“God Made Me for a Purpose”

When I’ve thought about the result or fruit of my labor, it’s been in terms of my effect on a situation or cause (external realities). But lately, I’ve realized that there is another sphere that experiences the effect of my labor – my heart, my internal life (internal realities).

Work, labor, toil, effort is not an option in this life. There are problems to solve, relationships to cultivate, responsibilities to fulfill, feats to accomplish, difficulties to overcome, art to create, and love to offer and receive – none of which are easy.

In the Old Testament, Saul was told, “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you…and you will be changed into a different person…do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” (I Sam. 10:6, 7)

In the New Testament, we are told, “If anyone…knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” and “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”. (James 4:17 and Col. 3:23)

We’ve all observed someone who worked hard doing “whatever their hand finds to do” and “the good they ought to do”, but while the fruit of their labor my have seemed sweet, the fruit of their presence was sour.

I know one person I’ve seen do this – me.  There have been may times when I worked so hard on something so good and it produced something so bad in me: agitation, edginess, anger, disregard, impatience, anxiety, unpleasantness.

As I’ve given this much thought lately and conversation with a few friends, I’ve realized that in those moments I was operating with a sense of panic, desperation, franticness and aloneness.  It felt like what I was doing was a high-stakes, life-or-death undertaking, when in reality it was not. I’ve wondered why.

Much of what we suffer with is more an issue of what we are doing with our heart than what we are doing with our faculties. “The heart of every problem is the problem in the heart.” Warren Wiersbe

A friend reminded me of a several lines in the movie, Chariots of Fire. Harold Abrahams, a Jewish Englishman, said as he was about to step onto the track, “I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with only 10 seconds to justify my whole existence.”  Eric Liddell, Scottish Christian missionary, said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast..when I run I feel His pleasure.”

There it is! We are either working, toiling, expending our time and energy to prove our existence or co-laboring with God in the pleasure of His presence and purpose.

Dr. Larry Crab wrote, “The Bible teaches that people are unique.  We bear the image of God.  Whatever else that image may encompass, it certainly includes the fact that people are capable of (1) entering into relationships of love and (2) engaging in activities with meaning.  We are designed for relationship and meaningful activity.”

In those moments where I work with some degree of franticness and desperation, there is something operating in me where I feel like I have to prove my whole existence.  It has everything to do with my desire to be loved and to live a life of meaning.  It has everything to do with my relationship with God – my trust in His love for me and His purposefulness for my life.

“Where I trust Him I get to live free in His care”, Wayne Jacobsen wrote.  “Where I don’t, I end up focused on myself with the attendant anxiety, stress, and insecurity that it provokes.  I don’t try to make myself trust Him more.  I realized a long time ago that trust is not a choice, it is the by product of love.  When I know someone loves me enough to lay down their life for me, I trust them.”

So, in those moments when we becoming agitated, edgy, impatience or stressed, instead of inspecting our work, we should inspect our heart by asking:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What do I think I will gain if I succeed?
  • What do I think I will loose or suffer if I fail in some way?
  • “What is it about God I don’t know, and that if I knew, I would trust Him here?” Wayne Jacobsen

BTW, one of my friends that I referred to, Sam Williamson, wrote a blog about his own wrestling with this issue titled The Stench of Human Sweat. It’s a good read.

BTW 2, you can hear more from Wayne Jacobsen in Reorienting Your Heart: Wisdom, Ideas, Insight from Campfire Conversations, Part 1.  It’s free.

Last week I experienced a tempest in a teapot, and I failed to weather the storm with grace. On Monday afternoon, I discovered that my blog’s subscription sign-up form was broken. It accepted the entry of an email address; everything looked fine. Except it didn’t actually update the subscription files. So I began a sweaty scramble to fix it.

I worked from 3:30 Monday afternoon until about 9:30 that evening. At that point, the tiny-tempest sank my site: everything stopped working. I went to bed. I woke early Tuesday morning, coordinated communication between four different help centers, got the site running, temporarily jury-rigged an email signup form, and published last week’s article.

