Rick Warren began his March 14 keynote address at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress by quoting an American literary giant. “The two most important days in your life,” Warren said, quoting Mark Twain, “are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
The world-renowned Christian leader spoke on “Transformation and Our Inner Desire for God” before an enthusiastic and packed Anaheim Convention Center. Archbishop José H. Gomez, who was in attendance, showed support for Warren’s words by joining in the frequent applause and laughing with the crowd at Warren’s many humorous remarks.
Warren is a husband, father of three and an evangelical leader at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He spoke about the meaning and purpose of life, first noting that material success and career status are not enough.
“It’s not enough to just have things,” he said, mentioning the many billionaires and millionaires he has met through his ministry who have told him that they still feel empty.
“The problem with the good life,” he said, “is that it’s just not good enough.” God created each person to be with him for eternity; any other goal will fall short of satisfying that “hole in your heart.”
“You were made for the better life.”
Referring to God as an inventor who gave us an owner’s manual — the Bible — he added, “On this side of life you get 68, maybe 100 years of life. The Bible tells us that Heaven is real and Hell is real and that they are eternal. This time on earth is to prepare you for eternity.
“You were made by God, and you were made for God, and until you understand that, life’s never going to make sense.”
Warren laid out the five purposes of life while adding personal experiences and making frequent use of Scripture:
To love God: Jesus told the rich man that the most important commandment was to “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength,” Warren said. Love of God means to worship him, expressing your love. He suggested many forms of worship, including praying by yourself, meditating, reading Scripture, singing, going to Mass and discussing Scripture.
In order to properly love God, Warren said, it’s important to realize how much he loves you. “A lot of people have the wrong idea about worship; they think that God only loves them when they are doing spiritual stuff. God just enjoys watching you be you.”
God’s love is unconditional; he loves you at every moment. “If you want to know how much God loves you, look at the cross. Every drop of blood falling from the cross says I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Since knowing and loving God is the purpose of life, Warren suggests saying this prayer every morning: “God, if I don’t get anything else done today, I just want to get to love you more and get to know you better.”
To love others: “We are meant to be in the Body of Christ,” Warren said. “A Christian without a Church family is an orphan.
“In Heaven there are going to a lot of people that you didn’t expect to be there,” Warren joked. “If you don’t learn to love people here on earth, you’re not going to like Heaven.
“God wants you to learn how to love real people, not ideal people,” he added. “I call them heavenly sand paper, extra grace required.” He concluded this segment by saying that these people are in every congregation and in every community, but they teach us real love.
To become like Christ: We are meant to become Christ-like, Warren said. “He wants you to have the character of Christ, to speak like Christ, to share like Christ.
“God is far more interested in what you are than in what you do. You’re not taking your career to Heaven, but you are taking your character.
“You can’t learn character without putting up with some tough times,” he said, before taking a moment to talk about the death of his youngest child, Matthew, who struggled with mental illness and took his own life on April 2013. “It was the week after Easter and the worst day of my life.
“Matthew had a tender heart and a troubled mind,” he said, fighting back tears, adding that having mental health concerns did not mean that you had a lack of character. “We are all broken. If you are suffering with mental illness, your mental illness is not your identity. Your chemistry is not your character.”
Matthew, he said, loved sharing his faith with others. When he died, Warren received over 35,000 letters of condolence, many saying that Matthew was the one who had introduced them to the Christian faith.
To serve others: “You were shaped to serve others,” he said, quoting Mother Teresa, who said, “We serve God by serving others.” “Your personality, experience, heart, abilities and spiritual gifts are unique so that you can uniquely serve God through serving others.”
However, God accomplishes the most good through our suffering. Warren referenced 2 Corinthians 1:4, saying God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
This happens when “you take the thing that you are most embarrassed about in your life, and you give it to God.” You can be a force for good through your brokenness with the help of God.
“What better person to help an alcoholic than a person who has struggled with alcoholism himself?” he asked.
“God can use whatever is painful in your life for good. Don’t waste your hurt.”
To fulfill God’s mission: God has a special mission for everyone that includes giving ministry to people who are hurting around you, sharing the Gospel by participating in the New Evangelization and fulfilling your special mission.
“You know someone who needs the love of Jesus Christ. They either need to hear the faith and the message of Gospel for the first time or to come back to the faith and the message of the Gospel,” he said.
He challenged those listening to take on his mission: to save one more for Jesus.
In his concluding prayer he said, “I pray that God raises up a generation for a new evangelization of people that need to give the Good News, [so that everyone knows] that they matter to God, that they’re not an accident and that God has a plan and purpose for their lives.”