I want to begin by asking you a question: Why are you here? I’m not asking why you live in a certain area or how you found my blog. What I’m asking is, Why has God placed you on this earth? The process of developing a vision for your life begins by answering this fundamental question.
One of my favorite people in the Old Testament is a man by the name of Nehemiah. This man was responsible for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after they had been destroyed by Israel’s enemies. When Nehemiah felt a burden to rebuild the walls, he knew he risked peril from King Artaxerxes and other opponents, but he courageously followed God’s leading and inspired his people to believe in God’s promises for the future. The vision in Nehemiah’s heart prepared him to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls in record time.
Nehemiah explained his life and his work this way: “God had put [it] in my heart to do” (Nehemiah 2:12).
Whether we realize it or not, God has put work in our heart to do as well. It’s not a cause we create or a crusade we construct. It’s a matter of being open to God, sensitive to His leading, touched by His concerns, and available when He shows us what to do.
How to Recognize God’s Purpose for Your Life
Purposeful living begins with a God-given burden. When we’ve yielded our life to Christ, we want to serve Him; we’re reading our Bible and praying earnestly for His will in our lives. We become like plowed and fertile fields waiting for the seed of His heart to drop into the furrows of our soul. The Lord will place a burden in our heart, and it will feel like dissatisfaction, need, concern, or longing. It will be a desire to help, to improve, to win, to advance, to correct, to remedy, to rebuild. The burden comes from Him, and it often comes in unexpected ways or in unexpected moments.
Have you ever heard of the Haystack Prayer Meeting? A group of students at Williams College in Williamston, Massachusetts, met regularly for prayer in the early years of the 1800s. One day the Holy Spirit sent a bolt of spiritual lightning into their hearts and placed within them a deep burden for the unsaved.
The efforts of these students effectively launched the era of American global evangelism. From the momentum of their prayers, some of the first American missionaries, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice, sailed for India shortly afterward, and the rest is history. The plight of a Christless nineteenth-century Asia produced a godly discontent that led a group of college students to change the course of Christian history.
Just as Nehemiah was burdened to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, God places certain burdens on our heart. He puts within our restless spirit a desire to do something for Him. Perhaps it’s leading a Bible study at a nursing home. Maybe it’s periodic mission trips. It could be a job or task in your local church or an opportunity in your family or community. Whatever it is, it will evolve from dissatisfaction into desire.
No church can tackle every issue in the world, and no Christian can sign up for every ministry. But when God places a burden in our heart, it turns into an intense desire to do what we can. In Philippians, Paul explained how this felt to him: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).
Our work for the Lord isn’t an obligation we fulfill; it’s a calling we embrace. Ask God to give you a dissatisfaction with the status quo and a desire for something better.
When we feel a burden in our heart and a desire to do something about it, we should respond by committing our entire being to the purpose God places within us. We need to “press toward the goal” (Philippians 3:14).
That’s what Nehemiah did. After he prayed and staked out his plan, he tackled it with a determination that wouldn’t be denied. When the king questioned his plans for reconstructing the defensive walls of Jerusalem, he prayed to the God of heaven and asked for help (Nehemiah 2:4). When critics mocked him, he answered, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build” (2:20). When the work seemed overwhelming, he divided it up among all the people and assigned each his task (chapter 3). When his enemies attacked, he prayed to God and stationed sentries in strategic places (4:9). When his workers grew disgruntled, he gave the matter “serious thought” and rebuked them (5:7). When foes sought to distract him, he told them, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down” (6:3). And when his life was threatened, he stood his ground, saying, “Should such a man as I flee?” (6:11)
Once we catch a vision for the work God has for us, like Nehemiah, we will become tenacious in completing the role He has given us.
Of course, our work is a step of faith taken in total dependence on God for His enabling. Someone once said, “Ask God to give you a dream so large that it’s doomed to fail unless He is in it.” Not all of us have an equal measure of faith, but whatever we do must be done by faith. Read through Nehemiah and notice how some of his prayers were lengthy while others were short, pointed prayers sent up to heaven in a moment of crisis or during a pause in the conversation. We not only walk by faith, we work by faith. We don’t always see the results, but we know the One who has promised that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Develop the Details
It’s been said that “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” Every vision must have specifics. Nehemiah evaluated every phase of the wall’s reconstruction. He knew every square yard. He assigned a job to everyone. He oversaw the work like a trained foreman. Nothing was left to chance, and no detail was overlooked.