Phew! It took me nine hours, but I got it done. Afterward I took a prayer time, beginning with My Utmost for His Highest. The devotional ended with:

Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through that particular circumstance until you increase in Him, adding His qualities.

I immediately felt convicted (in a good way). I hadn’t really repaired my website “in God.” Sure, I had asked God for help, but I had been “at home” in my skills rather than in God.

My work had the stench of human sweat rather than the fragrance of the Father.*

It wasn’t that big of a deal

For twenty-five years, I worked in software support, often working on problems that could cost my clients tens of thousands of dollars. Or their jobs. Compared with those situations, my little problem—a busted email sign-up form—wasn’t that big of a deal. It especially wasn’t a big deal compared with medical professionals who daily deal with life and death.

And I felt competent to talk with support hotlines and perform the simple web setup directions. I asked God for help, but probably out of habit. Mostly I felt I had things under control. Then I got a weekly email from Larry Crabb. It asked,

In what ways are you currently more focused on making a difficult situation better by asking God what to do, rather than seeking to draw near to God and give Him pleasure?

Again, I was convicted. I had asked God what I should do, but mostly I said, “I’ve got this one.” (Hey, I had been a software professional.) I simply relied on my natural skills. Yes, I asked God for a bit of help, but it was like taking a vitamin supplement to cover all the nutritional bases.

For me, it’s my natural strengths

An old adage says, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Atheists find that statement highly insulting, and I don’t mean to offend. Rather, I apply it to believers like me. When I’m in deep trouble, something I know I can’t handle, I turn to God; not perfectly, but at least eagerly.

But in a situation for which I think I have some expertise, I lean into my aptitude or training. I might ask God for ideas, but mostly I go it alone. And my behavior isn’t all that attractive. Symptoms of leaning on my own strengths include:

  • Preoccupation: During my website malfunction, I thought of little else.
  • Excessive energy: I pour more energy into a situation than it deserves.
  • Crabbiness: Little irritants frustrate me more quickly than normal.
  • Self-pity: I’m quick to ask, “Why does this always happen to me?”
  • Imbalance: I sense something in me is “out of whack” (a deeply theological term), but I’m not sure what to do with it, and I usually ignore it.
  • Fault-finding: I notice the faults of other people; “Why can’t they work as hard as me?
  • Task-squeezing; Believe it or not, when I’m operating in my natural skill-set, I usually find ways to squeeze in extra tasks, even when the ones I’m doing already fill my plate.

All this is to say, when I’m operating in my strengths . . . I’m not a pleasant person to be around. Using our skills isn’t bad, unless—like me—we rely on them instead of God.

Isn’t that strange?

You may be different than me—maybe you’re harder to be around when you face a situation you are clueless to handle—but I find that my strengths are my biggest obstacles to the presence of God; in those times, I least bring the fragrance of the Father.

My natural goodness is my greatest hindrance to a spirit-changed goodness.

God is attracted to the humble. Something about our open need of God is beautiful to him. That’s why Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3) and David sang, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

God is calling me to die to myself, and “myself” in this case is my natural strength. Chambers once wrote, “I am called to live in such a perfect relationship with God that my life produces a yearning for God in the lives of others, not admiration for myself.”

It’s easier said than done

It’s not that my natural strengths are bad, it just that I often don’t cling to God when I operate in them. How do we learn to lean into spirit-changed strengths and not into our natural ones? How do we avoid the stench of human sweat and live in the fragrance of the Father?

I don’t know. But I think God is taking me through a time of training. It has that scent.

Meanwhile, if you ever come over to my house for dinner, pray that God has put me in a desperate situation for which I have no wisdom, ideas, or natural strength.

I’ll be a much more pleasant host.

Sam

* I heard of the “stench of human sweat versus the fragrance of the Father” in a conversation with Gary Barkalow who quoted Wayne Jacobsen. Something about that line just smelled right.

There is a design on your life, but it’s not always so apparent. I received these honest and relatable thoughts from two different individuals a day apart:

“I feel heavy, depressed and weighed down at work. The only thing I’m interested in is spirituality, God and anything to do with God, I devour books on God, but I can’t see my vein of gold in all of this. Do you have any suggestions, anything I should be doing to get to the core of what I’m to do?”

