We all have an innate desire for our lives to matter. All of us yearn to find our God-given purpose, but we don’t always know where to start. In this article, Carina Alanson reminds us that finding and fulfilling God’s purpose for your life begins with exploring who we are—and shares 6 practical ways to help you get started today.
When I first realized God was calling me to leave my career as a professional counselor to become a full time writer, I was elated. I had dreamed of being a writer, but for years it was simply that—a dream. For some reason I didn’t think writing was either practical or possible for me. So when God helped me see that it was possible and that it was part of His plan for me, I felt like a little girl hoping for a rhinestone necklace for her birthday, only to find that her dad had given her a genuine diamond pendant. The call to write was a gift that exceeded my expectations.
As I embarked on my writing journey, I began exploring more about who God had created me to be. Part of this exploration included my decision to write a purpose statement.
Write a Purpose Statement
I started by making a list of my interests, gifts, values, and personality traits. Next, I wrote down comments friends and family had made about me, as well as anything I’d ever felt God speak to me about who I am. My goal was to identify what made me me on the deepest level and to articulate what I thought God had designed me to do.
As I attempted to distill what I knew about myself into a short paragraph, it occurred to me that what God was calling me to do was intimately connected to who I am. My call to write wasn’t a random assignment; rather, God called me to be a writer because love of writing is an intrinsic part of my personal DNA.
The realization that my purpose is rooted in who I am led to a second revelation. Because I can express who I am wherever I am, I can live with purpose no matter my life season.
Before, I had thought of purpose as something I was working toward or trying to find. It was something external, like serving as a counselor or writing a book. Certainly, fulfilling our purpose does involve accomplishing specific things God calls us to do.
But I came to see that living a purposeful life is largely about doing my best to share what God has put inside me with whomever is around me in whatever place or season I find myself. For example, I haven’t written a book yet (though it is something I feel God has called me to do). But I can express my purpose as a writer in other ways. I can write cards, blog posts, articles, devotions, social media posts, and even text messages. Yes, I have big goals, but I don’t have to wait until I accomplish those goals to walk in my purpose today. I can live intentionally right where I am, even as I work toward my God-given dreams.
MAKE A CAREFUL EXPLORATION OF WHO YOU ARE
We all have an innate desire for our lives to matter. And I think most of us believe we have a purpose and want to accomplish it. We know the Bible says God has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and that He has called us to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). But when it comes to actually understanding what our purpose is, many of us struggle. We do our best to help others and serve God, but we often feel unfulfilled and are left wondering if we’re really doing what we’re meant to do. The whole process of finding our purpose can feel confusing. This was certainly the case for me.
Thankfully, I’ve discovered that when we begin with simply exploring who we actually are, understanding and fulfilling our purpose becomes a lot less complicated.
I love how Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Galatians 6:4-5 reflects this truth. It says, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that… Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life” (The Message Translation).
For so much of my life, I focused on figuring out what I was supposed to do. But it turns out, I was approaching my purpose backwards. Because, as Peterson’s paraphrase indicates, before we can do our creative best with our life, we first need to explore the unique person God created us to be.
Of course, there’s usually a bit more to understanding our purpose than simple self-awareness. But if you’re struggling to discern and fulfill your purpose, it’s a great place to start. Here are six things I’ve found helpful in developing a better self-understanding.
1. SPEND TIME WITH GOD
As you explore who you are, the best place to start is with the Person who created you. After all, being loved by God and loving Him in return is our ultimate purpose. And it’s only through our relationship with Him that we can discover who we truly are.
So be sure to spend quality time with God. As you do, ask Him to reveal the unique passions, gifts, dreams, and personality traits He’s woven into you. Don’t worry if you don’t hear something instantly. Jesus said that when we ask we will receive. So you can rest assured that in His perfect time He will speak to you.
2. ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS
Aside from spending time with God, one of the best ways to develop better self-understanding is to ask yourself questions, such as:
- What brings me joy?
- Which things have I always been good at or naturally inclined toward?
- How did I spend my time as a child?
- What do I care about so much that I’m willing to sacrifice for it?
- Which are my deepest values?
- What are my biggest dreams?
