As a child, I am sure someone asked you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We each had ideas about what our future might one day become. Sometimes those dreams become reality while at other times our very desires change. However, one thing we all want to be is useful. None of us want to be useless! Deep inside of us there is a longing to make a contribution and to leave the world a better place than we found it.
To understand our purpose, we need to begin with God, not ourselves. God is our Creator (Ps.139:14-16. Col.1:16). Our purpose is not something we decide; it is something we discover. God made everything for a purpose (Prov.16:4). Like in the natural, you could use your life for a variety of purposes but you will be most effective and most joyful when you live for the purpose for which God created you. God knew you even before you were born (Jer.1:5) and he planned you for a purpose, including the very time and place you would live (Acts 17:26).
As followers of Jesus, we have been “saved” and “called” with a holy calling (2 Tim.1:9). We weren’t saved just to go to heaven when we die but also to contribute to God’s purpose on the earth right here during our lifetime. Although we are not saved by our own works, we were created to do certain “good works” that God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph.2:8-10). We are God’s masterpiece – or work of art - and he is committed to finishing the work he has begun in our lives (Phil.1:6).
In many ways, you were born pre-packaged. God looked at your entire life, determined your assignment, and gave you the tools to do the job. What has God put in your suitcase? Have you taken time to discover what he has already invested in you? God has fully equipped you for your unique purpose. The apostle Paul tells us, “Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants (Eph.5:17. MB)” then, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that (Gal.6:4. MB).”
Discovering your SHAPE
About 20 years ago, American pastor Rick Warren came up with the concept of SHAPE, a simple acrostic to help us remember five factors that God uses to equip us for our purpose:
- Spiritual Gifts: spiritual gifts are a set of special abilities that God has given you to share his love and serve others (1Cor.12. Rom.12:4-8. 1Pet.4:10-11. Eph.4:7-16). A spiritual gift is not a ministry in itself but rather a tool to use for the job at hand. God wants us to discover, develop then deploy our gifts for the benefit of others (1Pet.4:10).
- Heart: our heart refers to the special passions God has given you so that you can glorify him on earth. What do you enjoy doing? What do you get excited about? What makes you angry? What do you desire? Who are your heroes and the people you admire?
- Abilities: abilities are the set of talents that God gave you when you were born, which he also wants you to use to make an impact for him. What are your strengths? What is your best contribution? Where are you most effective?
- Personality: your personality is the special way God wired you to navigate life and fulfil your unique kingdom purpose.
- Experience: experience refers to those parts of your past, both positive and negative, which God intends to use in great ways.
If you don’t understand your SHAPE, you end up doing things God never intended or designed you to do. [Would you put a rabbit on the swim team?] When your gifts don’t meet the role you play in life, you feel like a square peg in a round hole. This is frustrating, both to you and to others. Not only does it produce limited results, it is also an enormous waste of your talents time and energy.
Living Out Your Purpose
You live out your purpose within the church of Jesus Christ. Each Christian is a member of Christ’s body and has a job to do (1Cor.12). The health and growth of the church is dependent on each person’s contribution (Eph.4:16). Everyone is needed and there should be no spiritual unemployment.
Your God-given purpose also includes your contribution to society (Mt.5:13-16). This begins at home and flows out to your neighbourhood, your local community, your school, your workplace and the wider global village we are a part of. The world should be a better place because of who we are and what we do for God. [Click here to read more about how Christianity has changed our world throughout history]
One day God will look for a return on his investment in your life (see Mt.25:14-30). Our eternal destiny will be based on our response to Jesus Christ. However, our future rewards will be based on what we did and didn’t do with how God shaped us for purpose while on earth.
Cultivating a Servant Mindset
Jesus is our example and he came to earth not to be served but to serve and give his life for others (Mk 10:45. Jn.13:15). As his followers, we are to develop the same mindset (Phil.2:3-5. Gal.5:13). Bill Hybels puts it this way: “The fundamental paradox of the Christian life is that following Jesus into radical servanthood is the sure pathway to fullness of life.” A servant focuses on the needs, desires and interests of other rather than their own. They are willing to do whatever is needed. The best servants are proactive, taking initiative rather than waiting to be asked, they serve with excellence, always doing their best, and they have a willing and joyful attitude and in how they go about their work.
Sample Discussion Questions
1. When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
2. Who are some of your heroes? What do you admire about them?
3. Reflect on the statement, “You can be anything you want to be!” Is this true?
4. How would you describe your God-given SHAPE?
a. How would you know what spiritual gifts you have been given?
b. What do you enjoy doing? What makes you angry and what insight does this reveal?
c. What life experience do you have that could be of benefit to others?
5. Most churches are short of volunteers? Why do you think this is so and what can be done to see more Christians active in ministering within their local church?
6. How can we develop a stronger belief that our daily work is part of our God-given purpose?