by Duncan Campbell, MA
1924 Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell was immortalized in the classic movie
“Chariots of Fire,” in which his character says, “God made me for a purpose. God made me
fast and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” I am keenly aware of this feeling because even though
I’ve been an athlete all my life, I was only ever elite at one sport.
When I was six years old in first grade I was introduced to this magical game at recess
at Bayles elementary in Dallas, Texas, circa 1982. In those days all the grades had recess at the
same time, and I found myself across the tetherball pitch from a third grader named Courtney.
He smoked me. I didn’t last 10 seconds. But I learned. And I watched. And I played some
more. And the last day of first grade I won my first match. I floated home. When second grade
started I could not wait to get out to recess to try my new tactics and strategies. I won about
half the games I played. But I had learned the strengths and weaknesses of every single player
on the playground. When 3rd grade rolled around, I was ready. I didn’t lose a single match the
entire year, or indeed ever again. I beat all the third and fourth graders. I beat all the fifth and
sixth graders. I beat teachers. I beat coaches. 178-0. Had Simone Biles, or Michael Phelps, or
Bo Jackson had been there, I would’ve waxed them too. I could not be stopped. I was a
In fourth grade, tragedy: I moved to a new school who had a tetherball pole but only a
few people played it, and it wasn’t popular. They found the tetherball only because I asked, and
it had to be inflated. I was crushed. In fifth grade, I moved again, this time to a school which
did not even have a tetherball pole. I had to explain the game to a teacher. “That sounds nice,”
I was undone.
And so at the age of 10, I retired. I haven’t played since.
And thinking about the silliness of that story and the massive tongue-in-cheek with
which I tell it, I thought about this: What if Monet had decided to become an accountant?
Michael Jordan majored in Cultural Geography. What if he’d become an ethnic cartographer
instead (is that even a thing?)? And what if Frank Lloyd Wright opted for professional career in
chess? What if J.K. Rowling had said, ‘nah, that’s a dumb idea. I need a real job.’ They may
well have become good, or even great at their alt-universe endeavors, but I think we can all
agree the world would be poorer for it. There would be no Water Lillies, no iconic Dunk-in-
Flight pose, no Lumos, no Guggenheim. We would say it would be an awful waste for someone
so talented to do something other than the thing at which they’re so gifted, not least because
it’s inspiring for the rest of us to watch/hear/read/experience. When we see someone so greatly
skilled at something doing it at the highest level, we think ‘it’s so obvious they were made to do
Now, were they really conceived in the mind of God to become the greatest ________
ever? Perhaps. Was it a product of culture and circumstance, which themselves werearchitected by God? Perhaps. But what about those of us who are not Monet, Jordan, Rowling,
and Wright? What were we made for? And once we find it, if we find it…will it inspire anyone?
For that we turn to Isaiah 43, for therein lies what I believe to be the answer to life’s oldest
questions. And it’s not nearly as cryptic as you might expect.
Let’s get a running start into Isaiah: he is one of Israel’s major prophets, and his ministry
was to the southern kingdom in the eighth century BC, roughly 739 to 700. Much ink has been
spilled over the authorship of the book that bears Isaiah’s name, owing mostly to the distinctive
break in style between chapters 39 and 40. Now, this is not an article on the provenance and
authorship of Isaiah, but it bears mentioning. The crux of the discussion is that chapters 40-55
seems to be written after the exile, some 114 years later, whereas chapters 1 through 39 seem
to be written before it. Couple that with Cyrus king of Persia mentioned by name in 45:1 and
there arises an argument that the book was edited post-exile rather than composed totally by
Isaiah in the 8th century BC.
There are at least two problems with this argument. First, it completely eliminates
predictive prophecy and God’s ability to deliver it through his servants. And while it is true that
predictive prophecy only comprises a very small portion of biblical prophetic ministry as a
whole, to dismiss on the grounds that it is too specific seems to overstate the case. Who is to
say that God couldn’t give Isaiah a vision of what a post-exilic YHWH community would look
and feel like? Indeed, isn’t that was Jesus came precisely to do? In fact, Isaiah is quoted in the
New Testament 55 times, second-most after Psalms (68 times), and therein is the second
problem with the multiple authorship theory of Isaiah. Jesus quotes from both Isaiah 29:13 and
Isaiah 42:1-4 and attributes both to the prophet Isaiah. And I think we can take Jesus’s word at
Now all of that background to serve this point: Isaiah 40-55 is constructed as making a
case for God’s people to come home. Their time has been served, their guilt and sin atoned.
