Precious perfume of purpose
Matthew 26: 6-13 Jesus anointed at Bethany
A major step-change has been required of all of us recently. As I write we are starting our fifth week of official lockdown as directed by the government. Some, even in ordinarily innocuous jobs, are putting themselves on the frontline to serve the public, despite fears of COVID-19, alongside keyworkers in health and community services. There are those who are busier than ever, trying to support their community from self-isolation or home school their children. Others are making do within a range of constraints of isolation from loneliness to financial difficulty, and finding a full life suddenly empty.
As I write, I can overhear neighbours celebrating a child’s birthday virtually, with no presents, candles or pieces of cake to pass round. As a global community, as a nation, and as individuals, our priorities and purposes are being put into question. The known, habitual, and essential are no longer that. Life rhythms and the economic outlook still feel unquantifiable, with no serious informed discussion around when we will return to ‘normality’-whatever that will look like.
Some of us can see clearly what we are meant to be doing in these times, but others of us may feel a bit ‘lost at sea’. This can be more acute for those who have been experiencing major life changes or illness, which may be seriously impacted. Be assured, feeling this way is not a weakness of character.
According to writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, ‘The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.’ It is a natural part of our design to need a sense of purpose. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, goes as far as to say that the quest for purpose and meaning is ‘the thing that can drive and carry us through trauma.’
We don’t know exactly how, but the woman at Simon’s home had quite suddenly arrived at a radical conclusion; her priorities and purpose shifting completely. She made an outrageous gesture, bursting in uninvited to pour precious perfume on Jesus’ feet (which was unexpected on several counts, and worth further study). Through this act she was following her God-ordained purpose, which the others could not see. Connecting with Jesus was the most essential thing for her to do; not dodging inevitable scrutiny or saving for her own financial future. She was there to worship.
The Westminster Catechism, written in 1647 to teach the doctrine of Scottish Church, describes our general life purpose in a most succinct and beautiful way. It states: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.’ No matter what we do, if we do it for God, it is an act of worship, and fulfilling our ultimate purpose. Paul commends us to live this out, bringing God worship and praise, with hearts focussed on Him, no matter how banal or humble our task (1 Cor 10:31).
Ultimately, what are the purposes and priorities your life illustrates? Are they ones that honour Jesus? Is there something we should let go of? Or something new to commit to? Are the priorities around time, money and energy the right ones? Do we need to throw out our agenda to worship right now?
In light of COVID-19, there may be things that we change for a season. Or there may be permanent life changes God is calling us to. Both the dramatic experiences some are living out, and the clear space for contemplation that others enjoy are fertile ground for growth if we look more honestly at how to ‘glorify him and enjoy Him forever’ through living life as an act of worship.
Suggested further reading
• 1 Corinthians 10:31 • Jerermiah 29:11 • Psalm 138:7-8
Suggested worship music
Lord, we thank you that your purposes for us are both for your glory and for the blessing of all you treasure. We repent of getting lost and forgetting the simple truth of our purpose: to worship you and enjoy being in your presence. Help us to take this into the specific work you have for each of us to do.
For those of us with more time on our hands than usual, we ask you to direct us to use it well. We lift up those for whom extended time in reflection and prayer is not available in these demanding times, and ask for unexpected space and your refreshing revelation to come to them sustain them.
We thank you that for our own joy, you fulfil us with purpose and meaning for our lives, and we offer them back to you as a fragrant perfume as we seek to worship you with our lives. Amen
Laura Simpkins, discipleship coordinator