Navigating Your Way Through a Wilderness of Purpose

Have you ever been stuck in a bad job? I think that might be one of the worst things we have to deal with in life because sometimes we really do feel stuck, like a caged lion or a wolf caught in a trap. You might be in one right now. If you are, I’m sorry. I’ve been there and know how difficult it can be.

How do handle it? Do you tolerate it until something better comes along? Do you do the bare minimum, pining away the days until 5:00 comes around, or whatever time you are freed for the day, praying for Friday to get here quicker? Are you so miserable that you make everyone else around you share in the suffering just by being in your vicinity?

If we’re not careful, any of these are real possibilities for us and when it happens, nobody is happy. We tend to drift towards our default in those situations which is to belly-ache (if you’re not from the Southern U.S., that’s complain or grumble…you’re welcome), become angry (which often leads to bad relations with your boss, fellow workers and family), or even despair, as though this is all there is and it will never get any better.

So, what other alternatives do we have? What should we do in those kinds of situations?

Lose the ‘Tude

I think attitude has a lot to do with it and, contrary to what many say, I don’t think you can simply will your way to a new attitude. You actually need a new perspective. When you think about it, your perspective is what leads to your attitude, so if you skip over the process of finding the right perspective and, instead, try and “white-knuckle” your way into a new attitude, you’ll never succeed because the underlying feeling about the situation remains unchanged.

Below, I’m going to give you some things you can do to help you develop a new perspective about the difficult situations which can lead to a whole new attitude which, in turn, can transform your drudgery into a new mission (read, purpose).

Before I do, though, I need to be clear on something which may determine whether or not you keep reading: I’m a pastor and follower of Christ. Therefore, my perspective is unapologetically biblical. I’m unapologetic because I don’t think you’ll be able to find a true inner joy in your work apart from a relationship with the One who gives joy. You find joy because it’s there to be found. There is reason behind it and that can only be real if it’s intentional, which doesn’t happen unless it’s there on purpose, and purpose, by definition, can’t happen by chance.

A world without God is a world without real purpose except what you invent (because, again, there has to be an inventor for it to be real and meaningful). If we are the inventors of our own meaning (Existentialism) then we’re essentially engaging in an exercise in self-deception (ironically, what many atheists accuse Christians of). Be that as it may, I’m speaking here from my own experience as well as many others who have experienced the same true joy in situations where there really should be none. So, if you’re open to hearing about it, read on.

1. Begin asking God, “Why?”

OK, you’ve probably already been doing this, but now try it with a new focus. Rather than something along the lines of, “Why did you do this to me, God?” or “How could you let this happen to me?”, start asking God if this is a wilderness of purpose.

The Wilderness of Purpose

God most often leads His people into the wilderness for one (or all) of three reasons: purification, protection, and/or preparation. If you are a follower of Christ, God is most likely working something into you, shaping you into what He wants you to be for the future He has prepared, or He is cleansing you from a wrong attitude, lifestyle, or impurity. Since that is usually a process, the situation He has you in might be a key factor in that. If so, then think about it: short-circuiting that process is the last thing you want to do since, in the end, you lose out on what He has for you.

The Primary P

Whenever we begin to sort through the possibilities of why we may be in our current situation, we always need to begin with the right “P”. Since God may have us in the wilderness, for purification, preparation, or protection, it’s important to begin with the question of purifiication. In Hosea 3, God makes clear that He is leading His sinful people into the wilderness to discipline them, which involves allowing them to despar until they turn to Him and away from the sin that would destroy them. God does the same with us. Start by checking your own heart to see if there is something that needs to be made right. Pray David’s prayer in Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

If you find something, confess it and turn away from it. That is a primary purpose of God’s wilderness.

Divine Boot Camp

Once you are certain you are not being cleansed from one or more sinful attitudes or practices (which, itself, can take some time, so be patient), then assume God is working in you to prepare and equip you. Now, it’s time to ask God what you are to learn through this, because if you have been adopted by God through Christ, there is purpose!

If you can get your mind and heart around that new perspective, it can lead to a whole new attitude, allowing you to embrace the wilderness you’re in with a renewed sense of excitement and joy at what God is doing in your life.

2. Ask God “What?”

Once you have adopted a new perspective on a tough situation, it’s important to ask another immediate question: “What do you want me to do HERE?” You must ask that question first before you begin thinking about what God has for you later or you’ll miss the present opportunities and assignments.

