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Discover Your Purpose (LifeLift #19)

lifelift podcast Jun 16, 2020

We’ve covered a lot of ground— far more than I imagined we’d cover when I first envisioned this book project. In the previous talk I offered you six reasons why we have supernatural gifts. But, I didn’t tell you how to discover what your gifts are.

In this talk, we'll do that. I’ll provide you an on-ramp to self-discovery. 

After walking with me this far, you might know what those gifts are. You may see, sense, or feel what the Lord has created you to do. If so, this chapter will help you confirm that. 

If you're not there yet, no worries. I’ll give you a paint brush and a canvas over the next few pages. In actuality, it will be more like a “color by number.” The Creator has already called forth your destiny— just like He declared Peter’s. We're simply looking to discover the things He’s already said are true about you.

We’ll first discuss three areas which will help you discover your gifts. You’ve already seen these terms throughout this book, so there’s no new information here. We’re simply putting ideas together that you already know.

We’ll talk about the following: 

  1. Instructional obedience = look at what God has already said and do it
  2. Natural talents + created design = lean into the areas that are unique about you
  3. Supernatural gifts = embrace the Holy Spirit’s expression through you

These are our three guidelines to discovery. 

After reviewing each of these, I’ll provide you with five “F” questions which will help you evaluate your giftedness. And, I’ll provide you with a practical observation.

 

1. Instructional obedience = look at what God has already said and do it

The first step in discovering your gifts is to review areas of instructional obedience. That is, look at what God has already said to do and do that. It’s amazing how much people want to move ahead in the empowerment of the supernatural but haven’t yet implemented the natural things God has already told them to do. 

Instructional obedience creates a foundation upon which we can build ministry. It creates guardrails, safeguards. Furthermore, it includes two areas.

First, obedience includes right thinking. Whereas we tend to jump straight towards doing, Scripture cautions us to look first at what we  believe.

In John 6:29, Jesus said, “This is the work of the Father, that you believe…”

Our actions are an overflow of what we truly believe deep inside. Therefore, it’s important to go back to the beginning and revisit the core issues of identity— just like we discussed in the first section of this study:

  • Recognize that Jesus calls forth who you are, well before you see it. We saw this in the example of Peter’s life. 
  • Remember that Jesus moves you from the old line of Adam into His line. You’re part of a new type of humanity, one re-created in His image, one that’s born of incorruptible seed.

Here’s why it’s important that you get this one right: If you don’t deal with your issues of identity, you’ll seek to fill that need for affirmation with externals. You’ll use your gifts to gain rather than to give. Right belief is an obedience issue.

That leads us to our second observation about instructional obedience. 

Second, obedience includes right living. That is, the overflow of faith is action. 

James 2:17 tells us that “faith without works is dead.” The actual transliteration of the word dead here is “unseen.” That is, belief that doesn’t overflow remains invisible (not “non-existent”). 

As we look at areas of instructional obedience— places where our faith remains unseen— there are two predominant questions we should ask ourselves. 

Question #1: Is there an area in your life that you are afraid will “catch up” with you?

If anyone knew about secret sins and hoping duplicity wouldn’t catch up, it was Solomon. We discussed his plight in chapter 11.  

Solomon tells us, “The righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). 

I’ve hidden sins in the past. When I did, I was always afraid they would surface. 

True freedom comes not in making certain nothing leaks but, rather, in living in such a way that there’s nothing more to hide.

When we hide parts of our lives, things seem fragile. We live in fear of expressing who we really are, of allowing the gifts to overflow. We’re, in some sense, afraid we’ll be “found out.” 

The solution?

In the same way Peter did, leave it behind and live from who you really are— as the person Christ has already called you.

Question #2: Are you harboring any areas of bitterness, jealousy, or envy?

Unforgiveness not only hinders the flow of the Holy Spirit through us, it also clouds how we view others. And that haze isn’t limited to the person against whom we harbor offense. 

The author of Hebrews tells us that we should beware of all bitter roots. The implication is that these roots, left unchecked, drive deep. Then, they sprout and defile not just one but many (see Hebrews 12:15).

