Memo 1026: Purpose or Work - Or Both?

I sat counseling a woman last week who was in dire financial straits. She is talented in one area of work but felt like it wasn't Screen Shot 2021-10-31 at 9.42.56 AMsomething that glorified God. At the same time, she knew her purpose but didn't know how she could make a living by fulfilling it. We talked for about an hour as I tried to help her understand the difference between her purpose and an occupation. Since she was desperate for money, she was all ears and I feel like she left with a clearer distinction between the two and how God often positions them. Perhaps you have the same need.

Paul's purpose was to bring the gospel of Christ to the Gentile world. We know this because his "call" on the Damascus road has a prominent place in the book of Acts. In fact, Paul referred to his purpose in each of his letters, usually relating his purpose to an Old Testament passage. When Paul talked about himself, he referred to his purpose, yet that purpose wasn't his occupation. To earn a living, Paul made tents.

Yet Paul never talked or wrote about his occupation. The only way we know Paul made tents was that Luke wrote about it in the book of Acts. Don't you find it interesting that Paul never referred to making tents? That was what he did, but it wasn't who he was. He was an apostle to the Gentiles and that's what got the choice place in his heart, time, efforts, and writings. (Paul returned the favor. Nowhere did Luke mention he was a doctor; Paul told us that in Colossians 4:14. Obviously Luke learned from his mentor the difference between purpose and occupation.)

WHO ARE YOU?

I'm not asking what you do. You may sell insurance or work as a telemarketer, but who are you? You may be a missionary to some people group or a comforter of children or the elderly, while insurance or telemarketing pays the bills. When people ask you what you do, like I just did, how do you respond? Do you say you're an insurance salesperson or a missionary? A telemarketer or a comforter? If you answer the salesperson, then you're defining yourself by what you do. If you say missionary or comforter, you're focusing on purpose, the essence of who you are, and not on the role God uses to pay for your food. You may only get to the mission field once a year or the old age home once a week, but the other weeks you're praying and working to fund your purpose like Paul did when he made tents. You don't have to quit your occupation to embrace your purpose. You may simply need to distinguish between the two and hold the proper one in a place of preeminence.

What's more, God can choose to pay you from some means other than your purpose activities. Your purpose could be to counsel people but your job pays the bills so you can offer your counseling free of charge. To take this even further, God can have you work in your purpose, not work another job, and trust Him to provide for you as He sees fit—which happened to Paul when other churches sent an offering to support him while he was out in his mission field. The main point in all this is that God wants you to focus on purpose. if your purpose and job are one and the same, then that's ideal, but if they aren't, as in Paul's case, then you save the best of who you are for your purpose, understanding that you don't work to make money (God promises to provide). You work to express and extend God's kingdom through every aspect of your life to the world around you.

This plays out in my own life through my relationship with social media. I'm active on many social media platforms because my purpose is to write. I don't get paid for what I post and write in most cases. I do it because it's an important part of who I am. God provides for me in other ways, and I understand it's my job to write and broadcast. God's job is to provide for me as He promised. I do His will, He confirms His will through His provision, and many people are impacted every day, not because I'm paid to reach them but because I'm called to do so. The same would hold true for my work in Kenya.

OCCUPATION VS. PURPOSE

Os Guinness wrote the following paragraph in his book, Entrepreneurs of Life (since he uses the words "calling" and "vocation" instead of purpose, I have taken the liberty of inserting the word "purpose" where appropriate):

Calling [purpose] helps us finish [our lives] well because it prevents us from confusing the termination of our occupations with the termination of our vocations [purpose]. If we ever limit our calling [purpose] to what we do, and that task is taken away from us—we suddenly find ourselves unemployed, retired, or pronounced terminally ill—then we are tempted to depression and doubt. What has happened? We have let our occupation become so intertwined with our vocation [purpose] that losing the occupation means losing the sense of vocation [purpose] too.

Have you either not found or lost your sense of purpose? Then perhaps you have confused the difference between what you do and who you are (parents and spouses included; your role is that of a spouse or parent; your purpose is who you are). I suggest you take this week to reflect on this important distinction. No longer be content to define your life in terms of what you get paid to do but rather by who you are. Oh, and by the way, I sat and counseled with the woman I mentioned at the beginning free of charge because it's part of my purpose, not my job. Have a blessed week!