"How to find your purpose in life."
To title an article or blog post offering such advice seems arrogant. How can it be possible for a total stranger to offer advice that can help you to answer, perhaps, the deepest set of questions you may be asking yourself:
- Why am I on earth?
- What was I meant to do?
- What is the meaning of life?
- What do I want to do with my life?
These might seem like #FirstWorldProblems, and for many of us, we're in a privileged position to be able to search for answers to these questions.
Their privilege, however, doesn't make these questions trivial. These questions and the answers we come up with do matter.
The earlier you discover your "purpose" and the clearer that purpose, the greater the satisfaction, fulfillment, and meaning you will have in your life.
Your "life's purpose" is the "True North" for deciding on how you spend your time, for making choices both big and small, for finding peace in your current circumstances, for seeing God's hand throughout your life.
Yet, for many people, that "True North" is unclear, shifting, fuzzy, or non-existent. And it results in an aimless and meandering life.
Some could argue that there's supposed to be joy in the search and the wandering. That life is about the wandering.
I would argue that such a "searching" life is less like a pleasant, leisurely stroll through the park, and more like being lost while trying to find one's way home.
The longer one feels lost, the less pleasant the journey is. The more anxious one becomes for missing out on the treasures and pleasures of being at the place your soul calls you towards.
If my young daughters were wandering, lost, trying to find me, her father, with no sense of direction, I don't believe they would have much fun.
For many of us, as adults, a similar search continues. Without the direction that comes from knowing our life's purpose, we can feel as if we're wandering, yet never reaching "home."
That yearning will never truly go away. I believe that all of us desire to arrive home, to be with our Father, to return enter the Kingdom. That feeling won't be fulfilled till, through grace, we are with Christ.
But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't gain clarity in our purpose for life on earth. In fact, I believe this eternal, heavenly destination through the Gospel, should not only inform what our purpose is, but give it greater urgency and importance.
The Battle For Your Compass and True North
Many forces are competing to define what your purpose in life is.
Do not be deceived: whether this force is a corporation, an individual, a cultural norm -- whoever defines your purpose in life can control and command your time, money, and emotions to achieve their agenda.
What company wouldn't want you to believe that your life purpose is to advance its own corporate mission and the high-performance initiatives created to fulfill their business objectives?
Even if you have no purpose at all, you can be more likely to be led in a given, arbitrary direction. Perhaps you would follow with less conviction and fervor because of your purposelessness. But because you don't have a clear direction, any suggestion seems as good as the next, and down you go along the path they have laid out before you.
The best defense is good offense: to clearly define your purpose in life.
The Trap Most Christians Fall Into Finding One's Purpose In Life
Here's the funny thing (especially if you are a Christian):
Christians are often led to believe that, as a result of being a Christian, they already have a purpose. So if asked, "What is your purpose in life?" they may provide a stock answer: "To serve God," or "to love God," or "to be whom God created me to be."
These statements are both good and true.
But they are also so vague and unclear that stopping at this point can still leave someone feeling directionless.
The irony is that, as Christians, we should live a "purpose driven life." In Christ, we have a driving motivator and worthy destination.
Yet, many Christians aren't any more clear on why they are here on earth than those who do not share this same belief. In fact, I would argue that many unbelievers have greater clarity.
In part, that's because those who aren't Christian have more freedom to believe their purpose is something like the following: "to follow my bliss," "to do what I want," or "to be my best self."
Most Christians recognize that these aspirations aren't directionally correct. But they often don't have a clear alternative.
Yet, because they know they should have a clear purpose, a Christian may be afraid to share this absence of clarity with others. Many might be rightly timid about being reproached for not having a purpose, so they retreat to vague, spiritual hand-waving.
Meanwhile, their soul genuinely and understandably yearns for greater clarity.
Now, if an answer such as "to live as the Spirit leads me" or any of the other answers does give you the clarity to apply your purpose as part of your daily life, then more power to you. Then you should continue to use that as your purpose and experience God's fruit.
But I believe that for many others, that won't give them the clarity of purpose to truly be salt of the earth.
