A busy schedule is the single biggest obstacle to discovering your purpose and calling. Over and over, I hear people tell me they feel like they’re being run ragged in life. They run from work, to home, to school, to serving in church, and they rarely have any time to themselves to rest, let alone evaluate God’s purpose and calling for the life. Can you relate? Do you feel like you’re constantly behind, always trying to catch up on the things that need to get done?
The problem is our approach to life. We have expectations that have been placed on us and we’ve been given so many things to do. We all have “musts” and “oughts” that have been handed to us—it’s been drilled into us that in order to be a good person and live a good life there are certain things we “must” and “ought” to do. We have accepted these “musts” and “oughts” to such an extent that we evaluate the success of our lives to the degree that we achieve them.
For example, college is a common “must.” Why did our parents tell us we have to go to college? Because that’s what you do after you graduate high school. You “must” go to college so that you can get a good job, so that you can pay off your college loans, so that you can raise a family, so that you can buy a house, so that you can start a family, so that you can be happy in life.
I don’t have anything against college, I have a master’s degree and my wife has a Phd, but most people, once they graduate from high school, have no clue what they want to with their life and college becomes a very expensive way to “find yourself.” What’s even crazier is that after all those years figuring out what you want to do with your life and all that debt that you accrued, most people can’t even find a job where they can use their degree. Here’s my question, “Is getting tens of thousands of dollars into debt the wisest choice if you have no clue what you want to do with your life?” But, we all do it or feel bad if we don’t because it’s what we “ought” to do.
It’s not just college. We’ve been given “musts” and “oughts” for just about every area of our life: what kind of car we’re supposed to drive, the clothes were supposed to wear, how we’re supposed to interact with others, the kind of employment were supposed to pursue, the kind of spouse we need to marry, the activities we need to like, the list goes on and on. In fact, we get so busy thinking, saying, and doing what we “ought” to do that we rarely have any time to consider it anything that we are thinking, saying, or doing is actually worth thinking, saying, or doing.
This is especially true when it comes to your purpose in life. How can we let ourselves become so busy with the unimportant “musts” and “oughts” of life, that we never take time to discover our purpose? That mentality is like getting into a car and worrying about speed before thinking about direction. Think about it, how many times do you jump in your car, turn on the ignition, put it in drive, and then just floor your gas pedal without ever considering where you’re headed? If you don’t do it when you do something as simple as driving then why do you do it with something as complicated as your life? That focusing on movement before you focus on direction is a recipe for disaster—in your car and in your life.
So, if you’re too busy to discover your purpose then to what are you hoping your life will amount to? If you continue to worry about speed before direction, if you keep placing more importance on the “musts” and “oughts” than on God’s purpose for your life what will your future hold for you?
A lot of the time, we allow ourselves to be busy because it makes us feel special, needed, and important. After all, important people have a lot going on and in order to be productive you need a packed schedule, right? In many ways we use busyness to validate our life because we confuse motion for progress. We think, “If I’m busy that means that my life is going somewhere.” But busyness is actually like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t take you anywhere. You see, just because there’s a lot of movement (a lot going on in your life) doesn’t mean you’re making any progress or getting anywhere.
Not only does busyness give us a false sense of productivity, it also blinds us to a very important truth of life. The truth is every time you say “yes” to one thing, you are also saying “no” to another thing. What does that mean? When you say yes to busyness, you are saying no to your purpose, to your family, and to your relationship with God. You cannot say yes to a hectic schedule and say yes to the things that matter in life. To say yes to the things that matter means you have to say no to some of the craziness; to say yes to all the “musts” and “oughts” you have to say no to the things that are truly important to you. More often than not, we create lives that we hate by saying no to the things that matter because we said yes to the things don’t.
