Living in the Light of the World’s NeedsBook / Produced by Individual TOW Project member
Chapter 13: Investing Our Resources: Christian StewardshipBack to Table of Contents Back to Table of Contents
By the grace of God I am who I am. How then can I, as the unique person God has made me, be stretched in the service of Christ and of people, so that nothing he has given me is wasted, and everything he has given me is used? (John Stott)
Tom and Sue are good people. And successful. In their mid-forties, they live in a lovely home in a good suburb and have three teenage children. Until recently Tom worked for a multi-national as a senior manager, while Sue was nursing. They’re involved in a church, having been committed Christians since their teenage years.
Dig below the surface though, and you’ll find that for quite a few years Tom and Sue have been very frustrated with life. There were worrying signs. Tom worked 60-70 hours a week in his job. It was hugely stressful, and he knew (more so once he became a senior manager) that he was involved in an industry with many questionable practices. For several years Tom didn’t know what to do about this. In fact his situation at work completely drained him. He would come home exhausted and have very little energy for anything else. When he attended church no-one could relate to his struggles. It was not an issue anybody wanted to talk about.
Sue went back to nursing ten years ago to help pay the bills. As the children grew they found that even with her income they were only just getting by.
One result of all this was that Tom and Sue felt they had little energy for the major task of parenting, let alone for friendships, church and community involvement.
Tom desperately wanted to “get out of the rat race”. He was very disillusioned. His goal had been to work his way to a position of influence and really use that influence well. That meant taking promotions, and often moving as a family. But he realises now that he actually became just like everyone else. Decision-making at work was more about survival than transformation.
Tom could see his predicament, but that didn’t help. In fact, it just made the agony worse. He was 45. He wanted to make a significant difference with the last twenty years of his working life. But he felt trapped. He couldn’t afford to rock the boat because he and Sue needed all the money they earned in order to pay the big mortgage on the house, and to maintain their standard of living. Losing his manager’s income was too big a risk.
Besides he often thought to himself, “What could I do? I’ve spent my whole life in this industry. It’s all I know.” Sue felt the same.
Perhaps saddest of all, they had no one who could help them in this dilemma. They felt isolated.
And yet it hadn’t always been like this for Tom and Sue. When they were in their early twenties they were excited about making a difference for God. They were bright young people, gifted, intelligent – involved in lots of good stuff and passionate about God.
So what went wrong?
What do we do with what we’ve been given?
There are a number of interconnected issues we have raised throughout this book that apply directly to Tom and Sue’s dilemma. Issues such as “fit”, life stage, busyness, balance and integration. All connect with the desire to make a difference – to develop a SoulPurpose.
But there is a further issue Tom and Sue struggle with. That is the question: “What do I do with what I’ve been given?”
Fundamental to discovering our SoulPurpose is acknowledging that our abilities, personality and life circumstances are a gift from God. All that we have is from Him. It’s not ours to do with as we please. As the Psalmist sums it all up: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”(Psalm 24:1, NIV)
If everything is ultimately God’s, then we are, by implication, only stewards. What we “own” isn’t simply ours. There’s a sense in which the term ownership is unhelpful. It tempts us to think we have rights over all the resources that have come our way in life – resources that include not just our money and possessions, but also our time, our heritage and background, the environment, our relationships and community, even our personal gifts and abilities.
The biblical concept is not one of ownership, but of stewardship – and that concept is foundational to developing a SoulPurpose.
Stewardship is a consistent theme through both the Old and New Testaments, beginning with the creation mandate of Genesis 1:26-29. It is a central feature of a number of the parables of Jesus. The Greek word for steward most often used in the New Testament is oikonomos, the manager in a large household, which included servants, slaves and all their activities. The oikonomos was ultimately responsible and accountable to the master for the running of the home.
However, as Leonard Sweet notes, a more helpful word for this role may well be “trusteeship”, because for a number of reasons “steward” and “stewardship” are either redundant or loaded words. Sweet argues this on two counts – firstly that steward is an anachronistic term (there are no stewards around any more in the biblical sense), and secondly that the concept has been so misused by the church. Nowadays it simply means money and church fundraising, rather than “whole-of-life discipleship” and the “costly care of creation”.
In contrast, “trustee” is a term in common use today. Most people are vaguely familiar with the many trusts that exist in our society – particularly school boards, charitable organisations and family trusts. Trustees are appointed to run and manage these trusts. Their role is the responsible stewarding of the resources of the trust in order to fulfil the goals or charter of the organisation. Trustees do not own the trust they represent, even though they carry legal responsibility for what happens. They are caretakers, managers, custodians.
Whatever word we use, it needs to carry with it this sense of responsibility for resources that aren’t our own. In this chapter we will use steward and trustee interchangeably.
To whom much is given, much is required
In his Parable of the Talents Jesus shows that we are not all entrusted with the same number of resources. The greater the resources we are responsible for, the greater the accountability. Faithfulness in taking care of what we have been given is the key attribute required of a trustee.
Jesus picks up on this accountability theme when he ends his teaching on the Wise Steward by stating, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Or in one version, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Luke 12:48b, NIV).
This perspective has huge implications for those of us who are resource-rich. Whether the resources are material things, or whether it is the “head start” that a loving and supportive family and community have given us, the message is the same: “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Many of us are blessed by a large volume of discretionary time, or by exceptional abilities, or by the capacity to significantly influence others. Jesus says to us, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Whatever God has entrusted to us, we are required to invest the Master’s resources wisely, for the benefit of his kingdom. For those with substantial resources, this is a weighty and sobering responsibility.
In the realities of life then, how do we flesh out this need to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us? Using Tom and Sue’s very honest reflections on their own journey, let’s examine some of the implications.
Money and possessions
Trusteeship involves embracing a view of our paypacket and possessions which asks, “What of these resources will the Master allow me to use to take care of my needs, and how does he want me to employ the rest in the service of others?” This is fundamentally at odds with much evangelical teaching on giving, which works from the assumption that we should give the “first fruits” to God … and then subconsciously presumes that the rest is there to do with as we please.
As we noted in the chapter on busyness, affluence can complicate our lives immeasurably and cloud the growing picture of our SoulPurpose. Whenever Tom and Sue looked at their lives they felt an ongoing pressure to earn more, in order to cope with their increasing expectations of consumption. Not that their workmates or Christian friends ever thought Tom and Sue particularly extravagant. The way they lived was fairly normal within their social context.
However, looking back both Tom and Sue recognise that many of their choices were poor, and are part of why they now have limited options. At the moment they’re in the most resource-poor period of their lives. Raising teenagers, they’ve discovered, is incredibly expensive! But, as Sue commented to Tom recently, “Why didn’t someone tell us early in our married life that the excess income we enjoyed then should be saved for later? Then we wouldn’t be feeling the kind of financial pressure we do now.”
Tom has a similar comment. “The problem,” he explains, “is that even though we have always wanted to serve God, we’ve never really understood that our money was not ours to just do with as we pleased. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve always been faithful tithers and given where we could. But we’ve also chosen to upgrade our cars, furniture and appliances on a regular basis. And I now realise that shifting three years ago to a bigger house in a better part of town was not a good call. It just put more pressure on us financially. Not only did it give us a bigger mortgage – we then had to buy more furniture to fill the house!”
“The truth is we’d simply grown tired of our surroundings. And most of our friends were doing it, so we just assumed it was a good idea. Sue saw this really nice house across town one day, and next minute we found ourselves moving!”
Sue agrees. “Yes, it’s quite ironic really. I thought having such a dream home would make our lives easier to manage. But quite the opposite occurred. And not just financially. It also tore us away from the people we had been getting to know in our old suburb and church – our network of relationships.
“Because our lives were so hectic, with both of us working fulltime and the kids involved in all kinds of activities, I was regularly ‘buying time’ by using pre-prepared foods. Plus, it wasn’t uncommon for us to eat out or have takeaways two or three times a week. We were on the run so much that it was the convenient thing to do.”
Both Sue and Tom also agree that their loose patterns of spending spilled over into other areas as well. “I’m horrified at it now,” says Sue. “It’s no wonder, looking back, that we felt we were struggling financially – all the stuff we convinced ourselves we needed, the expensive holidays we thought we required because we were so exhausted and needed to spoil ourselves a little. We were really caught in a vicious cycle – spending most of our income simply to maintain our lifestyle. If we’d dropped our lifestyle expectations earlier, we would have released a substantial amount of money for other purposes. Even more importantly, it would have freed up time and energy to think about how we could meaningfully invest the next twenty years of our lives.”
