When we are growing up, life just happens.
Food, school, sports, vacations—all seem to occur automatically. But as we mature and gain more independence, we have to start taking responsibility for these things and become intentional about them, or they just won’t happen.
We need to be purposeful.
Some life coaches encourage their clients to move toward a Well-Planned Life by creating one single “life purpose statement” that is permanent and all-encompassing. This is then used as a governing principle when making decisions, setting priorities, and so on.
The basic idea is a good one.
The problem is that such a purpose statement usually is too generic and vague because it is intended to cover every area of life. Or, if it is made more specific, it ends up too long or fails to cover important areas of life. Also, it can be inflexible and unresponsive, incapable of taking account of changes that may occur in life. The frequent result is an irrelevant and forgotten life purpose.
That’s why I suggest the development of four “life” purposes in the following areas: spiritual life, family life, vocational life, and Christian service. You may think of other areas, but you have to keep it manageable and doable. Also, I believe that these are the four most important areas to God and that this particular order reflects biblical priorities.
#1. Spiritual life
Who do you want to be?
What do you want to be?
What area of your personality or character do you want to develop? Or defeat?
What do you want to stop being or doing?
What grace do you want to cultivate?
What sin do you want to conquer?
These questions are focused on our spiritual development, our relationship with God, and our likeness to Christ.
Most of us, even most pastors, do not have specific aims or purposes for our spiritual growth. We just drift along, halfheartedly trying to try harder, vaguely hoping for some positive changes, but without any particular focus or plan. That means we rarely make much progress, and even if we do happen to advance in some areas, we don’t notice it and take encouragement from it.
A sample spiritual life purpose statement might be something like this:
“By God’s grace, I will defeat anger and develop patience so that I might be more Christlike.”
Other examples might be:
“By God’s grace, I will defeat lust and cultivate purity,” “By God’s grace, I will learn how to pray better,” and so on.
Why not ask others who know you well what they think your greatest spiritual need is? The point is to have a point, a clear spiritual purpose and aim.
We can follow the same kind of process in devising a purpose statement for our family relationships—our marriages and our relationships with our children, our parents, our siblings, and so on.
This might produce a statement like this:
“By God’s grace, I will lead my family to financial stability” or “By God’s grace, I will increase the time I spend with my wife and children.”
#3. Vocational life
For most of us men, the primary way in which we serve God outside the home is in our jobs.
A purpose statement for our vocational life might be something along these lines:
- “By God’s grace, I will learn how to manage and resolve conflict at work”
- “By God’s grace, I will develop my leadership skills”
- “By God’s grace, I will mentor new employees”
#4. Christian service
Remember, you are already serving God in your spiritual life, in your family life, and in your vocational life. That’s a lot. If your season of life permits, however, you may also want to add a Christian service purpose statement something like this:
- “By God’s grace, I will minister to the seniors in my church”
- “By God’s grace, I will learn how to teach Sunday school”
- “By God’s grace, I will evangelize one person a week”
Living on purpose
Yes, we must be prepared to pause, edit, or even delete our life purpose statements and start over as “stuff happens” in our lives. But living our lives at the beck and call of everyone else is not living life in the image of God.
One pastor who eventually resigned from the ministry for a time explained how he got into such a mess:
“I felt like I was responsible to do whatever came along. I didn’t plan. I reacted. I didn’t know how to say no or what to say no to. My functional job description was ‘Everything.’”
If we have stated purposes though, we can use them to assess every opportunity and summons that comes our way.
Having goals saves us hundreds of later dilemmas and decisions about how to use our time, it prevents us from spending most of our time fixing problems, and it helps those around us to flourish.
In a survey of more than a thousand teams, Greg McKeown found that “when there is a serious lack of clarity about what the team stands for and what their goals and roles are, people experience confusion, stress, and frustration. When there is a high level of clarity, on the other hand, people thrive.”
Working toward goals also energizes us by giving us a sense of progress and momentum.
Above all, it helps us to die. According to hospice nurse Bronnie Ware, the most common regret of dying patients was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” I don’t want to die like that.
Editor's Note: Content taken from Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Cultureby David Murray, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187.