It’s inevitable. At some point in life, the question begins to nag. No one is immune. Most often it seems to hit us in our teens, that turbulent time when we’re trying to sort out how this thing called life actually works. How to relate to those around us. How to fit in.
It all sifts down to one overarching question. In the dark, we look up at the expanse of heaven, dazzled by the sheer number of stars, and the question oozes out of our being.
“Why am I here?”
The question speaks to identity and purpose. Who am I? What is my purpose in this life? What is my role on this earth? More specifically for believers, how do I fit into this thing called the body of Christ, the church?
The answer for each person is varied and complex. Personalities and aptitudes are diverse. We are similar to others, but also special. But the path for all toward answering the more complex questions is to start with the basics:
We are created by God in His image.
We are created to serve others.
We are created for good works.
We are created to honor God in everything we do.
In His image
The first few chapters of Genesis make it clear that we all sprang from a single source: God. He thought us up and made us. We are not our own. Genesis 1:26-28 offers three insights:
God created people in His image, His likeness. In the simplest terms, to bear the likeness of God means to have a personality or personhood, to possess intellect and the ability to care and communicate, to be empathetic and intentional. While we are not God, we are like God in that we can have relationship with Him and others.
God created people as men and women. These are the two genders: male and female. Period. At creation, there was no ambiguity. God created a male and a female to propagate other males and females. Later, after the Fall, caused by Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit, sin entered into creation. Gender confusion has arisen as a result of the effects of sin.
God created people to care for the earth. In the New King James Version, the words used are subdue and have dominion over the earth. This doesn’t mean that we are to abuse the earth and wring everything we can from it. Rather, it means that we have a responsibility to care for the earth, to be good stewards of the resources we’ve been given. This extends to caring for the people who populate the earth. We are to express God’s image in us through managing natural resources responsibly and caring for other people with love and respect.
Jesus stated in Mark 10:45 that He did not come to earth “to be served, but to serve.” We are to follow His example, as in John 13 where He washes the feet of the disciples, explaining, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (vv. 14, 15, NIV).
Paul declares in Galatians 5:13, “through love serve one another.” The main point of spiritual gifts is to use them to serve each other and build up the church (1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:7-12; 1 Peter 4:10).
In Ephesians 4, Paul also explains that we need each part of our body to function together, and the same holds true for the church. Through serving one another, we form a unified body that can serve God and the world. He explains this further in 1 Corinthians 12:4-31.
One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This verse tells us three important truths about who we are in Christ:
We are works of art, and God is the artist. This is a personal truth. God made each of us lovingly, carefully, and uniquely. We are shaped by His intention. You are not a random accident of the universe! A good exercise is to say the first part of this passage and insert your name. For example, “Stephen is God’s workmanship!” Say it out loud.
We have God-ordained tasks to do that are good. God did not bring you and me into this world to float around aimlessly. We have places to go, people to see, and things to do. When we accept Christ as our Savior, holy purpose is ignited inside of us. Driven by the Holy Spirit and fueled by the Word of God, we can discern how we are to live for Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit begins to manifest itself in and through us. The specific calling of God on our life grows clearer.
We are called to walk with God. God crafted us, equipped us, purposed us, and wants relationship with us. He did not wind up the earth to run on its own. He didn’t create us to walk through life unaccompanied. We are not works of art to be hung on a wall. We are creatures with meaning who are meant to walk out our purpose and calling hand-in-hand with God.
Honoring God in everything
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1646-1647) famously begins, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul puts it like this: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
God created us for His glory. We are to serve others and Him to His glory. This is what we were made for.
And that’s where the “enjoy him for ever” part comes in. When we align our lives with the will of God, then all is well. Even the hard times are manageable because we are grounded in God.
“But,” you ask, “what about my specific, unique purpose?”
Some would refer to this as vocation — how you serve God in the world. Spiritual vocation encompasses every role you take on in life. Your spiritual gifts, your calling, all play a part in making up your vocation.
Specific purpose and calling generally become clearer over time. As we grow in the Lord and walk out our faith, the Spirit will nudge us steadily toward God’s will. Certain aspects of service will be attractive to us, and as we serve, we will discover what we enjoy. This often points to what we are designed to more fully and intentionally pursue.
Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner once said, “. . .the vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet.” When we take on a responsibility that both fulfills a clear need and brings us satisfaction, we are moving toward living out God’s intended purpose for us.
While some people just “know” what they are supposed to do in life and do it, it’s a process of discovery for most of us. As we serve others in selfless obedience, we uncover those tasks, actions, roles, and passions we are especially good at, that we are designed for.
Jesus advised, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). “All these things” include our purpose, our calling, our giftings. We discover who we truly are as we seek who He truly is in us.
This is echoed in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” As we move through life and grow in the Lord, nothing we do is wasted as we do it for God and to His glory. And all we do both builds up the body and better prepares us to joyfully pursue His specific calling on our lives.
Stephen R. Clark is the former editor of Christian Bookseller Magazine and a regular contributor to the Christian Freelance Writers Network blog. He has written for Adams Media, Bookstore Journal, Christian Century, Eternity, and other publications. He has also project managed and edited dozens of books with Bridge Publishing and Wiley Publishing, where he worked in the Consumer Dummies division on the “For Dummies” books. Stephen lives with his wife, Beth Ann, in Lansdale, PA. Learn more about him and his writing at www.StephenRayClark.com.