Finding Your Purpose

by Dr. Ken Boa

The Process of Finding Your Purpose

Our God-given calling (vocation) can be defined as our unchanging reason for being. It’s the essence of who we are, why we’re on earth, and what separates us from other humans. Unlike a career, our unique purpose comes with no expiration date; it is lifelong. Although God is always preparing us for our unique purpose (even before we’ve decided to follow him), that doesn’t mean we’re aware of it our entire lives. Our understanding and ability to articulate our purpose evolves. Indeed, the way our calling is manifested will be different across our lifetime. Although people can and do discover their distinct purpose in life, there is no fixed pattern as to when and how that discovery occurs. It may happen when we are younger or older; it may happen suddenly or gradually; it may happen convincingly or doubtfully; it may be revealed as in a vision or deduced from a long discovery process.

Part of a Larger Purpose

Only within a framework of pursuing God’s ambitions can we truly realize our purpose. Our sense of purpose combined with the hope of eternal life serve as powerful motivators, giving deeper meaning to our activities and helping us persevere with conviction and commitment.

So, what is this larger purpose and framework? Beyond an individual’s unique purpose is God’s universal purpose for believers. But even beyond that purpose there is a third dimension of purpose: God’s ultimate purpose for everyone and everything.

Ultimate purpose. The overarching or ultimate purpose of everyone and everything is, to a degree, mysterious and unknowable. Why, ultimately, did God create the universe? Why did he create humans?

We can certainly glean clues from Scripture. The Bible is clear, for example, that everything in the universe radiates God’s glory— including human beings. In addition, the Bible indicates that God’s ultimate aim for people is for us to dwell in his presence forever, though not all will do so—one of the great mysteries of life. Furthermore, God created because he wanted to, not because he was bored or lonely. As a self­existent being outside of time, space, energy, and matter, God has no external needs. He is complete and perfect in himself (in love, communication, and communion with the other persons of the Trinity) for all of eternity.

Although we can understand these ideas to some extent, much mystery remains about this bigger picture of reality. It is simply impossible for our limited minds to grasp God’s ultimate purpose for all things. And this is as it should be. A God whose wisdom and ways we could fully comprehend would not be worthy of our worship. At the same time simply knowing this larger purpose exists—and having some understanding of it—helps put the second and third layers of God’s purposes into context.

Universal purpose. All of God’s followers are involved in the second layer of God’s purpose for life encapsulated in the Great Commission of Matthew 28: make disciples. That one command is modified by three participles—going, baptizing, and teaching.

Evangelism (going) leads to conversion, symbolized by baptism, but this is not the end game. Rather, it is the gateway to edification (teaching), also known as obedience­based discipleship. The cycle continues as new disciples become his agents in the world, and they too go and make disciples. Thus God’s universal purpose for his people is “edification and evangelism.” The former involves spiritual growth (increasingly coming to know God more) while the latter involves spiritual reproduction (making him known).

Knowing God involves experiential knowledge: knowing him as a person, not just knowing about him. Knowing Christ by placing our trust in him for forgiveness and new life sets us on a path of becoming more like Jesus—a growth process that is only complete when we join him in heaven.

Jesus himself was clear about this universal purpose. In his high priestly prayer, on the night of his betrayal and arrest in Jerusalem, Jesus prayed about his disciples coming to know the Father through himself: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Again, from this verse, we see that knowing God is not merely propositional and theological but personal and devotional.

The greatest treasure a person can own is increasing intimacy with the living Lord of all creation. Although this should be our highest ambition, many believers give their hearts to the quest for lesser goods and boast and delight in things that are destined to perish.

This path of knowing God involves fullness of life and joy, but it also entails identifying with Christ’s sufferings and death (Philippians 3:10). As Paul says in Romans 8:28, somehow God can use “all things” in our lives—the good and bad, even death itself—to enact his plan for our lives. Although we may not ever see or fully understand how all these things are working together, we can be assured that God is working out his universal purpose, for us as individuals and for his church, to lead more and more people to know his Son and be conformed to his image.

Spiritual reproduction is the second part of our universal purpose as believers. When we are born again and become a “new creature” in Christ (John 3:3­8; 2 Corinthians 5:17), we almost instinctively want to share our newfound faith with others. (Unfortunately, this impulse can wear off with time because of human forge fulness and disobedience; God is always urging us to return to that state of first love.)

A precondition for reproduction is, generally speaking, health: physical health for physical reproduction and spiritual health for spiritual reproduction. The healthier we are, the more successful we will be at reproduction—and the healthier our offspring will tend to be.

