If you’re looking to participate in God’s kingdom story, forget about job openings that someone is trying to fill. Focus instead on the God-given shape that defines your role in life.
When you do that, you will find the freedom to live your life (and career) within the grand purpose that God instituted for all of humanity at Creation. But more on that later. Let’s start with your S.H.A.P.E.
S.H.A.P.E. (a concept originated by Erik Rees in his 2008 book of the same title) refers to your Spiritual gifts, Heart/passions, Abilities, Personality and Experiences. Doing a deep, honest self-inventory in these five areas helps you recognize how the things God gave you at birth (your abilities and personality), after you decide to follow Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit (your spiritual gifts), and through your life’s journey (your passions and experiences) make you the unique individual you are.
Let’s start with your gifts.
A lot of people confuse gifts with talents. Some people say, “I have the gift of music.” No, you may have a talent for music, but gifts are different. They’re spiritual abilities that God gives you when you receive the Holy Spirit, after you profess faith in Jesus.
You can look up a lot of different spiritual gift inventories. But just start by reading and prayerfully meditating on Scriptures like Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12. As an important follow-up, ask friends and family, “Does this describe me? What do you see in me?” They can help you inventory your traits in all five areas, but this is probably the most crucial one.
HEART/PASSION and ABILITIES
Where your heart/passions intersect with your abilities has a lot to do with your strengths and weaknesses.
Marcus Buckingham (author of “StandOut” and other books) writes compellingly on this topic. Among his many insights, he points out that there are things you’re passionate about and things that you’re good at, which are often not the same. The things that you’re both passionate about and good at — those are strengths that you should hone and build up and focus on. The things that you’re passionate about but not much good at (playing guitar, for instance) or good at but not passionate about (organizing tasks) are probably weaknesses that you should keep as hobbies or not focus on at all.
Many people (especially in the traditional missions world) have done things they’re good at but not at all passionate about, and they slowly die inside. Or they try to do things they’re passionate about but not any good at, and they constantly fail and wonder why.
When you’re trying to discern what’s what in this area, do some honest reflection: What are things that give you energy? What gives you joy? What are tasks or topics that make you come alive? What are things that make you angry because they need to be fixed?
Now, after you identify those things, where does your set of abilities fit in to meet them? Put another way, what are things you are objectively good at and enjoy doing? Engineering? Music? Teaching mathematics? Styling hair? Writing? You’re good at something (maybe a number of things). What can you do that intersects with what you care about? Ask God to reveal those things to you, and again, ask friends to help you sort them out.
Given our culture’s focus on all things psychological, this may be the most resource-rich area of S.H.A.P.E. Personality inventories like the Enneagram, DiSC profile, Strengths Finder and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are all useful tools that can help you assess how God has wired you and even how to approach people with vastly different personality traits.
Unfortunately, I find that lots of people have taken tests; few people pay attention to them. From a certain test, they may find that they’re an introvert but take a job as a salesperson, and they slowly die. Or they’re an extrovert but nevertheless go work in a laboratory and also slowly die. Those are extreme examples, but the point is, pay attention to what those tests tell you about how God made you and what that says about what He’s designed you to do.
Finally, take stock of your life experiences. Write them down and ponder how they’ve affected you.
What are the milestone stories of your life? What is your educational background? What is your job background? And what are the experiences in your life that have shaped who you are today — a death in the family, a divorce, an addiction, a success, an award? How did all these things form you and influence you? How did they shape your life positively and negatively? And how are you embracing what God is doing as a result of those experiences?
The answers to all these questions will help you discern what God has designed you to be, which defines your role in the kingdom. Your goal then, with God’s kingdom purposes in mind, is to wrap your role around the purpose for all humankind that God instituted in Genesis 1 and 2: to steward Creation forward according to His will and for His glory.
Much more on that in Part 2 …