants you to live a good life and a long life. He wants you to enjoy your life. He wants you to be satisfied with your life. In order to do this, you must have the feeling that you’re living for something. And that “something” is your purpose!
Without knowing your purpose, your life won’t make much sense. You will get up each day without a plan. That’s no good. Purpose is what gives meaning to your life. It gives you the feeling that you have something important, something good to do each and every day. Purpose gets you closer to your goal in life, whatever it is that you want to do in your future. After answering the question of who you are, knowing your purpose is the next most important play in your personal playbook!
There are many adults who are still struggling to find their purpose in life. They didn’t have someone in their life at a young age to challenge them to think long and strong about their purpose. Now they feel like their life doesn’t count. They don’t feel as happy as they want to feel. Why? Because they aren’t sure they’re doing what God put them here on earth to do.
What happens when young boys just like you are not coached on the importance of having a purpose in life? They are tempted to do destructive things that cheat themselves—or others—out of a future. They have no purpose, so they don’t see that there’s only prison and death in dealing drugs. They have no purpose, so they don’t see that you shouldn’t make a baby when you aren’t prepared to be a father. They have no purpose, so they don’t see that landing a job in today’s world means going to college or getting some kind of advanced training after you finish high school.
So, young bro’, how will you find your purpose?
To help you answer that, let’s look at three young men who found their purpose in life. We’ll start with a young man named Dwyane Wade. Brother Wade is a superstar basketball player for the Miami Heat. He’s at the top of his game. Because of that, he was tapped to make a commercial for Lincoln Navigator. In this commercial he rides into a poor neighborhood where he sees a group of boys hanging out and making their own fun. He gets out of his Navigator and all eyes are on him. He yells to the boys, “I need some help!” Opening the door to his Navigator, he takes out a basketball hoop. Opening another door, a whole carload of basketballs roll out on the asphalt. Then he shoots the keys of the SUV to the coach, turns, and rides away on a bicycle.
In this commercial, Wade makes the statement, “My purpose in life is to leave the world a better place than I found it.” His career as a basketball player lets him live a very comfortable lifestyle. His skills on the court even have young boys like you looking up to him as a role model. But he lives out his purpose of leaving the world a better place than he found it by bringing happiness to others who are less fortunate.
And guess what? He didn’t have to wait until he was an “old man” to do it. Dwyane Wade was born on January 17, 1982. That means that when this book was published, he was only 26 years old!
So how do you want to help people? What do you want to do for people? One way to get at your purpose in life is to ignite a desire to leave the world a better place. You’re not too young to start thinking about it right now!
To help my students at Mays Academy focus on clarifying their purpose, I require them every day to repeat something known as the “Seven Rs Pledge.” These are taken from a book by Ronald C. Mincy called Nurturing Young Black Males.* The seven Rs include respect, restraint, and most importantly, responsibility. The responsibility pledge is simple but powerful: “I will take RESPONSIBILITY for my conduct to give of my talents, my knowledge, and my skills to make the world a better place to live.”
Try repeating this pledge each morning like my young Mays men do. Let’s focus on our purpose together!
What’s another way to figure out your purpose in life? Start by identifying a problem and trying to solve it.
The world will always have problems. People who distinguish themselves—who set themselves apart from the rest of the pack—are those who spend their life trying to solve a problem. They don’t just sit back and complain. They rise up and actually do something to try and make things right.
Take Martin Luther King Jr. He tried to solve the problem of racial and economic injustice in our society. His powerful speeches addressed these themes and inspired the souls of folks across the globe. He rallied people together at nonviolent marches and sit-ins to call attention to the need for society to do something about injustice.
Although the problems of injustice still exist, the situation would be much worse if Dr. King had not decided that his purpose in life was to make the world a better place where all people are treated equally. And you know what? Dr. King was only 39 years old when he was assassinated. His influence still lives even though he never reached the age of 40!
Working to solve a problem gives you a feeling of fulfillment. It brings you a feeling of satisfaction—something that makes you want to shout “Yes!” while pumping your fist in the air. It gives you an inner confirmation that you have found the purpose for your life and you are living it.
How you earn your living may also be how you accomplish your purpose in life. A lawyer wants to help people. He or she does it through the practice of law. A doctor wants to heal people and does it through the practice of medicine.
But there are situations where your career and your purpose in life may not be the same at all. Take, for example, a brother you might know as Jay-Z. He is president and chief executive officer of Def Jam Records. He is one of the founders of Roc-A-Fella Records. He is a producer who creates and markets the music of other rap artists. You might also know him as the rap star who spit “Show Me What You Got.” He is one of the most successful rap artists working today. He has made a lot of money in his career in the music industry.
But something happened when he paid a visit to the African country of Angola. He saw something he had never seen before. He had grown up poor in America and thought he knew what poverty was all about. But when he got to Angola and saw children playing near open sewers filled with water contaminated by human waste and other filth, he changed. Realizing that these children didn’t have clean water to drink or bathe in, he wanted to do something about this problem. He wanted to bring clean water to the Angolan children.
Jay-Z talked about his visit to Angola and what he had seen there in a video documentary called, Diary of Jay-Z: Water for Life. In that video he said, “In my business, we like to say we’re from the hood. We’re not from the hood. By no means. Not even close. How could I see this condition and do nothing about it?”**
He was comparing the poor conditions under which he grew up to the awful conditions of the Angolan children who touched his heart and awakened within him a sense of purpose for his life. “How could I see this condition and do nothing about it?” Jay-Z found a problem—children not having clean water—and now he is working with other people to try and solve it. He works with the United Nations—the organization that works for world peace and also helps children around the world—and the cable television network MTV to try to make other young people aware of problems like those he saw in Angola. He found a problem and found his purpose. And guess what? Jay-Z is only 37 years old.
Then there’s Jesus. He was only 12 years old—maybe close to your age right now—when he publicly announced that he was aware of his purpose in life. In Luke 2:49, Jesus said, “I must be in my Father’s house.” The King James Version says, “I must be about my Father’s business.” At age 12, he may not have been clear about what his Father’s business was or even how he would be involved in it. But this much we know—
The Father’s business is helping people.
The Father’s business is making the world a better place.
The Father’s business is solving problems.
When Jesus got older, like Jay-Z, Jesus may have asked himself, “How could I see this condition and do nothing about it?”
He saw the problem of sin in the world and did something about it—he became the Savior of the world.
Let’s look at one more point here. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 39 years old when he was called from us. Dwyane Wade is just 26 years old. Jay-Z is 37. Jesus was only 33 years old when he was crucified. I tell you the ages of these outstanding young men because they accomplished much while still very young. But you don’t have to wait until you get to be their age to start thinking about the purpose for your life. You should start thinking about it now. The sooner you discover what your purpose in life is, the more time you can give yourself to doing it.
You may never have a national holiday named after you. You may never be named a Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
You may never win a Grammy® award.
But knowing your purpose in life will be just as important as anything these young men have accomplished! So, find a problem and work to solve it. Find a wrong, and work to right it. There you have it—you’ve found your purpose. Touchdown!
* Ronald C. Mincy, ed., Nurturing Young Black Males (CEP Publications, 1994).
** You can view excerpts of the video documentary, Diary of Jay-Z in Africa: Water for Life (United Nations and MTV, 2006) at http://www.un.org/works/water/index.html.
Your Private Playbook
1. Basic Formation
List four challenges that exist in your life right now. What could you do to overcome them?
2. Passing Play
Make a list of things you could do to leave the world a better place. How would you do them?
3. Offensive Formation
List four problems you see in your community. How would you solve them?
4. Running Play
Describe a time when you saw something that needed doing and you worked at it until it was done!
Excerpted from Playbook for Christian Manhood: 12 Key Plays For Black Teen Boys by James C. Perkins, edited by Jean Alicia Elster. Copyright(c)2008 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press, 800-4-JUDSON, www.judsonpress.com
Rev. James C. Perkins has served as senior pastor of Greater Christ Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, for twenty-five years. He has established numerous enterprises that support the community, including the Fellowship Nonprofit Housing Corporation and the Benjamin E. Mays Male Academy. He is also the author of Building Up Zion’s Walls: Ministry for Empowering the African American Family.