I could tell you that you’re a beloved child of the everlasting Father, a member of the eternal family.
I could tell you you’re dead to sin and alive to God, approved, sanctified, established, triumphant, faithful, chosen, redeemed, rejoicing, called, and perfect in Him.
I could tell you all the things you are in Christ, according to Scripture, and it would be not only true but wonderfully true.
But let other scholars and writers cover those themes. I will be bringing the conversation down to terra firma, to the spot where you become a functioning member of the human family. I’ll be asking, How do we figure out who we are here on earth, in the day-to-day? How do we find our flourishing place?
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (Jer. 17:7, 8).
The answer to this question plays heavily into our well-being. Our sense of identity can make or break us. I recently spoke to a teen who felt pressured to choose an alternate sexual identity in order not to be in the “oppressor” category. Soon after, a young adult told me of an unsupportive workplace, wondering how she could start over when her position had become a large part of who she was. Then a newly retired friend said he’d gone from “Who’s Who” to “Who’s that?” because people didn’t seem to know him since he’d left his position. People everywhere struggle with a sense of their social identity.
We all want to matter, to have significance, and to contribute something of value. And we want that value to be seen by others. This is not prideful or selfish. It’s actually normal, even healthy. A relational God made us in His image, and we derive satisfaction from meaningful mutually beneficial interaction with other people. With this in mind, I propose a simple formula for finding our place: trust, serve, and grow.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5, 6).
The world pressures us to plan a monumental life full of noteworthy accomplishments. We look at the great people of the world, hear their speeches at award events, and feel washed out in comparison. But when we take on the world’s standard of greatness, we fret ourselves out of God’s hands. “Too many, in planning for a brilliant future, make an utter failure.”1
We must remind ourselves that it’s not up to us to make ourselves great. God defines greatness differently than we do, by the love we pour out to others rather than the praise others pour out for us. To find this place of flourishing in love, we follow a God who sees the end from the beginning and has a plan for our lives—a plan He reveals step by step as we follow. The One who died for us wants our happiness and fulfillment more than we do, for “all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Ps. 25:10).
The wise man of Ecclesiastes said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Eccl. 9:10). What task lies nearest, of which you can build toward your flourishing place? Here is a series of questions to get the process of discovery started.
What need presents itself for which I may be uniquely qualified to help?
What human condition leaps out at me, begging to be addressed?
What are my gifts; what abilities come naturally?
What skills and assets have I already acquired?
What are my passions? What lights a fire
What do I love to do? (Yes, God cares about that!)
What do I feel a moral responsibility toward?
What painful losses have I experienced that uniquely qualify me for ministry?
Is there something the Spirit has called me to do that I have not acted on?
On that last point, when we respond to the Spirit’s prompting, new doors of opportunity open up before us. I got started in my writing career by writing letters of encouragement to people. I noticed that I loved expressing ideas on paper. From there the possibility of writing articles and books opened up.
“Through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
When I first started reading Ellen White’s writings, I balked at her word “useful.” I thought it made people sound like vacuum cleaners. But now I get it. To be useful is to be of service to the greater good. Here’s a useful gem using that word: “There is no limit to the usefulness of the one who, putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart and lives a life wholly consecrated to God.”2
Did you get that? There is no limit to our usefulness when we follow God fully. An essential paradigm shift for those seeking to find their flourishing place is from being great to being a great blessing. We live, not to best others through competition, but to bless them through service. My friend David excelled at every sport he tried. He had started down the road toward professional skateboarding, but when he gave his heart to Christ, his direction changed. He started out by giving Bible studies to his friends, which led to preaching locally, which led to preaching globally. Once we choose to live a life of service, infinite possibilities open to our view. This is why we do what lies nearest—there is so much from which to choose! Serving those within our sphere creates a wave of influence that opens more and more doors and opportunities.
“Those who dwell under His shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain and grow like a vine” (Hosea 14:7).
It is a beautiful thing to throw ourselves into the furrow of the world’s need; but this surrender to the greater good of humanity must be balanced with good stewardship of ourselves.
A friend quit a frustrating, unproductive ministry position only to be told, “You let the devil win!”
“Oh, no,” she said, “The devil didn’t win me. I’m going back to school.” This person’s graduate training increased her income, her credibility, and ultimately her usefulness. But it required her to climb out of the trenches for a time. Take in this beautiful truth: “Our first duty toward God and our fellow beings is that of self-development. Every faculty with which the Creator has endowed us should be cultivated to the highest degree of perfection, that we may be able to do the greatest amount of good of which we are capable.”3
Self-improvement is not selfish, it is duty. Sometimes our service to God takes on the look of wordless animals plodding along under a yoke of bondage. Sometimes we ask God, “What should I do?” expecting Him to drive us forward like brute beasts. But . . . and this is important . . . God cares how we feel about things! When we ask, “What should I do?” He just might ask, “What do you want to do?” While He has a plan for our lives, He would like our enthusiastic consent to that plan, as opposed to mere compliance. As He unfolds to us a vision of who we can be, He would love us to catch that vision and pursue it from our own free will.
“All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses.”4
This self-development in usefulness will continue throughout life. “Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). As we grow in wisdom and compassion, our relevance increases rather than decreases. My friend Vashti had lived through the civil rights movement, had marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., and had a small museum in her home with an authentic poster advertising a slave for $50. Each week she’d come to church a little more bent over, but do you know what? We learned from her till she died. In the world we lose relevance as we age, but in the Lord we accumulate it throughout life. Then, just as we stand at the apex of our spiritual growth, we breathe our last. But the moment Jesus calls us forth we begin again that life of service and growth we began here on earth.
1 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 479.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 8, p. 19.
3 Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1923), p. 107.
4 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 668.