As we welcome the dawn of another new year, many of us have made a set of resolutions: key targets and ideals that we hope to attain for the coming year. For the average person, these yearly goals we make, tend to be for the short-term, and, unfortunate to say, often become short-lived and soon abandoned.
At this time when many of us are making plans and re-evaluating our lives – trying to lose that weight, or spend more time with that family member we never saw in a while, it seems relevant to me to discuss an even bigger issue that may just help us put our yearly resolutions, and our entire lives for that matter, into the grand perspective:
What is my purpose in life?
What do I mean by purpose? Many think in terms of their profession or career, but, although one’s career can be an intersecting theme, that’s not quite entirely what I am getting at. Many of us place all the emphasis on what we like to do or what will make a good income, but how many have thought in terms of their ultimate purpose: God’s own divine vision for our existence to advance His Will, for our own ultimate good?
Now, I am not going to just give any generic response like the mere ‘Follow Your Heart’ narrative which has become the mainstream philosophy of this time, among both secularists and Christians alike. The reason? As the Scripture says: “The heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jeremiah 17:9). I have thus learnt that finding your true purpose is much deeper than that.
While many of my previous blogs have focused on providing general insight and commentary on issues affecting the Christian faith, today’s blog post will be a bit more personal. While I still have much to discover, I will share some of my personal key lessons I have learnt thus far in my journey of finding my personal purpose in life: Entrance into Christian Apologetics Ministry.
Before I share some of the specific key lessons I have learnt in my journey thus far, it would be good for us to meditate on this question:
Have you ever considered the immensity of the truth that you have been placed on this earth by God to fulfil a special purpose designed from before the world was even created?
Many Christians already know and accept that God’s plan for mankind collectively, is ultimately that we should be to know God and be saved. Ecclesiastes states that the whole purpose of man is to “fear God and keep His Commandments” (Ecc. 12:13). However, the truth gets to an even more individual scale than that. Despite this overarching purpose for all of humanity, the Bible, in both the Old and New Testament, clearly teaches that each individual was created to play a special role in this grand design to fulfill God’s purpose for creation. Look at what God said to Jeremiah:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5)
Also, look at what is written in Ephesians 4:13-16:
“…we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Our own individual lives are meant to be strategically placed for the optimum working of God’s Will in and for the world. When this hit me: that none of us came into this world by accident, it places everything into perspective. My individual worth, duty and purpose in God’s eyes are part of His grand plan. Even though others may have similar general gifts, God gave each of us unique attributes that would make each persons’ contribution one of a kind in the history of things – that is, if we are faithful to our divinely-appointed duties.
So, how do we discover God’s vision for our lives? Without direct divine revelation, as Jeremiah was privileged to receive, finding your specific purpose can be somewhat a challenge for some. While my personal search is still well under way, here are five lessons that I have learnt which I believe God uses in our lives to guide us toward fulfilling our ultimate purpose.
1. Identify and pursue your special gift(s) and passion(s):
In leading us to our special purpose, the Bible offers various examples of indicators which He uses in people’s lives which prompt them toward their God-given purpose. One of the dominant methods to gain people’s attention towards fulfilling their purpose is placing a strong desire to accomplish something in their hearts. Take Cyrus, King of Persia for example. Even without King Cyrus being a part of God’s special people, God placed the special desire in his heart to fulfill his divinely appointed role: to send the Israelites back to their homeland and order the Jewish temple to be rebuilt. He did not have to receive any payment, nor bribe (Isaiah 45:13). He just had that prompting desire to send the Israelites back. Similarly, with Jeremiah, we see that when we are chosen to do something, even if we try to ignore it, God prompts us toward our purpose by putting a burning conviction to do what we ought to do (Jeremiah 20:9).
Working alongside our passion, the Bible makes various references to the bestowment of gifts, both in the forms of natural talents (e.g. Dorcas could sew well), and supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Many of us may not think our talents, interests and our overall spiritual purpose of existence are in any way connected. However, as varied as our talents may seem in the world, the Bible makes it clear that everything we do and choose to do ought to be done to God’s glory (Colossians 3:17).
Is there something that you have a sense of urgency to accomplish? Something that no one else has to persuade you to get done? I believe that these may be some indicators which God uses in our lives to spur us toward fulfilling our God-given purposes.
2. Your current strengths and abilities do not necessarily point to your complete personal calling:
Although our talents can give some clue about our calling, God likes to use people in areas that they are weak, which I have often experienced in a personal way in my journey toward Biblical apologetics (Publicly defending the faith of Christ, often in the face of opposition). Long story short: Growing up until this point in my life, I have had a very shy, sensitive and timid persona. It always takes courage for me to speak in front of persons for even a relatively short time, even in front of a few persons; so it would be only natural for me to keep out of controversies as much as possible. However, from very early (around 7-8 years old), I found myself attempting to write and illustrate books on topics of Biblical concern like evolution and witchcraft, when I saw my classmates obsessed with reading Harry Potter novels. Over the years, in terms of my educational endeavours, being intrigued with understanding the natural world around me, I have been drawn to a study of Geography and foreign languages. Despite having a great love for these, I have felt incomplete without having some application to my faith. As my deep passion for God continued to grow, I found myself often being the only one standing up to teachers, lecturers, classmates, and even strangers who have presented opposition to faith in Christ, and whenever I remained silent out of timidity, I would often feel like I did not do what I was supposed to do. I have also often found myself stirred up to write articles with a conviction that would seem like the antithesis, the direct opposite of my dominant personality.
