God has created each person on purpose and for a purpose. And yet, many people fail to recognize the unique calling that God has placed on their lives. Understanding your personal calling—what I like to refer to as understanding God’s game plan for your life—is a critical part of living a productive and fulfilled life.
Of course, Scripture describes God’s moral calling for every Christian―biblical principles guide us and help us know how we should live. Yet it seems that God also has a more specific calling for each person―a job for them to do. Ephesians 2:10 says we were created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. What “good works” does God want us to do in our lifetime? Let’s look at three steps to discern God’s calling.
Our life purpose is the reason we exist. It’s what gives our lives meaning. I’m sure we can think of many people who had a strong sense of purpose.
- Mahatma Gandhi sought to promote peace and equality in non-violent ways.
- Mother Teresa devoted her life to loving the least of these; to touch the dying, the poor, the lonely, and the unwanted.
- Terry Fox, a Canadian hero, set out to run across Canada on one leg to raise money for cancer research.
I have found it helpful to discern my life purpose by prayerfully identifying verses from the Bible that are meaningful to me. Here’s how you can follow a similar exercise:
- Choose 6-10 Scriptures that are especially meaningful to you.
- Consider why God has emphasized these verses in your life. How do they connect with activities that give your life deep meaning?
- Write down single words or themes that stand out to you from these passages.
- Use the ideas from these words/themes to create a one-sentence purpose statement that captures a part of why you believe God created you (see the Three Steps to Understanding Your Life Purpose in a Deeper Way blog for a more detailed description of this process).
Here’s my life purpose: to build capacity in myself and others so that we can love God deeply and serve Him more effectively. My purpose statement has gone through numerous revisions, so don’t feel that you have to reach your final draft from the start.
Our core values are deeply embedded assumptions and beliefs that continuously influence our decisions. They are extremely important! They will either support or hinder the living out of our life purpose.
There are different ways to identify our core values. You might find it helpful to look at a list of core values and pick those that clearly describe you (here’s a 50-word list and a 500-word list that you can try). Another strategy is to reflect on a various questions, such as:
- What character traits do I value most?
- What are some ultimate values that I believe God wants all Christians to demonstrate in increasing measure?
- How would I describe my life’s passion in one sentence?
I recommend identifying six to eight core values that shape your behaviour. It’s also helpful to describe each one briefly so you are clear on what the value means to you.
My core values are courage, wisdom, love, determination, holiness, humility, justice, and improvement. To give you an example of a core value description, here’s my statement on wisdom: How can I love, pursue holiness, and act justly without God’s wisdom? To be wise, I must fear the Lord by adopting a humble posture of reverent submission to Him and His ways.
As you prepare to craft your vision, it’s important to think about the major areas of your life (I call these life domains).
- Make a list of three to five major life domains that are important to you (e.g. family, work, relationship with God, volunteer activities, etc.). For my vision, I focused on four key relationships (God, my wife, my children, and others).
- Develop a rich, visionary description of how you would like to live out your life purpose and core values in each life domain. Each domain description should be at least three sentences. You may want to include a picture for each area that captures something of your vision (this can be very inspiring and makes the vision more memorable).
Here’s part of my personal vision that describes my dream for serving others:
I see people, including myself, who need to take steps closer to God. I see myself as a courageous, loving, and prayerful disciple-maker for Christ, seeing people take faith steps regularly. I see myself as a transformational servant leader who constantly builds capacity in other people, teams, organizations and myself, so that we can serve God more effectively for His glory.
Notice how this vision for serving others clearly reflects my life purpose and some of my core values. As you work on the three elements of personal calling, you should notice how your vision and core values help you live out your overarching life purpose. You may also recognize that you will need to build other values that are not yet core values to support your vision (you can add these preferred core values to your list of core values with the intention of making them central to your life―see Five Strategies for Growing Your Character for ideas on how to grow preferred core values).
I have found this process of discerning personal calling incredibly helpful for myself and others whom I’ve had the privilege of leading through the process. Understanding and living out our God-given calling ignites our passion, gives us a strong sense of purpose, and helps us focus our efforts in a consistent and concerted direction. Added together, our calling enables us to accomplish the “good works” that God has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10).
You can download a free resource called Understanding Your Personal Calling to help guide you through this entire process of discerning your personal calling.__
[Randy Wollf is Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Practical Theology and Director of the ACTS World Campus.