Here’s one of the biggest reason the “instructional obedience” issue is foundational: spiritual gifts don’t guarantee we’ll act with maturity. Remember, even Judas laid hands on sick people— and they recovered. He cast out demons. Yet he also betrayed Jesus.

The previous graphic shows us that if if doesn’t fall in the bounds of instructional obedience, it falls outside of the bounds of the Kingdom. 

Again, spiritual gifts don’t guarantee maturity. And, since the gifts are supernatural empowerments, they’re— in a real sense— the equivalent of handling a flaming torch. Whereas fire in mature hands can create warmth and create helpful things (i.e., you can cook with fire, you can warm an entire home with fire), fire in immature hands creates havoc. 

Earlier in this series we referenced 1 Corinthians, one of Paul’s letters which contains some of the most robust teaching on the gifts we find throughout the entire New Testament. One quick read through the letter and you discover that this church was burdened with massive problems.

  • They picked their favorite leaders and began following them instead of Christ (3:3f.).
  • The church bragged about their freedom in Christ to the extent that they boasted about a man sleeping with his father’s wife (5:1f., this would be his step-mother).
  • Church members settled disputes against each other by taking their brothers and sisters in Christ to court (6:1f.).
  • Some hired prostitutes (6:15), an act of cult worship.
  • Others delved into idol worship (8:1f, 10:1f.).
  • During the Lord’s Supper (a potluck-type of feast) some members ate all of the food before others arrived, even getting drunk during this remembrance of Christ’s acts on their behalf (11:18f.).
  • They created a supernatural hierarchy in which the gift of tongues was highlighted as a benchmark gift that others should aspire to (see 14:4f.).

It’s amazing that, despite all of this, Corinth lacked nothing. Every spiritual gift was present (1 Corinthians 1:7). 

Gifts don’t guarantee you’re living in the will of God. That begins at the more basic, foundational level of expressing the written words of God with your life. So, before you move forward, go back and answer the two questions mentioned in this section. Make certain you’re already doing the things God said to do.

 

2. Natural talents + created design = lean into the areas that are unique about me

After reviewing areas of instructional obedience, take a look at your created design. Whereas the areas of instructional obedience are incredibly similar for all of us, our created design is where we begin expressing more of our individuality.

There are two additional questions which can help drive your process of discovery in this area, too: 

Question #3: What is something you do better than others, something you may have always done?

I’ve always talked and taught. It’s taken various forms, but it’s a common thread. Like I mentioned earlier in the book, when I was in high school, I helped teach other guys on the wrestling team how to better execute their moves. When I was in college, I helped write and create our group presentations. Now, I write and teach at live events, through online courses, podcasts, and books. It’s a natural overflow of who I am and always has been— even before I was saved.

My Dad has always led. His elementary teammates chose him as the captain of their teams, his high school peers elected him to lead their student organizations, and then he led several churches. For a decade he oversaw the Office of Leadership and Church Growth for the Baptists in Alabama. After retiring, churches continued calling him for his leadership expertise. Leadership has always been part of who he is— even before he was saved.

In talk 14 we discussed created design and the created gifts: prophecy, service, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, and mercy. There’s probably one or two that you’ve naturally expressed your entire life. Identifying these areas is part of discovering how the Holy Spirit expresses Himself through you.

Question #4: What burden do you feel?

Or, “What’s on your heart?”

Sure, ministry sometimes involves doing things we don't like to do. I understand that.

At the same time, Scripture tells us that we should delight ourselves in the Lord and He’ll grant us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). As we align with Him and His agenda, our hearts mesh with His. As such, He places those desires— those dreams— inside us.

Sure, the heart can be deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). It can lead us astray. 

If you’re clinging to a hidden sin, you might not feel a burden. You’ll likely find yourself mind-boggled by whatever other thing you’re juggling, as you’re not designed to carry it.

