Have You Developed an Intentional Life Plan?

[The very helpful resource below is similar to the Vertical Life Plan that I have developed to help people live more intentionally with Christ at the center of all of life for the ultimate glory of God. I highly recommend that you get a Bible, a journal, and slip away to a quiet place to work through this Life Plan. Ideally, if you can get away for a day or two in a quiet place where you will have minimal disturbances or distractions you will find that God can really meet you in a powerful way and release you on a rejuvenating and reinvigorating journey with Him and for Him. I would also highly recommend that you go through this inventory with a trusted friend, pastor, life-coach, or mentor for some honest accountability and encouragement to give your life focus, direction, and faithfulness to God’s calling on your life – DPC]


 “LIFE PLAN” by Dr. Martin Sanders

It’s been called “MIDLIFE crisis,” “midlife reevaluation,” “midcourse adjustment,” “crunch-time” and many other things. When you reach a place in your life where it becomes clear either to you or to the people around you that it’s time for you to do an assessment, where do you start?

This tool is designed for self-evaluation and reflection. You may want to have others [like a professional life coach, pastor, or trusted friend] assist you in the process. Realize that not every section will be the most pertinent for you, but seek to go through each of them in a thoughtful and reflecting manner. This process may take you a few hours or, for some, a few days. It may cause you to reflect, find hope or maybe even shed some tears. It is designed to assist you in more effectively evaluating the best of who you are and how to reach your life dream in life.

Whether it’s time for a change in lifestyle or career or simply a time for you to reevaluate how to do what you do more effectively and more efficiently, this life plan is designed to help you move from your original dream through the developmental stages of assessment to finally arrive as a future dream.

Original Dream

Describing your original dream takes you to a place of ultimate impact and fulfillment. It’s a place where your life has maximum meaning. Almost everyone has a dream, but the fear of failure and concern about finances are often limitations. The purpose of this exercise is to help you figure our what it is that really captures your imagination, how you can be used the most and then how you can take steps to fulfill that original dream.

(1)  God back to a time in your life—high school, college or some other time—when you were dreaming your original dream. Begin to define or describe that dream.

(2)  What really excites you about your dream?

(3)  Do you possess the necessary resources—education, experience, discipline, courage, confidence, finances, etc., –to fulfill your dream? If not, can you secure them?

(4)  Do you think in terms of success n life or personal significance and influence? Do you think in terms of financial success or personal or spiritual impact?

(5)  How clear is your sense of dream? Is it very undefined? Is there a general sense to it? Are there general steps for it to be accomplished?

(6)  What are two or three steps you could take to get you started on defining, discovering and fulfilling your original dream?

Your Gifts And Calling

Gifts/Passions. When you assess your areas of gifting, it’s not just about reflecting on what you’ve done. It’s also important to look at areas that you’ve not yet developed. Look past successes and failures. Look at issues of confidence, or lack thereof, to see if they are holding you back. Also, look not only at your experiences, but also at your passion and your dreams. Then look at issues of your temperament, the time availability you have and your personal and spiritual maturity. This will help you figure out what your gifting and passion are and how you can best invest your life.

(1)  What do you like to do?

(2)  What have you been successful at?

(3)  What is the primary passion of your life? What do you dream about when you give yourself time and permission to dream?

(4)  Of the experiences you have had in the last five years, which ones have captured your imagination most?

(5)  If you were guaranteed that success and money were not an issue, what would you do with your life?

(6)  Do you feel trapped, or is there fulfillment in what you do? Can you see yourself there for the long-term or even the rest of your life?

(7)  When you look at how you are investing or have invested your time, energy and gifting, is this the best use of who you are? Is this as good as it gets for you?

Kingdom Investment of Your Life

It is important that, once you have discovered the particular gifts and abilities that God has given you, you examine whether you only use them to enjoy them or if you use them in ways that bring glory to Him.

(1)  Have you figured out how to take the best of who you are and invest it in God’s kingdom in such a way that it reproduces dividends that last for eternity?

(2)  Do you intentionally look for ways to take those gifts and abilities and use them in a way that other people can benefit from them?

(3)  Are you confident in taking the best of what God has given you and using it as widely as possible, or do you simply use it in formats that are comfortable for you?

