I'm often asked, "What surprised you about the book?" And I say, "That I got to write it." I would have never imagined that. Not in my wildest dreams did I think — I don't even consider myself to be an author. And I'm often asked, "Why do you think so many people have read this? This thing's selling still about a million copies a month."
And I think it's because spiritual emptiness is a universal disease. I think inside at some point, we put our heads down on the pillow and we go, "There's got to be more to life than this." Get up in the morning, go to work, come home and watch TV, go to bed, get up in the morning, go to work, come home, watch TV, go to bed, go to parties on weekends. A lot of people say, "I'm living." No, you're not living — that's just existing. Just existing. I really think that there's this inner desire. I do believe what Chris said; I believe that you're not an accident. Your parents may not have planned you, but I believe God did. I think there are accidental parents; there's no doubt about that. I don't think there are accidental kids. And I think you matter.
I think you matter to God; I think you matter to history; I think you matter to this universe. And I think that the difference between what I call the survival level of living, the success level of living, and the significance level of living is: Do you figure out, "What on Earth am I here for?" I meet a lot of people who are very smart, and say, "But why can't I figure out my problems?" And I meet a lot of people who are very successful, who say, "Why don't I feel more fulfilled? Why do I feel like a fake? Why do I feel like I've got to pretend that I'm more than I really am?" I think that comes down to this issue of meaning, of significance, of purpose. I think it comes down to this issue of: "Why am I here? What am I here for? Where am I going?" These are not religious issues. They're human issues.
I wanted to tell Michael before he spoke that I really appreciate what he does, because it makes my life work a whole lot easier. As a pastor, I do see a lot of kooks. And I have learned that there are kooks in every area of life. Religion doesn't have a monopoly on that, but there are plenty of religious kooks. There are secular kooks; there are smart kooks, dumb kooks. There are people — a lady came up to me the other day, and she had a white piece of paper — Michael, you'll like this one — and she said, "What do you see in it?" And I looked at it and I said, "Oh, I don't see anything." And she goes, "Well, I see Jesus," and started crying and left. I'm going, "OK," you know? "Fine."
Good for you.
When the book became the best-selling book in the world for the last three years, I kind of had my little crisis. And that was: What is the purpose of this? Because it brought in enormous amounts of money. When you write the best-selling book in the world, it's tons and tons of money. And it brought in a lot of attention, neither of which I wanted. When I started Saddleback Church, I was 25 years old. I started it with one other family in 1980. And I decided that I was never going to go on TV, because I didn't want to be a celebrity. I didn't want to be a, quote, "evangelist, televangelist" — that's not my thing. And all of the sudden, it brought a lot of money and a lot of attention. I don't think — now, this is a worldview, and I will tell you, everybody's got a worldview.
Everybody's betting their life on something. You're betting your life on something, you just better know why you're betting what you're betting on. So, everybody's betting their life on something. And when I, you know, made a bet, I happened to believe that Jesus was who he said he was. And I believe in a pluralistic society, everybody's betting on something. And when I started the church, you know, I had no plans to do what it's doing now. And then when I wrote this book, and all of a sudden, it just took off, and I started saying, now, what's the purpose of this? Because as I started to say, I don't think you're given money or fame for your own ego, ever. I just don't believe that. And when you write a book that the first sentence of the book is, "It's not about you," then, when all of a sudden it becomes the best-selling book in history, you've got to figure, well, I guess it's not about me. That's kind of a no-brainer. So, what is it for?
And I began to think about what I call the "stewardship of affluence" and the "stewardship of influence." So I believe, essentially, leadership is stewardship. That if you are a leader in any area — in business, in politics, in sports, in art, in academics, in any area — you don't own it. You are a steward of it. For instance, that's why I believe in protecting the environment. This is not my planet. It wasn't mine before I was born, it's not going to be mine after I die, I'm just here for 80 years and then that's it.
I was debating the other day on a talk show, and the guy was challenging me and he'd go, "What's a pastor doing on protecting the environment?" And I asked this guy, I said, "Well, do you believe that human beings are responsible to make the world a little bit better place for the next generation? Do you think we have a stewardship here, to take the environment seriously?" And he said, "No." I said, "Oh, you don't?" I said, "Let me make this clear again: Do you believe that as human beings — I'm not talking about religion — do you believe that as human beings, it is our responsibility to take care of this planet, and make it just a little bit better for the next generation?" And he said, "No. Not any more than any other species." When he said the word "species," he was revealing his worldview. And he was saying, "I'm no more responsible to take care of this environment than a duck is." Well now, I know a lot of times we act like ducks, but you're not a duck. You're not a duck. And you are responsible — that's my worldview. And so, you need to understand what your worldview is.
