by guest author Joni Shankles
Most of us have asked the question, “What is my purpose?”
For me, that question has often taken a paralyzing turn. I think, “What is MY purpose? What is the one thing I’m supposed to be doing with my life to glorify God…and what if I miss it?”
Like most women, I fight feelings of inadequacy and fear.
I can scroll through social media and think, my life isn’t as interesting as hers.
I can look through Pinterest and think, my house isn’t as beautiful as hers.
I can read blogs and think, my thoughts aren’t as profound or funny as hers.
I can even watch a video Bible Study and think, I don’t know as much as she does and I don’t look as good as she does, so no one would ever want to listen to me.
How can I ever find my purpose?
I have to put down my phone and pick up the Word.
In the Word, I read Matthew 22:36-40.
“Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”
He [Jesus] said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
In the Word, I read Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I’m learning to find my purpose in these three commands:
These are the priorities of Jesus.
Jesus loved God by doing everything His Father commanded.
Jesus loved all people, especially the ones others rejected.
Jesus made disciples by sharing the truth while he shared His life.
Jesus spoke the truth to crowds on occasion, but He lived the truth before His disciples daily. He demonstrated that the best way to learn to live the truth is to watch it lived in others. At the tables of tax collectors, sinners, and friends, Jesus shared the truth and showed how to live it.
This is the ministry of Jesus.
We all need someone in our everyday lives to teach us the truth and show us the way to live it. Screens won’t do.
I am realizing that much of the truth that I know and live today, I learned first around a table with godly women who were willing to share their lives with me. My life changed, my marriage changed, and my kid’s lives changed because these women made room at their tables and invited me to join them.
I think about the women around the tables during my decade of Tuesday morning Bible Study. I think about Mrs. Bobbie, who got up from her table of friends to walk across the room to hug me and tell me she loved me every time she saw me enter. I think about the women who let me sit and listen and ask questions only when I was ready. I think about the women who invited me to lunch, who shared stories of everyday life, of marriage and kids and struggles where truth meets reality. I was changed week by week, not because of the truth I heard from a screen, but by the truth I saw lived out by women across the table and around the room, women I saw in my daily life in the carpool line, at Walmart, and at sports events. I could trust these women with my questions and know they would pray for my deepest needs. I learned to parent by watching these women navigate through daily challenges. I can’t tell you the names of all the Bible studies we did in those years, but I can tell you name after name of the women who loved me, prayed for me, worshipped with me, and lived the truth out before me.
In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5 CSB
I think about my friend Ann, who has been making room at her table for me and my family for more than twenty years. At Ann’s table, our kids did their homework together, celebrated the day’s victories, and shared disappointments. We met at Ann’s table to eat her home-cooked meals, play games, and laugh at hilarious moments only Ann could create. With neither of us having parents or other family in town, Ann’s family and mine joined forces to celebrate big occasions and holidays together. When unexpected repairs made our house unlivable, Ann took us in for three weeks and we both cried when our house was habitable again. At Ann’s table, my children gained a second mother and we all learned the healing power of laughter. And because Ann invited us to share the chaos of daily living, I learned that hospitality is not about what is on the table, but who is sitting around it.
A joyful heart is good medicine…Proverbs 17:22 CSB
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13 NIV
Don’t go to your brother’s house in your time of calamity;
better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away. Proverbs 21:10 CSB
I think about my friend Tracy, who always joked that at her table we could solve the problems of the world (and for a while, we did solve the problem of me wanting more blond in my hair). The problems of the world came to Tracy’s table when she opened her heart and home to take in foster children. Through the eyes of these precious children, I watched deprivation become plenty and despair become hope. At Tracy’s table, I watched God’s supernatural love heal physical and emotional pain. When Tracy invited me to join her at fast food tables for visits between her foster kids and their birth parents, I learned more about forgiveness and the painful process of reconciliation. And as Tracy’s table got bigger and bigger, I learned about the beauty of adoption and began to appreciate more and more my own adoption into God’s family and my place at His table.
Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1:17 CSB
You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children. Romans 8:15-16 CSB
I think about my friend Pam, who is always ready to meet me at the table of our favorite Mexican restaurant. At these tables, we have studied the Bible chronologically over chips and cheese dip. In dark times, we drop everything to meet at the table for companionship and encouragement. We share our lives. Pam’s wise counsel is one of my most precious treasures. At the table with Pam, I have learned that God redeems all things.
Listen to counsel and receive instruction so that you may be wise later in life. Proverbs 19:20 CSB
This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16 CSB
Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. Psalm 130:7 NIV
I think about the women I met in the Romanian cities of Timisoara, Hunedoara, and Hateg. I think about the tables in their homes where they welcomed me and shared what they had. I think about how we gathered with other women in their churches to worship, singing songs together in our own languages. And I think about the tables at their churches where we gathered afterward for a shared meal and time of fellowship. At tables in Romania, I learned a little bit more about what heaven will be like, where people from every tribe and every people gather before God’s throne to worship, and where one day we will all gather at the table for the wedding supper of the Lamb.
After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!
Revelation 7:9-10 CSB
What do these incredible women in my life have in common?
They know their purpose. They love God, love people, and make disciples.
They refuse to be immobilized by insecurity. They stop falling for the trap of comparison that says, “But I’m not _____(fill in the blank with the name of any popular speaker or writer).”
They share their real lives, inviting people like you and me to the table to share life and truth.
As I reflect on the most critical times of my spiritual journey, I realize I didn’t need someone famous, I needed someone real. I needed someone in my daily life whose heart belonged to God and whose life reflected a desire to live the truth. I needed someone whose love for me and desire that I become more like Christ would cause them to drop everything and meet me in my time of need. I needed someone face to face, someone who could see beyond the mess I was to who I could become. I needed someone to listen to the Spirit and catch a vision for how God could be glorified in me.
I needed to come to the table.
At the table, I learned to love God more.
At the table, I learned to love others well.
And at the table, I was discipled and learned to do the same.
At the table, I didn’t just hear truth, I watched it in action.
So, these days, I’m learning to ask myself another question.
I’m learning to ask, “Where are my people?”
If I know the purpose of my life is to love God, love people, and make disciples, then my guiding question becomes, “Where are the people God has given me to love and disciple as I grow in my love for God?”
It’s time I die to the pride that is the root of feelings of inadequacy.
It’s time I stop being afraid I will look foolish or fail.
It’s time I stop sitting on the sidelines playing it safe.
It’s time I realize that God isn’t holding my favorite Bible teacher or blogger responsible for discipling the people who are longing for a seat at my table.
It’s my turn to do the inviting.
It’s my turn to do the discipling.
It’s my turn to find my people.
What about you? What do you need?
Do you need to know your purpose?
Focus on the big three:
Do you need to know where to find your people?
You are likely to find them gathered around a table – in your home, at your place of worship, in your workplace, or in your community.
And like me, you will discover this:
The truth you need and the ministry you were made for are waiting at a table near you.