(4)  Do you see ways that God would like to use you that you don’t feel confident doing now?

(5)  Are there times when you know that you’re supposed to do something but don’t have the courage or want to take the time to do it?

(6)  If you could be given one or two things that would help you take the best of who you are and invest it more completely, what would it be? Do you need courage, confidence, education, financial resources, empowerment, or someone to walk you through the process? Do you need a mentor, friend, spiritual director, or life coach? Do you need someone to pray with you and listen to you?

(7)  Think through any limitations that hold you back from investing the best of who you are. Begin to address those.

(8)  Interview several other people. Ask them ways they have seen God use you. Why did he use you in this way? Did it happen just once, or is there a pattern? Don’t overlook old friends, members of churches you have been a part of, family members and ministers you have known. They can help you with this.

Calling, Clarification, Leading, Direction

 There are three different types of calling:

The first type is the general calling to be holy as God is holy and to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It’s a general sense of leaving what you have to follow Christ completely.

The second kind of call comes to specific people, such as the disciples of Jesus, who were called to leave their locations and their livelihoods to follow Him completely with their time and receive financial support for their sustenance.

The third kind of call is a very specific one of which there are plenty of examples in the Bible: See the stories of Moses, Samson, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus and Saul of Tarsus. These individuals were singled out. They were often told that they had a purpose from before their birth. Their whole lives’ purpose was to fulfill a particular destiny or calling that God had for them. Be careful about assuming that this third type of call is normative. It does still happen today, but if we only have a dozen or so examples recorded in the Bible, then we know that their occurrence is somewhat limited.

The key aspect of calling is clarification. Am I being called by God to follow Him with the totality of my life? Or is it also with the totality of my time, whereby I leave my current vocation and take on a ministerial vocation where I am paid by kingdom finances and resources?

A second aspect of calling is leading. One can have multiple leadings over his or her lifetime, all of which will fit under some kind of vocational ministry. For example, I know a man who has been a pastor, a missionary a supervisor of a thousand missionaries, a denominational executive, a college professor, dean and president and ultimately, president of a denomination.

A final aspect is direction. Direction is, “Where do I live this out? What are some concrete ways to live out my sense of calling and leading? For example, if I am called to follow God completely and I am led to be a teacher, is God going to lead me in the direction of working with children, youth or adults? Is my work going to be spiritual development or also educational and academic development? Is it going to be at a college level or a graduate level? Is it going to be here in the United States or is it going to be overseas? Is it going to be in the urban core or is it going to be in suburbia or someplace in the heartland? As you look at your life, it is significant to clarify issues of calling, leading and direction.

(1)  Do you have a clear sense that God is leading you to resign from your career in order to use the full extent of your time and energies in serving Him?

(2)  If everyone is called to follow God completely, do you have a sense that He is asking you to follow Him with the totality of your life? Are you convinced that you would do that best by giving Him the totality of your time as well?

(3)  Do you have a sense that God wants you to stay in your career or location to serve Him? Or are you to leave behind that career or location and receive financial support from kingdom monies in order to follow Him completely with your time as well as your life?

Your Career

There are a number of assessments that are helpful in determining a job or career. A popular book written to help in this area is What Color Is Your Parachute? By Nelson Bolles. A detailed career assessment tool called IDAK is also extremely useful in helping you discover for what career or job you are most suited. (An IDAK assessment will take you approximately eight to ten hours.) Ask yourself the following questions:

(1)  What do I fantasize about?

(2)  What is my dream job?

(3)  What will bring me the most fulfillment?

(4)  How do I invest my life in a way that counts the most?

(5)  What are the outcomes of my life that I want to celebrate?

(6)  When I’m old and sitting on a porch in a rocking chair, looking back over my life, what do I want to have the greatest memories about?

(7)  When I near the end of my life, what will I wish I would have explored and gone for that I hesitated about and didn’t pursue?

(8)  What can I do in life that brings me the greatest sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, satisfaction and peace that also makes a difference in the kingdom?

Getting There

Intentionality. Looking at your life purpose and intentionality with which you approach your life will really be the key to the fulfillment of your life plan. Begin to think in terms of how intentional and purposeful you are with your life, your giftedness and how you invest the best of yourself, your time and your resources each day. Look at your current situation and do some honest evaluation of where you are currently and how you arrived there.