Being trustees of time involves valuing it as a divine gift rather than a commodity to be used and abused. Rather than trying to squeeze as many activities as we can into our days and weeks, we need to treasure the time given to us and think carefully (just as a wise manager does) about how to apportion it.
When it comes to stewarding our time, it helps if we appreciate that even though we each have only a limited amount, God has actually given us all that we need for doing what he has asked us to do.
Tom admits that he never really understood this until recently. He could never say no to new commitments, which meant that he was forever swamped by tasks, and under immense pressure to get the multitude of jobs done. No wonder he wanted to “opt out of the rat race”.
Tom’s inability to draw the line and limit the tasks he tackled was probably a symptom of too high a view of his work. (We touched on some of these issues in the chapter on busyness). “I know I suffered from a bad imbalance in my life. Recently a friend helped me to begin thinking strategically about what God really wants me to be involved in. But for years I got no help – though the truth is that I may not have been open to advice even if someone had offered it! I got into this pattern of making myself the exception. I mean, I knew about the Bible’s emphasis on Sabbath rest, but I always thought my circumstances left me no option but to ignore it. Quite destructive really.”
As Tom’s experience highlights, the pace of life in our culture means that our time may be one of the most difficult resources to steward.
Gifts, talents, skills and personality
We’ve already written much in this book about how unique God has made us. Our personalities, gifts, talents and motivations are entrusted to us for a purpose – that we might serve God and others through their use.
Good trusteeship involves working hard to understand how God has put us together, and then to realise that this is just the starting point. We’re not fully formed from the beginning. We have a responsibility to nurture and develop our gifts, talents and potential skills, honing them so that our service can grow and become better. The temptation is often just to rely on our natural flair – and not to improve on it.
Tom and Sue are both talented and skilled people and have certainly worked at developing their gifts over the years. However, both felt cramped serving where they were. Intuitively they knew that there were other ways they could use their abilities more fully. But as we’ve seen, their poor use of money and time resources left them trapped, feeling unable to do anything about re-ordering their lives.
Until recently a strong sense of SoulPurpose eluded them. However, some of the exercises and perspectives mentioned in this book really helped the two of them to re-consider who they were and how they could best serve. For example, as Tom explains it, “One thing that really limited me in the past was thinking that my career was where I served God most. When I was helped to see that it was just part of my life’s work, then it freed me to see the potential of using my skills in other areas. Actually, that’s what led me eventually to quit my job and join a smaller company working in the same area. It came to a head when the CEO wanted me to take on a position at head office. The thought of moving half way round the world when we’d just begun to make a life here didn’t appeal in the least.”
Sue adds, “That’s when I said, ‘Enough is enough!’ We’d just begun to get involved in other things which genuinely excited us. I’d taken on a part-time nursing role at the hospice – not because we needed the money but because I could see a way for me to make a difference. Plus, friends up the street lost their daughter in an accident and I’d been spending a lot of time supporting Keri. I couldn’t just run away from that.”
Relationships and community
Sue’s reaction to the possibility of moving yet again, was a clear sign that she was beginning to recognise another key resource in her life – relationships. Strong friendships and immersion in a community of people are also areas that a good steward needs to manage well.
Building genuine community takes time. It requires developing a culture of openness – inviting others to be significant in our lives in shaping our values, making decisions, finding where we fit, asking the hard questions and providing a safe environment to learn and grow.
Tom comments “It’s only very recently that I’ve realised how important friendships really are. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve always got on well with people and tried to get involved in the communities we’ve lived in. But when I look back I can see that the regular moving we’ve done was very disruptive to establishing strong relationships. We basically did what we wanted. We made the decisions on our own.
“I can clearly remember the reaction of a friend of ours – he was at the church we were attending at the time. After I told him we were moving city he obviously thought hard about it. A bit later he came up to me and told me he was quite upset that we could just decide to up and leave; he’d thought that our friendship meant more than it obviously did.
“Of course I couldn’t understand his feelings at the time. But looking back I guess presenting people with a fait accompli was our way of protecting ourselves. It meant we didn’t have to worry about others interfering with our decisions or thinking that they had a right to tell us how to live.”
Sue agrees. “I remember that occasion too. I don’t think we understood Brian at all. He wasn’t trying to run our lives for us. I think he just placed a much higher value on true friendship than we did. And the sad thing was, he and Anne knew us well. We’d shared quite a lot with them about our struggles, and I think they were quite committed to helping us work through some issues. Plus, they were very open about their lives too. They were a gift to us. But we just up and left!”
