Novelty vs Purpose

Joel Nelson

Director of Church Strengthening, Converge North Central

  • Church strengthening

I recently finished a book that one of my son’s recommended to me. The book was Dedicated by Pete Davis. I think what really caught my attention was the subtitle: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing. One of the key ideas found in the book is that in today’s culture, we don’t commit to things because one of the defining characteristics of our age is the desire to keep our options open.

Davis says that there are two things that keep us going in life: Novelty & Purpose. We get out of the bed in the morning because something new might happen (novelty) or something purposeful (purpose) might happen.

Our natural default draws us to novelty…things that are new and exciting. This can lead us to the point we can become overly occupied with what would happen if we are so busy doing the not so exciting that we miss out on some newer, more exciting, dare I say, better option? What do we call this? FOMO. Fear of missing out.

There’s many things that get in the way of our commitments, of us being truly dedicated. Fear. Anxiety. Giving up the comfort of the known for the unknown. But have you considered how FOMO, keeping your options open, limits your commitments?

Or specifically, how FOMO might inhibit your dedication to a life that’s all in for Jesus. Or how FOMO might be affecting you in you’re the call to your current ministry setting?

Things are OK where I’m at, but I want to keep an eye on the horizon, just in case something different or better comes along. I want to be ready!

I don’t want to narrow my opportunities. 

Let me keep my options open…just in case.

When we over-rely on novelty to move our lives and ministries forward, then when something we perceive as tying us down comes along, we start seeing how maybe committing to this might prevent us from experiencing something else…so we decide to keep our options open. We never commit to anything and our commitment is shallow.

But there’s a problem with living a life of FOMO. Even if you manage to find a steady drip of different options, no one can keep the game going forever.

But a better place to find commitment, to be dedicated, and to combat the novelty that FOMO breeds is purpose..

Purpose works the opposite way. Novelty is exciting at first and wears off over time. But purpose, often starts off looking boring but it grows more exciting overtime. The best remedy to FOMO is purpose. Purpose is the foundation for commitment and it leads to depth. Purpose keeps us resilient and fills our tanks.

We are all familiar with the story of Moses and his leading the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt to the promised land. There were the plagues, being chased by an army, the crossing of the Red Sea, and decades of struggle wandering though the desert. But God was faithful and provided. Moses never did enter the promised land, instead it was Joshua who led them. The OT book of Joshua picks up the story after Moses and tells of the conquering of the promised land.

The final chapter of Joshua begins this way…

Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem and summoned Israel’s elders, leaders, judges, and officers, and they presented themselves before God.     (Joshua 24:1)

The entire nation is listening. Everyone is tuned in. And Joshua recounts all that God had done for them going back hundreds of years. Where God had led them. Who he defeated on their behalf. The miracles of parting the Red Sea and the Jordan River. How God rescued them, guided them, and how he had blessed them.

And after providing this perspective of God working and dwelling in their midst, he says,

Therefore, fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and truth.   (Joshua 24:14)

Joshua is talking about honoring God. Be committed. Being dedicated. Being all in with God.

The people say they are committed. They are dedicated. They are all in on God. Joshua says, “are you sure?” They say, “we’re sure.” Joshua says, “Do you know that this means?” They say, “We know what this means!”

On that day, Joshua made a covenant for the people at Shechem and established a statute for them.

                        Joshua 24:25

They had a purpose and they were committed to that purpose. They wrote it down! Their purpose, being the people of God….being his representatives, following his leading, seeking to honor and live a life worthy of the God who loved them and guided them and wanted their best. It was tested. It was challenged. But through the highs and the lows, the good days and bad days, the known and the unknown, they knew and were committed to their purpose and it helped them get back up. It made them resilient.

Commitment and depth is a superpower.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that we must choose between being an anvil or a hammer. We’ll either mold the world or be molded by it. If you never go deep through commitment, then you will always be the anvil. To be the hammer to mold our world, is to go deep and be committed.  When we glide on the surface of everything, we find ourselves drifting in the wind. We end up chasing shiny thing after shiny thing and we lose the ability for keep the world from pushing us around. But with commitment and depth, we gain mastery. We become the shiny thing for others!

Commitment builds momentum. The more we commit to something, the more it opens up to us. When we’re just a casual observer, we only see and understand a slice. But commit and you begin to see it all. This is true with a hobby, a discipline, a relationship, a community, a calling…and with following Jesus.

We are the most resilient when our perspective is centered around God, when we are a part of a community with others who are seeking to pursue the life well-lived with Jesus, together, and when we are committed to chasing the life Jesus has for us.

But the key to all of this is Jesus.

Overcoming FOMO, being dedicated, and finding the resilience needed to live out the purpose God has for us begins with Jesus. Easter is only a few weeks away and a part of the Easter narrative includes Peter. In the Easter story Peter doesn’t come across as the picture of strength and confidence. He made a bold promise to never turn away from Jesus, but amidst the turbulence he was tested and failed. He got knocked down. His world was turned upside down and the cause he had committed his life to appeared to be in shambles and lost. He got knocked down. Peter ends up going back to what he knows, fishing.

But after Easter Sunday, the resurrected Jesus comes to Peter on the shore and engages with him of breakfast. What’s the one thing Jesus wants to know? “Peter, do you love me?” Not, “Do you love your job or my miracles or my movement?” It was simply about Jesus.

Move past novelty and find your superpower in a depth and commitment that is born out of a renewed love for Jesus.

Joel Nelson, Director of Church Strengthening, Converge North Central

Director of Church Strengthening

Additional articles by Joel Nelson