The problem is most people never really think it through. They never really ... codify it or qualify it or quantify it, and say, "This is what I believe in. This is why I believe what I believe." I don't personally have enough faith to be an atheist. But you may, you may. Your worldview, though, does determine everything else in your life, because it determines your decisions; it determines your relationships; it determines your level of confidence. It determines, really, everything in your life. What we believe, obviously — and you know this — determines our behavior, and our behavior determines what we become in life.
So all of this money started pouring in, and all of this fame started pouring in. And I'm going, what do I do with this? My wife and I first made five decisions on what to do with the money. We said, "First, we're not going to use it on ourselves." I didn't go out and buy a bigger house. I don't own a guesthouse. I still drive the same four year-old Ford that I've driven. We just said, we're not going to use it on us. The second thing was, I stopped taking a salary from the church that I pastor. Third thing is, I added up all that the church had paid me over the last 25 years, and I gave it back. And I gave it back because I didn't want anybody thinking that I do what I do for money — I don't. In fact, personally, I've never met a priest or a pastor or a minister who does it for money. I know that's the stereotype; I've never met one of them. Believe me, there's a whole lot easier ways to make money.
Pastors are like on 24 hours-a-day call, they're like doctors. I left late today — I'd hoped to be here yesterday — because my father-in-law is in his last, probably, 48 hours before he dies of cancer. And I'm watching a guy who's lived his life — he's now in his mid-80s — and he's dying with peace. You know, the test of your worldview is not how you act in the good times. The test of your worldview is how you act at the funeral. And having been through literally hundreds if not thousands of funerals, it makes a difference. It makes a difference what you believe.
So, we gave it all back, and then we set up three foundations, working on some of the major problems of the world: illiteracy, poverty, pandemic diseases — particularly HIV/AIDS — and set up these three foundations, and put the money into that. The last thing we did is we became what I call "reverse tithers." And that is, when my wife and I got married 30 years ago, we started tithing. Now, that's a principle in the Bible that says give 10 percent of what you get back to charity, give it away to help other people. So, we started doing that, and each year we would raise our tithe one percent. So, our first year of marriage we went to 11 percent, second year we went to 12 percent, and the third year we went to 13 percent, and on and on and on. Why did I do that? Because every time I give, it breaks the grip of materialism in my life.
Materialism is all about getting — get, get, get, get all you can, can all you get, sit on the can and spoil the rest. It's all about more, having more. And we think that the good life is actually looking good — that's most important of all — looking good, feeling good and having the goods. But that's not the good life. I meet people all the time who have those, and they're not necessarily happy. If money actually made you happy, then the wealthiest people in the world would be the happiest. And that I know, personally, I know, is not true. It's just not true.
So, the good life is not about looking good, feeling good or having the goods, it's about being good and doing good. Giving your life away. Significance in life doesn't come from status, because you can always find somebody who's got more than you. It doesn't come from sex. It doesn't come from salary. It comes from serving. It is in giving our lives away that we find meaning, we find significance. That's the way we were wired, I believe, by God. And so we began to give away, and now after 30 years, my wife and I are reverse tithers — we give away 90 percent and live on 10. That, actually, was the easy part. The hard part is, what do I do with all this attention? Because I started getting all kinds of invitations. I just came off a nearly month-long speaking tour on three different continents, and I won't go into that, but it was an amazing thing. And I'm going, what do I do with this notoriety that the book has brought?
And, being a pastor, I started reading the Bible. There's a chapter in the Bible called Psalm 72, and it's Solomon's prayer for more influence. When you read this prayer, it sounds incredibly selfish, self-centered. He says, "God, I want you to make me famous." That's what he prays. He said, "I want you to make me famous. I want you to spread the fame of my name through every land, I want you to give me power. I want you to make me famous, I want you to give me influence." And it just sounds like the most egotistical request you could make, if you were going to pray. Until you read the whole psalm, the whole chapter. And then he says, "So that the king ..." — he was the king of Israel at that time, at its apex in power — "... so that the king may care for the widow and orphan, support the oppressed, defend the defenseless, care for the sick, assist the poor, speak up for the foreigner, those in prison." Basically, he's talking about all the marginalized in society.
And as I read that, I looked at it, and I thought, you know, what this is saying is that the purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. The purpose of influence is not to build your ego. Or your net worth. And, by the way, your net worth is not the same thing as your self-worth. Your value is not based on your valuables. It's based on a whole different set of things. And so the purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. And I had to admit: I can't think of the last time I thought of widows and orphans. They're not on my radar. I pastor a church in one of the most affluent areas of America — a bunch of gated communities. I have a church full of CEOs and scientists. And I could go five years and never, ever see a homeless person. They're just not in my pathway. Now, they're 13 miles up the road in Santa Ana. So I had to say, ok, I would use whatever affluence and whatever influence I've got to help those who don't have either of those.