This is why we must first delight ourselves in the Lord and it’s why resolving the two questions we reviewed about instructional obedience are all the more imperative. As we set sin aside (question 1) and deal  with any relational issues (question 2), we develop a humble confidence that our hearts are aligned with the Father’s.

That said, where’s your burden?

What do you see that others simply walk past?

Nehemiah felt burdened that the walls of Jerusalem sat in ruins, her stones scattered as rubble. The city had been in that condition for decades. No one else noticed. No one else cared. 

When Nehemiah heard of it, though, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days” (Nehemiah 1:4). The wall became his burden.

There’s something you see that very few other people see. It may be a specific cause, an idea that needs to be taught, or some sort of ministry you want to see implemented. It’s something the Lord has highlighted to you, part of your unique contribution to this world.

Centuries before Nehemiah, Moses became burdened for his people’s freedom. His story illustrates why we don’t simply want to feel the burden and then act apart from the Lord’s voice. We want to feel the burden and then wait for the Lord’s instruction and His power to step forward.

One day Moses saw a taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. When he thought no one was looking, he secretly killed the Egyptian and then hid the body (Exodus 2:12). He hoped no one else would find out. Shortly thereafter it became obvious that others saw. At that point, Moses fled for his life (2:15). 

Forty years later the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, the Lord called Him, and he returned to Pharaoh. This time he walked in the power and the presence of the Lord. He carried the same burden, but things were different. 

After going head-to-head for ten plagues, Pharaoh finally let the people go. He changed his mind, though, and then pursued them to the Red Sea. You know the end of that story: whereas he killed one slave holder and fled for his life in his own strength, by leaning into the Lord’s strength Moses raised a staff over the waters and annihilated the entire Egyptian army (see Exodus 14:28). That’s the difference between carrying the burden in our own strength and carrying it in the power of the Spirit.

I believe the Lord highlights these burdens to us. 

A few years ago I read Ted Haggard’s book The Life Giving Church. In that book he recounts the story of a young worship leader who left New Life Church too soon, back when the church was running a few hundred in attendance each week.

“I’m called to lead thousands in worship every week,” the young man declared.

Pastor Ted agreed with him. He encouraged the young man to continue developing his gifts. 

“That’s the reason I’m leaving. I need to find a bigger church. I’m called to lead something much larger.”

Within a few years, New Life hosted 5,000 attenders each weekend. Then the number spiked to 10,000. Then 15,000.

And they did so with a different worship leader— the guy who had been the back up for the man who left to pursue something more grandiose. 

In Pastor Ted’s words, “Someone else walked into this man’s position. I believe he was called to lead thousands. The Lord placed that burden on him. But, he didn’t stay planted and walk in humility. After he left our church he never found another place to lead.”

Scripture tells us plainly that God arranges the parts of the body just as He desires (1 Corinthians 12:18). If you see something in your church— or around your church— that needs to be done, it may very well be that God has burdened and gifted you to meet that need. That is, He might have sovereignly placed you there to express that part of the body of Christ.  

Your natural talents and created design are part of the way the Lord has uniquely made you. In the same way that your calling will probably fall within the bounds of instructional obedience, the ministry you do will also fall somewhere in the bounds of God's created design. 

 

3. Supernatural gifts = embrace the Holy Spirit’s expression through me

Finally, we arrive at the area of our supernatural gifts, the manifestations of grace whereby the Spirit expresses Himself through us. Remember, though, we didn’t just “take a test” and start here. We’ve done the deeper work. 

We’ve already answered a few questions— the first two being related to instructional obedience and the second two being related to our natural talents and created design:

  1. Is there an area in your life that you are afraid will “catch up” with you?
  2. Are you harboring any areas of bitterness, jealousy, or envy?
  3. What is something you do better than others, something you may have always done?
  4. What burden do you feel?

If you haven’t worked through these questions, take time to do that now. I’ve provided space for you at the end of this chapter. Then, after doing that, come back and continue reading. Each of these will give you incredible direction as to what your gifts are.

That said, let me remind you that the same God who created you is the  same God who gifts you. He's the God, too, who put the desires in your heart. When we remember this and find areas where they all overlap, we find our unique place of freedom and empowerment. 

