One of the biggest answers people look for in life is “What’s my purpose?” or “What’s God’s purpose for my life?” None of us want to feel like we are walking around without purpose, without doing something that matters, without leaving a legacy that is bigger than ourselves. We look to God for the answer, we pray for a sense of purpose. We look for direction and guidance. And we want to know that we are taking strides in the right direction toward the purpose He has set in place for us.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
God has a special way of giving us what we need when we need it. He doesn’t start us off in life with every tool in our backpack or every door wide open in front of us for us to pass through. Instead, He waits and provides us with each gift in its time. Certainly, He prepares us for what is ahead, but there is no way of knowing what those things are He’s preparing us for until we reach them. We have to take it one step at a time.
The Difficulty with Walking in God’s Purpose
The most difficult part of wanting to know our purpose in life is the not knowing. In fact, we all know somewhere deep down that it’s out of our control. We want God to show us exactly what He has for us in advance so we can make moves in our life accordingly, but that would push Him out of the equation and would leave it to us to make things happen. As humans, we thirst in our flesh for control. When it comes to fulfilling our purpose on earth, though, we are better off to trust God, because He is the one in control anyway. When we take things into our own hands, we tend to get things sideways.
On top of us wanting control, we also have a misunderstanding that our purpose is one simple thing. As we look across history at people’s lives and even at the people in our own lives, it looks a lot more like seasonal assignments than a single end-all-be-all purpose in our lives. God places us in different places in different seasons. There is no single answer to what our individual purpose is because it’s so multifaceted. God uses us for multiple purposes at any given time and at different points in our lives.
Fishes and Loaves
I heard the story of the fishes and loaves found in Matthew 14:13-21 preached in a new light back a few weeks ago and it has really stuck with me. That was one of the most stunning miracles Jesus performed because He took what seemed to be nothing and multiplied it over and over and over.
But what the preacher said a few weeks back that I had never thought about before is the way that the fishes and loaves were multiplied. It doesn’t say that Jesus said one prayer and boom, there in front of them was enough food for all the people. No. Instead, He told the disciples to break the bread and the fish and start handing it out.
And low and behold as they were handing out the fishes and the loaves, it continued to multiply. One handful at a time.
One Handful at a Time
You see, Jesus worked the miracle and worked the disciple’s faith one handful at a time. With each handful of food they handed out, God replenished and gave them what was needed for the next person. He provided for the miracle as it happened. He supplied the food along the way. He didn’t satisfy their faith by raining down quail and manna as He did with the Israelites in the desert. Instead, He stretched their faith and trust in Him by multiplying the food one handful at a time.
And at the end, there was enough for each of the disciples to eat their fill as well.
God could have done that miracle any way He pleased, but He chose to multiply one handful at a time. One step at a time. He caused the disciples to trust one handful at a time.
I imagine that at first, the disciples weren’t sure about it all. They handed out a handful of food, then the next, and were surprised. But I bet by the hundredth or so handful, they began to trust God. They realized He was in control, that He was providing, that they could let go of their worry and let Him take care of His people.
Purpose, Step by Step
And so it is with our purpose. God gives us what we need one handful at a time in life. At birth, He doesn’t give us a map of our lives and say go live it. That would diminish our need for Him. Instead, He provides for us at each step along the journey. He gives us His gifts and grows us in steps. He reveals what He has for us at each crossroads, not at the beginning of the journey.
If He will provide a meal for His people whom He loves, how much more will He provide direction? But as with the fishes and loaves, it must be in His timing.
And we must be patient and receive. Just as people who left the crowd to get their own food would have missed out on the miracle of God’s provision, if we go off hunting for our own path and purpose, we will miss what God has for us. If we will be faithful and trust Him, though, He will give us exactly what we need when we need it, one handful at a time.
Lamp Unto My Feet, Light Unto My Path
Another biblical illustration of this idea is the verse “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Back in Bible times long, long before streetlights were a thing, people used lamps when they needed to walk at night. Imagine pitch black dark, no light to be found on the darkest of nights. A lamp in the hands of a traveler has the power to illuminate his steps, but it will only light up the path a few feet in front of him. One step, two or three paces at the most.
God’s Word and the Holy Spirit are that light and lamp to our path. He illuminates the path at our feet, so we won’t wonder astray or stumble and fall, but He gives us enough to see just the next couple of steps.
