Health Tip: Find Purpose in Life
Article by Jason Hamblin (2014)
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What is the Science?

According to a study out of the University of Washington, living with purpose may positively affect both mental and physical health. In their study, researchers paired people 55 years and older with kindergarten students in need of academic assistance. After some time, researchers not only measured improved morale and test scores for students, but more surprisingly they discovered “significant health benefits, both mental and physical” for the adults. These benefits included lower depression rates, more energy, and increased physical mobility. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Eric Kim of the University of Michigan summarized the study by concluding that as the tutors “developed a renewed sense of purpose in their lives” they became “more engaged in their own health.” And with renewed engagement in their current health, the study suggests, tutors sumptuously prepared for the future by engaging in purposeful preventive healthcare.

“What if doctors had a prescription pad that just helped people develop greater purpose in life?” – James Hamblin

What is the Theology?

Reflecting on this research, James Hamblin of The Atlantic ponders what positive societal changes might occur if “some of the roughly $3.8 trillion in U.S. medical spending” were to be spent on “purposeful cultivation of community and meaning.” Though speculative, Hamblin’s question hints at the potential role of church communities in helping persons find the kind of purpose that can better their health. As churches meet regularly in worship, they are reminded of their purpose within God’s plan for the world. Through discipleship, Christians also undergo the formative practices of maintaining their sense of purpose through encouragement, prayer, and “building one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 10:25). With a commitment to community and meaning in hand, what role might Christians play in creating a purposeful and healthy society?

What to Consider

  •  How can your church become a place where people find a renewed sense of purpose in their lives?  
  • What is the role of preaching in cultivating purpose?
  • How might your Christian theology refine and nuance your understanding of purpose?
  • What do you make of Hamblin’s suggestion that community and meaning-making might serve as effective preventative healthcare?

How to go Deeper

  • Find ways to encourage intergenerational partnerships in your church, much like the tutoring relationships between students and adults cited in this study.
  • Start a small group centered on identifying and cultivating a sense purpose in the lives of members.
  • Have your church read the classic The Purpose Driven Life and ask parishioners to share stories about how they are learning to live with purpose.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

Researchers Find Sustained Improvement in Health in Experience Corps Tutors Over 55

Can a Sense of Purpose Slow Alzheimer’s?

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About the Author:

Michael Wiltshire serves as an assistant pastor at Rose City Church in Pasadena, CA. He holds an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016) and a B.S. from Cornerstone University, double majoring in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry. While studying at Fuller Theological Seminary, he co-led the Fuller Faith and Science student group and worked in residential community. Michael is passionate about pastoral care, and is dedicated to exploring how preaching, practical theology, and organizational systems can empower churches to care well. A Michigander at heart, Michael enjoys cloudy weather and the NBA.

3 Comments

  1. Rich Gideons August 16, 2017 at 1:52 am

    Thanks for the read, very insightful and definitely biblical since we were created to work. And this is especially true as we age and lose insight of the value we still have especially when it comes to training up the younger generations.

  2. matt@ncstudycenter.org August 16, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Well-put, Rich!

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