For many of us, when we think about fulfilling purpose, our minds immediately go to icons of success in our generation. We think about the great work they have done in being socially responsible, and we tend to forget that they all started from somewhere. I’ll always state that I don’t believe in the concept of an overnight success. I believe God plants desires in our hearts, and he works through us to develop ourselves in character and competence, progressively working towards a vision. As we remain consistent we become more successful, “[Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.” (Phil.2:13).
The Bible character, Moses, is famously known as the deliverer of Israel from the nation of Egypt. The Biblical account of Moses is one that reads like a superhero; one who was very courageous, and did great signs and wonders. However how did it all start with him? Exodus 2:11-14 gives us an account of the first workings of purpose in the heart of Moses.
11 Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?”14 Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
In this short excerpt, we see the two indications of Moses’ purpose, as a deliver and a judge. His passion was for the liberation of the people, and peace within their camp. This illustrates the essence of how purpose works in the heart of men. The following are some modern day examples of how small steps in the direction of passion led to great impact on humanity.
The famous Mother Teresa of Calcutta was an Albanian born Catholic Nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity. Her accolades are extensive, including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize that she received. But how did this all start? Being a Catholic nun, she was obligated to engage in charitable activities. She records an experience she had on a mission activity ordered by her convent to be among the poor and help them. In her words, she initially thought the assignment to be a mere responsibility she had no choice but to do. But on that day, she came to a sudden realization about the nature of what she was doing. In her own words, she described it as receiving ”the call within the call”. It was at this point everything changed for her. Her devotion to helping the children of Calcutta was changed from a religious obligation to her caring wholeheartedly. She had no money of her own initially, but she did what she could with what she had.
For her, in that season, the schools,and orphanages simply felt like the appropriate thing to do. Her passion was for the children, her skills among others were the special ability to show mercy, and to love and care unconditionally. The “call within the call” was her leading and direction. She kept doing what she discerned to be appropriate each step of the way, and things began to grow. The vision became clearer, the next steps just came naturally. Nearly 50 years after the start of her mission, her organization at the time of her death had 610 missions in 123 countries including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; children’s and family counselling programs; orphanages; and schools.
How about Peter Benenson of Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization focused on human rights. According to his own account, in 1960 he was travelling in the London Underground, where he read of 2 Portuguese students who were unjustly imprisoned. He reacted in an newspaper article, by expressing his feelings and thoughts. As a part of this, he knew there were many who shared his passion, realizing that if the feelings of people could be united into common action, something powerful can be done. A year later, he was able to start the organization, Amnesty.
His passion was to end the injustice and human rights violation of the 2 Portuguese students, his skills were his knowledge of the law, because he was a lawyer. He simply did what he felt was right at the moment, and things unfolded from that point, nearly 50 years in the making, and now the organization has over 3 million members and supporters around the world. The motto of the organization is simple and powerful, and it ties in perfectly to the thesis of this article, It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. In a dark world, lighting a candle may seem small and inconsequential but the light it brings is a sign of hope that if focused on long enough will eventually be a light to the world.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a southern baptist minister, is famed for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott which was inspired by the arrest of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a public bus. The bus boycott was a small step towards success because as a result, racial segregation on city buses was ruled unconstitutional in 1956. From then on he and a few other civil rights activists founded the Southern Leadership Conference, an organization whose purpose was to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the service of civil rights reform. The movement grew from then on, and now there is a black man in the White House built by black slaves.
MLK’s passion was to have racial equality―”I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”” His skills were his rhetoric, and his ability to organize people, and he started by doing what he felt was right after the Rosa Parks indecent. Now the third Monday of every January in the US is MLK day, to commemorate the birth of Dr. King Jr., and the great work he has done for racial equality.
I’ll also add Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Toms footwear (aren’t you surprised his name is not Tom?) I mention him to make it clear that fulfilling purpose in life can be a for-profit activity. Blake had been to Argentina a couple of times where he had seen people wear the locally made canvas slip-on show. On one of his volunteer trips to Argentina he noticed that the children didn’t have shoes. He realized this was not just a widespread problem in Argentina alone, it was also an issue in developing countries worldwide. Being an entrepreneur he saw the opportunities to make the shoes for the American market, but he also made a decision to be socially responsible and give a pair to a child who needed shoes for every pair sold.
Blake’s passion was ignited by the problem he saw with children running around barefoot. They ran the risk of infection and further complications. His skills were his entrepreneurial abilities. He felt the right thing to do at that moment was give a pair of shoes out for every pair sold. Nearly 7 years since the company started, the companies operations have been expanded, and over 1 million shoes have been given worldwide.
In the script of life, you are your own hero. So what’s your own story? Think about your life, if you were to write your own obituary, how would you like it to read? Whatever you see about your life, know that it all starts with a first step. Identify your passion, what skills you have, and do what is most appropriate now with what you have. Make a commitment to turn your passion into a discipline, and move your life from where you are to become the success you were born to be.