It’s clear as Tom and Sue talk that there are many regrets about their utilitarian approach to relationships over the years. But they are determined to change this and have been working at nurturing a group of friends who are also committed to helping each other discover and outwork their SoulPurpose. “We now realize,” says Sue, “that developing friendship requires time and patience.”
This doesn’t mean they have ruled out the possibility of moving again in the future. Just that if such a possibility arose, the way they went about deciding and what criteria they used would be very different from what they have been in the past.
“I think I’ve had a conversion of sorts,” says Tom. “When I began to grasp the idea that relationships were right at the centre of what God was about, it caused me to take a serious look at my priorities and what really counted in the long run. It was actually very liberating because I began to see that parenting, friendships, helping my staff grow and develop – all this stuff was part of my SoulPurpose.
“If I’d had that attitude earlier in my career it would have made a big difference. But I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I was always too caught up in the task, rather than letting God use me to serve people. As a manager, I hated people problems. But now in the new company I’m finding a real excitement from helping my staff work things through. In fact, I’ve discovered a lot more about myself – what I’m good at and what I really enjoy doing. Plus, the guy who owns the company sees that as part of my role. Which helps a lot – because in my old job I was made to feel really guilty about being interrupted by people. Productivity was everything.”
“Things at home have been a lot better as well,” says Sue. “For both of us – but particularly for Tom. He’s really motivated to invest in the kids. And he has a bit more energy to do it, too. Not that life isn’t hectic. Just that we’ve somehow started to say no to stuff that might be good but that doesn’t fit what we need right now.”
“Put it this way,” says Tom. “My family and friends aren’t getting the leftovers like they used to!”
Most of us will be able to identify with some of the struggles Tom and Sue have experienced. We certainly can! Answering the question, “What do I do with what I have been entrusted with?” is an ongoing challenge for us, as it is for them.
There’s no neat and foolproof path to becoming wise and responsible trustees. We are all so very different, as are our circumstances. How we exercise our stewardship over money, time, gifts, relationships, etc., will differ greatly from one person to another, and from one stage of our lives to another.
However, as Tom and Sue are discovering, there is real joy and fulfilment in using well what we have been given. It’s a key to discovering our SoulPurpose.
A Trustee’s Prayer
Lord, I remind myself today – all I have is yours; not mine.
So help me to manage your gift of time well.
Help me to invest your gift of money and possessions wisely.
May the unique personality, skills and abilities entrusted to me be well nurtured, developed and used, for your purposes.
May I appreciate the gift of loved ones you’ve placed around me.
All of creation is a gift to be stewarded.
Let me be your servant this day – not abusing or misusing, always treating with care.
Lord, help me to know what to do with what you’ve given,
that you may be glorified and your kingdom built.
In the name of the supreme example of trustees – Jesus.
Personal pondering: your role as a trustee
In what ways can you identify with Tom and Sue?
Do a stocktake of the resources you are a trustee of (money and possessions, time, “fit”, relationships, environment, heritage, etc.). How “wealthy” or “poor” do you consider yourself to be regarding each one? In what ways has this changed for you over the past ten or twenty years?
Reflect on the words of Jesus – “To whom much is given, much is required.” How might understanding resources as gifts affect the way you use them?
What is the biggest challenge you have in being a trustee of money and possessions? List any steps you can take to overcome this challenge. Is there anyone who can help you with this?
Make a list of the people in your life with whom you want to develop a deeper sense of community and accountability. What steps can you take to build a stronger relationship with them? Are there any particular ways they can help you work out your SoulPurpose at present?
Feedback from friends; personal reflections in a small group
Share some of your struggles over stewarding money, time and gifts.
Discuss the claim: “God has actually given us all the time we need to do what he has asked us to do.” What implications do your conclusions have for the way you approach your week?
Brainstorm ways in which you could restructure your lives to better utilise what you’ve been entrusted with.
Christine and Tom Sine, Living on Purpose (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002)
Chapter 14: SoulPurpose: A Mission for LifeBack to Table of Contents Back to Table of Contents
If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. (Thomas Merton)
In this book you have been looking at your own life, discerning the shape God has made you, and trying to understand how to achieve a healthy sense of balance in the midst of competing time pressures and busy schedules.
