By Pr Ay Nee Ng
We had been studying the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem from the book of Nehemiah and looked into the areas in our lives that need revival: our spiritual condition (Neh. 8:1-5), our heart condition (Neh. 8:1-9, 9:1-5), our purpose and direction (Neh. 8:10-12) and our commitment to God (Neh. 9:2-5). In revival, we receive a fresh purpose and direction. Have you asked yourself: “What is my purpose in life? What direction should I take in life?”? At some point in my life, I also asked myself these questions. Hopefully, today you will gain an insight into what you have been called to do.
First, we need to establish that there is a difference between purposes and directions. A purpose is the reason for which something is done or created, the reason for which something exists, and a person’s sense of resolve or determination (i.e., our intention, aim, objective, ambition, desire, motivation, function, role, or goal). Direction is the course along which a person or thing is moving to reach a destination and the point toward which a person or thing is oriented. It is also an authoritative order or instruction in how to do something to get the job done or to reach a destination. Some would say that you do not need a life purpose, but you need life directions. But life directions actually can help you gain a sense of purpose. And with life directions and a life purpose, you can achieve greater results and contentment.
Three Scenarios in Life
1. The crossroads of life
What happens when you are at a crossroad in your life? You are asking yourself which direction to take and wondering about your purpose in life. You may be still seeking it or have lost sight of it. What are you going to do? “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (Jer. 6:16).
We are no different from the Israelites; they faced many crossroads from their exodus from Egypt. Unfortunately, history is a witness of how the Israelites constantly have chosen the wrong direction. Can we relate to that? Rachel stole her father’s idol and hid it in her saddle when she left her father’s house with Jacob. Choosing the wrong direction cost her life. Early after their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites chose to worship the golden calf instead of Yahweh, their God. During the time of the judges, the Isaelites chose to worship Baal instead of the God of their fathers. The Israelites picked several foreign idols as their gods over the God of David.
Jeremiah was telling the people of Judah that they were at another crossroad in their history with one path leading to destruction and the other leading to peace and rest. Yet, they will not walk in the ancient good path. Why are we so foolhardy? They rejected the laws of Moses and continued in their own evil ways. They lost not only their life directions (i.e. to stay on course with God) but also their life purpose (i.e to obey and to keep the commandments of the law of the Lord).
Church, we have been fooled into thinking that it is so hard to stay on course with God. Yet, I can tell you that it is harder still to get back on track with God. However, we are not alone. God will walk with each of us; because He loves us so much, He will tug us back.
2. Putting life directions over a life purpose
Marcia Reynolds says that “having a sense of direction will help you make career and life choices even if you don’t have life purpose”. She is a top executive coach, a thought-leader in leadership effectiveness, and the author of The Discomfort Zone and Outsmart Your Brain. In her Book Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction, she researched on 100 women and found that none of them said they ever left a job because they didn’t get a title or the salary they felt they deserved. Although some of the companies they worked for slighted them, the deciding factor to leave was based on their feelings of insignificance, invisibility, or resentment for having to do work they didn’t like. More than anything, they wanted to make an impact in the workplace or for their customers. If their work didn’t prove to be meaningful to them, they wandered in search of their purpose.
Marcia Reynolds found that they were searching for something more but felt disappointed when they didn’t find it. They felt their work didn’t align with their life purpose, but they couldn’t articulate what that purpose was. Business Woman Kelly said: “If my work doesn’t give me a sense that I am doing something special, I’m not happy. That’s when I feel most restless–when I get so busy that I lose an internal sense that what I’m doing is important beyond making a profit”.
What do you do when you do not know what your life purpose is? Most likely, you know when your sense of purpose is missing, but if you can’t define what gives you this feeling, you leave its appearance in your life to chance. Then, you feel restless, discontented, and disappointed.
As I mentioned, there is a difference between our life purpose, which is a specific destination, and a “sense of purpose”, which is a feeling that provides you direction. Having a sense of direction will help you make career and life choices, even if you don’t have a specific life purpose. If you haven’t identified your life purpose, choosing to find your direction over a destination can make your life easier. You can quit beating yourself up for not having one purpose in life.
When you release the need to know the definitive answer to the purpose question, you live for a feeling instead of a goal. You appreciate what sparks your love, gratitude, laughter, pride and awe instead of losing these moments to your to-do lists. We look too hard to find a unique, profound, and tangible reason for our existence. Instead, seek to discover everything that makes you feel alive and connected and stay connected.
What is our life purpose and directions as Christians? We all may not know what our life purpose as a child of God is because we do not have an understanding of His Word, but as we grow in reading and studying the Scriptures, we will understand our life purpose. Our life purpose is the greatest commandment: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’” (Luke 10:27). Our purpose is to serve and honour our Lord Jesus Christ in unity, harmony, and peace.
In sum, to find life directions, we need to:
a. determine what having a sense of purpose feels like to us;
b. recognize what ignites those feelings (i.e. your laughter, love, and passion);
c. determine if we are on a purposeful path or if we need to shift our direction;
d. stay on course and focused on our sense of purpose, our guiding light amid the difficulties we face.
