"What do you want?" sometimes becomes "Okay, but how do I discover what I really want?"

The first words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John are addressed to two of John the Baptist’s disciples who are following Jesus. Jesus turns to them and asks, “What do you want?”

I wrote my thoughts about that question in yesterday’s blog post. I think it’s a great question, but it begs another question I want to explore today:

“How do you discover what you really want?”

1. One of the best ways to look at what you want to do is to review your life, think back and try to recall what you do that God repeatedly blesses. Can you think back to some times when you knew you were really in your zone — maybe as a child, perhaps as a teen-ager, and now as an adult? Can you recall some times when you stepped back, took a big breath and said, “Wow, I love doing this.” If you can, I’d pay very close attention to what it might mean for you now. You just might discover some great clues for figuring out what you really want to do.

Add to that, of course, what others around you see in your life that God blesses. When someone says, “Holy Cow, you are so good at that. Do you realize what was happening when you did that? That was utterly amazing.” I’d pay close attention to that, too. Other people often see your gifts in action, in ways that you may have overlooked.

I coach, mentor and counsel pastors during the week. Often I think it’s helpful to asking great questions, and I try to ask questions that will make them do their own thinking and find their own solutions. I’ve met with scores of pastors, many of them younger than 35, looking to better pinpoint their gifts. I try to listen well to their answers to the questions.  Among the hundreds of questions I could ask, they include …

Are you merciful?

Are you a person who immediately sees what needs to be done?

Can you see over the hill when others can’t?

Do you know what is next?

Do people look to you to set the direction and drive the charge?

Do you like that role?

Or do you prefer to follow and work behind the scenes, working your magic that way?

Do people feel hope when you’re around?

Do people follow you?

Are you well organized?

Can you stay calm when everyone around you is tense?

Do people look to you for encouragement?

Do you listen well?

Are you patient?

Can you remain calm when when everyone else is going nuts?

Are you a quick decision-maker?

Are you analytical?

Do you look out those who are the lowest and least among you?

Are you a person who reads the room well?  Do you know what people are feeling when others don’t?

Are you flexible? Can role with the punches and adapt if things don’t work out as you expected?

Do you go first?

Are you a risk-taker?

Do people look to you to solve problems?

Can you cut through the fog and discern what’s really going on?

Do you include people? Do you see people that others don’t see?

Are you empathetic?

Are you willing to speak up when truth is on the line? Do you feel God gives you courage just when you need it?

Are you a good teacher?

When you explain things do people say, “Oh, I get it. Now I see it.”

Do you see the cup half full?

Do you handle complexity well?

Do you give people lots of grace?

You get the idea. On and on it goes. Those are just a few of the hundreds of questions that all get at this question:

How do I discover what it is that really gives me life, that really gives me meaning, that really clarifies for me what it is that I feel called to do in this one life I have been given?

2. And now some thoughts from rereading (for the 5th or 6th time) parts of Os Guinness’ outstanding book The Call – Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. More than any other book, The Call has helped me figure out what it is that I really want to do, as well as help others discover what they want to do. I’ve reread it many times and highly recommend it.

