There’s an old story about Akiva, the rabbi, who had been in the village to gather some supplies. Walking back to his cottage, he absentmindedly took the wrong path. Suddenly, a voice came through the darkness: “Who are you, and why are you here?”
Shocked to awareness, Akiva realized he had wandered into the Roman garrison, and the voice had come from the young sentry keeping guard. But being a rabbi, he answered the question with another question: “How much do they pay you to stand guard and ask that question of all who approach?”
The sentry, now seeing that this was not an intruder but a rabbi, answered meekly, “Five drachmas a week, sir.”
At that point the rabbi offered, “Young man, I will double your pay if you come with me, stand in front of my cottage, and ask me that question each morning as I begin my day: ‘Who are you, and why are you here?’”
It’s the second question I want to focus on: Why are you here?
The why question is not a new question. Jeremiah asked, “Why was I born? Was it only to have trouble and sorrow, to end my life in disgrace?” (Jeremiah 20:18 TEV).
Others have wrestled with the why question, only to come away with a similar response. Ashley Brilliant says, “My life is a superb cast, but I can’t figure out the plot.” Jack Hanley wrote, “I hope life isn’t a joke, because I don’t get it.” Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist said, “I don’t know the meaning, the purpose of life, but it looks as if something were meant by it.” Isaac Asimov wrote, “As far as I can see, there is no purpose.” Joseph Taylor wrote, “I have no answers to the meaning of life and I no longer want to search for any.”
By the way, what is your answer to the why question? Why are you here? Why were you born? What is your purpose in life?
We most often are asked, “What do you do?” Meaning that is your profession, your occupation, how you making a living. What if you were asked, “Why do you do what you do?” In other words, why were you born? That’s a different question with a different answer.
For me, the answer to “What do you do?” is I’m a pastor. The answer to “Why do you do what you do?” is I want to go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can. How I do that is through preaching, teaching, writing books and articles, and providing resources to help others. In fact, I can accomplish my why when I meet with people for lunch or at a ball game. I can live out my why without getting a pay check, though my wife appreciates me coming home with a paycheck.
When we know our why it effects how we do our jobs. A member of our church, Jim Brown, served as a hospital chaplain for years. He led a training session for our deacons. He explained the difference between a reason and a purpose. The words appear to be synonymous, but they are not. For instance, I may get a call that a church member is in the hospital. The reason I go to the hospital is because I am the pastor and that is part of my responsibility. The purpose of my visit is to encourage and comfort them. That’s the why. See the difference.
When we know our why it effects how we relate to others. Robert Griffin, III, of the Washington Redskins, remarked, “I said it last night on Twitter to a lot of my teammates, just know your why,” he said. “If we know our why, why we do the things that we do, if you know the guy’s story next to you who’s lining up on your right side if you’re the center, or the receiver you’re throwing to, it makes you willing to sacrifice for that guy because you know why he’s doing it and he knows why you’re doing it. So, if we can build that, that’s all I can ask for because the wins on the field, they don’t come if you don’t know your why.”
When we know our why it effects how we respond to difficulties. The philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “If you know the why, you can live any how.” When we know our why we can endure tragedies, disappoints, discouragements, and heartbreak.
The answer to the why…