You chose the life you have right now by saying yes to your schedule, either explicitly or implicitly. If you’re burnt out, if you’re running on empty, or if you’re ready to throw in the towel, it’s not your hectic schedule’s fault, it’s not anyone else’s fault, but your own. If you don’t have the time you want with your family, to focus on your health, or to spend time with God, you’re the only one to blame because you’re the one that said no to those things by saying yes to all the other things that fill your schedule.
At this point, you might be thinking, “But you don’t understand, there are so many things I have to do. I can’t just stop my commitments.” Here’s the deal, you have one of two options in life, you can either live by design or you can live by default. Both choices require sacrifice. If your schedule is crazy right now, you are making sacrifices, so the question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I okay with making the sacrifices that my busy schedule forces me to make?” If the answer is no, then you need to chose to sacrifice something else.
You will never be able to get through life without making sacrifices. The question is, do you want to make the sacrifice on the front and on the backend? Here’s what I mean; when you plan out your life, when you live by design, you are also choosing which sacrifices you are willing to make to get that life. But, when you live by default—when you take what life hands you including all the “musts” and “oughts”—you usually don’t realize you’re sacrificing until it’s too late. This happens to parents with their kids all the time. Parents are committed to having a certain lifestyle, but in order to have that lifestyle one of the things they have to sacrifice is time with their children. And before they know it, the kids are all grown up and they have missed out on sharing precious moments with them. We forget one simple, but powerful, rule; with your schedule, the things that you don’t get finished today, can wait for tomorrow. But with your family, the things that you didn’t do today will be lost forever.
If you’re living by default, chances are that you’re saying no to all the wrong things, the things that are truly important. If you haven’t realized that don’t worry, one day you’ll wake up and ask yourself, “What happened to my life?” You’ll see that you’ve been sacrificing things that you never ever wanted to sacrifice—your time and relationship with your kids and spouse, your health, and your friendships. But by the time you realize it, it will be too late.
Before you know what to say yes to, you need to decide what success is for your life. You need to know what’s actually important to you. You need to ask yourself, what does success in my finances look like? What does success in my family look like? What does success in my marriage look like? What does success in my ministry look like? What does success in my relationship with God look like?
To help you out, here’s what success should look like: living out your deepest held values. When you can walk through life without compromising your deepest held values, you have achieved the highest level of personal success. If you’re a natural achiever that might sound a little soft to you, but remember the Bible teaches that life is not so much about what you accomplish, but about the person you become. You can do great things, but if you have not become the right kind of person all your accomplishments are worthless. The ultimate treasure in life is not your bank account, the accomplishments you’ve achieved, or the praise of others, but the condition of your soul.
For example, money is something most people chase and spend a lot of their time and energy trying to acquire; however, when you’re lying on your death bed, do you really think you’re going to wish you had made more money in life? No! When people are staring death in the face, they regret the fact that they missed their children growing up because they were too consumed with climbing the corporate ladder. In this example, you sacrifice your deepest held value, which is family, in order to get more money. It’s truly sad, but the most common regret people have is that they spend their entire life climbing the ladder only to realize, when they get to the top, they leaned their ladder against the wrong thing and they are now a million miles away from the life they want.
What are your deepest held values? Take out a pen and some paper (you might want to use a journal, there will be more exercises like this in this book) and think through your deepest held values by answering the following questions:
p<>. Imagine you can talk to your future self and your future self wants to give you some advice. What are the three biggest lessons you have learned in life? Why are they so important to you?
p<>. Think of someone you hold in high regard and for whom you have great respect. What are the top three qualities that person has that you most admire?
p<>. When you are at your best, who are you?
p<>. What would you like to see written on your tombstone that would capture who you really were in life?
Now, take a minute and review your answers. Look for similarities and common themes to determine your deepest held values. Take the commonalities and write out your deepest held values. At this point, they don’t need to be fully articulated or skillfully written, all you want to do is formulate your deepest held values at the most basic level. Try to distill them into one or two sentences.
