Motivational speakers like to instruct people to, “Pursue your dreams – follow your passion!”
Such advice often places unwarranted pressure on people to create a grand dream, a finished image of their preferred future. It can also produce a selfish life, a life lived only to ensure personal fulfillment. But life is not so simple, nor the future so easily discerned. We cannot expect to have all our ducks in a row, the dream clear, and the road already mapped out.
Alternatively, we can focus on purpose. Nearly 20 years ago, Rick Warren released, The Purpose Driven Life. In the first five years following its release, more than thirty million people purchased his book with the hopes of adding increased meaning to their already busy lives. The incredible surge in book sales speaks to the human interest to find a life purpose. Warren’s approach was straightforward: take forty days to ask important life questions and commit to new habits and patterns for living. Ultimately, his hope was that each person would know the Author of life and follow in His ways. But by focusing purely on purpose, we may tend to want things to be perfect. We may believe that we must be the expert – knowing all things. We may also miss the God moments when there is an opportunity to help someone in need or encourage the down-heartened.
Is there another way to maximize life’s potential?
Could it be that our best approach to life exists in finding God’s path through faithful following, acknowledging that while God knows the road, it may take us awhile to figure it out?
A few years ago, my son and I climbed Mount Kenya. On the final ascent to the summit, walking in the dark so we would arrive at sunrise, the guide instructed us to try to place our feet exactly where he placed his and to not rush but keep the pace steady and sure.
This “finding God’s path” approach to life is less focused on a dream or a purpose and more focused on obedience and personal growth. We learn, adapt, and test things along the journey – all the while looking for those daily moments that offer meaning and contribute to the wellbeing of those who cross our path.
As Christ followers, we are encouraged to attune ourselves to the voice of God and lean into his leading in our lives, knowing as the psalmist writes, that God “fulfills His purpose for [us]” (Psalm 57:2).
I remember a missionary-friend sharing this piece of advice with me as I started out in ministry: He advised me to not fixate on ‘finding God’s will’. Rather, he instructed me to seek God’s guidance, ask for God’s wisdom, and to do so daily. Then, he told me, the path will unfold as God enables you to make wise decisions.
My father echoed his counsel and added one of his favourite Scripture verses, encouraging me to trust God, surrender my ways to him, and watch how he guides me down a straight path (Proverbs 3:5, 6).
Let me offer three keys to finding God’s path for your life, each an essential part of my own personal growth as a follower of Christ.
Finding our path involves surrender and a willingness to help others. In 1 Peter 4:10, we are told that, “God has given each of you some special abilities. Be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God's many kinds of blessings.”
Jesus said in John 17:4, “I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave me to do.” He knew the purpose for which he was sent but needed to surrender daily to his Father’s will. As Christ followers, we are called upon to bring glory to God and to daily surrender our “everything” to him. Dallas Willard talks about the need to die to self and offers this observation: “The self-denial that Jesus calls us to is always the surrender of a lesser, dying, petty futile self for a greater eternal one” (p. 61, The Character Revolution).
Arn and Elsie Bowler served 50 years in three countries in Africa. Arn is a master storyteller who loves to quote a poem by C. Earle that asks God for “a task so hard” that it would take all they had to fulfil God’s purpose. They prayed that God not give them an easy road, but that he would give them a significant path. They have lived full lives filled with acts of love, words of kindness, and destiny-changing interventions. Their surrender has led to an eternal legacy of impact and influence.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that, “We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
Finding God’s path means starting with small steps that stretch you and cause you to grow. These little steps of obedience build confidence in your own abilities and find assurance in God’s presence as you learn to trust Him more fully. If you do have a bigger goal in mind, you may want to start by breaking it down into bite-sized tasks. Whether you step outside your comfort zone and try something new or take on your big dream by mapping out a plan, it is important to remain patient in the process. Don’t be afraid to fail.
Thomas Edison failed 1000 times when working on the light bulb. Or as he is claimed to have said: “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.”
God wants you to begin 'doing' His will by taking small steps. Maybe a thousand steps, maybe, more. Start by asking, “What will be the contribution of my life and who can I help today?”
While living in Zambia, God asked us to begin to care for orphaned and vulnerable children. We started with a simple plan to build one home to provide shelter, food, love, and education to a few children that God had brought across our path. The need was greater than we imagined and the task more complicated. As we journeyed, God brought people to help us. 20 years on, the Villages of Hope care for over 4000 children through 10 child-friendly centers providing education, nutrition, health care, and, when needed, shelter for the most vulnerable. The ministry is led by our friends Sergio and Nancy Bersaglio and it has grown beyond our dreams or imaginations. While we planted a seed, others have watered it, but God made it grow (1 Cor 3: 7 – 9). When you work in God’s field and walk in His path, He takes you where you may never have managed in your own strength.
In finding your path, ask the right (godly) people for advice. I often quote the African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Never underestimate the impact and influence of those who are on the path alongside of you. They are generally the ones who believe in you and want God’s best for your life. Find those people and invite them along.
Following my final year of university, Cindy and I found ourselves at a crossroads, a bit confused about future direction. We went to visit Gary and Marg Foreman who I knew from their days of missionary service in Kenya. They gave generously of their time and helped us decide on our next step, a decision that we have never regretted. They helped us seek God’s wisdom and to believe that God gives wisdom generously and guides without finding fault (James 1:5).
As you walk along your God-ordained path, may I encourage you to:
Take the time to remind yourself of who God is. Experience his love for you in fresh ways.
Ask the Holy Spirit to show you a life that reflects what is best for you.
Follow your heart and take risks by stepping outside your comfort zone.
Celebrate your successes with those who have joined you on your journey towards continued growth.
And, always “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Trying to find your path? Ask yourself:
1. What achievements – big and small – do I feel most proud of?
2. Where do I feel stuck?
3. Are there new opportunities that I could explore to enrich my everyday life?
4. Who can I share my thoughts with?
Murray Cornelius is the Executive Director of International Missions for PAOC. He has served in this role for the past 12 years. Murray and Cindy enjoy spending time with their two adult sons and two grandsons.