All three— your created design, your spiritual gifts, and your personal passions— are important. 

  • Your created design reveals how you were born. These come to you at your "first birth.”
  • Your desires reveal the things you’re passionate about. These passions might be based on past experience, based on talents and skills you have, some wrong you’d like to see made right in the world, etc.
  • Your spiritual gifts demonstrate how the Holy Spirit most effectively moves through you. These are supernatural— they are given to you at your "second birth.” They are the presence and power of the Creator working through you.

These three areas all work together to enhance one another in a synergistic way. Think about it as you review the graphics in this chapter. I’ll pull them together after making these three observations:

  • If we don’t walk in Biblical alignment (instructional obedience) our actions fall outside the bounds of the Kingdom. 
  • If we don’t walk in our created design, we deny the individual expression God's given us— uniquely. If we deny our personal passions, the ministry we do lacks heart. It doesn’t connect with the soul. In other words, an important ingredient is missing. We weren't designed to be cookie-cutter Christians; we were created to be uniquely who He's made us to be. 
  • If we don’t move in the power of the spiritual gifts, we neglect the most powerful force in the universe— the Holy Spirit! 

In the links at the end of this post I’ll provide you with a spiritual gifts “test.” It’s really an assessment instrument that helps you define how you've already seen the Lord work through you. In other words, the answers you provide don’t prescribe anything. They may describe and what you already know to be true, helping provide language to what you’ve experienced.  

 

Now, ask the five “F” questions

That said, there are five questions to review as you begin serving. They’re incredibly simple ways to run a quick check and assess how you’re doing: 

  1. Faithfulness: Do I consistently show up to serve?
  2. Followship: Do I sincerely feel like I’m following Christ when I serve in this area?
  3. Fruitfulness: What is the result of my service in this area?
  4. Fulfillment: Do I enjoy serving in this area?
  5. Friends: What do others say about my service?

Let’s evaluate each of these briefly. 

First, faithfulness: Do I consistently show up to serve? 

My experience is that when you find the thing God has gifted you to do, you find your purpose. And when you discover your purpose, you actually anticipate doing that work of ministry. 

That said, if you consistently prioritize other things, you should take that as a caution flag and evaluate yourself honestly, grappling with the question as to whether or not that particular area of service is for you.

Sure, sometimes life situations dictate that you need to step back. That’s different. That’s a normal part of life. If you intentionally avoid ministry, though, it might be a clue that you’re gifted— and called— to do something else.

Second, followship: Do I sincerely feel like I’m following Christ when I serve in this area?

No one felt burdened to build the wall except Nehemiah. No one felt  empowered to slay Goliath except for David. It’s not that other people weren’t called to do something, they just weren’t called to do those things.

This loops back to the question we asked earlier about the unique burden the Lord places on each of us. When you find your burden, you intuitively know that you’re doing what He’s ordained for you to do.

Third, fruitfulness: What is the result of my service in this area?

For a season, I attended a church where the lead pastor referred to himself as an apostle and his associate referred to himself as an evangelist. You might recognize these as two of the “equipper” roles we  see in Ephesians 4:11-12. 

Both men were extremely honoring, were full of integrity, and knew Jesus intimately. The problem is that, well, neither one of them were actually either of those roles. 

In the two years we attended the church, I witnessed zero adult baptisms. In fact, I saw four the entire time we were there. That’s right, four. And three of those were those men’s relatives, all children. 

Are these men not gifted? 

In my opinion, they are— but they’re gifted to do something else. 

How do I know?

There’s no fruit.

Fourth, fulfillment: Do I enjoy serving in this area?

Ministry isn’t about you. However, when we serve others, we find an intense joy in giving from the overflow which the Lord places in us. If we don’t experience that, we should step back, pause, and ask if this is really our area of service.

This is a great place to mention that we don’t want to use any single question as the determining factor as to what we do or don’t do service-wise. Rather, we hold each of these in tension, using them as ways to really discern if we’re doing the thing we’re created to do.