Now, comes the fun part, examine your current life. Go through the following list and identify any areas of your life that are not in line with your deepest held values.
p<>. Eating habits
p<>. Spiritual development
p<>. Entertainment choices
Does your life match your values? If not, why and what are you willing to do about it? Take some time and talk to God about it.
Here’s a reality in life, you will never have enough time. You will always have something more to do. There’s always going to be some demand on you—people asking you to spend your emotional resources, mental resource, and your physical resources. You can’t say yes to everything. If you try, you’ll end up saying no to the things that you care about most.
The solution is to choose what’s important and spend your time there. After that, if you have time left over and have a desire to do all those other things, knock yourself out, but your deepest held values should guide you into what is the most important thing for you to do with your life.
What does all this mean for your purpose or calling? Well, if finding and fulfilling your God-given purpose is something that’s important to you, then it’s time to make some tough decisions. It’s time to start saying no to the things that are not important, the things that are not in line with your deepest held values, and start saying yes to the things that are important to you.
What are some of the things in your life you need to start saying no to so you can start saying yes to the things that really matter to you?
Discovering your purpose and calling can sometimes be confusing because we have misunderstandings about hearing God’s voice. You might have experienced this already, at one time you might have thought that you heard God’s voice, but afterwards, you began to second-guess yourself. You might have thought, “Did I just make that up?” Or you might have a strong desire to hear God’s voice, but you’re not really sure how that really looks or sounds. You may know people that talk about hearing from God on a regular basis. They say things like, “God told me to call and encourage you.” You find yourself wondering, “How did God tell you that and why doesn’t he talk to me too?” You might even be at the point where you’re afraid of not being able to hear him when he speaks, like you’re missing out.
There’s a lot of things in the Christian life that can get confusing, but one of the biggest areas shrouded in confusion and misunderstanding is hearing God’s voice. But, if you don’t understand how God speaks, doubt can begin to creep in regarding your purpose and calling in life. In this chapter, I will explain how God communicates to you. My goal is to demystify God’s voice so that you can have confidence in hearing from Him.
The most common misconception about God’s voice is that it needs to be epic— the heavens need to open up, a beam of light needs to shine down on you, as God’s voice thunders all around you. While it is true that God speaks audibly, it is equally true that frequently God speaks in more subtle ways. Those ways might not be as epic as an audible voice, but they are just as valid and powerful.
I have some great news, you already know how God’s voice sounds. Don’t believe me? Let me prove it to you. Have you ever been in a situation and scripture or biblical truth just pops in your head at just the right time? Have you ever had seemingly random, but strong desires to pray for people, where you wake up in the middle of the night and someone is weighing heavily on your heart and then you spend some time praying for them? Have you ever seen somebody and your heart broke for them, feeling compelled to love on them? Have you ever read the Bible and, all of a sudden, it’s like a light went on and you saw something that you’ve never seen before? Have you ever been convicted by the Holy Spirit either after you’ve done something wrong or before you’re about to do something?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have heard God’s voice. All of those things I described are the Holy Spirit’s activity in your life. The Holy Spirit is intimately involved in your life, constantly communicating with you. He reminds you of truth, He prompts us to pray and minister to people, and He gives insight into God’s word (that’s just a few of the things He does). The Holy Spirit is the main way God speaks to you. Now, it might not be as exciting as heavens rending, Angels defending, and God’s voice shaking the foundations of the earth, but it is one of the greatest gifts you have been given—through the Holy Spirit, God is in constant communication with you; He has a running dialogue.
God speaks in a number of ways. The first and most reliable way He speaks is through His word. The Bible is the manual for life and the measuring stick for all other forms of His communication. If you want to know God’s will for your life, you’ll want to know the kind of person He wants you to be, the kind of life He wants you to live, and the goals He wants you to achieve. Simple fact: if you want to know God’s will, you need to get in God’s word. Also, it’s important to remember that God never contradicts His word. Everything that you think God might be saying to you should lineup with what He has already revealed in the Bible.
