Editor’s Note: Just before the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics, ESPN shared a magazine article and video about Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps that chronicled his downward spiral following the Beijing Olympics and his subsequent recovery. A key turning point in Michael’s life was when his friend Ray Lewis gave him a copy of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Zondervan, 2013). In the interview, Phelps says, “It’s turned me into believing that there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet…I think it helped me when I was in a place that I needed the most help.”
The following is excerpted from a chapter of The Purpose Driven Life shown in the video.
Everyone’s life is driven by something.
Right now you may be driven by a problem, a pressure, or a deadline. You may be driven by a painful memory, a haunting fear, or an unconscious belief. There are hundreds of circumstances, values, and emotions that can drive your life. Here are five of the most common ones:
Many people are driven by guilt. They spend their entire lives running from regrets and hiding their shame. Guilt-driven people are manipulated by memories. They allow their past to control their future. They often unconsciously punish themselves by sabotaging their own success. When Cain sinned, his guilt disconnected him from God’s presence, and God said, “You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12, NIV).
God’s purpose is not limited by your past. He turned a murderer named Moses into a leader and a coward named Gideon into a courageous hero, and he can do amazing things with the rest of your life, too. God specializes in giving people a fresh start. The Bible says, “What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven! … What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record” (Psalm 32:1, TLB).
Many people are driven by resentment and anger. Instead of releasing their pain through forgiveness, they rehearse it over and over in their minds. Some resentment-driven people “clam up” and internalize their anger, while others “blow up” and explode it onto others. Both responses are unhealthy and unhelpful.
Resentment always hurts you more than it does the person you resent. While your offender has probably forgotten the offense and gone on with life, you continue to stew in your pain, perpetuating the past. Listen: Those who have hurt you in the past cannot continue to hurt you now unless you hold on to the pain through resentment. Your past is past! Nothing will change it. You are only hurting yourself with your bitterness. For your own sake, learn from it, and then let it go. The Bible says, “To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do” (Job 5:2, GNT).
Many people are driven by fear. Their fears may be a result of a traumatic experience, unrealistic expectations, growing up in a high-control home, or even genetic predisposition. Regardless of the cause, fear-driven people often miss great opportunities because they’re afraid to venture out. Instead they play it safe, avoiding risks and trying to maintain the status quo.
Fear is a self-imposed prison that will keep you from becoming what God intends for you to be. You must move against it with the weapons of faith and love. The Bible says, “Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love” (1 John 4:18, MSG).
Many people are driven by materialism. Their desire to acquire becomes the whole goal of their lives. This drive to always want more is based on the misconceptions that having more will make me more happy, more important, and more secure, but all three ideas are untrue.
But possessions only provide temporary happiness. It’s also a myth that if I get more, I will be more important. Self-worth and net worth are not the same. Your value is not determined by your valuables, and God says the most valuable things in life are not things!
The most common myth about money is that having more will make me more secure. It won’t. Wealth can be lost instantly through a variety of uncontrollable factors. Real security can only be found in that which can never be taken from you—your relationship with God.
Many people are driven by the need for approval. They allow the expectations of parents or spouses or children or teachers or friends to control their lives. Many adults are still trying to earn the approval of unpleasable parents. Others are driven by peer pressure, always worried by what others might think. Unfortunately, those who follow the crowd usually get lost in it.
I don’t know all the keys to success, but one key to failure is to try to please everyone. Being controlled by the opinions of others is a guaranteed way to miss God’s purposes for your life. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24, NLT).
There are other forces that can drive your life but all lead to the same dead end: unused potential, unnecessary stress, and an unfulfilled life.
A fulfilled life is a purpose-driven life—a life guided, controlled, and directed by God’s purposes as revealed in the Bible. Nothing matters more than knowing God’s purposes for your life. Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps recently experienced this after reading The Purpose Driven Life. You can, too.