Testing our Picture of Purpose

life purposeThe ideal of life purpose makes assertions believers need to test. The oft-stated view is that we can do anything we dream of. Inherent in that view is the belief that there are no limits to human accomplishment. But, unfortunately, there are often limitations that stand in the way of reaching our dreams.

Understanding that there are limits brings up an excellent question, “How do we separate truth from fiction in the area of life purpose?” One simple test is whether our ideals actually work in real life. The “no limits” idea doesn’t. (It’s funny how these old ideas come back around—the “no limits” concept is found in one of the oldest stories in the Bible: the Tower of Babel.) God never says that we can be and do anything. But when we fully embrace his design for us and grow into exactly what he created us to be, we’ll really be living.

Another life purpose tenet we should examine closely is the view that living this healthy, wealthy Good Life is something God promises we’ll have. In ministry circles this ideal is often expressed as “the believer’s birthright”—that Christians who learn to operate in the realm of faith can appropriate all the promises of God who has designed us to live a wonderful, wealthy, trouble-free Good Life.

But is this really true? Another good check of a purpose principle is to see if it works in the real lives recorded in the Bible. Does the believer’s birthright theology match with what we know actually took place in the life of, say, Paul? If the writer of half the New Testament was afflicted with things like shipwrecks, beatings, hunger, and sleepless nights, then maybe we need to rethink that idea.

A third concept that bears reexamination is that achieving your life purpose is within anyone’s grasp. Laying hold of what God has and living obediently is all you have to do to gain this inheritance. We might test this by asking, “Does this idea hold true in every culture and at every time in history, or is it unique to 21st century North America?” Think about the believers under persecution in first century Rome, or those killed in the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, or the pastors in China who’ve been imprisoned for their faith. In what sense are or aren’t they fulfilling their life mission?

This idea brings to mind a committed, lifetime missionary friend who died suddenly of a heart attack in his forties. He left two kids and a wife behind—I doubt if on the day of his death he was celebrating the completion of his life’s work.

We live in a dangerous world, and no one knows how many days he has left. Wars, persecution, disease, financial turmoil and a myriad of other circumstances can interfere with the best laid plans. You may live a life of great obedience to God, and never even have the chance to live your dreams. What you can do is fully live toward what you were made for each moment, and maximize each day. Will you live to accomplish your life mission? That’s in the hands of God. There are no guarantees.

Even the idea that you should be in a role that fits your life purpose right now needs another look. As coaches, we tend to approach life purpose as leaders_purposesomething that is independent of age, character or maturity. But after coaching hundreds of leaders, I’ve seen few move into a convergent destiny role before their late forties. Just because you know your calling doesn’t mean you can make it happen (just look at the lives of Joseph or David!) So the age and maturity of your clients make a big difference in how you coach them. For clients under 50, it is most helpful to coach toward the destiny development process instead of trying to move them into their destiny role.

Tony Stoltzfus is a master coach, author and coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. A presentation of a thorough, practical toolkit for coaching Christian leaders to discover their identity can be found in his book the Christian Life Coaching Handbook.