“I am so far from my heart right now, I feel like I’m on life support…I don’t feel ‘alive’ anymore.  I’ve tried so many careers, always ending the same, they just don’t fit ‘me’.  As soon as I master them I grew disinterested.  I really want to express God’s glory to the world, I just feel worthless and put on the shelf, dusty and unmoved.”

Here is my reply:

Breakthrough, not breakdown

The first thing I want to say is that you are not alone in this state of confusion and discouragement.  Rather than this being a problem that you’ve created, perhaps it is a holy-dissatisfaction that comes with your new life in Christ. With a heightened awareness that you were created by God to bring something of significance, beauty and strength to this world, you will never be completely satisfied with any position or place.

Ultimately, we don’t want our life to be a job description, but rather a mission, a unique contribution to something that really matters, our God-given capability (who we truly are).  Only God can guide us through our holy dissatisfaction into our true mission.

As we grow into the person we were designed to be (in capability and character), our position / place / assignment will adjust because we have become more and better.

So, don’t interpret your disinterest and discouragement with work as “there must be something wrong with me” or “I must have missed it”.  Take it as God’s invitation to more, as you are becoming more.  Perhaps your present sense of “depression” and “worthlessness” is a sign of your heart’s awareness of God’s invitation to the next thing that He is preparing you for and about to show you.  View this as a precursor to breakthrough, not breakdown.

Awareness, not Absence

Secondly, it’s not a question of, why hasn’t God given me desires that reveal who I truly am and what I bring to this world.  It’s a question of, what’s blocking my awareness of those desires and God’s voice.  There is never a simple, straight-forward answer to this question because there are usually many things at play.

  • The health of your heart (your soul, the real you, your inner life)
  • The confluence of all the events of your life (things said to you, things done to you, your experiences) and the resulting beliefs of your heart.
  • The assault against your life and calling (spiritual warfare, worldly warfare and fleshly warfare)
  • The timing and training of God
  • The discovery and deepening process

So, it’s not the absence of desire that you’re struggling with, it the awareness of desire and what it means.  Give it time and careful examination, like an archaeologist uncovering artifacts with a small shovel, brush and a journal.  Panic or desperation can cause us to overlook or damage important pieces.

Here are a few things that might increase your awareness:

  • Put on your oxygen mask – give your heart some breathing space – some rest and rejuvenation.  Do something you enjoy for a few hours or a few days.  Take a break on your calling quest.
  • Wear a heart monitor – stay alert to your heart’s reaction to everyday situations: conversations, environments, tasks, TV shows/movies, books and people.  Then ask God what your excitement, anger, boredom, jealousy, enthusiasm or disengagement with these things was about.
  • Take a survey – Ask a few close friends, what you were doing or saying when you seemed most alive, most dialed-in.
  • Play CSI – write down and analyze all the data you receive from the things I mentioned above.
  • Get sequestered – get alone with God and let Him speak without competing or interrupting voices.

Consistent and Unpredictable

Graham Cooke said that God is consistent (in character) and unpredictable (in actions) and we tend to be inconsistent and predictable.  I find this to be true, on both accounts.  So, let me encourage you to be consistent in “asking, seeking and knocking” and watch for God to be consistent in “giving, finding and opening” in unpredictable ways. (Matt. 7:7)

Gary

PS. I encourage you to watch Discovering Your Calling video series

Video: The Design on Your Life

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What is Spiritual Reflection?

Many years ago, I lived in London with a bunch of friends, working in campus ministry. One of my friends spent a couple hours with Dr. John Stott, an internationally-known pastor with a church that also ministered to university students.

Dr. Stott and my friend discussed prayer. Dr. Stott confessed that his best prayer time is spent in thinking withGod, reflecting on scripture passages, and meditating on eternal truths.

