Does God have a plan for your life? If you ask several Christian leaders this question, you'll receive a range of answers. For example, some will tell you God does indeed have a specific calling for your life, and it's your job to discover what it is. Another might suggest that God orchestrates our lives and everything that happens is His will.
Learned and sincere theologians land all over the spectrum on the issue of God's purpose for each of us, which can only add to our anxiety about making the right decisions. Is this career, relationship, or place part of God’s plan for you?
But when it comes to God’s purpose for us, here are a couple of things we can be certain of:
God wants us all to know Him
The Apostle Paul tells Timothy, "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3–4).
So when we make those first steps toward God, we're making our first steps in discovering His purpose for our lives. Jesus' whole mission was to reconcile us to God, and by accepting that gift, we're right in the center of God's will.
God intends to make us more like Jesus
Another thing we can be sure of is that the Spirit of God is at work in our lives to transform us from the inside out. Paul makes this clear to the church in Rome:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:28–29, emphasis added).
God intends that we partner with Him in this transforming work. What does that mean? It means that we take part in spiritual disciplines that foster spiritual growth, and we don't make decisions that quench the Spirit's activity in our lives.
God wants us to help others know Him
One of the last instructions Jesus gave the disciples before He returned to the Father was that they should "go and make disciples of all nations." This directive has come to be known as the Great Commission, and it extends to us as well!
So, if we're really interested in God's purpose for our lives, we'll be involved in the work of sharing the gospel with others. Does that mean you have to become a missionary? No. But it does mean that you find ways to contribute to the work of creating disciples. (To discover ways to be involved, check out "Does the Great Commission Require Me to 'Go'?")
If we simply focused on these three areas, we would find ourselves living out God's purpose. And as we press into these areas, we'd discover new opportunities opening for us—or as the writer of Proverbs puts it, "He will make your path straight" (Proverbs 3:6).
But when people ask about their purpose in Christ, they're often struggling with specific questions. Should they say yes to a marriage proposal? Should they take that out-of-state job? So let's look at some ways to discern God's leading in some of these areas. Here are tips for finding your purpose in Christ when you're unsure.
1. Keep yourself in God's Word
Psalm 119 celebrates the gift of the Torah (the first five books comprising God's law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), but we could apply a lot of the same sentiments to the rest of the Bible.
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you (vs. 9–11).
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word (vs. 35–37).
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.
Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path (vs. 103–105).
As the Psalmist says, the more familiar we are with the Bible, the easier it will be to recognize many of the snares and traps in our path. And while Scripture probably won't tell you what job to take or how to invest for retirement, it can help us recognize if a specific choice isn't ideal for us or when our motives aren't entirely pure.
But here's the critical thing to remember: reading the Bible is kind of like eating your vegetables. It's a lot better for you when you commit to doing it regularly. Eating a vegetable-rich diet can boost your immune system and keep you healthy. It's not as useful to gobble down a bunch of broccoli after you're already sick.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, He answered the devil by quoting the Book of Deuteronomy. He didn't tell Satan, "Hold on a second. Let me check my Bible." Instead, He responded with Scripture that He treasured in His heart. And if we want to be able to make wise choices, we should be familiar with Scripture, too.
2. Surround yourself with wise counselors
You might be surprised at how many Proverbs talk about the importance of receiving (and following) good advice. For instance, here are just a few verses:
For lack of guidance a nation falls,
but victory is won through many advisers (Proverbs 11:14).
Where there is strife, there is pride,
but wisdom is found in those who take advice (Proverbs 13:10).
Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).
One reason community is so critical is because we need each other's wisdom. When left to our own devices, we miss important details, misread our motivations, and ignore danger signs. Advisors can help fill in the gaps we miss.
The challenge here is that not every guide is equally valuable. Friends are essential (so long as they don't just tell us what we want to hear), but we need input from outside our peer group. We need insight from trusted sources who have a history of walking with Jesus and making wise decisions.
This is why Peter encourages Christians with these words:
In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
"God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).
This idea of submitting to one another and clothing ourselves in humility is about realizing that we don't always have all the answers, and occasionally we need the wisdom of people who've been there. We need to be willing to weigh others' input and resist the pride of ignoring advice we don't like.
3. Pray for wisdom and discernment
Thankfully, we all have some baseline for practical discernment. We make decisions every day without worrying about the eternal implications. But there are times when we want to draw upon God's wisdom in our lives. James tells us that all we need to do is pray for it.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind (James 1:5–6).
It's James' conviction that God is so committed to filling us with wisdom that all we need to do is ask for it. And when you ask God for wisdom, you can trust that He's going to give it to you. That's quite a promise.
Seeking wisdom from God doesn't take the place of getting more input from others. It's still necessary to see things from others' perspectives, but wisdom makes a big difference when the time comes to make the actual decision.