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Living life with purpose

While helping missionaries discern God’s guidance, mobilizer Kate Hilderbrandt discovered that “calling” might be only one piece of a larger picture.

God crashed into my 15-year-old heart during a team worship session on a short-term trip to Guatemala. We were singing “Amazing Grace,” when someone started on the third verse. My first thought was, Who sings the third verse? Growing up in a semi-traditional Methodist church, we had only ever sung verses one, two, and six of this hymn. After a second, I focused in on the words:

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; 'tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

It was then that I heard God speak directly to my heart for one of the very few times in my life. These words resounded: “Your life with Me will never be easy, but I promise it will be a great adventure.” I was puzzled. These were not the words I expected to hear on my second trip overseas. I was hoping for something more like, “Stay in Guatemala forever!” or “Congratulations! You’re a missionary!” I wanted to know that I was called. My heart longed to know my place in the world. Instead of my idea of a “calling,” all I got in that moment was an assurance that my life would be a hard, great adventure.

Purpose bigger than a calling
Calling is important. But what if calling were just one part of something even greater that God is shaping in us throughout our life story?

As a part of a two-year coaching certification program, I’ve spent some considerable time looking at “life purpose.” Designed by Tony Stoltzfus, a master life and leadership coach, the program takes a broad view on life purpose. The model looks at four areas: design, preparation, passion, and calling. Purpose is found at the center, or convergence, of the four.

Design: Who am I?
I believe the most beautiful thing about our God is how creative He is, in the universe, but especially with humans. He creates each one of us with so many unique attributes, gifts, and talents. These are meant to be our unique contribution to the body of Christ and to the world around us. What are your unique gifts and strengths, your personality preferences, your values and quirks? Ask God: How does the way He created you reflect who He is in the world? How does your individual makeup allow others to understand His heart for them?

Passion: Why do I desire this?
Passion may ebb and flow throughout different seasons of your life, yet passion is a very important clue to purpose. Your passions come from a deep place in you that is connected to your own design and life experiences. Passions are often released as a response to your values coming up against the problems or injustices in the world. What energizes you or drains you? What values matter most to you and what injustices incite you to movement? What are your big dreams and what are your “soapbox issues”? The answers to these will point you to your passions.

Preparation: What has my life prepared me for?
In order to discern what your life has prepared you for, pay attention to themes and messages. Themes may show up as groups of acquired skills, or experiences, or even knowledge and expertise in a certain subject. Messages may come clear as you remember what God taught you during a particular season of work or ministry, how He showed Himself to you or shaped you during that time. As you process your preparation, be sure to notice jobs and tasks in which you felt you excelled. Looking back on your life so far, what experiences stand out to you and how are they connected? Do you see a theme? How have those experiences shaped you?

Calling: Where is the Master sending me?
“Where” can be both literal and metaphorical as you look at calling. Calling can come as a one-time event (as with David in 1 Samuel) or as a slow unfolding of what one is to do and become (like Abraham). It comes through different channels and at different ages, yet it almost always takes many years of preparation to come to full fruition.

Great adventure
The coaching program responsible for developing this chart mostly serves mission organizations and missionaries—people who are generally searching for their “calling.” As I’ve used this model to guide coaching conversations, it has been a privilege to hear story after story of missionaries more fully understanding, not only their calling, but their larger purpose. Lives—including my own—have been transformed, as we come to better understand that God has designed, prepared, given passions to, and called each of us to be a unique reflection of Him to the nations as we do various tasks over a lifetime.

My life has been, and continues to be, a great adventure. My calling has not looked like I thought it would, but it has been exciting to see it unfolding. I’m smiling to myself while writing this—a 31-year-old sitting in a coffee shop in Norcross, Georgia. I never thought that this is where I would be, helping many others along the process as they look for their purpose and calling in the next season of life. I’ve crossed the country twice to get here, and I’ll probably be crossing oceans before I’m done. I look forward to where my purpose will take me, the people I will get to know, the tasks I will be called to do and, most importantly, how God will form me in the process.

Kate Hilderbrandt is The Mission Society’s coordinator of mobilization and candidacy and is a certified, professional life-coach, through Coaching Mission International.

This graph is inspired by the Life Purpose Model in A Leader’s Life Purpose Handbook: Calling and Destiny Discovery Tools for Christian Life Coaching, by Tony Stoltzfus, published by Coach22 (2009).