A Christ-Centered Approach to Finding True Purpose
By LESLIE LUDY
It was 1905. Seventeen-year-old Lillian Trasher stepped into the bustling editor’s office at a big-city newspaper, nervously clutching her sketchpad. Her heart beat excitedly at the flurry of activity around her as typewriters clicked and reporters scribbled furiously on notepads. Landing a lucrative job as a newspaper artist had been a long-time dream of Lillian’s. She knew that God wanted her to be a good steward of the talent He had given her. The best way to do that seemed to be pursuing the desires that were in her heart.
By the time Lillian finished meeting with the editor, she was all but certain she had the job. Lillian left the newspaper office feeling like her dream was coming true. She even took time to window shop on her way home and imagine what she’d be able to buy with the money she would earn. But then, through a bizarre series of events, Lillian’s dream of being a newspaper artist came abruptly crashing down.
After many hours of weeping, praying, and soul searching, Lillian finally laid her long-time dream at the feet of Jesus. No longer would she merely pursue her own personal happiness. Rather, she would give herself willingly and joyfully to whatever He called her to do — even if it was very different from the life she had always wanted.
As a result of this decision, Lillian spent several years joyfully pouring out her life for orphans in North Carolina. She often thought about how much joy and fulfillment she would have missed if she had chosen to stubbornly cling to her own dreams.
Then, Lillian’s willingness to yield her life to Jesus Christ was tested in yet another way. She had become engaged to a wonderful Christian man named Tom. The wedding date was set, the dress was ready, and the ceremony was only a week away. One evening, Lillian attended a meeting where a missionary was speaking of the desperate need for Christians to take the hope of the Gospel to the unsaved around the world. At that moment, she knew that God was speaking to her heart. He was calling her to go.
She knew that Tom didn’t feel called to the mission field. And now Lillian knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was asking her to bring His light overseas—for the rest of her life. Once again, Lillian wrestled intensely with God, as her dreams of marital bliss threatened to evaporate. How could she walk away from the man she loved, a week before her wedding? Yet as she prayed, she once again clearly saw her destiny. It was not in marriage or the pursuit of personal happiness. It was in absolute surrender and obedience to Jesus Christ. She told a close friend, “I know what the next step is for me. I am engaged to the most wonderful man in the world … and I can’t marry him. I am supposed to go to Africa. God has called me to be a missionary, and I can’t refuse Him, not even for Tom.”
These difficult acts of personal surrender were crucial steps in Lillian’s effectiveness for the Kingdom of God. God had amazing, world-altering plans for Lillian’s future. She became the founder of the first Christian orphanage in Egypt, rescuing thousands of orphans and widows from destitute situations, and introducing them to new life in Jesus Christ. Her missionary impact was one of the most significant of any in her generation. But none of these things happened because of Lillian’s own plans, ambitions, and strategies. On the contrary, they happened only because she chose to let go of her personal dreams and obey her King, no matter what the cost. She took up her cross and followed Him, not worrying about the outcome or the details. And that alone was how she discovered her life’s purpose.
Lillian Trasher is not the only Christian hero to have walked this path. Throughout Christian history, those who surrendered the most to Christ made the most impact for the Kingdom of God. Never did the true heroes of the faith influence the world through personal pursuits, self-glory, or seeking their own happiness.
Amy Carmichael gave up comforts, family, security, and social position in order to wash the feet of destitute children in India. Gladys Aylward put her very life at risk and sacrificed her health and strength in order to bring the Good News to China. Corrie ten Boom suffered in a concentration camp and lost her precious loved ones in order to say yes to the call of Christ. Sabina Wurmbrand gave up a happy, comfortable life with her husband and son to protect the name of her King. Elisabeth Elliot gave her husband as a martyr for the Gospel.
It was not through strategy or ambition that these women fulfilled God’s calling upon their lives and impacted the world so powerfully. Each of these women, like a grain of wheat, willingly fell to the ground and died, so that their lives could produce much fruit for His glory. (See John 12:24.)
As daughters of the King, this is our ultimate purpose: to let our life become swallowed up in His … to let Him take over our existence and conform us into His image … to let our lives be poured out as a fragrant offering to Him … to live out Jesus’ words, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Lk. 9:24).
Embracing the Right Destiny
We often feel the drive to find our own unique niche in this world. “Follow your heart!” “Fulfill your destiny!” “Reach your full potential!” These messages have permeated our culture—from lipstick commercials to Disney songs to cereal boxes. Even well-meaning loved ones frequently encourage us to “Do what makes you happy!” or “Be the person you were meant to be!”
In a world so preoccupied with “finding our true destiny,” it’s easy to become consumed with personal fulfillment and self-discovery. Questions such as “How am I unique?” and “What kind of life will most satisfy me?” often become the focal point of our daily choices and life decisions.
But God prescribes a completely different pattern for finding our life’s purpose and discovering true fulfillment. The Apostle Paul “reached his full potential” according to human standards, but it did not bring him happiness or help him discover his destiny. Rather, he chose to count all of his personal achievements as “rubbish” and to suffer the loss of everything he had worked for and dreamed of for so many years. Why? His answer was, “That I may gain Christ and be found in Him” (Phil. 3:8-9), and, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).
