According to most leadership gurus, we all need to have a vision for our life. I don’t necessarily disagree… but what I’ve come to question is the process we undertake to comprehend the vision and calling that God has for us.
Yes – we all have a purpose. There is a unique role that each Christian has within the Kingdom. Ephesians 2:10 is one verse that makes that abundantly clear. However, I believe our purpose/vision is not merely the product of a brainstorming meeting or pow-wow session with a life coach. Rather, it can be the outcome of a long journey of continuous discoveries as God increasingly reveals how our gifts, passions and experiences can serve his mission on planet earth.
This has been my experience... and so it is perhaps helpful to share how God has brought his vision into focus in my life as a God-ordained adventure has unfolded over many decades.
When I was seventeen I made what I call an ‘adult commitment’ to Christ. Having believed since childhood, I now counted the cost of my faith and knew I wanted to serve Jesus.
At that stage, God spoke through a word from our church’s Pastor. It was a great clue to God’s plan – and I still have the scrap of paper where I jotted down the key parts I could remember after he prayed for me (see below). ‘That’s it’, I thought… ‘I’m off’… no doubt with the words of Queen ringing in my ears… ‘Don’t stop me now’. So I rushed headlong into various forms of ministry. But the Lord said ‘not so fast’… and at age 19 put me on my back for 3 years with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Those years of illness were my seminary as I had so much to learn about God’s love for me until He graciously healed and restored me.
Upon recovery, I became a youth pastor. Then, at a lunch date with my South African uncle and aunt, I found out that their church was looking for a youth pastor. ‘I might be interested in that post’ I said… perhaps responding to a whisper from the Holy Spirit. My uncle replied with impressive eloquence; ‘That might not be such a stupid idea’. And that ‘not such a stupid idea’ has shaped the next twenty years of my life. Within a year I’d moved to South Africa… as God continued to reveal his will and purpose for me.
As I began working with underprivileged youth in Cape Town, my heart was broken by the challenges they faced due to the legacy of apartheid. I used my passion for football to build relationships and mobilise mission into tough communities and prisons across Cape Town. Over the next few years, this expanded as I had opportunities to travel across Africa and reach out to youth through football-based events. Through this opportunity, God began to stir in my heart a calling to invest in young African leaders as I saw they would be better equipped than me to reach their communities with the gospel. My heart again was stirred to provide a platform for emerging African leaders to flourish, particularly those who were marginalised. Through these circumstances, and many confirmations from scripture and other people, my sense of life-long vision and purpose came more into focus. In 2011, I spent some time seeking God in what I called a ‘life-audit.’ I read through years of journals in order to try and discern the thread of God’s calling on my life. The result of that process was the emergence of a personal vision statement, which I summarised as being called to raise up African leaders to flourish in faith and life. In 2013, I joined The Message Trust and my personal vision aligned with the vision of the organisation I was joining, igniting passion in me to see God’s kingdom come amongst gangsters and marginalised youth in order that they can become transformational leaders.
I’ve just described a twenty-five year journey… and missed out a lot of other key events, words, scriptures and experiences that shaped the vision God gave me.
Yet everyone seems in such a rush. We’re impatient in so many ways. I can relate to that. Patience isn’t a virtue that comes naturally to me. However, perhaps we need to rediscover the spiritual discipline of waiting on God (Ps. 40) and allowing him to ‘will and to act in us according to his good purpose,’ (Php. 2:13), and in his perfect timing.
Recently this has once again become a critical discipline for me to follow as I went through the loss of my late wife, Laura. As I waited on the Lord for healing and guidance, friends sent me the beautiful poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Perhaps these are words that many of us who naturally gravitate to the fast-lane need to hear, so that we can ensure that we are calibrated to God’s plan and purpose for our lives.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin