I saved these quotes over time, and they seem to go well together:
“The important thing is that men should have a purpose in life. It should be something useful, something good.” (Dalai Lama)
“The purpose of life is to be useful to be honorable to be compassionate to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
I suppose that most people don’t view their lives as being useless. After all they work and support themselves, and perhaps others. That would seem to be useful, but I think the Dalai Lama and Emerson both had something else in mind when they said that we need to be useful.
The purpose that both had in mind was to be doing things for others or to make life better for others. But why?
In Philippians 2:2-8 we read – “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Another Bible interpretation of being useful is to bear the fruit of the vine.
In John 15 we read that Jesus said – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
What is the fruit of the vine?
The fruit of the vine and the fruit of the Spirit are the same and we are told –
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23)
So, in this sense, the purpose of our lives is to live in such a way that we share those attributes with our fellow man. By doing so we will make their lives better and fulfill the purpose that both the Dalai Lama and Emerson had in mind.
Don’t let the Bible quotes comparing what your actions to those of Christ intimidate you. The intent is that you learn from the life of Christ and try to emulate it as best you can by being conscious of the fruits of the Spirit and practicing them in your day-today life. Each day you can look at that list from Galatians and turn each item on that list into an action statement for your life that day, i.e. “I will show kindness to others” or “I will be patient with others” or maybe “I will exercise self-control when dealing with others.”
If you consciously do those things each day, you will be doing useful things by making the lives of others better. You will have purpose in your life and your life will be better, too.
Live well. Have purpose.