Arnold M Patent, motivational speaker and writer of such works as Principles in Practice and You Can Have It All, once said, “There is no more important step you can take than to define your life’s purpose. It develops your sense of belonging to our universe.”
What truly moves a person and how they can turn that passion into a fulfilling mission in life? Everyone’s different, but there are some common strategies that can lead each person to their unique goal. Here are some key questions to ask oneself.
One thing to consider is to think back to our childhood and remember what we enjoyed doing the most. Also, what was our favorite subject in grade school? A sense of purpose comes from within and isn’t imposed or chosen from outside. Your purpose may be your livelihood, or it may have nothing to do with how you make a living. Your purpose may be a simple one, like making sure being someone who can be trusted in every situation.
Another thing to think about is who did you admire most growing up. It doesn’t have to be some famous person, but a teacher, a parent, a pastor, the local police officer. Don’t try to compare yourself to them, just remember what characteristics, attitude, and personality traits made you admire them the most. So instead of trying to be like them, learn from them, but be you.
Then we must all know what our core values and beliefs are. But even more important, is whether or not we are convinced that we believe them unconditionally. Then start making a list of other values we think are important. That can include everything from integrity to friendship, faith to humor, patience to spontaneity. Then rank each on a scale of priorities from 1 to 10. All values are good, but understanding which are the most important to us will help us develop our conscientiousness of what gives meaning to our lives. I told young people who came to the Philippines for mission training that they shouldn’t strive to be successful but yearn to be significant. Being successful is focused on you, being significant is focused on others.
To this, we must add those things that touch us most deeply. Then think of how we can help those causes. For instance, when you watch the news, what makes you happy and what gets you most upset? Maybe it’s the stories of child abuse or the parents working three jobs who still can’t pay their bills. Maybe it’s the lack of vaccines in underdeveloped countries that could stem the spread of preventable diseases. At first, you may not feel that you have the finances to get involved. But what about time? And it may not require a drive across town, only a phone call or an email.
We must also never forget what goals we have set for ourselves. How often do you check to see your progress? Are you getting closer to some but further away from others? You know you can’t do them all at once, so rate them from most important on down. Go after one. Once you achieve that then you’ll have one less to worry about. And if you see someone who has already accomplished that goal, ask them for advice on how you might achieve your goal as well.
And finally, think of what you want to be remembered about most. Did you really make a contribution to the world around you? If so, how significant is what you gave or what you did in making a change? Getting focused now will have a great impact on not only where you are headed, but where you’ll end up. As you reexamine your goals and contributions to your family, religious family, and community, it won’t necessarily be about time or money but whether or not you made a difference.
Included in all the resources we have to help guide us in defining our life’s purpose, the Bible has a lot to say. King Solomon offers us a wonderful starting point to consider: “There is a special time for everything. There is a time for everything that happens under heaven. There is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pick what is planted. There is a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up. There is a time to cry, and a time to laugh; a time to have sorrow, and a time to dance. There is a time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to kiss, and a time to turn from kissing. There is a time to try to find, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away. There is a time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; a time to be quiet, and a time to speak. There is a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”1
The key here is to recognize when the right time comes for these things and then to act on them. But there is another aspect. Not only should we be conscious of what our hands can do to make a difference in others, but what God’s hands can do to make a difference in us. As Isaiah the prophet confessed to God: “O Lord, You are the One who made us. We are the mere clay, and You are our potter. All of us are the work of Your hand.”2 So it’s not just what you make out of yourself, but what God can make out of you that really counts.
It all starts with listening to what God has already said. The Prophet Micah says: “O man, He has told you what is good. What does the Lord ask of you but to do what is fair and to love kindness, and to walk without pride with your God?”3 So how do we do what is best for others, not just ourselves? Jesus had the perfect recipe: Don’t get all caught up trying to get rich. What you don’t spend on treasure while you’re here, others will spend junk after you’re gone. And such things are not always safe, while you experience gains you will also suffer loses. Instead, work on depositing riches in heaven where they will not deteriorate or become rusty. People won’t be able to manipulate them to your disadvantage. For wherever you put what you treasure most, your heart will be there too.4
Jesus also said something that a lot of people find hard to understand. He told those who were listening to Him: “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own worries. The troubles we have right now are enough for one day.”5 This is just another way of saying, don’t start worrying about bridges you may have to cross until you reach them. It also implies that we shouldn’t get all uptight about what we might have to deal with and be detracted from what we need to deal with now. For some people, what they suspect might happen is already a reality for them and they act on it as though it will actually happen.
It also involves wanting things we really don’t need right now. If we were blessed with life only for the purpose of finding and hoarding as much as we could just in case there was a need, then that wouldn’t be much of a life.6 Living is best described as giving. Letting others be benefited by what we’ve earned, learned, and discerned.
The Apostle Paul put it so succinctly when he told the Roman believers, “We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are chosen to be a part of His plan.”7 So as Arnold Patent said, living includes defining our purpose in life. Am I here on earth just for myself or was I put here by God so He could use me to help others? Why did I go to school, study, train, and then go out and put to use what I learned if it was only to make me happy? That would be like a doctor, lawyer, mechanic, carpenter, etc., expecting to be paid for what they learned without ever having to put it into practice. So ask yourself this question: Am I where I should be, doing what I should be doing, in order to be a blessing to my Creator and His creation? Your answer will clearly show whether or not you understand your purpose in life. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
2 Isaiah 64:8
3 Micah 6:8
4 Matthew 6:19-21
5 Ibid. 6:33
6 See Luke 12:15
7 Romans 8:28