God also speaks in more subtle ways through the Holy Spirit. Prayer is one of those subtle ways. If you want to hear God through prayer I recommend taking John Mueller’s approach. Mueller was a great man of faith who would spend half his day in prayer. It’s said that he spent more time on his knees than he did standing. He had this great perspective on hearing from God. Whenever he prayed about something, the very first thing he did in prayer was to come to a place where he was no longer committed to a certain outcome. He would divorce himself from a specific result he wanted from God. He felt like he couldn’t hear from God unless he was able to hold the thing he was praying about with an open hand, letting God take it or leave it as He saw fit. Once he got to the place, he knew that he could hear God speak and not his own desires speak. If you are praying about God’s will in certain areas of your life, I highly recommend that you do the same thing. The reason being sometimes we get so committed to our own desires that even when God speaks we refuse to hear Him because it’s not what we wanted Him to say.
The third way God speaks is through our five senses. God created us to experience Him. That means everything about you is designed to experience God, not just your spirit, but your physical body was created to interact with God too; to see Him, hear Him, and feel Him. Over time, our senses have become sensualized. Because of sin, instead of using our senses to perceive God, we have trained our senses to only perceive this world. As a result, our senses have become dull to the things of God.
But, the good news is that because your senses were created for you to experience God you can retrain your senses! They don’t have to just give you information about the world around you, you can teach yourself how to use them to experience God.
The five senses are: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and feeling. For me, I used to think that I was “special” in a negative way. Whenever I’m out and about, I always notice things about people, mostly about how they dress. I notice small details about people’s appearances in which most others are oblivious. I notice people’s fashion accessories, I notice hair styles, and all the small things about them (it’s important to state at this point I am not into fashion at all, I have just always taken note of people’s appearances). I even notice when people’s eyes or faces are not symmetrical (my wife hates when I point this out because once you see this in someone you can’t unsee it). Simply put, I notice random things about people all the time and I can’t turn it off. Not only do I notice things about people, but often, I fixate on something specific that I notice. For the longest time, I thought my mom dropped me as a child and I hit my head and that’s why I am the way I am. I’ve realized, over the years, God made me this way and He has been speaking to me through what I notice about people. I discovered that if I would just simply talk to God about the things I notice about people, He actually talks back to me! I finally came to the realization that I’m not weird or crazy, but that God made me highly visual, not just to perceive the world around me, but to also hear from Him.
The same is true for all the other senses. You might hear things, and what I mean by hear is not just with your ears, but also there are sometimes thoughts that come into your brain that are so strong and so abrupt it’s almost as if somebody is speaking to you. If you’ve ever experienced that, that was most likely God. Or maybe you’ve had a recurring thought or phrase in your head that just won’t go away, that might also have been God speaking to you. Or you might audibly hear sounds or words.
God also uses the sense of smell to communicate to you. Have you ever been in a room and smelled a random fragrance that nobody else smells? You might have thought you were losing your mind, but a more likely explanation is that was God speaking to you. Personally, I have only experienced this once during a prayer and worship event I attended as a speaker. Before I went up to speak, I kept smelling what I can only describe as “clean.” I began moving around the room trying to determine where the smell was coming from. At one point, I tried to discreetly smell the people around me to see if the scent was coming from them. What I discovered was the only place I smelled that “clean” fragrance was in the original spot I was standing. When I moved out of that spot I couldn’t smell it anymore when I moved back into the spot there was again. Once it occurred to me that it might be God speaking to me, I asked Him what He was trying to communicate. In response, I got an impression that God was going to restore people to wholeness that night, which is exactly what happened. It turned out to be an extremely powerful night of prayer and worship.
God can also use taste to communicate with you. Have you ever had random flavors in your mouth when you’re speaking to a person or doing something? Chances are that might’ve been God speaking to you. Personally, I have yet to experience this, but I know people who have experienced communication with God through taste. When they go to pray for someone they might have this taste that overwhelms their mouth of bitterness and they’ve learned that is God talking to them about the person they’re praying for, letting them know that they struggle with bitterness.
