Richard Stearns lives in a magic kingdom.
That’s how he describes the wealthy existence of most people in first world countries like the U.S. As World Vision President, however, he’s also familiar with those living in a “tragic kingdom,” where food, clean water and medicine are chronically in short supply. Stearns says the common denominator between the two is what both are missing: both the Magic Kingdom and the Tragic Kingdom need a breakthrough of God’s kingdom.
Richard Stearns encourages readers to discover their unique roles in God’s Kingdom, regardless of where they live. His new book, Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning, describes how to find a life of true significance and meaning. “I believe there is a direct connection between the unfinished work of God’s kingdom and our sense of feeling incomplete in our faith,” writes Stearns. “This is inevitable, because there is a direct connection between our story and God’s story. If we are not personally engaged in God’s great mission, then we have missed the very thing he created us to do.”
Below are some questions about his new book.
Q: Since the release of your first book, The Hole in Our Gospel, you’ve spoken to thousands of people while traveling on behalf of World Vision. What are you hearing from Christians?
A: There is a powerful common thread of longing that I hear from them—a yearning for a deeper sense of purpose and significance in their walks with the Lord. They want to discover that one thing that God is calling them to do. They long to feel that they are doing something important for God and that their lives really count for something. Many of them tell me they feel incomplete, as if something about their lives is unfinished. They are young and old, male and female, wealthy and not-so-wealthy. They are lawyers and real estate agents, homemakers and students, accountants and engineers, receptionists and CEOs. All of them want to experience the satisfaction of really knowing that their lives matter and that they are living in “the zone” of God’s calling and purpose for their lives. They want to feel complete and whole, living lives in which their faith is integral and not just something they do on Sundays.
Q: What perspective can you offer those who are seeking God’s call on their lives?
A: If I have learned anything about the purpose, meaning, and significance of life over the years, I have learned that, for a Christian, it is not found in any job, even a job like mine. It is not found in any human relationship, no matter how important. Nor is it found in any accomplishment, no matter how significant. Meaning, purpose, and significance are found only by aligning our lives with God’s purposes in lives committed to following Jesus Christ. That bears repeating: The meaning, purpose, and significance of our lives are found only by aligning our lives with God’s purposes, in lives committed to following Jesus Christ.
In other words, it is not our work that brings purpose to our lives; nor is it our spouses, our families, our educations, our abilities, our money, or our accomplishments. Rather, it is the purpose of our lives that brings meaning to everything else. And we find the purpose for our lives only in Christ.
Q: If it’s that simple, why do so many first-world Christians lack a sense of purposeful living?
A: We all know the familiar expression “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” It is used to describe a person who is so absorbed in the things right in front of him that he has lost a sense of the bigger picture. I believe that this is exactly what has happened to many Christians in the twenty-first century—we have become so absorbed by the “trees” of our everyday lives that we have lost a sense of the bigger story within which our lives take place. We grow up, go to school, begin careers, get married, have kids, and struggle daily with life’s challenges.These are the “trees” of our lives that occupy most of our waking hours.
Our church lives aren’t all that different. We go to church each week, sing some songs, and listen to a sermon. Maybe we even pray before meals, read our Bibles daily, and participate in small group Bible studies. But they can become just more trees in a life already cluttered with trees. What happened to the forest; what happened to the bigger story? Who are we? Why are we here, and where are we headed? How do we fit into God’s big story? A hiker who no longer has a sense of the bigger landscape around him becomes lost and confused, often wandering in circles because he is disoriented and no longer knows where he has come from or where he is headed. If we are ever truly going to find purpose and meaning in our lives, we first have to rise above the trees to rediscover the forest—we have to understand what God is doing in the world and how we fit in.
Q: And this re-discovery of mission is the theme of your new book, Unfinished?
A: As the title of this book suggests, there is some unfinished business for followers of Christ in our world: And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matt. 24:14)
I believe there is a direct connection between the unfinished work of God’s kingdom and our sense of feeling incomplete in our Christian faith, because there is a connection between our story and God’s story. If we are not personally engaged in God’s great mission in the world, then we have missed the very thing he created us to do. We are like birds meant to fly but living in a cage; fish meant to swim but floundering on the beach. It makes sense when you think about it. If the Author of the universe created us to play a key role in his unfolding drama but we have failed to find our place in that story, then of course we would feel incomplete.
Q: How do you hope readers will respond to this mission?
A: There are as many ways to join the great mission of Christ in our world as there are people. My book introduces just a few of the hundreds of people I’ve encountered who are living their own kingdom adventures. The one thing they all share is the unwavering belief that God made them for a purpose, to serve him and to build his kingdom. They have rearranged their lives to put Christ and his kingdom mission at the center. They have enlisted; they have joined the rescue mission to take back the world for Christ, to serve as ambassadors of his love and to herald the good news of the gospel.
I hope readers respond by looking around them. What can you see? What is yours to do? In God’s expanding kingdom there is no unimportant job and no insignificant person. Is there a single mom who needs your encouragement, a child who needs your love? Do you see the elderly woman, lonely for a friend; a drowning teenager, hungering for a dad? Have you looked into the hearts of those you work with and seen the desperation in their lives? Is there an immigrant family struggling to adjust, needing a friend to guide them in a foreign place? Is there a social problem that you might mobilize people to solve? Do you have in your bank account the money that a floundering ministry needs to survive, that a homeless man needs to get a fresh start? Do you have skills and abilities that others need— in finance, as a doctor or lawyer, or as a handyman who can repair a broken-down car? Is there an issue of justice for which you can advocate, a wrong that you can right? Do you ache for the children who die from hunger, the orphans lacking a home, or the widow with children who just needs a loan? So many people are crying out to God for his help. Might you be the answer to one of their prayers?
You are needed to help build God’s kingdom. This is where your adventure begins.
As president of World Vision, United States, Stearns is responsible for fundraising among American donors, program management, and advocacy to the U.S. government on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Working in about 100 countries, World Vision (www.WorldVision.org) is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty.