Telos: Orienting Ourselves to God’s Ultimate Purpose
When it comes to Finishing Strong, we must know where things are going. We can then continually orient ourselves toward that end. If we don’t know God's ultimate future for us, our lives will go off course.
Do you have a telos sufficient, personally and publically, to orient your praxis over the course of life?
I was reading Steven Garber’s book The Fabric of Faithfulness, and those words leaped off the page and slapped me in the face.
Telos is a Greek word used by both the Greek philosophers and the New Testament writers, which means “purpose, intent, goal; the ultimate result of an event or process.”
Do I know and believe a grand enough telos—both for my personal life and for the world as a whole—that it shapes the way I live today and for the rest of my life?
I like the way he says, “to orient your praxis.” When you know where things are going, you can orient yourself toward that end. If you don’t know that future, your life can become extremely off-course. A trustworthy vision of the future acts as a compass, orienting us to where we are going so that we can continue to head that way. Our praxis, the things we do daily, are then fashioned in light of that orientation.
I protested. “I can’t know the future! I am just walking one step at a time. I can’t see what’s around the next bend, let alone further out from that!”
But then I realized that while that is certainly true, I do know the telos—God’s grand purpose for his world. He is going to restore everything to how he intends it to be. He is in the midst of reconciling it all back to himself in Christ. There is redemption going on, and it will one day be consummated, and all things will be made right. God will be glorified in his work of redemption.
That’s God’s telos.
And then I realized that my personal telos is tied directly to that. While I may not know what I’ll be doing in ten or twenty years, I do know what I’ll be doing for all eternity. I will be enjoying the fruit of God’s labor of redemption—the cross of Christ has assured me of that.
So now that I am oriented toward that redeemed future, the course of my own personal life can be set toward that. God is inviting me to participate in his renewal of all things. It starts with my work. All that I do is done with the telos in mind: Making things right. Bringing things in conformity to God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Serving others in loving sacrifice so that they can see that God is good and is determined to bring everything into his ordained good future.
And I do not stop. When things get difficult because of the brokenness of this fallen world, because I am sinful and selfish, or because the devil does not want things to be godly, I will want to quit. This is not easy work. But I keep on keeping on. In the power of God’s Spirit, I will finish strong.
Knowing the Telos Directs Life’s Many Endings
Along the course of life, some things end. But that only leads to new beginnings. Like the promise of resurrection assures us of a new beginning in spite of death, events and jobs and situations end, and we mourn. But we know that the ultimate telos is still there, and thus a new beginning will be found if we keep our compasses oriented.
In her article, “Beginnings,” Diana Trautwein reflects on a long life of heartbreaking endings and fresh beginnings: Leaving her friends in the mission field but going on to raise a family. Seeing the kids leave home but then beginning a new venture in seminary. Leaving her beloved hometown for a new rewarding ministry job. And most recently, retiring from pastoral ministry. Throughout their life together, she and her husband have been focused on God's ultimate telos.
Now we’re in a different phase of working: me with writing and spiritual direction, my husband as a volunteer with young students. Life situations change, but work remains.
Knowing the Telos Means Stewarding What God Has Given Us
Glynn Young discovered as he neared retirement that the concept of “retirement” is actually not a biblical one.
The Bible has no retirement road map. But it does have a concept that applies to retirement in the twenty-first century, and that concept is stewardship.
In “The Stewardship of Retirement,” Glynn offers three types of stewardship if we want to finish well. And they all point toward the greater telos.
Knowing the Telos Means Using the Compass
If we are lost in the dark and look up to the skies only to see a black sky, the stars blocked by clouds, we can try to make our way, but we may end up just going in circles. The life we live in a dark fallen world is like that dark-skied journey, and we need a compass–a tool that will tell us where to go.
Jean Fleming, in “Our Choices Matter,” writes,
From my beginning with Christ, all through the middle part of my life, through sin-skinned knees, dark scary times, some mud-wading, and much sweet blessing and fruitfulness, I’ve chosen daily to reserve part of my day for the Lord and His Word. Now in the last quarter of my life, the mingling of desire and discipline wrapped up in this choice is my sweet spot.
Many people will try to tell us what direction our lives should go. But the telos of God is only discovered in the Bible.
It is in God's Word that we read that Christ will be glorified in his work of redemption and that our work in this life is to line up with that work.