What brings us joy and fulfilment may change over time because we change, and thus, we may feel without sense of direction. We need then to consider our source of direction and purpose. If our source is our Lord Jesus Christ, we will find back our direction, purpose, and contentment in Him, the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Therefore, we have to stay connected to our Lord and His Church.
3. Finding our purpose and receiving a new direction
During Nehemiah’s time, the Israelites had a purpose and direction. Their direction was to return to Jerusalem after captivity and stand united in a common goal; their purpose was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and their identity, integrity, self-worth, and dignity. Read Nehemiah 9:26-38; 10:28, 29-38.
Nehemiah 9:36-37 teaches us that, when we lose sight of our directions, there are consequences. The Israelites admitted that their past kings and leaders had failed to follow God’s directives. Even when God was blessing them with spacious territories and abundant harvests, they refused to acknowledge His existence. They continued doing what they wanted, even when those actions directly opposed God’s will. They knew their current situation was a result of their ancestors’ sinful choices. Thus, in Nehemiah 10, the Israelites made their life purpose to follow and to honour God by actually binding their promise with an oath and a curse which the people actually ask for judgement if they do not keep their promise to obey the law (Neh. 10:29). Therefore, Nehemiah was pretty harsh with them when they ignored their promises to God (Neh. 13:25).
The Bible is full of people who used their talents to bless others: musicians, seamstresses, shipbuilders, teachers, farmers, fishermen, authors, architects, artists, and administrators. The Israelites in Jerusalem were such people that got together with all kinds of abilities and skills to begin a new season of freedom and happiness. God gives “each of us the ability to do certain things well” (Rom. 12:6). Yet, much of what He gives us goes unrecognized and unused. Mac Anderson says: “Making a living isn’t the same as making a life. You can’t fake passion, it’s the fuel that drives any dream and makes you happy to be alive…”
The first step is to pray and ask for God’s direction, believing as David did that “God…will fulfil His purpose for me” (Ps. 57:2). Also, get to know what you love doing. We all have unique talents and interests, and one of life’s greatest challenges is to match our interest and giftings with career opportunities that bring out the best in us. Think about what makes you happy and content. Then, list your strengths and weaknesses and get feedback from people who will be honest with you. Once you find your God-given purpose, build your life around it, and “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). We may sometimes find it only through trial and error—but it will worth the effort.
There are 3 scenarios we face in life.
1. The crossroad of life
God never forces people to follow Him. He gives us a choice. The question when you are at the crossroads of faith is: Which way will you choose to go? You have a decision to make. You may decide to do nothing, which is also a choice—a choice to reject God and His will for your life. Remember that whatever choice you make, that choice will reflect your character.
Two thousand six hundred years later, how relevant is Jeremiah’s crossroad advice for us? How does it apply to our generation and our current life situations? Jesus himself declares, “I am the way”, and advices us what we need to do at a crossroad: “Go the narrow way!” Choosing the old godly way called the ancient path does not mean that because something is old and traditional, it is right and better. We need to go back to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to read, to study, and to meditate on the Scriptures, and to learn from the ancient good ways of our forefathers—the way of faith, holiness, truth, and love. Then, we will find back our life purpose and directions.
There may be various times when we were or will be at crossroads in our lives before two paths. Life is about choices and the free will to make those choices. God loves us so much that He does not take away from us that ability to choose. He lets us stand at the crossroads where we can see where the roads lead. In Deuteronomy 30:19-20, God told Moses to tell the people that they needed to choose who they were going to serve. In Joshua 24:13-15 upon entering the Promised Land, Joshua told the people to choose on that day itself whom they would serve. In 1 Kings 18:21, as Elijah was about to take on the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, he told the people to choose to either follow God or Baal. Who will you choose to serve?
2. Putting life directions over a life purpose
It is not just about a specific destination. As Christians, we know that, but many who do not know Jesus are wondering what their life purpose is. We all want to get on with life, have an education, and a good job. We need directions to improve our life and have a sense of purpose, but there is more. As we move into achieving contentment, love, happiness, and joy in God, we will receive directions that will lead us to spiritual things and to our life purpose.
3. Reviving our purpose and receiving new directions
Just as God gave the Israelites the privilege and responsibility to choose how they will live (keeping their vows or not, with duplicity and reneging on their oaths), we are given the same freedom to choose. In the New Testament, Jesus encourages us not to make vows/oaths; instead, we should live honourably, and let our word be our vow. Yet, like the Israelites, we have all made wrong choices. Thus, God had to send His Only Begotten Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins, to pave the way back for us to stay on the narrow road, and to give us life directions and our life purpose—a sense of destination.
Our life purpose is to love and honour our Lord Jesus Christ. Our life directions–if you don’t know them yet–are to stay connected to your local church and believers, to go to church, to go to life groups, to be a disciple of Jesus, to read His Word, to pray every day, to share His Word, and to make disciples.