We invite you, in this final chapter, to bring your new insights into sharp focus by considering in depth two key questions:
What do I really want my life to count for?
What will really matter for me in the end?
The race of your life
According to Paul, the Christian life calls for all the grit and determination and dedication and training that an athlete gives to a race…
Paul describes the Christian life as a race. He writes:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.
Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly … but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others, I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
It’s a helpful analogy – particularly if we think of a long-distance race. Over the long haul it’s easy to become distracted and to lose sight of your running plan. Same with life. It’s the long haul that counts.
That’s why reflecting on how to finish your race can give such a valuable perspective. It helps you understand better what to do along the way. Finishing well requires some wise preparation, along with the ability to pace yourself for the full distance.
For in life, as we progress along our course we only too easily become bogged down with the difficulties of the terrain. When present demands (and opportunities too) shape our decisions … they then begin to shape our lives. We become immersed in the detail, and it begins to obscure our overall plan. Details can be important, of course, but if we deal only with them we risk losing sight of our long-term goal.
Our lives begin to drift, and one day we wake up to see that we have lost our momentum, we’ve frittered away our time, and we’ve strayed from where we first intended to go.
Having a clear picture of how we want to end is critical. And so is living now in the light of that goal. The writer of Ecclesiastes was struck by this very point. As he came to the end of his life he saw that so much of what had occupied his time (and the time of the people around him) was of little importance. So many things that didn’t last; so many things that didn’t matter…
He came to see the long term consequences of the choices people took. The years the lawyer invested in making it to the top of the tree, the wheeling and dealing that brought the businessman wealth, the power plays that gave a politician exalted status, the building projects a proud ruler thought would last forever – this is what people gave their lives to.
But what did all those things amount to in the end? Families in tatters, lonely rulers starved for real friends, and people with empty lives. Although they seemed to have gained the world they had actually lost their souls. Their trophies were “empty” because they had failed to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with their God.
It must be frightening to put everything you have into winning what you think is the main event … only to wake up later to the realisation that it’s just a sideshow, that the main event is actually being staged without you. This is the numbing result that the writer of Ecclesiastes saw.
Always keeping the end in view decreases the risk of getting distracted from our goal. Yachties know that to cope with fickle breezes and different currents you need to keep the bow of your boat lined up with a particular spot onshore. Otherwise you drift off course. And when you’re well out to sea with no sight of land, some kind of fixed bearings are crucial. At night the stars can provide that, but to keep on course during the day a compass is an essential piece of equipment. Otherwise you’ll literally be all at sea!
So it is with our lives. The writer to the Hebrews encourages his readers to focus on their finish line:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)
The Message puts it this way: Strip down, start running – and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever.
Jesus never lost sight of where he was headed. Follow his example.
The author and perfector of our faith
In a delightful twist, Jesus is both the one who has started us on the race, and also the end goal. And he’s the one who will help us become all we were meant to be – both in the refining of our character and in the full development of our SoulPurpose.
The race set before us is most of all about who we can become. It is only as we keep our eyes on Jesus that this transformation will be possible. He is the one who can help us discover what our lives were meant to count for. Jesus is also the one to whom we should look so that we can determine what will really matter to us in the end.
This chapter, like all the others in this book, will end with some questions and suggestions. They will help you work toward perceiving your own personal SoulPurpose. Another useful exercise (when your perception has taken firm shape) is to summarise in a paragraph what you understand the key strands of your SoulPurpose to be. This will never be a final statement. Your goals will always be open to further refinement. But at every point in your life it makes a world of difference to understand where you are aiming.
We (the authors) have all found attempting this helpful in taking a long view of our lives. Here are our own personal summaries:
I see my SoulPurpose centering on helping people make sense of what the call to follow Jesus involves in everyday life. This is mainly expressed through writing and teaching, but I also have a commitment to earthing my own faith in real life. (If I can’t learn to live it, how can I talk about it?) Particular areas my SoulPurpose leads me into are how faith should affect our work, our use of resources, relationships, and our involvement in mission and evangelism.
I want to see others grow in understanding their own SoulPurpose and see organisations (work, community, church, etc.) become places where people thrive – not just survive. At present I work this out in my family, studies, and the opportunities to coach individuals and groups who come my way.
