WEEK 1 — Preparing for Purpose

From the Book

“Why are you here?” Rob imagines asking Paul and Paul then asking us. Determining our purpose can seem daunting and perhaps impossible, but this study gives us some tools to help figure it out. In chapter 1, Rob reminds us that we all already know our starting point on the journey toward discovering purpose: God’s love. God’s love is not the goal of faith; its beginning. And we also know where our purpose will lead us: back to God. But knowing the beginning and the end of our journey might not make it any easier to figure out the path to walk. Rob reminds us that we cannot do it alone. We need help to discover our purpose. Paul took years of studying scripture, working out his new theology through preaching, praying and listening for God’s revelation, and growing in understanding of Christian leadership before even beginning to live out his purpose of making disciples of Jesus. For some of us, this discernment process happens in a formal educational setting. I trained in biblical studies and logic in college and in theological studies and through mentoring relationships while in divinity school. Then I spent two years in freelance and temporary positions learning hard skills of editing before beginning my career in Christian publishing in earnest. Many of my fellow students in divinity school are now community organizers, but they took the time away from
organizing to learn about how their faith can and should impact their motivations and spiritual health while seeking justice in various arenas of public life. Others find their spiritual growth toward their purpose away from a formal educational setting. Consider your own periods of greatest spiritual growth and discernment toward your life’s purpose. Where and when have you had these periods? How can you make time in the way you currently live out your call to pay attention to where God might be leading you? How can you make time for growth? Rob offers a plan for creating a personal mission statement on pages 27-29. Consider working through this process and including your personal mission statement in your sermon. And remember Rob’s advice: it should be simple and direct, aspirational, and something lifelong — beyond your job, family status, or other common descriptors that might change. Now, why are you here?

 

From the DVD

As Rob describes Paul’s change and growth, Rob keeps coming back to the relationships that help us discern and live out our purpose: our relationship with God, with Christ, and with those who advocate for and support us. After Paul’s brief encounter with the risen Christ—the experience that changes him from a persecutor to a follower—Paul spends years building his personal relationship with God through Christ. Do you have a place you can go to listen for God’s guidance? Do you listen through scripture? Prayer? Conversation with other believers? How do you work out what you have heard God saying to you? Paul began to work out his new understanding of God in Christ publicly in Damascus, but he was ill-received. So, he went to Jerusalem. There he needed the help of his friend Barnabas to be taken seriously by Jesus’ followers. When I began a new job, several of my colleagues advocated for my ability both to do the work of the position and to learn quickly the parts of the job I did not already know how to do. Who has advocated for you in your career or in your faith? Consider when you might have the opportunity to be the advocate for friends or colleagues as they follow their purpose. Even after the disciples accept Paul’s call to public ministry, Paul spends over a decade more in Tarsus before beginning to share the love of Christ in the gentile world. Rob explains the value of an extensive period of discernment, learning, and preparation in this way: “More important than the work I do for God is the work God does in me.” Times of learning and discernment make a difference both in understanding our purpose and in the way we live out that purpose. When we take the time to know who we are, the influences in our life, and that we are beloved children of God, we are better able to respond to the call to begin our work when it comes.

 

Scripture —Ephesians 1:11

The letter to the Ephesians begins much like other Pauline epistles with a brief greeting followed by praise and thanksgiving for God. Embedded within the praise of God, the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3, NRSV), is praise of Jesus as the mediator between God and humanity. Ephesians 1:11 asserts not only praise for Christ, but that praising Christ is inevitable. It is part of who we are and part of our purpose. We praise God because God created us and blesses us; we praise Christ because Christ ensures humanity’s relationship with God is one of blessing and praise.

 

Prayer

God, our guide, help us to know that our purpose comes from you and leads back to you. Grant us the patience to listen and build a stronger relationship with you through Jesus Christ while we take time for discernment. Help us support and advocate for one another as we discover the purpose you have given each of us. Amen.

 

Benediction

Friends, go in peace knowing that God has a purpose for each of you. Your purpose begins with God’s love and leads back to God. May the love of Christ and the fellowship of your advocates sustain you as you listen to God and discern your purpose. Amen.

 

— Erin Palmer

Assistant Editor, Upper Room Books

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