—–

  • Humans never are happier than when we are expressing or demonstrating the deepest gifts that are truly us. Sometimes we even get a glimpse of these gifts early in life. I have a friend who is a gifted administrator. She told me when she was 6 or 7 years old, she remembers writing numbers on a paper, filling the entire page with numbers in very straight lines. “I loved how those numbers looked on the page,” she told me. “I made chart after chart of numbers. I was very impressed with my ability,” she said, laughing. In her adult life, her administrative abilities are outstanding.
  • I like to ask people, “Can you recall a time in your childhood when you felt the door opened and let the future in?” Some people can actually recall the door opening when they were quite young. (No, not everyone, I realize.) Almost supernaturally, some folks suddenly remember a glimpse of what they were made for. They can look back now to what remains a crucial aspect of their calling. Ever had an experience like that? If so, what do you think it meant?
  • Normally, God seems to call us along the line of our giftedness. Writer Os Guinness says: “The purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.” Probably no argument from you there.
  • I hope you also agree that our giftedness never stands alone. It stands alongside life’s opportunities, God’s guidance, our readiness to step into what God shows us, our family background, where we were raised, the experiences we have had and all the people that have spoken into our life along the way. That’s just to say that our gifts emerge as we live life.
  • It’s interesting to watch people meet for the first time. It’s usually not long before someone asks, “What do you do?” Then comes the answers: “I’m a school teacher.”  I’m an accountant.”  “I’m a truck driver.” “I’m a coach.” “I’m a chief.” “I’m in sales.” “I’m a priest.” Even more than where a person was reared, hearing what a person does helps us put the person on the map in our mind. For lots of people – including pastors, the people I interact with on a daily basis – work determines a big part of our opportunity for significance (our identity), and the amount of good we produce in our lives.
  • With most of us, our work takes up much of our waking hours. Work can define us and give us our identities. We can become what we do.
  • And yet, Os Guinness says our sense of calling should actually precede our choice of job and career. We discover that calling by considering what we are created and gifted to be. Instead of “You are what you do,” Guinness says, “Do what you are.” I have a sister owns and operates her own skin-care business. She’s very successful. She’s bubbly and outgoing and well-liked.  “Do you know what I sell?” she asked me.  “Skin-care products,” I answered.  “No, no, no my brother. I sell emotion, not skin-care products. That’s who I am.”
  • I’ve taken lots of different tests that are used to “help” a person grapple with her gifts. Some concentrate on spiritual gifts, while others center on natural gifts. None is perfect, so don’t go looking for the perfect test to discover what it is that you were made for. But one book I like a lot is Strengthsfinders 2.0.  (Look at the huge number of reviews on Amazon.) I’ve used it several times with church leadership teams and found it to be very effective.
  • In the biblical understanding of giftedness, gifts ultimately are God’s and not ours. We have nothing that was not given us. Instead of saying we are looking for a place to use our gifts, perhaps we should ask God to put our gifts to work in a place of his choosing. Maybe then we’ll really come to life.
  • How about spending some time pondering God’s knowledge of what he has created us to be and where he is calling us to go and not merely kowtowing to others want us to do? When I was a campus pastor at the University of Illinois, one of the students in our group was driven to be a physician because his father was a physician. Turns out, his becoming a physician was his parents’ strongest wish for him. His parents even tied paying for college to this. The poor fellow constantly was a ball of nerves, as he strove relentlessly to do what his parents wanted him to do. I felt for the guy. I finally lost track of him, but it made me realize that doing just what our parents want for us is certainly not the ultimate way of discovering our gifts, our destiny, and our purpose.
  • Obviously, if we focus on giftedness and “do what we are,” it could become a blank check for self-indulgence. Clearly, we have to follow God’s call and remember that our giftedness is for others, not just for ourselves. That doesn’t mitigate from our perhaps discovering our true gifts and then using those gifts in a personally satisfying way. But it’s always good to keep asking ourselves, “Why have I been given these great gifts of service anyway?”
  • While we all may have a unique call, we always are first and foremost called to be followers, disciples of Jesus — called to be holy, to be peacemakers, to speak the truth in love, to be pure in heart, to count others better than ourselves – to be first and foremost disciples who follow Jesus who always says, “Come to me. Follow me. You are my son. You are my daughter. I love you. What are we going to do together today?” That general calling, as I call it, is given to all believers. It serves to actually help us temper our specific calling as we realize that it is not just all about us, but always about serving others and counting others better than ourselves. The general call to follow Jesus that all disciples have most certainly means there never is a time we aren’t called to be holy or to be a peacemaker or speak the truth or to care for our neighbor. First and foremost, we are disciples of Jesus, surrendered to his will.
  • Discovering our specific gifts is way more multi-faceted that we think and involves way more human relationships that we even know. No disciple of Jesus is an island. We need the community of faith to help us find that which we love as we journey along life’s road.
  • We live in a fallen world, and there’s a chance the core of our gifts may not be fulfilled in our lives on earth. Let’s just be honest about this: Our work on earth, and all the gifts God gives to fulfill his kingdom, is partly creative and partly cursed. If you find work that perfectly fits your calling, well, be grateful. Not everybody gets that satisfaction. And even if your work does fit your calling almost perfectly, it isn’t a God-given right but a blessing from your loving Creator. Quite frankly, having the time (luxury) to figure out the match between calling and work is not afforded most people in the world. For many people, work is necessary for survival. They don’t get to sit around wondering if they are uniquely gifted to do the work presented to them each day.
  • Even the great apostle Paul was a tentmaker. His Apostle-to-the-Gentiles job apparently didn’t pay $250,000 a year with summers off. Now, he probably did make tents to the glory of God, but tentmaking never was the heart of Paul’s calling. It was only a part, as all of life is. Guinness writes: “ … the heart of our calling is work that fulfills us because it employs our deepest gifts.” Some read Guinness’ words and see tentmaking as merely frustrating because it takes away from them spending time on things to which they feel more centrally called to do. Others, more positively, see their tentmaking job as a good means to free them up to do what they feel is central to that to which they feel called. Either way, the point is that many of us are tentmakers.
  • There is a mystery to our specific call. We all are mortals who see through a glass darkly. That’s why I am quite reluctant to trust someone who describes her call with complete clarity and precision. Oswald Chambers, writing about a special call, once said, “If you can tell where you got the call of God and all about it, I question whether you have ever had a call. The call of God does not come like that, it is much more supernatural.” In other words, you can’t very often put your precise call into just the right descriptive words. It’s like asking someone to describe herself in one sentence.  She can’t do it. You probably can’t state your call in a single sentence either. If by chance you do find real clarity of call at, say, age 30, what may be clear then may be far more mysterious in your 50s or 60s because God’s complete designs for us never are fully understood, let alone fulfilled, in this life. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard observed that life is lived forward but understood backward. Obviously, not everything is in our power to fully understand in the moment, so we have to keep living for the future, doing our best to make the best decisions we can. If we don’t live our lives forward, we won’t have anything to understand backwards.

I’ll let Os Guinness summarize all my thoughts:

“Do you want the best and most wonderful gifts God has given you to decay, spent on yourself? Or do you want them to be set free to come into their own as you link your profoundest abilities with your neighbor’s need and the glory of God? Listen to Jesus of Nazareth; answer his call.”