It’s easy, once you’ve embraced the process, to look too far down the road. Remember, God has you where you are for a PURPOSE. Find out what that is. It could be that the very thing that drives you nuts about your current situation is your assignment for now. Through humility, you may need to serve that co-worker that drives you insane. By doing so, you become a blessing to them and you get the blessing of becoming more humble, servant-minded and Christlike in your thinking. Remember, this is the goal.

Maybe the role you serve is simply to learn to become a good worker, learning how to do menial tasks with a good attitude, giving honor to your employer whether you like him or not. All of these things are important things to develop in your life that will be useful in other situations.

While working on a ThM at Southern Seminary, my “pay-the-bills” job was working at Home Depot, which (though there is absolutely nothing wrong with working at Home Depot) is decidedly NOT what I had spent the past 22 years in education preparing for. Nevertheless, I walked through this process of taking a new perspective and it quickly became my mission field. It changed how I thought, acted, talked and worked! A menial job for me became an important mission field and served to build some important qualities in me that I use today in my current assignment which I love! I began to work with purpose, leading to a more joyous experience in almost intolerable tasks.

3. Determine to stick with it.

I’m hesitant to make that a blanket statement because there will probably be a time when you will need to move on, so don’t get too comfortable in the process. This is where discernment from the Holy Spirit comes through spending time with the Lord in prayer and the Word. If you’re patiently listening as you read and meditate on Scripture, you’ll know when it’s time to move on and will be able to confirm it through godly counsel and encouragement.

Until the time comes to leave, stick with it, even though it may get harder and/or more tedious. God never promised it would be easy. In fact, the Word is pretty clear we should expect the difficulty. The Enemy will most likely do everything he can to stop you because for you to master the process is greater victory for you and more glory for God…something he most certainly wants to thwart.

4. Embrace the Journey
God’s call on our lives is not about a particular destination, per se. It’s about a journey. We are a very goal-oriented people. We’re trained to be that way from the time we’re toddlers: “What do you want to be when your grow up?” We’re shaped into moving towards some thing. While that is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, it certainly does not encourage us to embrace the journey of walking by faith as we listen to where The Lord wants us to go and what He has for us along the way. We fail to see that obedience to will of God is the final goal as we make our way towards eternity with Him.

More than once, I have set a goal out before me, only to have The Lord move me in a different direction. Only later did I realize what He had prepared me for earlier equipped me perfectly for His “detour”. Of course, at that point, we have to be careful not to hold on too tightly to that call, as The Lord might still have another chapter that looks very much unlike what we’re currently doing. The Journey doesn’t end until we step into His presence.

No, it’s not easy, but by embracing our journey through a wilderness of purpose, we find a clearer picture of the nature and character of God. We also find that we are drawn in more closely to His presence by experiencing the provision of His grace.

Are you currently in one of these bad situations you’re trying to navigate through? I would love for you to either email me or tell me about your situation in the comments section below. I’d like to pray for you and encourage you, if possible. Have you been through a wilderness of purpose and made it out the other side? Please tell me about it. I’m sure others would benefit from your story, as well.


A Week in Peru

What a great week we’ve had. We’re back in Lima and enjoying some much-needed rest before heading back to the States later today.

It’s great to see how God is working in this region and in some surprising ways. Each day was filled with opportunities, some that seem bigger than others, but all with the fingerprints of God all over them. More than anything, we were able to see how He is orchestrating the ministry here.

If we zoom in on the details of everyday ministry here, it is possible to get frustrated and even discouraged. Then we have to remember that our ways are not his ways nor his thoughts our thoughts.

When we “fly up to 30,000 feet”, we see a TREMENDOUS amount of work being done and additional pieces of the puzzle flowing into place. We have to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We aren’t interested in short-term gains at the expense of long-term loss. As we see a mixture of big and small gains, I am reminded that God’s Word never returns void and WILL fulfill it’s purpose. I am tremendously encouraged to see what great things God is doing in the Yauyos Region of Peru and so happy I am called to be a part of it! Please continue to pray for us. More to come.

Christmas, Gathering Style

I am so excited about what is happening at The Gathering. You are stepping up to the challenge this year by reaching beyond yourself to be a blessing to people you will never know. Rather than allow God’s blessings to terminate on yourself, you are determining to be a channel of blessing to the world.