Why We Need His Lamp instead of Full Illumination
Why? Well, imagine you are on that path in the darkest of nights. Do you really want to see all that’s ahead of you? Wouldn’t seeing everything that you have to face in front of you in the dark only frighten or overwhelm you? Would it not make the trip seem longer and more daunting? When all we know is what’s directly in front of us, we keep our focus, we keep our step firm, we don’t give way to fear because the next step is clear. And that’s all we need to know.
God knows the entire path. And He knows all the other paths people are walking. He knows where our path or purpose intersects with other people’s paths, and He knows how to time it all perfectly. We can trust Him to lead us one step at a time even when we feel like we’re in the dark. One step at a time will get us where He is leading us as long as we stay where His light is leading.
So how do we stay on the path toward God’s purpose for our lives?
1. Be okay not knowing your purpose
The first thing is to be okay not knowing your purpose. Both of the biblical references we just looked at give us encouragement that God’s in control. He knows the way. And because we know the One who knows, we can rest easy. You don’t have to have a big understanding of what your life is all about to keep moving forward and doing the right thing step by step. The truth is, even if we think we know our purpose, we probably are still only seeing a small glimpse of all that God is doing. He is working all things together and that includes the little decisions we make every day. Trust your life in His hands, and He will use it for His glory.
2. Do what’s in front of you right now
The best thing to do is the thing that’s in front of you right now. What has God placed in your life today? What opportunities are staring you in the face? Who has God brought into your life? Where has He stationed you? Whatever is in front of you right now is what God has placed there. Steward it well. Whether you feel like it’s a little or a lot, take care of what He has given you. There is no telling where today will lead you in the future. Sometimes we get so focused on trying to figure out the future, we neglect to live our life with excellence today in the areas God has already blessed us in. Do the work where you are in your life right now, and God will work on preparing the future for you. You can’t get to tomorrow if you don’t pass through today. You can’t get to the finish line if you don’t take all the steps in between. Start with what you’re faced with today. Take it one day, one step, one decision at a time, and trust God along the way.
3. Reflect on where you have been
One of the things that encourages me the most in understanding the concept of purpose is reflecting back on where I’ve been. There are so many decisions I made that had a greater impact than I ever could have imagined, and there are just as many things that I once thought were a huge deal that amounted to very little. Some of the simplest everyday things I did lead me to new places I couldn’t have expected. I can see where God used me without me even realizing He was. My purpose and the meaningful things I have done rarely ever have had to do with the moments I thought were a big deal in my life. The seemingly important things to the world hold little weight in eternity, but a single moment of love can make all the difference in the world. As I reflect on my life, I become more and more aware of just how much God is working all things together. He uses everything toward His end if we will let Him. We just have to be willing to give our lives over into His hands for Him to do His will with.
4. Follow God’s Peace
This is a big one for me, and it’s something I’ve shared about before on the blog. I make all of my decisions these days based primarily on what I have a peace about in my spirit. God has given us the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor, to guide us through our day to day lives. And one of the ways that the Holy Spirit speaks is through our peace. If you follow and pursue peace, you can be sure you will be walking in and towards God’s purpose for your life. He will never lead you to a place that leaves you unpeaceful. Afterall, He is the Prince of Peace. When we are walking in God’s plan and purpose for our lives, even when we don’t understand, we will have peace. In the midst of life and decision making, stop and get quiet for a moment. Listen within yourself without coming up with justifications. Really stop and listen to the Spirit inside. If there is peace there, you will know it. Where there is peace, there is purpose.
5. Live in joy in every season, praising Him in all things
No matter where you are in your life, seek joy, and, above all, praise Him no matter what. As you praise Him and lift Him up, He will be moving on your behalf and using your life for His glory. Really the most powerful thing we can do toward our purpose is give Him praise, because ultimately that is our greatest purpose of all. If God and giving Him glory is not the end goal of all you do, then you won’t be walking in purpose. Set your eyes on Him and trust Him to mold your life for the purposes He created you for.
All of this talk of purpose makes me think of the song by Hillsong Worship, New Wine. I’ve linked the YouTube video below for you to listen to, and I really recommend just soaking it in and making it the song of your heart. The chorus says “Make me a vessel, make me and offering, make me whatever You want me to be. I came here with nothing but all You have given me. Jesus, bring new wine out of me.”
It’s a song of surrender. It’s a song that says, “Here I am, send me” just as Isaiah did so many years ago (Isaiah 6:8). Live your life in surrender to Him, and He will use your life for His glory. And in the end, that is the greatest purpose of all.
Let go of your own will, your own plans, and your own self-glorification. It’s not an easy thing to do, and even when we think we’ve done it, there are new levels of surrender. And it is there in that surrender that our purpose is fulfilled – and not our purpose, but His.