I was talking with a friend recently about “finding our life’s purpose in God.”
That’s a tricky one, isn’t it? We want to know what our calling is for, so we can spend our energy where it’s useful, and where it’s not. And fairly often, for example when we read the parables of the talents or the minas, we feel a real urgency about the topic. Sometimes, it feels like we’re just bumbling around in the fog, instead of actually changing the world. And all of us, whether we admit it or not, want to have an impact on the world.
I’ve been battering this topic around rather a lot. I grew up reading stories like God’s Smuggler
, where the heroes heard God say, “Go do this!” and they went and did it, and there were miracles. I want to be that guy: the one that gets to walk confidently in God’s leading and in God’s miraculous provision.
I know other folks who have had a prophetic word that’s way bigger than them, or a vision of something big and effective, or just a longing for “more” in a particular area of working with God.
We want God to make that happen. Here’s the problem: I’m not sure that’s a realistic expectation.
I’ve watched folks around me for some decades as they matured in Christ, and I think I’ve discovered some trends. Obviously, there are some folks who are not really attentive to their purpose in God; they just bumble around in one degree of contentment or another, attending conferences, complaining about difficult things, consuming resources and not really impacting the world around them. I’m not talking about them today.
But among those of us who are concerned for what God is planning for us, I think I see three broad categories:
a) Servants: These are the ones to whom God gives a good roadmap, and leads them along the way to the end of the line, sometimes step-by-step. These people often have amazing stories to tell of God’s leading.
Frankly, I suspect that some of these folks are asking out of immaturity (servants ask permission, sons not so much). But some seem to be mature in it, though I myself don’t see many of mature saints in this category.
b) Sons: These people have a rough idea of their calling, and they know their Father, so they just run off and do the things that are consistent with that calling. Most of the time, they learn more about their calling along the way.
The apostle Paul was in this category. Occasionally, God would give him a dream (“Go there!”), but most of the time, he just went. And he planted churches everywhere he went, because that’s who he is. I know an apostle who’s planted churches and Bible schools on three contents, and he says that God hasn’t told him to start any of them. That’s just his calling, and so he’s started hundreds of churches and dozens of schools by now, just being who God made him to be.
c) Useful: There are a lot of folks who would have a terrible time describing their calling, but instead are big on “do what’s right in front of you.” Is there a need to meet? Then meet that need! There are ALWAYS needs right in front of us; which ones we see, which ones we’re drawn to, may be a clue to our calling, but knowing the calling is less important than just “taking care of business” with the things around us. These people make “bumbling around in the fog” a means to being effective in ministry!
I’ve spent decades as one of these people, and it has seemed to work out pretty well. Over the course of meeting those needs right in front of me, I’ve discovered that the needs that I see, the needs that I’m most comfortable meeting, fit into categories, so I’ve moved from a category c) guy to a category b) guy, just by virtue of continually bumbling along.
It’s easy to pooh-pooh the Bumbling Around Method of Finding Your Calling. A lot of us want the kind of direction from God that we’re used to with the matters of this world: a clear email, or an owner’s manual, or even a quick-start guide. We want clear, easy-to-follow directions. Bumbling around in the fog is uncomfortable, darn it!
But God doesn’t very often do that. Even his specific instructions to Paul (Acts 9) were pretty fuzzy: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” That’s pretty vague.
Sometimes God gives us a vision or an understanding of something really cool, really mature, and very often it’s a lot of our heart’s desires. For me, it involved Brother Andrew and God’s Smuggler, and it involved Corrie Ten Boom and The Hiding Place. For others, he speaks to them, like he did with Paul, about the end game: This is who you’ll be when we’re all done. Sometimes it’s just a vision or a dream, or a longing that’s hard to get rid of.
And we want God to wave his magic wand and make that happen. Or at the very least, to make the Treasure Map appear, with the great big X that marks the spot.
Yeah, no. I’ve never once - not in my life, not in the life of anyone I’ve ever known or heard about, and not in the life of anyone in Scripture - ever seen God wave his wand and make people into the thing they see in the vision, the experience. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone for whom God gave them any Quick Start guide that was more than that initial prophecy or vision or longing.
Even the apostle Paul! God knocked him off his ass and blinded him for 3 days, but then he took him into the wilderness for perhaps as many as seventeen years, where he trained and mentored him.
He gives the glimpse (prophetic word, vision, longing, whatever) of the end of the process for three key reasons that I can tell about:
1) That glimpse is a target, it’s to help us make choices to aim at that end result, rather than aiming for something that’s not consistent with the way he’s built and accessorized our lives. For example, my glimpse, my longing, is always about equipping saints, and that helps me not try to focus my life on interpreting tongues or mercy ministries. Those are important and valuable, and they are not my area of calling.
2) It’s to give hope: this is where he’ll take you, provided that you’ll walk with him. I’m of the opinion that hope is under-valued in our world today. Some years ago, God spoke to me about a “worldwide ministry of teaching about the Kingdom of God.” The internet had not even been invented then, so it was hard to imagine a worldwide influence, but the hope of being able to influence saints in favor of participating in God’s Kingdom kept me moving through some times where it would have been easy to crawl home and hide under a rock. (“I can’t do that, there’s this vision out there for me!”)
That illustrates a key principle: what the end result looks like will probably be remarkably different than what we thought it would look like, what we still think it should look like. I think God does that on purpose, because if we saw the end result too clearly, we'd likely rely on our own skills to get there, rather than relying on walking with him to get there.
3) I think he’s just so excited about our future that he just wants to share it with you! Like any good daddy, he’s terrifically excited about sharing his secrets with his kids, particularly the kids that are going to grow up and inherit the family business.
Paul says, in Romans, “... whatever is not from faith is sin.” So if God just handed us the Complete Guide to Your Eventual Ministry Once You’ve Grown Into Maturity, we wouldn’t need it. And we might not even grow into maturity. If we saw our path to that goal so clearly that we knew every step of the process, then our faith would be superfluous; we’d walking by sight, not by faith.
And “Faith,” it has been said, “is spelled R-I-S-K.”
The process of getting from where we are now to the place of mature ministry of our vision or prophecy will involve risk. It will involve asking ourselves, “Did God really say that?” and “Is God really leading me in this direction?” And every step of the way - whether we get it right or get it wrong - is moving us to that goal, as long as our heart is set on following Him!
Besides, once we’ve read the last book of the Bible, we get a good understanding of how important it is (to Father and to ourselves) to be an “Overcomer.” And how shall we ever become overcomers if we don’t have doubts, questions, obstacles, enemies to overcome?
Maybe bumbling around in the fog isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe that’s the best way, the fastest way, to reach our goal after all.
Onward! Through the fog!