At one point or another, we all struggle to understand the meaning of life and more specifically our purpose. Leaders are no different. We all wrestle with questions like: Why am I here? What is the will of God and how do I find it? What should I be doing with my life? What is my purpose?
Here’s how I define purpose:
Purpose – the reasons for which you exist or were created.
Notice I wrote reasons, plural. That’s because I no longer believe we have just one purpose. But if you’re honest, your purpose sometimes (or often) feels like a pipe dream. You may wonder:
- Is it really possible to be happy at home, fulfilled in my work, and make a difference in the world?
- Can I really do what I am passionate about?
- Am I destined to have a job I hate just to pay the bills and wander aimlessly through life wondering if there might be something more?
- Have I missed my purpose?
- As for making a difference in the world, give me a break! I’m just trying to get to Friday so I can relax!
There Must Be More Than This, Right?
In early 2020, after nearly 20 years of ministry, I was struggling with some of those same questions. This was foreign to me. A bigger sense of purpose had guided me since my early twenties. The question started growing in my mind like a shadow, is this all there is to life? Reluctantly, I came to this realization:
I was not happy.
It’s not that there were no bright spots or things to be thankful for, but if I was honest, the overall feeling of happiness and fulfillment had been absent for quite some time.
It’s not that I don’t like being a pastor. I do, and I’m still doing it, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I wanted more. It’s been said, “I’ve never met a happy person who isn’t happy at work.” What we do for work makes up a huge part of our lives. Based on the assumption that we work 8 hours per day, five days per week, from the age of 18-65, that means we spend approximately one-third of the best years of our lives working! That’s 33%!
We are called to steward where we put one-third of anything, especially our time! Neglecting that would be a grave mistake. We are not human “doings” but rather human “beings.” That’s why it’s important to pay attention to how we feel about our work. I’m not proposing we make rash decisions when we aren’t feeling good about something, but rather that we are in tune with our feelings about work, talk to God and other people about it, and make decisions that are in line with His will. We must pay attention to the way He’s wired us, and yes, dare I say it, our desires too! You can’t live your life by your feelings and desires, but you had better pay attention to them!
Ask yourself this question: what makes me come alive?
One of the guiding quotes that led me into ministry in the first place was this quote by Howard Thurman,
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Just before Lent in February of 2020, my lack of fulfillment was causing enough discomfort that I decided to do a forty-day social media fast in order to tune out unnecessary noise and focus on my purpose. Social media has a tendency to cloud your soul and your thinking as you compare yourself to everyone’s highlight reel or bogs you down as you’re constantly bombarded with other people’s thoughts, problems, and streams of consciousness. As I tuned out the noise of social media, my soul felt unclogged, less heavy. After the forty days of Lent were up, I felt like I had made some headway, but I still wanted more clarity, and what began as a forty-day fast, morphed into a three-month purpose quest.
Is Happiness a Myth?
In early 2020, I had already decided to pursue a longtime dream of starting a leadership coaching business. Around that time, I was also helping a friend build out a new cohort to help people learn a new non-traditional paradigm for ministry focused on Disciple-making.
Starting a business and helping to build and launch this new cohort helped me realize I get energy from new things. Pioneering, innovating, creating, and launching new initiatives make me feel alive.
Somewhere in the midst of those things, I had an epiphany.
Lying in bed one night, I felt something I hadn’t felt in years – an overarching sense of happiness.
The BIG Surprise
What I found on my purpose quest surprised me. It wasn’t the big questions of life I was struggling with, it was the smaller ones like what should I do for work? But answering the BIG QUESTIONS of life allowed me to answer see the smaller ones with more clarity.
For years, I had chalked up my unhappiness to being a disciple of Jesus. He said we would experience tribulation. He said we would suffer. You know, the whole “take up your cross and follow me” thing? While I do believe there is a place for suffering and hardship that we in the West are often uncomfortable with, I also believe God wants us to be happy. I grew so much in those years and I wouldn’t trade them for anything, but after nearly 10 years of feeling like I was wading through peanut butter, I was weary in heart. Doesn’t the Bible also have a lot to say about joy? Furthermore, who wants to be a part of something that makes you miserable? I’m not talking about the “health and wealth” gospel. I’m talking about joyous Christian living. Some of my suffering was probably necessary for my growth and development, but if I’m honest, some of it was probably self-inflicted as I had embraced some unhelpful ways of thinking. And what I came to was this:
Suffering is a part of our journey with Christ, but it shouldn’t be the only part.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Rather than give you everything at once from my purpose quest, I’m going to give you one piece at a time, otherwise, you may be tempted to make this a formula. Doing that would short circuit a process that took many months of prayer and exploration.
My advice? Slow down. Let’s walk through this process together. Take time to read, think, and answer the questions at the end of each post. The best things in life take time. It’s like the difference between fast food and a good meal. A good meal takes preparation, time, and hard work, but the difference in taste is evident! As Oswald Chambers reminded us, God is into the process:
What is my vision of God’s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish— His purpose is the process itself.
The Purpose Roadmap
Over the next ten weeks or so, I want to share with you what I call The Purpose Roadmap. It’s what came out of my own search for purpose and meaning. Enjoy the journey.
Life is a journey, not a destination. (Lynn M. Hough)
Continue the Series
- Purpose Quest 1: Dealing with Your Daddy Issues
- Purpose Quest 2: You Are Not a Waste of Space
- Purpose Quest 3: Your Purpose Is Not a Mystery
- Purpose Quest 4: You’ve Found Your Purpose, Now What?
- Purpose Quest 5: Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts
- Purpose Quest 6: Passion Inspires Purpose
- Purpose Quest 7: You Are Great at Something
- Purpose Quest 8: You Are One-of-a-kind. Don’t Waste It!
- Purpose Quest 9: There Is Purpose In Your Pain
- Purpose Quest 10: Finding Your People
*Photo credit Markus Spiske via Unsplash