Look closer for clues to your life purpose.

9 min. to read.

Spiritual vitality and living with purpose are intertwined.  To have one, you need the other.  Your pursuit of purpose is key.

Very close to you is a treasure chest overflowing with clues necessary to finding your unique, God-created life purpose.  Chances are high that you’re overlooking it.  I want to show you where to look.

When big dreams distract us.

Sitting across from me in my office was a bright young woman.  She was crying.  Her life felt empty, she said.  She wanted so desperately to do something powerful for God.  She mentioned missions or creating a foundation to empower young women.  Heck, even faith healing!  She had these giant dreams, and she was frustrated because nothing like that was happening for her.

As we talked about her life, I listened. She never mentioned her husband and their marriage, or her workplace where she had the opportunity to be of great influence every day.  She didn’t think about the flexibility she had not having children or the lessons that she’d learned going through counseling and dealing with anger and abuse.

Something occurred to me.  In trying to find a big life purpose, it was like she was planning an incredible trip to a once-in-a-lifetime destination without starting where she actually was.  Every road has two ends–the destination as well as the beginning.

Photo Credit: Unknown
Photo Credit: Unknown

This kind of short-sightedness is pretty common.  When we think about life purpose, we very often think big. Big dreams are good! But every big dream started somewhere small.

Jesus taught that those who were faithful in little things would be trustworthy to manage bigger things. (Luke 16:10) This is not an arbitrary judgment where people who audition well for the small roles will eventually be rewarded with big ones. This is the natural process of growth.  Small seeds grow into big trees.  You can’t rush the process.  You can resent it, or you can invest in it, but you can’t rush it.

We imagine that we’ll have a powerful spiritual life when something big happens.  When we become an author or a singer, when we find that one perfect ministry that’s exactly right for us, when we finally get that perfect job, then we’ll feel satisfied and fulfilled.  But this isn’t how life works.

Start by looking where you are.

How?  Well, you will experience spiritual vitality when you are living out your God-created life purpose.  So, finding that sense of direction is a pretty important next step.

In a previous post I suggested that you can discover your purpose by exploring three areas of God’s design:  Your identity in Christ, God’s universal design for all of us, and God’s unique design for you.  At this intersection you will find a vibrant place to live your life.

You can find the clues to your unique design, not by looking at some distant, glorious destination, but by looking close to home.  God has been a part of your whole story.  The Master Artist wove you together in the womb. (Ps. 139:13)  God’s been present through all the different circumstances of your life.

To find the design that God has built especially for you, you have to start by looking at who you are and where you are right now.  Embedded in your life are clues to your purpose:

6 ways to think about your unique God-given purpose? Look closer for clues to your life purpose.

Quote - Clues for Purpose

1.  Temperament

Biologists and psychologists debate how our personality is formed.  What part is genetic?  What part is the result of parenting, or culture, or life experiences? However it came to be doesn’t matter.  You are wired in a certain way.

The more you can understand how you’re wired, the more you will be able to make wise decisions about how to move forward in your life.  An introvert is going to relate to God differently than an extrovert.  Knowing whether you are task-oriented or relationship-oriented will help you understand why you love certain commitments and dread others.  Being aware of how you perceive and process information or emotions can help you avoid miscommunication in relationships.

Invest some time in learning more about yourself.  Personality inventories like the DISC assessment or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can give you insights into how you are wired.  The Enneagram can give you insight into the way you experience the world. Tools like these, together with observation and input from close friends and counselors, as well as journaling and personal reflection can provide a useful understanding of who God has made you to be.  The more you understand yourself, the more likely you are to find paths that are life-giving.

2.  Gifts

There are things you can do well that others can’t.  Some of these seem almost inborn.  Others of these are the result of long hours of practice and investment. These skills and talents are how you make your mark on the world.  But did you ever stop to think about where those things came from?

Spiritual vitality isn’t a destination resort.  It’s something you experience along the way.

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Before you say that you worked hard for them, consider this.  Where did the opportunity come from for you to work hard?  Where did the interest come from?  What motivated you to give so much time and energy to that endeavor?  You may not have seen it, but God has been in the mix the whole time, encouraging you forward.

Get clear about your gifts.  Maybe it’s something outwardly visible like a beautiful singing voice.  Maybe it’s something internal like your ability to naturally see your way through a complex problem, or the way that numbers just make sense to you like a second language.  These skills and talents are nothing to be ashamed of or hide.  This is another way you can begin to see how God has wired you up and prepared you for the good and beautiful purpose made for you.

3.  Season of Life

Are you a college student with lots of freedom?  Are you a single parent whose whole life revolves around caring for three kids?  Are you and your spouse retired empty-nesters?  The season of life that you are in is one more clue to how you can make a difference in the world.

Your season of life gives you unique gifts and limitations.  College students have a lot of flexibility and freedom with their time, but they don’t usually have a lot of money. Parents don’t have as much time, but they have unique insight into the lives of kids. Retired people have lived a whole life already, and with that comes wisdom and life experience. Instead of resenting the season of life you’re in, look at it carefully.  Here you may find your mission field.

