What’s Your Purpose?

(Musings of Lessons Learned While a Special Ed Teacher)

On my ninth graders’ first day of classes, I always began the first lesson by listing the names of famous people on the board.  People like Albert Einstein, Henry Winkler, Tom Cruise, Cher, Nelson Rockefeller…and so on.  “What do all these folks have in common?” I would ask.  The students would look puzzled, but began guessing, “They are famous. They are smart. They are successful…” The guessing would continue for a long time.  Finally, I would tell them, “Here is what you need to know; each of these folks would qualify to be in my class if they were in high school today!  Each had a learning difference of some kind.”  

The kids initially looked perplexed and then they began to understand the fantastic reality opening like flowers in full bloom before them.  

Like all these famous people, they, too, had the opportunity to be wildly successful. Now, they saw the possibilities, and that hope gave them a renewed PURPOSE ! Their new purpose was to recognize their many possibilities and begin to work toward them.

As a special education resource teacher in a public high school, I often had the privilege of teaching the same kids for all four high school years.  I loved that I got to speak into their lives over a long period.  Usually, by the time I got them, many of the ninth graders already felt like big academic failures.  They had already “learned” that far too many teachers didn’t have the time to invest in their unique needs.  They understood that since they didn’t learn the same way most kids did, they had to accept a steady diet of falling behind, failure, and defeat.  They learned to accept that their ultimate PURPOSE was to be stepped on and passed over! 

My job, which I took seriously, was to change that tragically inaccurate perception!  Their purpose was far greater than being trodden on.  My job was to help them find hope and their PURPOSE for life.  As you can imagine, I had my work cut out for me most of the time! 

You see, what I wanted these students to understand and take to heart was that they had a PURPOSE and could be successful.  They, too, could find their strengths, use them as an advantage and excel.  Seeing my student’s faces brighten with liberating relief and a new sense of pride was fun and rewarding.  

Over the next four years, I would see kids who had given up on themselves recognize their great worth and value.  They found the PURPOSE that they had wondered if they would ever find.  They have become engineers, accountants, welders, hairstylists, teachers, nurses, and successful business owners. Bumping into them while out in the community is always a treat as they proudly recount all the marvelous things they have done with their lives. Success and PURPOSE were theirs for the taking.  They just needed someone to show them the possibilities.

What I wanted for my students is what Paul wanted for the early church; he wanted them to let go of the mediocrity of their walk with Jesus for the glorious abundant life Jesus came to give.  He spent the first half of the letter to the Ephesians and many other letters spelling out their inheritance as believers and outlining the possibilities. 

Like the folks in the early church, we can settle for a learned helplessness that says the Christian life is about getting through.  The sin-confess-sin cycle* is to be expected, and abundant life is for the future in heaven, but not for the here and now!  We willingly expect to fail, be stepped on, and sometimes just passed over.  We can be like my students, who came to expect defeat and mediocrity.  

Jesus said I have come to give abundant life, not a mediocre life but one of abundance.  Abundance means over and above, more than sufficient.  Our position in Christ is more than sufficient and is over and above what we can do for ourselves and in our strength.  Jesus tells us we can live an abundant life, becoming more and more like Him and experiencing more of his many benefits.  

Once while reading a John Eldredge book, I was struck by something John wrote.  He said something to this effect; when Jesus spoke the words of John 10:10, he not only promised abundant life but warned us that a war is happening to keep us from experiencing that abundance.  All in one breath, Jesus shows us the reality of two situations, an abundant life and an enemy trying to steal it.

So often, we are convinced that knowing Jesus is a deficit meant to inhibit our partaking in the pleasure of this world.  Our enemy likes it when we think this way!

Knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord is not a deficit keeping us back from fun.  A life in Christ is meant to be a rich and fulfilling encounter with the God of loyal love, a relationship full of promise, hope, and PURPOSE.  It is a relationship that provides glorious PURPOSE to all who enter. 

We must remember that our enemy desperately wants to steal that PURPOSE from us.  Let’s begin to see the possibilities and reject the ordinary and the mundane.  Let’s expect more and ask God to fill us fully with His Holy Spirit and lean on His promise of abundant life.   And when we do this, we will begin to walk in His PURPOSE for us. 

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

John 10:10

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*Sin-confess-sin cycle” is a term taken from author Neil Anderson

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