If I ever had the chance to ask the Apostle Paul what his purpose was, I would have expected him to begin with his Damascus Road experience—you know, the one where he literally met Jesus. If Jesus showed up in a blaze of glory and said something directly to you, isn’t that where you’d start?
“Man, it was crazy. I was on my way to class one day, and Jesus appeared to me and knocked me off my skateboard …”
(That’s right, skateboard. What else would you suggest is a 21st century equivalent of getting knocked off a horse?)
But here’s the thing: Paul doesn’t start with Damascus Road. When Paul states his purpose in Romans 15, he instead grounds his understanding of his calling in God’s purposes on earth:
“My aim is to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named … but, as it is written, ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’”
– Romans 15:20–21 CSB
I think he did this so he could be an example to us because, while most of us will not have a Damascus Road experience, all of us have the Scriptures—and that’s the place we are supposed to begin in figuring out God’s will.
The Bible makes it clear. In Romans 15:10–13, Paul does something no one else does in the New Testament: He stacks passages from all three major parts of the Old Testament, one after another—from the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom writings. It’s as if Paul is saying, “All of the Old Testament is organized around this truth: God will make his name and salvation known among all nations.”
It’s good to know what God’s purpose on earth is. But have you ever asked yourself how well your life goals line up with Scripture?
When I ask people what they want to do in life, I often hear things like this:
“I want to be a great doctor, one of the best heart surgeons in the world.”
“I want to do what I love so that I never feel like I have to work a day of my life!”
“I want to own my own business.”
“I want to make a good living so I can take care of my family.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with those answers. Yet when I ask believers what these ambitions have to do with God’s agenda, I often get blank stares.
When it comes to the will of God, many of us are narcissists; we want to know all about us. It’s one of the reasons we’re so into the Enneagram, or the Myers-Briggs, or StrengthsFinder. I’ve got no ax to grind with personality tests—they can be very helpful—but long before those things are relevant, we have to figure out what God is doing in the world and conform to that. Our understanding of our ambition doesn’t begin with knowing ourselves; it begins with knowing God.
Old Testament scholar Christopher J.H. Wright pinpoints the problem: We ask, “Where does God fit into the story of my life?” when the real question should be, “Where does my little life fit into the great story of God’s mission?”
Many of us have turned the will of God into an idol, wanting to know it more than we do the purposes of God and seeking it more than we do the glory of God.
Many of us have turned the will of God into an idol, wanting to know it more than we do the purposes of God and seeking it more than we do the glory of God. We talk about finding God’s will, but it’s not really lost.
We talk about finding God’s will, but it’s not really lost. “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Don’t think about your life narcissistically. Think about it in light of the purposes of God.