Getting Direction from History
I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all Your works and consider what Your hands have done. - Psalm 143:5

One way to discover your life's purpose is to take a look at the patterns and experiences God has already engineered into you, through your past. There is much to be learned from an historical perspective. Experiences have equipped you for future opportunities. Decisions have reinforced your core values. Patterns have emerged in keeping with your core identity.

If you believe that God's hand has been in it, your history is a good indicator of your God-given reason for being. It is a place to start when you ask yourself: “Who am I, anyway?”

Equipping

“Isn't it funny how God prepared me for doing exactly what I am doing?” shared a friend of mine. She is in full time ministry after taking early retirement from her previous career. Her enthusiasm is contagious as she talks about the skills and training God invested in her. Amazingly, she has been a Christian for just the last ten years, but the preparation for her ministry began long before that. God invests in us while we are still rebellious sinners.

Consider the experiences God has orchestrated for you, such as special training or education. Part of the uniqueness that is “you” comes from those times. It may have turned out to be a discovery of something you are particularly suited for, like an opportunity that fit your gift mix perfectly. It might have been an introduction to something you had never considered, except that God arranged the circumstances. These are the times you look back on fondly.

Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. - 2 Corinthians 1:4

There are experiences that would not be fond memories, such as times of suffering or grief. Remember them as well, because God has used them to shape you too. Paul writes about how we are comforted so that we can comfort others. This is evidenced by a widow that has a heart for others' grief; a formerly destitute person now in the ministry of mercy; an overcomer of addiction that now lends hope and courage to the addicted; or the abuse survivor that leads others from victim to victor.

Values

Life is full of lesson-learning opportunities. The accumulations of these beliefs make up our core values and the grid through which we perceive our current environment. When we review our upbringing and responses to circumstances, we can identify the source and origin of many of those values. They play an important role in how we carry out our current mission.

What values are very important to you? Your frugality may be because money was a precious commodity in your life, as we have seen in “Depression babies”. This can lead to a value of stewardship. Your thirst for knowledge may have come from special opportunities at school, such as scholarships. You may be industrious because you had no other options, and now hard work is your way of life. You may get along with others because you had to learn to avoid conflict.

Not all values are expressed in a positive way, so enhance those that are in keeping with God's character. The antithesis to stewardship can be miserliness; a thirst for knowledge can lead to “paralysis from analysis”; industriousness can become workaholism; and getting along can instead be victimization or withdrawal.

For more information on the role your Core Values play in your identity see the related article: Core Values.

Patterns

“My dad was half Indian.” another friend of mine recently bragged. “He used to take us places, just to teach us how to never get lost. Whenever I go someplace new, I still look back every time I make a turn. That's what he taught us as kids, and I never get lost.”

When we look back, we gain a perspective that is important for recognizing our next turn; it is as if we've already been where we're going. Similarly, this point of view can help us get a better understanding of who we are by comparing and contrasting it with who we have been. Focus on the ways in which you looked like God's image, but be transformed from everything else through the renewal of your mind.

His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. - John 10:4

How do you hear from God? This question can generate some interesting answers, but the most confident people have testimonies based on recognizable patterns God has used with them in the past. Remember David's reply to Saul at the challenge of Goliath? His history of overcoming a bear and lion gave him the confidence to face the giant (1 Samuel 17:34-37). Watch how God has guided or corrected you. Have there been incredible signs associated with important changes? Do you most often discover His will through reading the Bible, by a direct message from a trusted advisor, or some other way? Always be ready for God to open a new channel of communication, but increase your comfort level by knowing the patterns God has already established with you.

How to get direction

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds. - Psalm 77:11-12

Schedule a four to six hour block of time for a healthy “Me-so-far” exercise. The goal is to collect and capture as many memories as possible, without worrying about processing them. Most people do this work best in a single block of time, rather than a series of appointments. Giving yourself permission to be nostalgic brings on a mood that tends to raise more and more memories. Because the mind is an incredible store of information, some ideas will flit through your consciousness quickly, so be ready to identify them. Scientists now suggest that the brain actually retains every thought and experience, so don't worry that anything is lost.

My favorite collection method is to use a single small sticky note for each memory that comes to you. This allows you to float down a stream of consciousness, gathering bits and pieces of your history, taking each strand as far as it wants to go. Begin again with another line of thought, and repeat. You can trigger new lines of thinking by considering your life on a timeline; thematically working through a feeling or emotion; probing parts of your life identified by a geographic location; and digging up memories associated with specific people.

After the capture, take some time for a review of findings. I consider this to be the “connect the dots” phase. A mathematician would describe it as a linear regression (drawing a trend line based on the relative position of each dot). An elementary school teacher might suggest drawing a line from dot to dot and see the picture that comes out. Either way, your objective is to recognize patterns, trends and directions.

Apply this information to your current (and future) life. Consider the Lord's works, miracles and mighty deeds. What has He already invested in you that is needed at this time? What experience has He given you that perfectly suits you for a divine appointment? Sometimes a choice becomes obvious as one alternative best fits the future picture based on this kind of simple historical review.

Fine tune your understanding of your life's purpose by catching on to God's handiwork. His hand has been in your development. There should only be one answer to these two questions: “Who does God intend me to be?” and “Who am I being?”