This year, we’re cutting our Christmas budgets in order to provide safety and nutrition to many people who, without these “sacrifices” might not survive to see another Christmas. By providing goats for milk and nets to protect against exposure to Malaria, money that would have been spent on a gift with limited satisfaction value and forgotten in a year, will now be spent on gifts that will give more than satisfaction…they will give life!

When we engage in this kind of giving, we experience what Scripture says about it being more blessed to give than to receive. If you have not yet determined what you’re going to give this year, do it now. We don’t want to pressure anyone into taking part, but believe that if you determine to use your resources for the glory of God this year by meeting needs in the name of Christ, you will experience the joy in giving that God designed all along.

$70 provides a goat for a family along with all the training needed to care for the goat. With the birth of additional goats, one female is given back to Samaritan’s Purse in order to provide for another family, making it possible for your one gift of $70 to be multiplied indefinitely to meet the needs of countless families! Also, for $10, you can provide a treated net that will protect a family from deadly mosquito bites while they sleep. It costs so little but provides so much. Make sure you take part this year.

If you are a part of The Gathering family, please contribute in addition to your regular tithe, designated “goats” or “nets” (or both!). If you are not a part of The Gathering but would like to take part through our ministry, please send a check to our office address with your check designated “goats” or “nets”, as well.

Thank you so much for helping us transform Christmas from a season of consumerism to one of compassion in the name of Jesus.

Trivial Pursuits

Yesterday at The Gathering, we talked about “Trivial Pursuits” that steal our attention, our energy and our time and offer little benefit in return.  We talked of how there are a lot of things that may be good things, but if we’re honest, have to be put in the “trivial” category because of the place of importance they have in our lives.

I suppose a definition of some sorts is in order here:  a trivial pursuit is anything that comes in the place of God in which we seek lasting satisfaction, purpose or fulfillment for our lives.  I bring in God to that equation because when we are seeking lasting satisfaction, purpose or fulfillment in these things we are pursuing, we are, essentially, asking those things to be a god for us…something worthy enough that we can devote our allegiance to, serve, give our time and energy to in hopes of receiving the “blessing” of meaning from in return.

When we’re talking in terms of looking for ultimate satisfaction from something we devote ourselves to, nothing is worthy of being put in the place of a god that can be either lost or destroyed.  While we often look for purpose in our jobs, relationships, projects, money, status, etc., using our criteria above, none is worthy of our complete devotion as a god because all of that can be lost or destroyed through either death, being layed off, down-turned economy, etc.  So where is the meaning?

In comes Christ (and I’m not equating Christ with “religion.” Religion cannot offer lasting satisfaction either!).  He says, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men”.  We (society at large) find something noble and worthy in meeting the needs of people, don’t we?  Individuals and corporations give countless hours and money to helping to take care of people.  Hollywood is enamored with it.  There are numerous foundations established for that purpose and a growing list of causes on Facebook demonstrates it, as well.

I think this is the case because there is something that has been put within us that wants to care for others.  In this, we find satisfaction and a purpose beyond ourselves.  Yet, there is something that doesn’t quite seem completely satisfying if we stop and think that anything we do for an individual is temporary at best.  All I’m doing is giving a little comfort for a short term. That can make all of our work still feel somewhat futile.

What if there is more?  What if I can meet someone’s needs by feeding them and clothing them, by helping them fight desease and providing other necessities, but also make a difference in them that will last for eternity?  Now that’s making a difference!  That’s what I find in the God-man, Jesus.  I get to find satisfaction in Him, knowing that He is going to take care of me regardless of the economy or relational ups and downs, instability in the world, at large, or anything else that might come my way (John 10:10, Matthew 6:19-34).

Then, on top of that, He gives me a reason for living…a purpose or mission, if you will.  I am to go and help others find that same fulfillment that lasts (Matthew 28:19-20).  That’s real living because then, if I keep that as my motivator, nothing I do is trivial.  All of the things I enjoy doing that are neutral, in and of themselves (hiking, fishing, golfing, etc.), including the relationships I have, whatever job I have, along with every other part of my life takes on meaning.  When it’s part of my mission, I am no longer engaging in trivial pursuits but real life that provides satisfaction and purpose and, usually, a whole lot of fun along the way.

So, maybe it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror, get real honest with who we are what we’re doing with the time and energy we’ve been given, and give up playing Trivial Pursuit with our lives.

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