If God’s universal purpose for us is to grow in the knowledge of Christ and to make Him known, how do we develop a vision of the unique ways He would have us apply this purpose in our lives?
“How did it happen that now for the first time in his life he could see everything so clearly? Something had given him leave to live in the present. Not once in his entire life had he allowed himself to come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself forward from some dark past he could not remember to a future which did not exist. Not once had he been present for his life. So his life had passed like a dream.
Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?”
The answer to this question raised in Walker Percy’s novel, The Second Coming, is an unqualified affirmative. Someone once said, “Fear not that your life will come to an end, but rather that it will never have had a beginning.”
In the film, Awakenings, a number of patients who had been in a catatonic state for some thirty years were temporarily brought to full consciousness through a new medication. While some were elated, others were embittered that so much of their lives was spent in oblivion. But they all seized the preciousness of each day, especially when they learned that their “awakenings” would only be temporary.
There is a sense in which many people live without being truly awake, without thinking and questioning, without a sense of wonder and awe. It is easy, even for believers in Christ, to lurch through life, never developing a clear picture of the unique purpose for which God placed them on this planet.
Last month, we focused on God’s universal purpose for all who know Christ, and summarized this as knowing God experientially (spiritual growth), and making Him known to others (spiritual reproduction). The first part relates to the question, “Who do You want me to be, Lord?” The second relates to the question, “What do You want me to do?” It is prudent to consider the first question before launching into the second, because biblically speaking, being precedes doing; who we are in Christ is foundational to what we do. Typically, however, we put activities and objectives before purpose and define ourselves more by measurable accomplishments than by godly character. The result is that our activities determine our purposes. But purposes developed in this way are shaped by comparison with peers and role models and never lead to the universal and unique purposes for which God created us. Instead, we should embrace a biblical perspective on purpose and let this determine our objectives and activities.
If God’s universal purpose for us is to grow in the knowledge of Christ (edification) and to make Him known (evangelism), how do we develop a vision of the unique ways He would have us apply this purpose in our lives? The answer is that we must launch a prayerful process of discovery that involves a thoughtful assessment of what God has gifted, called, and equipped us to do. Every believer has a unique combination of experiences, gifts, and relational networks that form a sphere of ministry opportunities. We can be assured that the Lord will not call us to a task for which He has not equipped us (1 Thess. 5:24), but we can also be certain that the development of our life message and purpose does not happen suddenly.
The most critical component in the process of discerning our unique purpose is prayer. We would do well to persist in asking God to clarify the vision of our calling, since we will never be able to discover it on our own. This is a divine-human process of preparation and illumination in which each of our positive and negative experiences can be sovereignly used by God in such a way that we can, through His power, make a lasting impact in the lives of others. But commitment must precede knowledge (John 7:17); we must trust God enough to commit ourselves in advance to whatever He calls us to be and to do.
Another essential component in this process is our time in the Scriptures. God uses His Word to train and equip us for ministry, and our effectiveness is related to the depth of our Bible reading, study, and memorization. The price tag is time and discipline, but the benefits are always disproportionate to the expenditures. If we are shallow in the Word, we will be superficial in our knowledge of God and less effective in our relationships with others.
It is also important to discover your spiritual gifts, since these are directly related to your individual calling. Spiritual gift inventories and study aids are available for this purpose, and you can contact your Christian book store or Search Ministries for more information.
Other components that relate to your unique purpose are your personal experiences, skills, education, temperament, and roles. Each of these elements is relevant to your vision of the specific outworking of God’s universal purpose in your life.
Begin to ask God to clarify your personal vision of purpose. This will not happen by doubling up on activities, but through prayer, exposure to Scripture, and times of reflection. This process may take months or years, but it should lead to a brief written statement of purpose that can be used to determine and evaluate your objectives and activities. In this way, your activities will be determined more by the Word than by the external pressures of the world.
A biblical purpose is always an unchanging reason for being. It holds true for you regardless of your circumstances or season of life. When a Christ-centered purpose becomes the focus of your life, it harmonizes all the other areas, such as family, work, finances, and ministry.