When we seek to implement the vision God gives us, what starts as a theory soon becomes a practical plan. We take one step after another until our vision becomes as practical as Esther’s banquet (Esther 4–5), David’s slingshot (1 Samuel 17), Gideon’s torches (Judges 7), the boy’s lunch of bread and fish (Mark 6:30-44), the Good Samaritan’s wine and oil (Luke 10:25-37), Philemon’s hospitality (the book of Philemon), Dorcas’ robes (Acts 9:36-43), and Paul’s pen and parchment. We never know how a single detail, borne from a visionary mind, will be used by the Lord in helping this world.
Steps to Living out Your Purpose
Nehemiah’s courageous approach to life provides a blueprint for us to follow. Let’s consider seven practical steps we can identify from his life and ministry.
Step 1: Commit your life wholly to Christ.
Long before Nehemiah began rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he dedicated his life to knowing and serving the Lord. Have you invited Jesus Christ to be the Lord of your life? If not, it’s simpler than you might think. God’s Word says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). If you believe in Jesus’ power to save but feel stuck in your spiritual life, take steps to grow your faith and eliminate unproductive habits.
Step 2: Offer yourself wholeheartedly to Him for whatever He wants.
While Nehemiah prayed, he trusted God for an answer and began planning his project. When the king agreed to let him rebuild Jerusalem, Nehemiah had already determined what materials and permits would be needed. He was ready to begin as soon as God opened a door of opportunity.
Do you have a God-sized dream? Spend some time in prayer and ask God to help you catch His vision for your life. If you already know what your God-given vision is, thank Him for it and ask Him to prosper your plans (Nehemiah 1:5-11). Follow Nehemiah’s example by trusting God to answer your prayers and being prepared to act if He extends His favor (Nehemiah 2:1-8).
Step 3: Open your eyes to the needs around you.
Nehemiah prepared his initial plans before he ever laid eyes on the city, and he didn’t stop there. After his arrival, he spent three days surveying the situation and visualizing the solution. Nehemiah knew the project was bigger than he was. He prepared his heart and his action plan by understanding the scope of the project.
What need is plucking at your heart? Write down one or more concerns that are pressing on your heart right now. Next to each one, write one way you could improve the situation.
Step 4: Seek God’s perspective.
Oftentimes God stirs our heart before He moves in our circumstances. Nehemiah’s concern for the Jews became a calling as the details unfolded before him. When Hanani described the extent of Jerusalem’s desolation, Nehemiah knew the city and its people were vulnerable to ongoing attacks (Nehemiah 1: 2-4).
Ask God to give you His perspective. Search for opportunities to put your gifts and talents to work for His glory and the benefit of the Kingdom of God. Let your heart be burdened for what breaks God’s heart.
Step 5: Realize that you can’t do everything, but you can do something.
And that something is everything. Nehemiah faced an overwhelming task, obstacles, and opposition. Study the following passages and consider how his example could help you overcome your own barriers.
- Delegate the work (Nehemiah 3:1-32).
- Overcome the opposition (Nehemiah 2:19, 20).
- Remove the obstacles (Nehemiah 4:7-23).
- Live above reproach (Nehemiah 5:1-19).
- Stay on course (Nehemiah 6:1-14).
External resistance often produces internal discouragement. Fatigue, frustration, failure, and fear are common enemies whenever believers undertake a work for God. But it is in these struggles that Almighty God steps in and strengthens His people.
We’ve all struggled with Satan’s attacks at some time or another. What type of attacks are you most vulnerable to? Think about what barriers could prevent you from successfully resolving the situation(s) you identified above. List those barriers and ask God to show you strategies for overcoming them.
Step 6: Respond to the need in small steps.
Laying beams, hanging doors, making repairs, fortifying walls—the details of Nehemiah’s plan to rebuild Jerusalem were daunting. Jerusalem’s city wall included at least ten gates that needed attention. Some of these gates only needed repair, while others needed complete reconstruction. In most cases, these would have been massive double doorways designed to accommodate fully loaded camels and other traffic passing through. If any one person had undertaken the project, it would have been too much. But with dozens of families dividing up the labor, each was able to focus on the specifics of one small section.
No matter the size of your God-given vision, be faithful in small things. Let the work grow as God prospers it, and don’t worry about its scope or success or status.
Step 7: Commit it all to Him, be faithful, and whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your heart.
God’s people are often tempted to leave the great work He has called them to do. Nehemiah’s own people, the Jews, created internal turmoil through their treatment of each other. On four occasions, his enemies attempted to distract him from the work by asking to meet with him. Nehemiah’s response provides an example of faithfulness for us to follow: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3) When distractions come your way, what is your response? How will you allow Nehemiah’s words to increase your resolve? Don’t ever disregard God’s assignment. If He has given you work to do, it is “a great work.”