Feeling is the last of the five senses. When I say feeling, I mean it in the most broadest sense: physical, emotional, and spiritual feelings. Sometimes the aches and pains you feel in your body are not just you getting old, sometimes it’s God trying to talk to you about something. If you’ve ever been overcome with emotions for no apparent reason, that might’ve been God speaking to you. I have a close friend who came back from doing ministry in the Middle East and he couldn’t stop crying for three days. At one point, he thought he might be having an emotional breakdown, but he wasn’t; it was God speaking to him profoundly.
You don’t need to learn how to hear God’s voice better, what you need to learn is how to trust God more. You see, what typically happens when God speaks is that we are so scared of making a mistake we begin to second-guess ourselves into inaction. It doesn’t matter how convinced we were that God spoke, our doubts often convince us that we’re just making it all up.
So how do you know for certain if God has spoken to you? How do you know if it was Him or if you were just making scenarios up? It’s actually a simple two step process. First, you need to ask if it’s biblical, aligned with God’s moral law as revealed in the scripture. If it passes that test, you move onto the second step: TAKE A STEP OF FAITH.
You see, if you really want to determine if you’re making up things in your head or if God is actually speaking to you, over analysis isn’t going to be very helpful for you. Think about some of the things God told people to do on the Bible. In Isaiah 20, He told Isaiah to walk around naked for three years. I’m sure Isaiah had one of those “Really, God?” experiences. In Ezekiel 4, God told Ezekiel to lay on his side in the middle of the city for more than a year (he had to lay on his left side for 390 days and right side for 40 days). On top of that, God told him to cook his food using human feces for fuel for the fire! Another example is found in Hosea 1, God told Hosea to marry a prostitute. Think about explaining any of those to your friends and family! If you did any of those things now a days and told people that God told you to do it, you’d be locked up and given a psychological evaluation.
What should all those things God told the prophets teach you? Oftentimes, God will ask you to do things that don’t make sense, are embarrassing, and require great risk. The only way to be certain that it was God speaking to you is by taking a step of faith. I can guarantee one thing, if you never take a step of faith, you will never know if it was God speaking and you’ll always wonder.
So, how does this relate to understanding your purpose and calling in life? Ultimately, you need to trust God’s ability to speak more than you trust our ability to get it wrong. God wants to speak to you, so stop second-guessing yourself and trust that if you hear Him wrong, He will redirect you. If you think your purpose is to minister to the elderly, but God has a different purpose, you can trust that He will guide you into what you’re really called to do. But it’s hard to guide you if you refuse to move. I might be dating myself, but do you remember cars without power steering? I know that sounds crazy, but at one time cars didn’t have power steering (if you don’t know what power steering means, Google it). Trying to turn the steering wheel of a car without power steering takes all your strength if the car is standing still, but if the car is moving, you can steer the car with just your fingers. There’s a big difference in the effort required. Same thing is true for your life. Being at a standstill requires great effort to turn you in the right direction, but if you’re already moving, it’s a simple thing for God to redirect you to where you need to be going.
I’m going to ask you to do an exercise now, it’s one of my favorite ways to hear from God. Take out your journal or some paper and a pen. Write down a question that you have for God. Don’t ask Him a yes or no question, ask Him something that’s on your heart, something that you’ve been wondering about. You can ask Him about your calling, about yourself, about a relationship, or you can ask Him about anything that you really want answered. Write your question down, then ask him to speak to you. Next, pick up your pen and begin to write, trusting that God is going to speak to you through this process. Don’t worry about trying to formulate thoughts, just write.
You might be wondering, “How do I know if I’m doing the right?” Typically, you’ll find yourself writing things that you wouldn’t normally say to yourself. In fact, what your write may even surprise you, but if your writing sounds like your normal self talk, then you’re probably trying to control the process too much, If that’s the case, go bak and start over. Just let the words flow.