“God has a plan for you.”
If you’re a Christian or you know a Christian, you’ve probably heard that phrase (or some variation of it) dozens of times, if not hundreds. Maybe you’ve heard it when everything was going wrong and somebody was trying to give you hope. Perhaps in a time of frustration or devastation, somebody even quoted a popular Bible verse to you. Or maybe you’re just dealing with the mundane mediocrity of everyday life, working at a job that you don’t think is making a difference, and you’re wondering if there’s something bigger, greater.
The problem many of us face is trying to figure out what our life’s plan is. Those that are Christians are sometimes okay with “trusting” God when they know what’s going to happen (or at least they think they know) – but when they don’t have the full picture, when they have no idea what God is up to, that’s when it’s difficult.
The word for that is faith, and it’s really tough. It’s much harder than you would expect with how much people talk about it. But I think there are some practical steps everyone can take to exercise it as they try to figure out that daunting task of “what to do with my life.” And if you’re a Christian or curious about Christianity, there’s that added element of “what does God want me to do with my life?”
Let’s assume you’re at least the second and look at three things you can do.
1. Try different things
Get out there. Do something different. Take a chance. By trying new things you can figure out where your passion is. Find the intersection of what you’re good at and what you care about. That’s going to go a long way in helping you find your purpose.
Try this: Make a list of things you’re good at; now make a list of things you care about. Circle places where the two intersect.
Love kids and are good at music? Get involved with kids doing music at church. Or volunteer to play guitar at the local Children’s hospital. Love people and are great at facilitating discussion? Lead a small group at your church. Or maybe find an ESL group that needs group leaders.
Get out there. Do something different. Take a chance.
I’d encourage you to read the book “S.H.A.P.E.” by Eric Rees to help you figure some of this out. In order to know what God is calling you to do, you have to understand who He has made you to be.
2. Think about what makes you mad
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” In other words, figure out what you are willing to die for, and live for that purpose.
God doesn’t need men and women to make a difference in this world. He’s God. He could blink and change everything. But God has chosen to work through people like you and me to help bring restoration.
I don’t know why God has chosen to work through us, imperfect and broken as we are, but He is very clear about it. What areas of brokenness in this world are you simply not willing to ignore?
Does social injustice make you mad? Are you angry about kids not having a support network? Domestic violence? Refugee camps? Sex trafficking?
Throw yourself into bringing the restoration and redemption of Jesus into those areas. You have one life. If you can use it to make a difference on one issue, what will it be? Bill Hybels calls this “Holy discontent.” You find something that makes you so upset that you simply won’t go on without doing something about it.
Our natural reaction is to look away from places of pain and hurt. Instead of looking away, start to research and explore places of pain to see where you simply have to make a difference.
3. Do what makes sense
The book of Proverbs tells us that we all make our plans, but the Lord directs our steps. In other words, get moving, and God will get you where He wants you to be.
If you go through the first two steps and feel like you have several options, and don’t feel that God is clearly directing you to choose one of them, then start with the one that seems to make the most sense.
We can become paralyzed by indecision, worried that we might find ourselves doing something completely different than what God wants us to do.
Again, let’s remember that we’re dealing with God here, not some jerk. Thomas Merton once wrote a prayer that included the following line: “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”
St. Augustine put it this way: “Love God and do as you please.”
“Love God and do as you please.” — St. Augustine
Let’s assume that if we are seeking to please God, He loves it. And if He wants us to go a completely different direction, He’ll make it happen.
In the book of Revelation, God defines himself with this phrase: “What He opens, no one can close; and what He closes, no one can open.”
If God wants to get you somewhere specific, He can simply open and close certain opportunities and possibilities to get you there. He’s not worried about whether He can guide you.
If you simply seek to fulfill the purposes God has put in your heart, He will make sure you end up in the right place.
Here’s my point: You will not stand before God one day and be berated because he was telling you to move to Lichtenstein and become a goat herder and you totally missed what he was saying.
Kevin DeYoung says it well in his book “Just Do Something”:
[F]or God's sake start making some decisions in your life. Don't wait for the liver-shiver. If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God's will, so just go out and do something.
God made you for a purpose, and while you may not see how you fit into the overall picture for this world, God sees it; and if you’re honestly trying to involve God in all you do, He will see that.
Now, I need to clarify that talking to God throughout this process is critical — that’s prayer. But all prayer and no action is just as dangerous as all action and no prayer. To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “Prayer is a marvelous and necessary supplement of our feeble efforts, but it is a dangerous substitute.”
Continue to talk to God and ask Him for guidance, but get moving. While doing so you will eventually find your purpose.
Thomas Christianson is a pastor, professor, and writer in Baltimore, Maryland. He's the author of a new ebook, "Making My Faith Practical," as well as a graduate of Regent University with a master’s degree in practical theology. A version of this post originally appeared on thomaschristianson.com, where he blogs. It has been published with permission.