4.  Life Experiences

Your story to this point is what has shaped you.  Weaving together all the aspects of who you are, your story forms a trajectory, a sense of direction.  All too often we dismiss our own experience.  We see it as normal and uninteresting, something that happened on the way to what’s really important.  But this demeans God’s presence and direction in the common moments of your life.

Did you go to art school?  Did you fight in Desert Storm?  Did you grow up on food stamps?  Were you raised in a well-rounded, healthy, family, or one that was painfully dysfunctional?  Did you spend years in team sports?  Were you excluded in high school?  All of your experiences, no matter how insignificant they seem to you, are a part of what God has used to shape your life. Looking closely at your life experience is another way to uncover clues about who God has made you to be. Thinking through your story is especially important because this is where we find our passions.

5.  Passions

There are things that each of us are particularly drawn to, but passions are something even deeper.  The English word passion derives from the Greek word pathos, which originally referred to pain.  In this sense, a passion is an area of interest that you are drawn toward so deeply that it brings your heart heaviness or pain when you think about not caring about that thing.  So, people who are passionate about serving the homeless don’t just do it because it’s a good thing to do.  They feel a deep and motivating compassion that drives them forward.  People who are passionate about creating art aren’t just interested in it; they feel pain when they can’t create.

Not everyone has identified a personal passion, but those who have know it.  It’s something you can’t shake.  If you are one of those who knows you have a passion, then be clear about this.  A passion isn’t just an interest.  It is an invitation from God, a destination where you’re being asked to give away your life.  This isn’t just a clue about your unique purpose; it’s giant blinking neon sign.

6.  Healed Brokenness

The most powerful clue for our unique purpose lies in our brokenness.  We shy away from this pointer.  Perhaps we avoid this area because of shame or fear, but we shouldn’t.  When we can embrace and engage our brokenness, we come closer than by any other path to God’s presence and purpose in our lives.  More than that, we find where we can make the most difference in the lives of other people.

Part of this is about shared experience.  A sober addict can reach out to struggling addicts because he’s been there.  A woman who was sexually abused can create a safe space for others because she knows what it’s like.  But there’s more.

The Christian story is uniquely about God redeeming the broken places in our lives.  When we face our own brokenness and allow God to bring new life in those places, we experience a practical application of Jesus’ resurrection in our own lives.  God’s glory shows up miraculously in the very places we were most afraid and ashamed. (See 2 Corinthians 4:7 and 12:5-10)

Dream big.  That’s an important part of life.  Don’t settle for less.  But while you dream big, don’t overlook the clues to your unique purpose that lie right at hand.  God’s woven them into your life.

Question: What do these 6 areas say to you about your unique purpose?

6 thoughts on “Look closer for clues to your life purpose.

  1. Thanks for a great series, Mark!

    Your 6-element list goes a step or two beyond the ACF’s SHAPE / Saddleback’s S.H.A.P.E list – and the counsel of many mature Christians across Chrisendom and time who pull their lists from either a whole counsel of the Bible or a few specific verses. (Remember, we don’t all even agree on whether vocation / call apply to more than just clergy – or even the full list of spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible).

    But all miss the key, practical ingredients — ‘knowledge, skills, and abilities’ — that are the primal currency of well written, specific work definitions. As KSAs define the job – they offer clues to what an applicant must bring to the table for success in it.

    Yes, vocation is more than a job. Yes, calling is more than a job. But, as Martin Luther (the HR expert) would say: “Vocation without job is dead.”

    Our God defines reality – let’s not let theology miss the basics of the practical – and stand in reality’s way.

    1. Hey Art, thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. It means a lot to me that you’re really thinking it through and engaging.

      The question of vocation is a really interesting one. You probably know that the word comes from a Latin root that refers to hearing a voice. My sense is that our life purpose and our vocation are the same thing. I’m not using that word as a synonym for career or even to mean particularly a spiritual or religious job.

      I think that we all have a calling from God. That’s what I’m getting at in this whole discussion of life purpose. The more we “hear the Voice” in our lives, the more on track we are, and I think, the more sense of spiritual life and connectedness we will experience.

  2. Thank you for this, Marc. Donald Miller’s work sounds useful to me. I’ll look for some of it.

    My problem (I believe it’s a problem) is that I’m in between passionate vocations. Two of the three things in my life of which I was passionate are no longer available to me. This sudden loss of essentially 2/3 of my drive and enthusiasm has really knocked me down. All I want to do is read, study, and ponder. I have had zero discipline to do anything else.

    I miss loving a job. Loving working long days and weekends to get something done. I envy those who are still passionately fighting new pipelines, powerlines, forest clearcutting, and invasive earthworms. But I no longer have the drive or enthusiasm those fights require.

    I had planned to work another fifteen years, to continue making a difference. Now I’m concerned that I can’t muster the passion to do anything other than learn and contemplate.

    Perhaps it’s not yet time for me to re-engage??

    1. Hmm… that is an interesting spot to be in. “Learning and contemplating” is good, but doesn’t often pay the bills. Sounds like perhaps Jeff Goin’s latest book, “The Art of Work,” might be helpful to you. It also lays out a thoughtful process for discerning what you ought to be up to. Here’s a link: http://amzn.to/1KVwAMD

    1. Oh, man.  Thanks for letting me know.  It looks like Miller has discontinued that product.  It’s a real bummer because it was great.

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