Three Questions to Help Evaluate and Define Your Purpose
1. Can you explain why you should live your purpose?
In other words, can you answer the question: "Why you?"
This question asks for greater specificity around your purpose, and in doing so, it takes the legs out from very generic statements like, "to serve God" or "to find my own bliss." After all, those could apply to anyone.
Those two statements, even if they are true and sufficient for you, don't really get at the answer to "Why you?"
The "Why you?" question begins to pose whether you are a random creature in a vast universe. Or whether you were formed and designed by a God deeply aware of you as an individual.
I believe that, even if you don't and can't know exactly what God's purpose for your life is, asking the question and seeking the answer will lead to a greater intimacy with God.
2. Can you describe how your "why" advances the Gospel?
It is possible for two people to have the same, specific purpose in life. But one will be able to tell the "deeper" story of how that purpose reflects the Gospel, and one will not.
That reflection, the "purpose behind the purpose" is what can give true meaning and depth in life. It can power you through the struggles and uncertainty.
How can a purpose "reflect" the Gospel?
I describe these in more depth later, but the "mad-libs" version would be three ways:
- Because of [fill your encounter with Christ], I now [describe your purpose].
- By living out my purpose of [fill in here], I am reaching people in a way that can lead to talking about the Gospel with them.
- By [fill your purpose], I reflect the truth of the Gospel, our need for a savior, and the power of grace, alone, restoring others to God.
Each of these are very similar, but allow for some nuances in how to reach this story, which I talk about elsewhere.
3. Can you succinctly describe "how" you can live out your purpose?
This piggy-backs on #2, and gets more in the "hands and feet" aspects of living out your purpose.
The reason I believe this is important is it helps clarify purpose isn't a "state of being." It is a "reason and manner of doing."
I read (and I want to do more research to validate this) that during the early church, a faction preferred a less "laborious" form of worship. This despite the following:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
(1 Corinthians 15:58)
Instead, they wanted a more meditative life away from the labor.
Meditation isn't wrong or bad as part of spiritual living. But it seems hard that can be the primary calling. Even Trappist monks, who are living secluded, meditative lives, see their work in entrepreneurship as a form of labor to fulfill God's calling.
So I believe it's pretty clear that there is some "work" involved when following Christ. "Work" is a pretty broad topic and people express this in their own ways, but there is definitely a clear "how" that comes with living a purpose.
Without it, following Christ and living out your purpose could become so hyper-spiritualized, it only takes place when you're in church. And life doesn't just happen when at church.
How To Find Your "Life Purpose"
When one has a purpose that explains "Why you," "Why Christ," and "How" -- then one has the pillar for a foundation to their story.
But...how do you get there?
The mistake most people make is they look around at the things they do and live; they look "within" and try to do "soul searching," or they look to others to follow and mimic.
All of these are, in the end, misdirections.
The real truth can be found in Scripture.
Specifically, scripture describing spiritual gifts.
Spiritual gifts are the God-given DNA given to every believer to, in part, help them mature in Christ and serve others in the body.
Given that there's a clear purpose behind the gifts, and each one of us has a gift or set of gifts, this is the place to start that most people miss.
Yet understanding and expressing your spiritual gifts holds the key to living a purposeful life.
The challenge is many people try to figure out what they are supposed to do (their purpose) without understanding how they are designed (in part, their gifts).
Do gifts give the entire picture of who you are?
Of course not.
But do they give far more coloring in who you are, where you are strong, than trying to second guess yourself or imitate others?
Once you know better how you were designed and equipped, then you can begin to define the "how" based on the tools and gifts God has given you.
The "what" actually is already known: to edify the body and advance the Gospel.
What I like about this approach is it narrows and gives direction to your purpose. In that constraint, however, you can find greater freedom. You are no more in problem solving mode of asking, "how" instead of "why" or "what" questions.
Those are hard, and can lead to existential rat-holes.
The "how" is also something that evolves over time.
But having a "True North" and knowing how you were designed for this shared, common purpose now gives you the direction to explore the "how."