My friend argued that the best prayer is found in corporate worship, enthusiastic singing, exalting in the presence of God, shouting his praises, singing, dancing, kneeling, and bowing before the throne of God. We considered Stott’s “prayer” of reflection too intellectual, too shallow, too unenlightened, and perhaps unspiritual. We chuckled.

In fact, I’d say we snickered.

By the end of his life, Time Magazine identified Stott as one of the 100 most influential people in the world; he had written over 50 books; and he had helped hundreds of thousands of people —probably millions. And we twenty-something neophytes snickered at his shallowness.

Thirty-five years later, I’m rethinking spiritual reflection—actually practicing it—and it is rich beyond belief. Stott was oh-so-very right, and I was oh-so-very wrong. Spiritual reflection is one of the deepest ways to connect with God that I’ve ever experienced.

I love to brainstorm, whiteboard, and creatively go after innovative ideas. I love doing this with friends when considering anything, so I am trying it with God. And I love it.

Spiritual reflection is connecting me to God, and I’m hearing his voice.

What’s the point?

Dallas Willard claimed that one of largest human problems—for believers or not—is our denial of deep reality. We live in shallow realities while denying or ignoring the deep.

The primary purpose of prayerful reflection is to connect with the Real God deep in our hearts. C. S. Lewis said that we are content to play in mud puddles while God invites us to the seashore. Prayerful reflection is a visit to the coast. Jesus loves to speak to us at the beach.

The external, solid world appears more “real” to us than our intangible inner life; our external senses are more alive than our inner senses. I “see” the reality of stains on the carpet; I “hear” the grind of the garbage truck; I “feel” the soreness in my bad knee. These senses seem more concrete than the elusive inner life of God’s love and presence.

Our daily reality mostly consists of our five physical senses. They have more appeal; they are on HD video while our inner life with God is on scratchy old audio.

Our prayers are usually limited to: Asking (Please help me with my test tomorrow),Worship (God, you are so great!), Thanksgiving (Thanks for dinner), and Repentance(Please forgive me for snapping at my wife). These prayers are great. But they are one-sided monologues, us saying something to God. Sometimes God wants to respond.

Discussion and Connection

Real prayerful reflection is much more like conversation, a connection with a friend, a back and forth like tennis practice, questions and answers, clarification and interpretation, speaking and listening. It is a personal, conversational connection to God, the Ultimate Reality.

Prayerful reflection requires curiosity and a heightened personal awareness. We notice—that is an awareness arise—of our anger at a negative comment. In curiosity we ask God why we responded with such ferocity. Our curiosity is not satisfied with our own shallow answers like, “I’m angry because they disparaged me in front of others.”

Of course negative comments triggered anger, but why do the opinions of others matter so much? We ask God, and he speaks. Sometimes he speaks words—“Why is their opinion so important?—and sometime he simply triggers the inner realization that the opinions of others are more “real” to us than the opinions of God.

And then God offers a heart sense of his reality and care, and our hearts are at peace.

Questions and Reflection

With increased inner awareness, and in curiosity, we go to God with questions like,

  • I’ve read this passage a hundred times, but this time something quickened in my heart. God, what is that quickening about, what are you surfacing?
  • God, I just watched a movie and during the ending I began to tear up; what about that ending is moving me? What are you revealing to me?
  • Father, I’m feeling anxious about my children. Why do I think you are less concerned for them than I am?
  • God, what does it really mean that you love me? How can that shape my life?

Here’s the thing: when we go to God in prayerful reflection it fuels our ability to Ask, Worship, Thank, and Repent. Let’s look at that anger. As we discuss it with God—as we practice prayerful reflection—God speaks, and all of a sudden we,

  • Ask: God, may the magnitude of your majesty eclipse the opinion of man.
  • Worship: As I see the beauty of your reality, I am moved to adore you.
  • Thanksgiving: Thank you God for your opinion and care for me.
  • Repentance: I repent that the molehill of human opinion continually overshadows the mountain of your great interest in me.

Prayerful reflection is a conversation with God that connects us to him. It is learning to have a conversation with God. I am learning that one of the best ways to hear God is through prayerfully reflection.

Hey! Did I just hear someone snicker?

Sam