Fifth, friends: What do others say about my service?

The final benchmark is to seek wisdom from the body of Christ. After all, the gifts are given to each of us for the common good of all (1 Corinthians 12:7). As such, we should lean into the wisdom our brothers and sisters offer us.

Solomon says it clearly: “As iron sharpens iron, so the countenance of one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17).

A countenance is “face.” That is, the face of others— up close and personal— has the power to transform us into who we’re designed to be. One author said it well: “The person you are in five years is the sum total of the books you read, the experiences you’ve had, and the five people with whom you spend the most time.”

 

When I was in high school a youth minister of mine repeatedly reminded us: “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” Relationships (as we’ve eluded to several times) transform us. 

(Recall, earlier we discovered that looking at Jesus transforms us as well.)

One of the most powerful things you can do for your overall health is to find a group of people who will journey with you. This is true in all of life— as well as when you seek to discover your gifts and calling. Now, I don’t mean a group of “fans” (one-way relationships with people who look up to you and endorse everything you do) or “acquaintances” (surface level relationships that don’t have the relational weight to carry tough conversations) but— rather— truly deep friendships. The kind the Bible describes. The ones who sharpen you (Proverbs 27:17). The ones who can tell you what you don’t want to hear that you desperately need to hear (Proverbs 27:6).

That last one is important. I meet people all the time who suggest they have a group of accountability partners who walk with them— people who tell them what they need to hear. Turns out, though, they often don’t. Rather, they have a group of acquaintance-ish-friends who will tell them what they want to hear, but won’t challenge them when they need it the most.

Those “accountability” partners confess, “Yes, I love __________. We’re friends, but our relationship won’t carry the weight of me saying __________” (insert the name of some major issue where the person needs correction or adjustment).

Often, they say the friend will cut them off emotionally or relationally… or argue back against them. In other words, dysfunction surfaces!

That’s not a true transformational support system. A support system should be designed to uphold us when we’re crashing— even when we don’t know we’re crashing.  In fact, that’s when we most need it!

That means it’s important to walk closely with those who know you well and have the right to speak into your life. Often, that entails actually communicating to them that you sincerely want them to challenge you, to call forth the greatness that’s in you— even if it means correcting you and telling you hard truths. It means they have the capacity to call forth the image of Christ that may remain as of yet unseen.

The reality is that we all have blind spots. 

 

I used to think I didn’t have any. By their very definition, though blind spots are hidden places you can’t see. They’re obvious to everyone else— particularly to the people closest to you. But, they’re invisible to you even as they sit in plain site.

Furthermore— and this is the glory of it— our blind spots might hide hidden dangers or they may hide hidden beauties we need to see. In other words, don’t think of accountability in the negative sense only— as a group of people telling us what not to do… think of accountability as a group of people empowering us to be all that we can be.  

That is, our support system may say, “Hey, watch out— you’re not seeing this right.”

Or, they might say, “Look, there’s something great about you here that you need to see. Let me remind you of it…”

Blind spots aren’t necessarily negatives. Rather, blind spots are simply areas we can’t see!

This means that we don’t get side-swiped when others don’t live up to who they really are, either— any more than Jesus did when Peter continued failing. We continue, like Christ, calling forth the image in the mirror. That means that, sometimes, we even see that image in them before they do, right? 

It’s very practical 

This all matters for one simple reason: it helps us know where to focus our energy. That is, we know what to do and what not to do.

If I was 18 years old again, contemplating my post-high school graduation plans, I’d use the exact grid I’ve outlined in this talk. I’d look at areas of instructional obedience, using the two questions provided. Then, I’d evaluate my created design, answering the questions in that section of the chapter. Finally, I’d lean into my spiritual gifts. I would let those collective answers inform the major I chose for college, the career I selected to pursue, and even the volunteer hours I chose to invest in my church and my community.

I can’t go back. You can’t, either. The good news is that it’s never too late. Scripture is full of people who never executed their greatest exploits until they were in their eighties or beyond.

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