- Which are my core personality traits?
- If I could do anything, what would it be?
The goal of these questions is to get to the core of who you are. We’re trying to uncover the defining traits and characteristics that make you the most you. So as you respond to the questions, try to let go of any messages you’ve received from your peers or culture about who you should be. Instead hone in on what feels most authentic to you.
If you have trouble coming up with answers, don’t worry. Just start paying attention and collecting information as you go about your life. Start noticing what brings you joy, what makes you sad, and what you daydream about. We often learn about ourselves over time as we observe how we feel and respond to the world around us.
3. ASK FRIENDS AND FAMILY FOR FEEDBACK
It can also be helpful to ask friends, family members, or trusted spiritual leaders what they see as your top gifts, skills, or personality traits. People who are well acquainted with us can offer insights into who we are. They can identify gifts we may have not recognized or providing validation for what we already know about ourselves.
4. TAKE A PERSONALITY TEST OR A SPIRITUAL GIFTS INVENTORY
Do you gain energy by being around other people or by spending time alone? Maybe you like to plan ahead or perhaps you love doing things spur of the moment? Do you have natural strengths as a leader or administrator? Are you more analytical or more emotional? A good personality test can help you answer some of these questions by providing information about your defining traits and your typical ways of interacting with the world.
For a more biblical approach, you can take a spiritual gifts inventory. These inventories can help reveal, for example, whether you are gifted at teaching, shepherding, evangelizing, or encouraging.
You can find a variety of free and paid personality tests and spiritual gifts inventories online. If you have the time, go ahead and take several tests. Different assessments are designed to highlight different things—some focus on character strengths, some determine which careers best suit your personality, and some assess how your personality impacts your relationships. Even spiritual gifts inventories categorize spiritual gifts in varying ways or emphasize one category of gifts over another. Keep in mind, no test or inventory is going to give you a complete picture of who you are or is going to be 100 percent accurate. These assessments are simply tools to help us learn more about ourselves. If you get results that don’t seem to fit, feel free to disregard them.
5. TRY NEW THINGS
Usually, we won’t know whether something is a good fit until we’ve given it a try. I know I enjoy writing and painting and speaking because I’ve spent time doing those things. I also know that working as a counselor or an administrative assistant doesn’t suit me because I’ve done those jobs.
Much of what we know about ourselves we learn through experience, so go ahead and take that cooking class or that ceramics workshop. Sign up for skiing lessons. Take a step of faith and lead a semester-long life group or Bible study. When you find something that makes you feel alive and full of joy, chances are you’re tapping into a deep part of who you are. But even if you try something and end up not liking it, it’s not a loss. Knowing what we don’t enjoy is just as important as knowing what we do.
6. WRITE A PURPOSE STATEMENT
There’s something about the process of putting our thoughts into words that brings clarity. When I wrote my personal purpose statement, I dug deep and spent a lot of time reflecting on what made me the most me. Doing so helped sharpen my understanding of myself.
Writing a purpose statement doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be just a few sentences or even a bullet-point list summarizing your core characteristics, values, gifts, and interests.
As an example, here’s one version of my purpose statement: My purpose is to spread Jesus’ beauty, truth, wisdom, hope, and love. I’m a writer, an encourager, and a shepherd. My top values and passions are purpose, rest, creativity, enjoying life, and spiritual growth. I engage, encourage, and equip others in these areas, particularly through teaching and writing.
SHARE WHAT YOU FIND
As you get to the heart of who you are, start thinking about simple ways you can share what you find. If you love to bake, think of someone you can bless with a tasty treat. If you love to play the guitar, get out your instrument and strum a bedtime lullaby for your toddler. Whatever you do, don’t keep your gifts to yourself, and don’t let the devil tell you that what you have to offer isn’t practical or important.
God carefully crafted you on purpose, for a purpose. The unique traits He’s given you reflect something about who He is, and because of that, you are walking in your purpose and bringing glory to God when you simply express your most authentic self. As you seek God and share your gifts, I pray you experience a sense of fulfillment beyond your expectations!
Do you have a purpose statement? Why not use the tips Carina shared and write out your purpose statement today? If you already have one, share it with us in the comments!
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