There is no greater fulfillment or purpose we can find than knowing our King and being shaped into His likeness. This is the Christian’s true destiny. All personal pursuits and achievements are worthless in light of this great privilege.
Have you been looking to the wrong sources (i.e. personal dreams, ambitions, desires) to guide your decisions and define your life’s purpose? Here are two ways to begin embracing a Christ-centered destiny instead of a fleshly, human one.
Yield Your Uniqueness to Christ
It’s obvious that God has given each of us unique desires, talents, abilities, and personalities. But He gives us these gifts so that we can surrender them back to Him. Only then can they be used for His glory. We often cling tightly to our individuality, believing that unless we are doing something that specifically caters to our specific personality and talents, we are wasting our potential and being robbed of the opportunity to “be all that we can be.” In fact, we often think that it is our God-given right — even our duty — to pursue a path that will maximize our unique strengths.
But God’s ways are very different from ours. Jesus’ “unique strengths” were not maximized during His earthly ministry. Instead of coming to earth as a King arrayed in heavenly glory, He came as a lowly baby in a manger. Instead of being surrounded by royal fanfare, He lived as a simple carpenter. And instead of being treated as the Lord of heaven and earth, He chose to take the position of a humble servant and wash the dusty feet of those who were not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal.
In all of this, He left us an example that we should follow in His steps. (See 1 Peter 2:21.) He willingly chose to lay down His right to applause and esteem, and chose instead to make Himself “of no reputation” (Phil. 2:6-7). And this is the very attitude He has called us to embrace.
Certainly, God may choose to utilize our unique personality or talents in order to build His Kingdom. But it is important to realize that He will only do so when we have completely surrendered those things to Him. As long as we cling to the “right” to have our talents maximized and our uniqueness catered to, we will stand in the way of God getting glory out of our lives. Very often, He asks us to go through a season where our personal talents are hidden, unnoticed, unrecognized, and unappreciated — so that we can learn to be all about His glory instead of our own.
Think of Paul spending twelve years hidden in Arabia and Moses tucked away on the backside of the desert for forty years. Both men had a profound calling upon their lives. But before they could truly be useful for God’s purposes, they had to lay down every ounce of personal confidence and ambition. They were willing to be unrecognized and unseen — their talents “wasted” and their strengths overlooked. Only after they had willingly become “nobodies” did God work mightily through their lives to progress His Kingdom and alter the course of history.
During my teen years, I wanted to be a Christian musician. I built my life around opportunities to showcase my unique abilities. (Why would I spend time serving elderly people in my church or help my mom clean the house when I could be performing on stage and writing new songs?) I became convinced that if I cultivated my talents, I could bring glory to God. But when I surrendered my life to Christ, He asked me to lay my musical pursuits on the altar. I walked away from opportunities to be noticed and recognized. I played my songs in secret, for His ears alone. I learned to spend my time serving, not striving to be noticed. At first it was difficult to let go of my dreams and allow my talent to remain hidden, but soon it became my great joy to surrender this gift back to the One who had given it to me in the first place. Years later, God allowed me to share my music with others once again, but it was only after my motives were purified and I cared about His glory and not my own.
Ask God to show you any areas in which you have been clinging to your “right” to be noticed for your unique strengths, talents, or personality. Are you willing to lay those things down and “take the lowest place” as Jesus did? Remember, Jesus said that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. Only when it dies will it produce lasting fruit.
Ask the Right Question
One of the enemy’s sneakiest tactics among women today is to get us distracted with self-analysis. The question “Who am I?” is one of the top concerns on our minds. We take elaborate personality tests, go to career counselors, cultivate special hobbies, build up our personal Pinterest boards, and imbibe self-help books in an effort to discover and express who we are.
But we have become preoccupied with the wrong question.
As daughters of the King, we are no longer to concern ourselves with who we are. Instead, our focus should be centered around a completely different question: who is He? When we know who Jesus is and we understand what it means to be found in Him, the question “Who am I?” is automatically solved.
He is the Vine, we are the branches — and without Him, our lives will amount to nothing. (See John 15:5.)
Only when our identity becomes wrapped up in Jesus Christ and not in ourselves can we become the set apart women He has called us to be. As Ian Thomas so eloquently reminds us, “The Christian life can be explained only in terms of Jesus Christ, and if your life as a Christian can still be explained in terms of you — your personality, your willpower, your gift, your talent, your money, your courage, your scholarship, your dedication, your sacrifice, or your anything — then although you may have the Christian life, you are not yet living it.”
So if you have been seeking your identity in anything outside of Jesus Christ, ask Him for the grace to shift your focus. Fix your gaze upon Him, find your strength in Him, and build your life around Him. If you truly know who He is, you will understand who you are.
Are you searching for your destiny? God has a tremendous purpose for your life — one that is profoundly simple. The old hymn says it well: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus — but to trust and obey.” When we come to Him with a heart of true surrender, lay our dreams at His feet and declare, “Do with me what You will!” we will find our ultimate purpose … in Him.