Beloved friends and family, I hope you’ve had a Happy Christmas, and I’m praying for each of you that God would impart a supernatural clarity of identity, calling, purpose and vision as you step into this New Year.
We’ve had a fantastic time of feasting with family over this last week or so. Taryn’s mother has come from India to spend her three-week Christmas holiday with us in our new house here in England. My parents, who are usually in Vietnam, are also in the country and were able to come and spend Christmas with us. As were my (fully recovered!) sister and her husband. We thought it was going to be quite a squeeze, but then it turned out that our neighbour three doors down (a former YWAMer herself) was away on holiday over Christmas and was happy for her house to host my family.
I wasn’t actually planning to write, but this afternoon I was reading John’s Gospel and was so struck that I felt compelled to share this little spark of Scriptural revelation with you all immediately. I was reading about John the Baptist (Jn. 1:19-36). The religious dogsbodies are sent to ask John who he thinks he is. How dare he baptize sinners and proclaim the forgiveness of sins! I was struck by the way John avoids entangling himself in theological controversy or political power-games. Instead he responds with humble simplicity and remarkable clarity.
His identity was clear: ‘I am the voice in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord’ (1:23).
His message was clear: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ (1:29, 1:36).
His purpose was clear: ‘for this purpose I came baptizing, that He [ie. Jesus] might be revealed to Israel’ (1:31).
His vision was clear: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven, and it remained on Him… He who sent me to baptize said, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit”’ (1:32-33).
And equally clear was his humility: “He who comes after me ranks before me” (1:15,30); indeed “I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal” (1:27).
I believe the world is in greater need than ever of prophetic voices who would invite people to behold Jesus, and would live lives driven by the purpose of revealing Jesus to their nations, and who would be motivated by a God-given vision of what it would look like for the holy presence of the Spirit of God to rest and remain upon us. But I also believe that each one of us is unique, with a specific and particular role to play in God’s plans and purposes. So my challenge to you is to spend an hour today reflecting on your God-given identity, calling, vision and goals. This is an exercise I’ve done in the past with DTS trainees, and I’ve had enthusiastic feedback even from some of the most resistant to such formulaic approaches to such important questions! You don’t have to accept this challenge. But to all who do receive it –
IDENTITY: Who am I?
As human beings we’re all made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), but more specifically we have all been personally handcrafted. As Psalm 139:13-14 declares (my translation):
‘You SHAPED my innermost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it full well.’
Reflect on how God has SHAPED you by considering your identity from six angles:
1. Significant Scriptures.
For John the Baptist (as we’ve already seen), it was Isaiah 40:3 (cf. Jn. 1:23). If you read 1 Peter 2:4-8, it seems that Peter (whom Jesus had given the name, meaning ‘rock’) had spent time gathering and meditating on all the places where the Scriptures talk about rocks or stones (Is. 28:16, Ps. 118:22, Is. 8:14). Even Jesus had a specific Scripture that he chose to announce the commencement of his public ministry – Isaiah 61:1-2 (cf. Lk. 4:16-19).
2. Heart’s Desires.
Psalm 37:4 promises that when you ‘delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart’. There are certainly some desires that will have to be uprooted if we are to truly delight in the Lord, and there are other desires that will be transformed – perhaps beyond recognition! But all too often Christians have good God-given desires that they haven’t dared to truly embrace; or worse, have stifled out of the misguided fear that to do something they enjoy would be selfish and sinful.
3. Abilities and Gifts.
This isn’t time for a long discussion of spiritual gifts. Rather, this is a chance to honestly and humbly name your strengths so that you can begin to use them for God’s glory and the good of his people (cf. Rom. 12:3-8).
4. Personality Traits.
Moses was ‘slow of speech and of tongue’ (Ex. 4:10), while Peter was often overly hasty to speak (Mk. 8:32, 9:5-6). Matthew was an analytical thinker who was careful to pass on every jot and tittle he could of the teaching of Christ, while Mark was a active doer impressed more with Christ’s power than the content of his preaching. I dislike talking about ‘Personality Types’ because I have too often seen people use their ‘Type’ as an excuse for not stepping into the opportunities God has put before them (like Moses!). But that we each exhibit different Traits is both undeniable and helpful to be aware of. So (especially if you’ve not done one before) here’s a free ten-minute personality test. Just don’t make it an excuse for disobedience to God’s call on your life!
If you were applying for a job, then you’d list all your relevant experience on a CV. And in God’s kingdom, every experience is relevant, positive or negative. Consider Paul and the way his cross-cultural background (a Jew born to zealous Pharisees, but also a Roman citizen) uniquely prepared him to lead the explosion of cross-cultural converts to the Way of Jesus; and the way his education in the Jewish Scriptures empowered him to express in writing the theological truths of the gospel like no-one before or since; and the way his experience as one who hated and persecuted Christianity made him Christianity’s most authoritative apostle. Perhaps you need particularly to reflect on the painful moments of your life so far and ask God how He wants to redeem them.
6. Divine Encounters.
Isaiah had his vision of the throne-room of God (Is. 6). Paul had his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus (Acts 9). But maybe you don’t feel like you’ve ever had a ‘divine encounter’ worthy of the name. In which case, perhaps like Nathanael (cf. John 1:47-51) what you need is less a dramatic personal encounter with Jesus than a revelation that Jesus already sees you in those simple, honest personal ‘under the fig tree’ moments. That moment where you made a genuine response to the grace of God. And maybe it didn’t feel significant enough to tell anyone about. Maybe it didn’t even feel like God really noticed. But Jesus says, ‘I saw you there under the fig tree’. And as you realize that, ‘you will see greater things’ (cf. Jn. 1:50).
CALLING: What/Who/Where has God called me to?
Usually when we think of ‘Calling’, we think primarily of ‘What’ God has called us to. But the questions of ‘Who’ and ‘Where’ are equally valid places to begin. And when you do have clarity regarding one of those questions, you will eventually need to come back to the others. In YWAM we talk about Circles (of Relationship), Circuits (of Geography), and Cycles (of Time). Paul knew he was supposed to preach the gospel to anyone and everyone (Rom. 1:16), but only when he had the vision of the Macedonian man (Acts 16:6-10) did he know where at that time he was supposed to go.
VISION: What might this look like?
If you want to have a meaningful life, then make sure – like John the Baptist! (John 1:15,27,30; 3:30) that your vision is bigger than yourself. The point of this exercise isn’t to ‘develop your life vision’ but rather to develop a specific vision of what it would look like for the world filled with the glory of the Lord, and work out how you can play a catalytic role in bringing that vision to fulfilment. One of my favourite verses is Habakkuk 2:2: ‘Write the vision clearly, so that whoever reads it can run with it’. I pray that God would give you such clear and compelling vision that you people begin to run with it before you’ve even asked them to.
GOALS: What commitments do I need to make to get started?
A wise Christian blogger suggests that goals should be ‘SMART’ = Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timebound. Proverbs 16:3 promises that if you ‘commit your actions to the Lord, your plans will succeed’. So go on! Write down three specific goals, and pray in the name of Jesus that God would make those plans succeed. And now you’re actually going to do this, it might be more helpful to print out this exercise as a simple worksheet.
Please let me know if you found this helpful!
Much love, Peter