These chapters are filled are words of comfort, restoration, and salve for the weary souls of
those who’ve been away in far country for a long, long time. Through the words of Isaiah
starting in chapter 40, God gives his people a prophetic eschatological vision of what it looks
like to live in a world where God is king. Why? Because God needed to remind his people who
they were and why they were made before they would understand and embrace their mission
to world to be a light to the nations (Is. 49:6). A message, I might add, that is just as salient,
relevant and needed today as it was then.
God starts chapter 43 with four verses of reminding Israel of her identity:
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Isaiah 43:1-4 (NIV, emphasis mine)
The affirmation coming from the mouth of God here is as tender as it is stunning.
Summoned by name? Precious and honored? Because he loves them? Wow. The price of this
identity is very steep: other nations. But they are worth it, says God. He continues in vs. 5-6
with his plans to call his children from afar, then reiterates just who that is:
“…everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
And here we have purpose of life Number One. We were created for God’s glory. We
were created, formed, and made for the explicit purpose of glorifying God. Now, that glorifying
may take place with our overt service, character, and words giving God credit and praise.
Those surely bring God glory in the strictest sense. But it may also be with with our gifts,
talents, abilities, and aptitudes, as the use of three “create” words in this one verse with
respect to humans seems to imply. We were all made different from each other, and we were all
made by God, so it seems right to say that God is glorified in how we use our different gifts.
When we paint our Waterlilies, pour in our 63 points in a playoff game, design our Falling Water,
and receive our Hogwarts letter, we bear the image of our creative God. And it need not be
artistic. Leading a company well requires vision. Successful military tactics, strategy, and
execution require discipline and precision. Surely these are demonstrable attributes of God as
well. The difference is that when we use our gifts for ourselves, they are just talents, but when
we use our gifts to bless, protect, and inspire others, God is glorified. Indeed this is a very big
way in which we love others as Jesus loved us, as he commanded us to.
A few verses later we read this:
“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. Isaiah 43:10-12 (NIV, emphasis mine)
Here God serves up purpose of life Number Two. We were chosen to be witnesses so
that we may know God and believe God and understand that he is who he says he is. Seeing
the work of God, either his direct work or via someone else, is somehow designed to bring us
into intimate relationship with him; that’s the “know” here. It’s from the same root as when
Adam “knew” his wife and she conceived. It’s not knowledge of facts about, it’s the knowing in
the deepest way one can know another. We were made witnesses to his work specifically for
this purpose of knowing him. And when we do, we understand. What is that understanding?
Take a look at the verbs in verse 12. This is a God who reveals and saves and proclaims vis-à-
vis other foreign gods, which are actually no gods at all. He is God. Alone. Period.
The third purpose of life comes a few verses later in vv. 18 ff, very apropos for January,
is it not?
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.
Isaiah 43:18-21 (NIV, emphasis mine)
Bingo, purpose of life Number Three. We were made to praise him. And the meaning of
this word has the assumption of music baked into it. And this may be worship songs with God-
centered lyrics, but it need not only be. The music itself can be praise of a different sort, the
same way a brilliantly made watch reflects the genius of the watchmaker, so 1 Chron. 23:5
(ESV), “4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 shall offer praises to the Lord with the instruments that I
have made for praise.” The antecedent of “that” is “instruments,” not “praise.” Now
prophesying, i.e., speaking a word from the Lord must be done in intelligible language, which
precludes instruments by themselves. We read as much in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. But
that’s not the purpose for which Isaiah 43:21 claims we were made. We were made to praise.
Those among us who are apt musicians can well attest that something intangible and
wonderful—and I would argue divine—happens when the notes become music. Music is
audible math in time. That’s the surgical way to describe it. But it also is art you can hear.
We’ve all been places when a piece of music gives us chills and anchors us to a memory so
vividly we can recall it any time we hear the piece. Something that powerful must surely point
to someone that powerful.
To glorify, to know, and to praise, with God as the object of all three. These are why we
are here; these are why we were made, formed, and fashioned. When feelings arise that
something just seems ‘off,’ when we are out of kilter, off step, and not on our game, I would
argue it is because we are not living and leaning into these very purposes. So in 2022, may we
use our God-endowed talents, abilities, gifts, and aptitudes to their highest level for the sake of
his glory by loving others with them. May we see him so at work that it arouses and inspires a
deeper relationship with God wherein we understand he is who he says he is. And may the
songs hearts and lips praise him, for he is worthy. In short, may we love our neighbors as
ourselves and may we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and so feel his