Saturday, 26 August 2017

How can I find God's purpose for my life?

He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

Let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25

When I was a teenage Christian one of the things we were taught was that “God has a purpose for your life”. I never had any reason to doubt this, and it was by following this conviction that my life took on the shape it did, and which I have never regretted.

It’s a belief that is supported by various Bible passages. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, was told by God: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5).

Paul likewise believed that God “set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace… so that I might preach him among the gentiles…” (Galatians 1:15).

You could say of course that people like Jeremiah and Paul were special cases – people destined by God to change the course of history. It just isn’t like that for most of us!

But I don’t think that’s right. Each of us individually is a child of God, and it makes sense to think that our Father who loves us has some role for us to fulfil – call it a “vocation” or a “calling” if you like – even if it’s a lot less significant than for the great figures of the Bible and of church history.

If so, it raises the question: Yes, but how do I find God’s will for me? And then: What happens if I miss it? Suppose I go wrong? Does that mean I make a complete shipwreck of my whole life? (I heard once of a man who became convinced that God had called him to be a missionary when he was young, and he had failed to respond; this gnawed away at him as the years went by.)

These are genuine questions, and they can cause sensitive Christians real anxiety.

In a nutshell, we have to walk a narrow line between believing (a) that, yes, God has a purpose for our lives, but (b) that finding it isn’t something we should allow to weigh us down.

So how can we do this?

My suggestion would be: If you want to find God’s purpose for your life, don’t go searching for it. Certainly, pray from time to time that God will lead you in the way he wants you to go; but don’t get stewed up about it.

In a sense every Christian has the same calling: to walk with God minute by minute and day by day; to get up every morning and say to ourselves, Right, how can I best do God’s will today? What does it mean today to live a Christ-centred, Spirit-filled life?

If we do this, what serious risk can there be that he won’t lead us in things both small and big? Why shouldn’t he? Why wouldn’t he? Doesn’t he love us? If you’re walking hand-in-hand with someone, you’re not going to be separated from them. And isn’t the Christian life in essence a matter of walking hand-in-hand with God?

And then – when the day comes for the big decisions that we all have to make from time to time, we can quietly trust that through prayer, reflection and talking to trusted friends, God’s will will become clear.

The fact is that throughout two thousand years of the church, the majority of Christians simply haven’t had the luxury of being able to “find God’s purpose” for their lives. Why? Because they had no say in the matter.

Suppose you were born in New Testament days to a couple of slaves in a Roman household? If you were lucky you might be reasonably well treated; but the fact is that you were in effect a “living tool”, entirely at the disposal of your master.

Or if you were born into the Dalit (“Untouchable”) people today in India. Very likely your life would consist of nothing but menial and even degrading jobs, with little chance of escape.

Or simply in some remote community in an undeveloped country with few educational opportunities and little health-care. (I don’t suppose they talk much about “career opportunities” and “job satisfaction” in places like that, do they?) If you are a Christian there, what more is there to do than aim to live each day to the glory of God? What greater “purpose” or “meaning” or “calling” can you expect?

Summing it up: If we make it our business to focus on the little, everyday things, we can trust our Father in heaven to take care of the big picture.

Oh, and if we do sometimes lose our way – as, of course, we all do – then we can trust that God is well able to weave afresh the damaged fabric of our lives.

He is infinitely adaptable; he is wonderfully versatile.

Father, thank you for your servant Enoch, who “walked with God.” Please help me to do the same, in matters both great and small, and so to find a true meaning for my life. Amen.

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