Chapter 5

Factor 4: A Sense of Meaning

By the age of twenty–eight, music producer Tim Bergling (known also as Avicii) had wealth and fame from his chart–topping songs, a growing control over his stress-related health problems, and years of creativity ahead of him. But then news came of his tragic death. “Our beloved Tim was a seeker,” his family said in a statement. “He really struggled with thoughts about meaning, life, and happiness. He could not go on any longer.”

Human beings don’t just hunger for food and water. We hunger also for meaning—a sense that our lives fit into a bigger purpose, and there are answers to why we exist and why the world is the way it is. Resilience researchers affirm that we are strongest when we find this meaning by serving a cause greater than ourselves.

The Sermon on the Mount speaks to this need too, presenting us with a cause that is bigger than making money (6:19–24), bigger than self-centered spirituality (6:1–18), one full of peril and reward (7:13–23; 5:1–10) and requiring total commitment (6:24, 33). It is the cause of the kingdom of God—a life lived under God’s care and for his purposes.

The Prayer of Resilience

In the Sermon, Jesus encapsulates this cause in a prayer. In early times some rabbis would give their disciples a model prayer that summed their teachings. Jesus offers one in what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13). This prayer gives not only time-tested guidance on how to pray and the values that should guide our lives, but also a vision of how life with God brings meaning.

Our Father in heaven…

The prayer starts with God, the foundation of life itself. And it tells us that God isn’t some distant deity uninvolved in our lives, but one who is close, caring, and protecting. If resilience is based on relationships, this is the primary one. God loves us like a father and embraces us as his precious children.

The prayer starts with God, the foundation of life itself. And it tells us that God isn’t some distant deity uninvolved in our lives, but one who is close, caring, and protecting.

…may your name be kept holy.

The reason evils like greed, cheating, and retaliation are so wrong is because at the heart of reality sits One who is good, pure, and holy. As Dallas Willard says, until we orient our lives around this God, revering his name above all others, the human compass will always be pointing in the wrong direction.

May your kingdom come soon.

While God is our rightful ruler, he has given us the freedom to reject him. And we have—as history’s wars and brutality show. So here we pray for the world to come under his care and guidance again, so that evil will cease and peace will return.

May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.

God’s will is already done in heaven; now we pray for it to be done on earth—in our homes, offices, universities, and neighborhoods. This is our “grand cause,” the ultimate purpose of our lives—to raise children, teach class, build roads, make art, and pursue whatever tasks we’ve been given as if God were doing them. After all, we are his change-agents in the world, making it a little more like the heaven he will one day make it to be.

Give us today the food we need…

God cares about our daily needs too, whether for food, clothing, employment, or housing. We haven’t been left alone to fend for ourselves. We ask him to supply our needs, the needs of those around us, and of all else who lack.

…and forgive us our sins…

Whether in thought or deed, each of us has gotten angry, been unfaithful, broken promises, and sought revenge. Each of us, in truth, want our wills to be done rather than God’s. So here we find forgiveness for our part in the world’s evil. Jesus died and rose again so our sins could be washed off us like mud in a cleansing rain. Unforgiven sins leave us weak, but God’s forgiveness makes us strong.

Here we find forgiveness for our part in the world’s evil.

…as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

Since bitterness and resentment grow so easily, it’s best to deal with them quickly. Who has wronged you? How can you help clear the air? This part of the Prayer can help us recall anyone we’ve wronged too, so we can mend the tears in our relational fabric.

And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

The problems of our world aren’t caused by humans alone. There’s an “evil one” also at work, who tempts, accuses, and condemns. So we pray for strength to make choices in line with God’s faithful nature. We call on His Spirit in the face of temptation to empower us to live as Jesus would in our situation.

For yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen

While not found in the earliest biblical manuscripts, the Prayer’s popular closing is appropriate. Beginning with God, we now end with God—recognizing his ownership of the world and worthiness to direct our lives. Ultimately, life and its meaning is all about him.

Tim Bergling wasn’t alone in feeling the effects of life without meaning. Humans seek answers to the world’s problems and long to serve a cause greater than themselves. In the Sermon, Jesus offers us a way forward: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).