Last year I started a mini-series on finding your purpose. It’s something I’ve found that people wrestle with no matter what stage of life they are in. Sometimes we simply don’t know; sometimes we feel stuck; sometimes we have been side-tracked. In this series I’ve talked about paying attention, messing it up, where purpose comes from and waiting in the dark. Many people have written on life plans, personal goals and personal mission statements. But I wondered, how did Paul come up with his personal mission statement? I think the more accurate question is how did God show Paul what his purpose was? How did he know? And the pressing question for me is how will I know?
God used one of His followers to speak the truth to Paul. In Acts 9:10, we meet Ananias who was a disciple living in Damascus. The Lord spoke to him in a vision. He called his name and Ananias answered, “Here I am, Lord.” (That’s what a Princess says when the King calls.) Notice that Ananias was still afraid to go see this man who was known for throwing Christians in jail and killing them. But he didn’t let his fear make the decision; his faith compelled him to obey the Lord in spite of his fear.
It’s interesting that the Lord tells Ananias Paul’s purpose before he even tells Paul. The Lord said, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15 ESV) Paul’s purpose was to carry the name of Christ to Gentiles, kings and Jews and to suffer for the sake of Jesus. Paul comes out of the three days of darkness to a stranger telling him these things. I’m sure it felt like a u-turn to Paul, but from God’s perspective, Paul was exactly where he needed to be.
After his conversion, Paul was still himself. He still had all the knowledge of the Jewish law and the Old Testament that had been poured into him as a child. He still had all the zeal and passion that God had built into his personality. But now that zeal and passion were being used to build the church instead of destroy it. God didn’t change Paul’s personality or his life experiences. Rather when Paul looked back at his life, he could see how God had knit him together in his mother’s womb for such a purpose. God has put things in your personality and life experiences that will be part of your purpose too. (Psalm 139:13-16)
What will it take for you to come out of the dark? What will help you know what your purpose is? Relationships. God uses relationships and people to get you where he needs you to be. God has put people around you to help you see your gifts and talents. Your gifts and talents were meant to be used in the context of community, not in the context of you sitting alone in your basement. Now I have to warn you that relationships with other imperfect, broken people get messy. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Paul was never promised easy. In fact, suffering was also a part of his purpose. Paul also knew that he was not called to please men, but to only please God. He chose to trust a the loving Father and sought to please only him. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the gospel he preached was the true gospel. He lived out his purpose with courage and boldness.
I encourage you to ask your Princess friends to help you understand your purpose. Recently I gave my Women’s Connection leaders an opportunity to take a spiritual gifts inventory so that they could understand how God had gifted them to serve in the context of community. One of the women said that as she took the test, most of it was what she expected and lined up with how she felt she was gifted. But there was one that she wasn’t so sure about: the gift of wisdom and discernment. She asked God to confirm it if it was true. The next day she was talking with a friend on the phone and they discussed some serious things that were happening in her friend’s life. At the end of the conversation, the friend said, “I knew you were the right person to call. You always have a lot of wisdom.” God had answered her question. Through her relationship with her friend, she was able to embrace the gift the God had given her.
My closest friends are also the ones who encourage me to press on in my purpose. They won’t let me give up or settle for something less. They stand with me against the Enemy who wants to get me sidetracked and off course. I took a break from teaching a weekly Bible study, so that I could focus on the mission God gave me to write a book. Early on I realized that it would be difficult because I wasn’t getting the weekly encouragement and pats on the back I was used to, and quite honestly, thrived on. I asked my friends to stand with me in prayer and to help keep me focused. They have been my biggest cheerleaders and have encouraged me to press on even when I want to give up. My chief Ananias has been my husband. He held my feet to the fire, and he wouldn’t let me give up or find the easy way out. He is beside me fighting for the dreams God has given to me. I love my warrior friend! Our gifts cannot be used to their full potential outside of relationship and community.
What community has God placed you in? What gifts, talents, and experiences has he given to you? What relationships has he put you in? You may even find a Princess friend (or your husband) and ask what gifts they see that God has given you. You might be surprised at what they say.