We cannot give away to others what we do not ourselves possess. The more we know Christ ourselves, the easier it will be to introduce and manifest him to others. Therefore, being in Christ must always precede doing for Christ. Put another way, intimacy should animate activity, including evangelistic activity. Too often we reverse this order, hoping our activities will generate a closer relationship with God. Instead, our activities suffer. We rely less on God and may even experience burnout. How do we make Christ known to others? First, we tell them the good news of the gospel of Christ through both verbal and nonverbal actions. The gospel is based on a set of propositions, which Paul outlines clearly: Christ died for our sins according to the Old Testament, he was buried, he was raised from the dead on the third day, and he was seen by many witnesses, including Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3­8). Evangelism has multiple stages. Many of us immediately go to the final stage—the point of conversion. But stages of preevangelism (loving and serving others) are just as critical. Before the harvest come the less­ glamorous steps of cultivating the soil, sowing seeds, weeding, and watering. Like farming or gardening, evangelism is a process, not a single event, and the results are ultimately up to God, not us (1 Corinthians 3:7). When a new convert is born, spiritual reproduction isn’t over; it just takes a new form—edification. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not merely converts. Thus, conversion is only the beginning. Making Christ known also involves teaching and training. It entails modeling life in Christ for fellow believers, especially younger ones (in terms of spiritual age), by manifesting the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. We can teach, love, serve, admonish, share generously, and establish mentor­ protégé relationships. In short, we can do for others what Christ did for his twelve disciples during the three years he was with them.

To summarize, God’s universal purpose for the church prepares his people (that is, his disciples) for his ultimate purpose for humanity: to bring him glory and enjoy him forever (as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it). As we come to know God more intimately and make him known to others, we prepare to dwell with him and magnify his name for all eternity—that is, to proclaim his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9).

Unique purpose. God’s unique purpose for individual Christians is  the third component. This is the way a believer manifests God’s universal purpose in a way that only that person can—through the unique prism of his or her personality and background.

Our unique purpose is not something we come up with out of thin air. Rather, it’s given to us by God; it’s not something we devise but something we discover.

At the same time we often have to work to understand and articulate our purpose. For some of us this process will be more deductive, while for others it will be more revelatory (even a vision from God). For some it will look more impressive and history­ making (as for the list of biblical examples at the beginning of this chapter), but we should remember that any life lived for his glory is impressive—even if it doesn’t make headlines in human history.

A Community Context

It is the responsibility of every follower of Christ to embrace both his or her unique purpose and the two­part universal purpose that unique purpose stems from—never losing sight of that larger mandate on all believers. Following Jesus is not a venture for a lone ranger. Yes, faith is personal, but it is also corporate. Our individual purposes are inextricably tied to the universal purpose of Christ’s body, which is called to obey its Head, Christ himself (Colossians 1:18; 2:19).

Paul reminds us, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as also you were called in one hope that belongs to your call” (Ephesians 4:4); in this body, every single part has a role—a special place. The health and growth of the church depend on “each part . . . working properly” (Ephesians 4:16). When one part fails to do its job, the rest of the body suffers.

We should never separate ourselves from this community context when we are considering our unique purpose. Our purpose is not merely for our own fulfillment or enjoyment—it’s for the building up, strengthening, and equipping of the whole body of Christ, whose members collectively reflect Him and His love to the world. In other words, the body gathered (edification) empowers the body scattered (evangelism).

Mentoring, counseling, pastoring, coaching, (role) modeling, and friendships are often the tools God uses to help us recalibrate and to help us understand and fulfill our unique purpose. Other people can help point us to where God has gifted us, and they can also help steer us away from pursuits that don’t suit us. In addition, God uses his people not just individually but collectively. Our purposes intersect and complement one another; we can’t fulfill our individual purpose without other people. When we work in tandem, the result is greater than the sum of the parts.

This dynamic is in play in the words you’re reading now. Although both of us are writers, Ken is the primary teacher and expert; I (Jenny) edit, synthesize, and build on Ken’s ideas. Ken is usually the theorizer, while I’m always looking for the so what? for our readers. Put both of our heads together and the final product is better than if just one of us worked on this book.

Recalibrating

Discovering your unique purpose can be exciting and fulfilling. In this pursuit you will be most rewarded—with satisfaction that doesn’t fade—when your primary aim is pleasing God (by knowing Christ and making him known).

A prophet once rebuked the foolish King Asa of Judah, saying, “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chron­ icles 16:9 NASB). God makes his purpose clear to those whose heart is completely his. “The Lord confides in those who fear him” (Psalm 25:14 NIV). Before asking, What’s my unique purpose? we do well to dwell on the prerequisite question, Does God have all of my heart? (Is pleasing him my goal above all else?)

Commitment precedes knowledge. When we’re all in, willing to risk what we need to risk of earthly possessions and status, we are ready to launch “a prayerful process of discovery that involves a thoughtful assessment of what God has gifted, called, and equipped you to do.”

As an exercise in recalibration, read and reflect on Psalm 145. You can conclude your reflection time with this or your own prayer:

Lord, help me to know you have created me for a purpose, you love me, and you want to use me to proclaim your name and goodness throughout the world and down through the generations. You will establish the work of my hands when I submit it to you—this is my legacy. May I never take for granted a single day in which you’ve given me life and breath, and may you give me the grace to respond to your loving overtures and guidance with joyful obedience and trust. Amen.

For further reading: Recalibrate Your Life: Navigating Transitions with Purpose and Hope by Dr. Ken Boa

Finding Your Purpose

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