Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days.
Noah survived 40 days of floods in an ark.
Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai, where God gave him the commandments.
Today, many faith seekers are discovering their own “40 Days of Purpose” through a spiritual revival sweeping the country.
Based on Rick Warren‘s best-seller The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?, the intensive six-week program of Bible study, worship and fellowship promises to help individuals find their true purpose in life.
In the year since Warren launched the program at his Saddleback Church near Los Angeles, more than 3,000 churches around the world have embarked on their own spiritual journeys.
Some 200 churches in Chattanooga will participate in a citywide campaign starting Oct. 4. Another 5,000 churches nationwide have signed up to take part in a campaign headed by Warren that starts Oct. 11.
Locally, at least a half-dozen churches have used the book or are planning to do so. Union Avenue Baptist Church is in the middle of its program. Central Church in Collierville plans to start in January. Bellevue Baptist Church launched its campaign Sept. 7.
“Bellevue really is looking for God to do incredible revival and renewal here,” said Larry Thompson, who handles public relations for the church of 28,000 members.
The Cordova church spread the word with a publicity blitz that included TV and radio spots, newspaper ads and direct mailings.
During these 40 days, Bellevue (along with those who want to see what all the talk is about) will focus on God and finding purpose in life as a church and as individuals, Thompson said.
“The answer to all of those questions are found in the Bible; people have just been looking in the wrong places,” he said.
Warren’s book has become the how-to manual for those seeking answers to life’s questions. And though the book is found in the self-help section of bookstores, Warren declares in the first chapter, “It’s not about you.”
The Purpose-Driven Life has been on The New York Times Bestseller list for 32 weeks, where it reached the No. 2 spot for hardcover advice books. So far, more than 6 million copies have been sold.
At Union Avenue Baptist, deacon chairman Phil Brewer and his wife Laura Brewer have reached beyond the church membership by organizing one discussion group that meets at the Java Cabana and another at the Deliberate Literate, both in Midtown.
The groups include friends and acquaintances and people who’ve heard about the book through word of mouth, Phil Brewer said.
“I love it because it’s getting our church group out beyond the walls of the church, especially these two in the coffee houses,” he said.
The book’s success surprises the 49-year-old Warren, a Southern Baptist preacher who started his ministry from his home in 1980. Today, 20,000 people worship on a typical Sunday at Saddleback, which has six services to accommodate the crowds.
Warren said he wrote the book to address the three fundamental issues that everyone struggles with in life: Why am I alive? Does my life matter? What is my purpose?
“I think this is a theme that everybody is interested in,” he said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a teenager, a senior citizen, or whether you’re rich or poor.”
Most people aren’t living at their highest potential, he said. “Most people live at the survival level. They’re just kind of barely getting by.”
Others make it to the “success level,” but are still unfulfilled, he says. “There have been a lot of books coming out saying, ‘If I’m so successful, why do I still feel so unfulfilled?’ “
That’s because we were made for more than success, Warren says. We were made for significance, and that’s the level people should strive for.
“God made us to know that we matter, and significance comes from knowing the meaning of life, knowing how much you matter to God and then to begin living out the purposes that he put us on this planet to do.
“Without purpose, life is motion without meaning,” he explains. “Without a purpose life is trivial and pointless.”
What began as a revival among evangelical Christians has spread to 60 denominations and corporate America.
Coca-Cola, NASCAR and the LPGA have all signed on, Warren said. The Oakland Raiders football team will go through the campaign this fall, and Warren will be there for the last game of the season to lead “Celebration Sunday.”
Pastor Justin Morris of the 11-month-old CenterPoint Church in Lakeland praises Warren as the “most influential evangelical leader of our generation.” His church, which meets in space at Lakeland Factory Outlet Mall (formerly Belz Factory Outlet Mall), launched its own “40 Days of Purpose” last Easter.
Working through the book was life-changing for CenterPoint member Jane Vodrazka, particularly the chapter that describes how life experiences happen for a purpose.
“I sobbed when I read it,” Vodrazka recalled. “It was a real healing time for me. I realized that God was looking out for me. He wanted to build my faith. He wasn’t just out there dooming me.”
CenterPoint member and campaign director Tony Porter was in California last year on business when Saddleback Church kicked off its 40-day campaign. He attended and came back to Memphis excited.
Still, Porter offered a warning for other churches planning to initiate the program. “This is not a formula,” he said. “This is not a checklist that if I do all these things, then I’ll discover my purpose. It’s an opportunity to allow God to do what only He can do.”
Morris said The Purpose-Driven Life is not bedtime reading.
“To benefit from the book – not just read it – it takes a pretty serious commitment. You have to be committed to some pretty serious life changes and altering your whole way of thinking,” he said.
“You begin living for eternity right now. Every day you wake up, you’re not living for the next 24 hours or the next 24 years: You’re living in eternity right here and now.”