Reading the Bible, I have realized time and again that God tends to use us in our weaknesses. Moses thought he was not eloquent enough to be a leader. Jeremiah thought he was too young, and seemingly had a very sensitive soul (from being known as the ‘weeping prophet’ and God’s reassurance of telling him not to be afraid of the people’s faces).It greatly encourages me that, despite their own weaknesses, despite their timidity, God saw potential for them to be used, so His Own Power would be clearly seen.
3. It is best to focus on your own path
Focusing on your special path and duties are highly essential to successfully achieve your God-given purpose, when you do find it. Personally, being in the competitive field of academia, it is often easy to lose focus from your main convictions to make use of the many ‘opportunities’ out there, or to feel like what you are doing is inadequate or inferior. Although some exploration can be helpful, when we lack focus and conviction in our personal purpose and instead focus on other people’s work, or their ideas of ‘success’, we can easily drown out and even downplay the worth of the duty which God has enlisted us to do.
The Bible shows examples of methods Satan uses to lure persons away from fulfilling their highest God-given potential, or to limit the blessings that God could have brought through them for their generations. For instance, the devil can use jealousy: Take Saul’s feud with David as an example. Saul, King of Israel, saw David receiving much attention due to his brave feats in battle, and instead of remembering God’s Commands and His duty as God called him to be king, his jealousy and pride took his focus from fulfilling God’s Commands to hunting down David, eventually leading to Saul losing his kingship. The devil can also use doubt and fear to distract you from the promises God gives you to counter the blessings that God purposed for you: Sarah’s choice not to believe that God could use her to fulfil His promise to Abraham to make a nation through her descendants, ultimately led to the constant lack of peace in the Middle East for Isaac’s descendants up to the present day.
Appreciating other persons’ accomplishments can help to motivate you toward achieving your own full potential. However, we must not allow ourselves to feel like we ought to copy or outdo someone else in their own path. Always be mindful that God created each of us for a unique purpose, with a unique personality – something that has, and will never be seen again in the world.
4. The circumstances you find yourself in at each point of your life may hint your purpose at the time, or even set the pace for your life purpose:
As the proverb goes: “We may make our plans, but God has the last word.” (Proverbs 16:1).
How many times have you been in a situation, and if it were up to your own will, you would have never dreamed you would have ended up there? Perhaps you have found yourself in a seemingly tragic situation, like an accident, or having that mean boss, or, on the flip side, perhaps you ended up at the top of a career that you did not even study for. Oftentimes in life, we find ourselves in situations that we never at all anticipated.
The Bible provides several examples which show how God uses our unexpected situations to propel us to our purpose. Look at Joseph. He was sold by his own brothers into Egyptian slavery, imprisoned while there, but all this led to his divinely appointed purpose in saving nations, including his own brothers, from dying from starvation during the seven years of famine (Genesis 50:20). Esther was also in captivity, but became queen “for such a time as this”, and was instrumental in saving the Israelites from extermination.
We often look at unexpected situations as ‘setting back’ our purposes, when oftentimes it is quite the opposite. The truth is, what we may deem as personal discomfort, often leads to immense spiritual growth; growth that we could not have otherwise achieved if we had followed our own ideals of ‘success’ or ‘progress’. Without our lives being shaped by the All-Knowing God, without our lives being sometimes veered away from our own ideals, we would not be able to make the impact on the people, in the way that God has purposed. When we submit our lives to God, trusting in His infinite wisdom, we have the reassurance that “all things work together for good”.
5. Not every arm of ministry is for every Christian:
While being active in our efforts to reach people for the gospel should be central to every Christian’s purpose, there is a fundamental truth that the body of Christ often neglects: Not every arm of ministry represents God’s purpose for every Christian.
How many times is it that in our churches, persons who are the most active in certain capacities are often looked upon as being the most respected or ‘successful’? If you are not in the choir, not the song leader, not the leader of the youth group, not joining many public charity outreach efforts or not joining all the outreach movements out there, you are given the cold shoulder as if you are not doing your job as a Christian.
The practice of Christians making comparisons and looking down on certain gifts and roles that other Christians take on, is not unique to the modern church. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul had to correct the Corinthians in this very chain of thought. In this Scripture, Paul, inspired by God, duly noted:
“God put every different part of the body just as He wanted it to be. There would not be a body if it were all only one part!...we cannot do without the parts of the body that seem to be weaker” (1 Corinthians 12:18, 22; GNT).
The Bible often warns against this common focus on external appearances and statuses, and using vain comparisons to belittle or uplift someone’s worth or contribution in the Body of Christ. Each one of us has a unique contribution to the body of Christ, no matter how ‘insignificant’ we may think our talent is. God has purposed for each of us to make a unique, but important contribution to God’s will for the world, and if one is not functioning at the level he is supposed to, the body will not benefit and will not live up to its full potential as God has purposed.
We also must note that God’s work is not limited to the pulpit, nor through direct church activities. As was previously mentioned, once we have the right heart, God often works through His people in ways through situations we did not anticipate. The Scripture teaches that the important thing before you can correct and minister to others, is to take a note that you are honouring God in your own life (Galatians 6:1). Even more important than merely participating in church-led outreach and ministry, God’s purpose for us should radiate brightly in our daily lives as we interact with others in school, in our profession, and in our unexpected situations. As the Scripture says: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16).
The Scripture says: "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21). As you make or refine your own resolutions for this year, I hope that the five lessons I have shared will also help you find your personal God-given purpose for your life, and help put your thoughts into the grand perspective.
I am thankful that God has His own way of leading us to where He wants us to be, and giving us the ability to live to our unique potential – once we are willing to follow His heart.
Have you learnt any other lessons for discovering God’s purpose for you? Share with us!