Our God is too small and I want my life to count in helping to expand our vision of God. I want to see a younger generation of Christians living more purposefully in partnership with God in the world. That is why I like being involved in work with students, because they are such a strategic group at a very formative time of life. And that’s why I’m interested in faith and work issues, because I want to see churches grow that really equip and support Christians to venture out into the world more purposefully. My SoulPurpose also includes a strong desire to reflect God’s concern for the poor, oppressed and neglected. I also want my children and grandchildren to grow up knowing they are loved and gifted and using their gifts to discover their own SoulPurpose.
These are some of the things that provide motivation and direction for us.
But what about you? What do you really want your life to count for? What are the landmarks or compass bearings that are going to keep you on track when the winds blow fickle and the currents change? What are the things that God is on about that he also wants you to be on about?
What are some of the specific values that Jesus stood for that he’s wanting you to grab hold of and not forget?
What are the priorities you need to be sure about if you’re not going to lose your way?
Connection and Service
If you were to idly flick through this book you might think we have written a justification for a selfish life. Find where you fit … do what you are … express your uniqueness. It sounds like one of those New Age self-improvement courses.
A closer look will, of course, dispel any such idea. The content of this book is grounded in God’s call to us in Scripture. Jesus summed it up: Love God … and love your neighbour. Our focus is on loving our neighbour. Not a sentimental love, but a practical, self-giving one. In these pages you have wrestled with the challenge of how to make that love your focus, and how to order your life so that you can do it well.
As you set out to express this love and put your new understandings into practice we have two suggestions that will help you maintain your bearings – two points of reference to use whenever you’re considering a new task. They’re compass points that will keep you on your chosen course. You’ll recall them from our first chapter. The first is…
Connection reminds us to look at what God is doing, where he is working, and how your proposed contribution fits into his purposes. For ultimately it is God’s work in this universe that is most important. We have been invited to become partners in what he is doing.
The problem is that we have all too often viewed God’s work very narrowly – as if he is only really concerned with supporting the church and seeing individuals saved for a life in heaven, rather than as participants in God’s ongoing, creative, sustaining and renewing work on earth.
So we need an expanded vision of God at work in the world. And we need to see how our daily work is connected to his daily work. When this happens we begin to see that no part of our lives needs to be divorced from what he is doing. Even work can – and should – become part of our worship.
Seeing our daily chores as being connected to God’s work will definitely shape the way we go about our day. No longer will it be a matter of fulfilling selfish dreams and goals. It will become more and more about what we have to offer, and how that can be used by God for his good and the good of his world.
Connection then leads to the other critical compass point…
We were made to serve. When we recognise that what we have been given is not just for us, but so the lives of others can be enriched through us, our search to find our “fit” takes on new meaning and purpose. The gifts we have developed, our understanding of how God has uniquely put us together – these give us a lens through which we can see how to better serve others in the course of our daily lives.
With this perspective, our daily work can become, as Martin Luther suggested, our primary way of fulfilling God’s command to love our neighbours.
Re-examining the radical claims of Jesus
Another important way to regain perspective on how to develop our SoulPurpose, is to be aware of the radical claims of Jesus. Meditating on this can be remarkably clarifying!
For we all face a terrible danger. The longer we walk with Jesus, the easier it is to remake him into our own image! His claims on our life are both radical and uncomfortable. So it is little wonder that as we grow more familiar with him we develop a tendency to moderate and soften those claims. That way they become easier to live with. For the lifestyle he calls us to is inevitably at odds with the voices of our materialistic culture.
Meditating often on his words, allowing them to wash over us afresh, is an important and sobering antidote to this natural tendency. Consider these statements:
“When they came home to Capernaum Jesus asked the disciples, ‘What were you discussing on the road?’. The silence was deafening – they had been arguing with one another over who was the greatest. He sat them down and said ‘So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” (Mark 9: 33-35, The Message).
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am. Don’t run from suffering, embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” (Luke 9: 23-25, The Message)
How do I find the “real me”? According to Jesus, by giving myself to him and his mission. By giving my life away. Only then, he says, will I truly discover who I was meant to be.
This then, is one of the great paradoxes of discipleship. My SoulPurpose is not found in a life of self-actualization. It is instead found as I live a life of service – to Jesus and to others. There is no other way.