You know, there's a story in the Bible about Moses, whether you believe it's true or not, it really doesn't matter to me. But Moses, if you saw the movie, "The Ten Commandments," Moses goes out, and there's this burning bush, and God talks to him, and God says, "Moses, what's in your hand?" I think that's one of the most important questions you'll ever be asked: What's in your hand? Moses says, "It's a staff. It's a shepherd's staff." And God says, "Throw it down." And if you saw the movie, you know, he throws it down and it becomes a snake. And then God says, "Pick it up." And he picks it back up again, and it becomes a staff again. Now, I'm reading this thing, and I'm going, what is that all about? OK. What's that all about? Well, I do know a couple of things. Number one, God never does a miracle to show off. It's not just, "Wow, isn't that cool?" And, by the way, my God doesn't have to show up on cheese bread. You know, if God's going to show up, he's not going to show up on cheese bread.
Ok? I just, this is why I love what Michael does, because it's like, if he's debunking it, then I don't have to. But God — my God — doesn't show up on sprinkler images. He's got a few more powerful ways than that to do whatever he wants to do. But he doesn't do miracles just to show off.
Second thing is, if God ever asks you a question, he already knows the answer. Obviously, if he's God, then that would mean that when he asks the question, it's for your benefit, not his. So he's going, "What's in your hand?" Now, what was in Moses' hand? Well, it was a shepherd's staff. Now, follow me on this.
This staff represented three things about Moses' life. First, it represented his identity; he was a shepherd. It's the symbol of his own occupation: I am a shepherd. It's a symbol of his identity, his career, his job. Second, it's a symbol of not only his identity, it's a symbol of his income, because all of his assets are tied up in sheep. In those days, nobody had bank accounts, or American Express cards, or hedge funds. Your assets are tied up in your flocks. So it's a symbol of his identity, and it's a symbol of his income. And the third thing: it's a symbol of his influence. What do you do with a shepherd's staff? Well, you know, you move sheep from point A to point B with it, by hook or by crook. You pull them or you poke them. One or the other. So, he's saying, "You're going to lay down your identity. What's in your hand? You've got identity, you've got income, you've got influence. What's in your hand?" And he's saying, "If you lay it down, I'll make it come alive. I'll do some things you could never imagine possible." And if you've watched that movie, "Ten Commandments," all of those big miracles that happen in Egypt are done through this staff.
Last year, I was invited to speak at the NBA All-Stars game. And so, I'm talking to the players, because most of the NBA teams, NFL teams and all the other teams have done this 40 Days of Purpose, based on the book. And I asked them, I said, "What's in your hand? So, what's in your hand?" I said, "It's a basketball. And that basketball represents your identity, who you are: you're an NBA player. It represents your income: you're making a lot of money off that little ball. And it represents your influence. And even though you're only going to be in the NBA for a few years, you're going to be an NBA player for the rest of your life. And that gives you enormous influence. So, what are you going to do with what you've been given?"
And I guess that's the main reason I came up here today, to all of you very bright people at TED — it is to say, "What's in your hand?" What do you have that you've been given? Talent, background, education, freedom, networks, opportunities, wealth, ideas, creativity. What are you doing with what you've been given? That, to me, is the primary question about life. That, to me, is what being purpose-driven is all about. In the book, I talk about how you're wired to do certain things, you're "SHAPED" with — a little acrostic: Spiritual gifts, Heart, Ability, Personality and Experiences. These things shape you. And if you want to know what you ought to be doing with your life, you need to look at your shape — "What am I wired to do?" Why would God wire you to do something and then not have you do it? If you're wired to be an anthropologist, you'll be an anthropologist. If you're wired to be an undersea explorer, you'll be an undersea explorer. If you're wired to make deals, you make deals. If you're wired to paint, you paint.
Did you know that God smiles when you be you? When my little kids — when my kids were little — they're all grown now, I have grandkids — I used to go in and sit on the side of their bed, and I used to watch my kids sleep. And I just watched their little bodies rise and lower, rise and lower. And I would look at them: "This is not an accident." Rise and lower. And I got joy out of just watching them sleep. Some people have the misguided idea that God only gets excited when you're doing, quote, "spiritual things," like going to church or helping the poor, or, you know, confessing or doing something like that. The bottom line is, God gets pleasure watching you be you. Why? He made you. And when you do what you were made to do, he goes, "That's my boy! That's my girl! You're using the talent and ability that I gave you."
So my advice to you is: look at what's in your hand — your identity, your influence, your income — and say, "It's not about me. It's about making the world a better place."