Why we need to do tasks that don’t particularly “fit” us
We’ve written about the value of finding our “fit”. We’ve pointed out how that can guide us in choosing the things we can best do. We’ve mentioned how, at first glance, this could sound like a licence to a self-focused life – the more I understand how I have been hard-wired, the more I ruthlessly reject doing anything that doesn’t come naturally to me!
But, as we’ve just noted, our guiding aim is to connect with God in service to God’s world. God’s imperatives may sometimes require us to actions that are not determined by our “fit”.
The life of Jesus is our supreme example here. He viewed his sacrifice on the cross as totally necessary for the world he came to save. We’re sure a compelling case could have been made for him to avoid arrest – so that he could “bless” the world even more with his extraordinary gifts of teaching and healing! Some might even suggest an element of foolishness in the deliberate choice Jesus made to be martyred rather than restrict himself to tasks that perfectly fitted him. What a waste!
Fortunately, Jesus recognised that his SoulPurpose was not solely wrapped up in his “fit”. It merged with the wider purposes of God and called him to sacrifice what may have been perceived as the best use of his gifts, for the greater good of God and this world.
Thank God for the obedience of Jesus. Where would any of us be without it? And what an example to follow! Sometimes we too will find ourselves in a situation where, to connect with what God is doing, we will need to take on work that doesn’t comfortably fit our talents and skills and gifts.
Living life on the edge
There are at least two other reasons we can think of for being prepared at times to serve outside of our “fit”. One is the need we all have for growth and challenge.
We cannot mature unless we allow ourselves to be placed in situations where more than just natural ability is called for. Under the tough conditions of life lies amazing potential waiting to be unearthed in each of us. Like the proverbial hunk of coal, our lives also need to be put under pressure in order to produce the beauty and purity of a diamond. For more than anything else, God wants us to become like Jesus, with his character clearly evident in our lives.
Alongside the need to grow is the need to be on the edge. The two go hand in hand. A curious thing happens when we gain competence in a particular field. We easily slip into a sub-conscious belief that we don’t need God. We’re managing quite nicely, thanks very much! “Comfortable-itis” often gets the better of us. It’s safe and secure within our niche.
However, risk-taking is part of the life of faith. Again Jesus is our example. And our teacher. He was the one who said to his followers (in the words of The Message) “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Matthew 5:3)
A life of SoulPurpose
At the beginning of this book we claimed that all of us were made for significance. Right from before we were born God hard-wired us. He intended a unique purpose for each of our lives – to know him and follow him, and to join him in his mission to this world by finding and using our unique desires, motivations, giftings, personalities and preferred ways of operating.
Reaching the full potential of our SoulPurpose requires that we understand and make the most of that hard-wiring and those potentials. We need to understand ourselves so we can work at our best. But our SoulPurpose cannot be found in a selfish life of just doing what we want to do. Only as we walk with our Maker, only as we discover how God works, only as we find how our unique “fit” can mesh with God’s plans for this world, will we be free to find and live out our SoulPurpose.
And when this happens, the words of Jesus will ring true and pure in our ears:
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. (Matthew 5:5, The Message)
I came so (you) can have real and eternal life, more and better life than (you) ever dreamed of. (John 10:10, The Message).
If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. (Matthew 10:39, The Message).
Our hope is that each of us will experience the truth of these words.
For there is no better way to live than to know that what we do and who we become counts for eternity.
Personal meditation: planning the end of your race
Write a personal mission statement for your life (Just one sentence)
What would you like to have said about you if you could write your own funeral eulogy or epitaph?
What is it that you would like to hear God’s voice say about you at the end of your life?
Make a list of the most important things you would like to have achieved by the end of your life.
What will you do next, having reached this point in your SoulPurpose journey?
Summarize your SoulPurpose in a paragraph, in a way that makes clear how you are living in God’s world … for God and for the people around you. (Do this exercise only when you have defined your SoulPurpose and lived it for a period of time.)
Feedback from friends: personal reflections in a small group
Prepare in advance (for this session) a sentence describing the contribution you see each other member of the group making to God’s world. Go round the group, reading these out for each group member. How do you respond to the descriptions your fellow-members have given you?
Take question 4 in the personal meditation above, and explain your choices to the group. Invite others to help clarify your aims and look at ways you might work toward them.
How could your community – your neighbourhood or your town or your college or your place of work, or whatever part of society your group relates to – be different because of the way you live?