(1)  How much of your life currently is a response to an intentional design or pattern of decision-making?

(2)  Do you feel particularly directed by God to this situation?

(3)  Have you been systematically discipled?

(4)  Has your spiritual development been, or is it now, an intentional direction?

(5)  How intentional have you been with spending time with God? With key friends in your life? With developing relationships with family?

(6)  In your spiritual life, have you sought to replicate your giftedness, reproducing it in other people so they can benefit from it?

(7)  Is your current life purpose and vocation something that has grown out of thoughtfulness and intentional development, or have you just happened to stumble into what you’re currently doing?

(8)  Do you thoughtfully dream and think about what your life is and could become or do you simply do what is required of you each day to get through it?

Other Key Questions to ask:

(1)  Have you participated in the intentional development of other people in your life?

(2)  Why did they choose you?

(3)  What did they see in you that they saw as either necessary or useful?

(4)  How did they impact you?

(5)  What’s been their ongoing influence in your life?

(6)  How has the influence changed your life?

(7)  How have you or can you pass that on to other people?

Proper Motives. Some people do the right things for the wrong reasons. To discover why you do what you do, it is important to regularly check your motives. The following are some key questions to as. Often nothing will show up. It is essential, however, that you do not try to answer these solely in your own mind, but that you have someone probe a bit into other aspects of why you do what you do. This should preferably be done with a mentor or an older, trusted friend with some wisdom who will ask you questions to clarify your purposes. A therapist’s help may even be beneficial. It’s important to note your idiosyncrasies here [a pastor or life coach can also be extremely helpful here].

(1)  Why are you the way you are? What are the life experiences and decisions that have formed you as the person you are becoming?

(2)  Why do you do what you do? Why is it important to you? What are the key motivational factors for you?

(3)  What criteria have you used to make decisions?

(4)  Do you do what you do for the right reasons?

(5)  Who benefits the most from what you do?

(6)  Are there any improper motives that need to be checked?

(7)  Is there any way that you are trying to fulfill your life plan in such a way that it will ultimately hurt, harm, limit or even destroy you or someone else?

(8)  What are your temptations to do things that will make you look better in the public eye? Do you take too much responsibility for how well you did? Do you give credit where credit is due?

(9)  Do you have any ‘dark-side’ temptations? Sexuality, addiction or addictive traits? (Again, to have a mentor, an older, wise friend or even a therapist [pastor or life coach] help you with these regularly is helpful).

(10) Who asks you tough questions about your motives? Who speaks truth to you? Who is someone in your life who can tell you that you have made a wrong decision and to whom you will listen?

(11) Do you have any patterns or tendencies to discredit people who do not agree with you? Do you discredit them or your opponents or do you take their advice and attempt to understand its implications for you?

Assessments help you create a personal profile of why you are the way you are and why you do the things you do. They will help you understand and see more objectively your preferences, the kind of person you are and God’s work in your life and help you figure out how to develop from there. In choosing assessments, it is crucial to look at personality, temperament, preference, vocational contexts and leadership management styles. Here is a short list of recommended assessments and the areas they assessment:

  • 16PF: Personality Profile
  • Uniquely You: DISC profile, temperament analysis, spiritual gift assessment and summary profile
  • IDAK: career assessment
  • LEAD: leadership style
  • Management Style Diagnostic Inventory: managerial style
  • Networking: complete spiritual gift analysis and spiritual gift profile

Focus. There is an old adage: “Very few people in life plan to fail; they just fail to plan.” This is a time to take a good look at your life and figure out what is holding you back and keeping you from fulfilling your life purpose. Ask yourself the following questions. You may also find it useful to pursue people in your life who will answer these questions for you.

(1)  How do you get a focus to your life?

(2)  What distractions in your life need to be addressed?

(3)  Are you a dabbler? Do you enjoy many things without focusing on one?

(4)  Do you have tendencies to over commit and do more things than you can do well?

(5)  Are you aware of the things you do best? Are you confident in them? Do they bring you a sense of satisfaction?

(6)  What are clutter issues in your life? Timing? Relationships? Emotional or spiritual deprivation needs?

(7)  If you were to ask the person closest to you, “What is the thing that keeps me from being successful or impacting others?” what would he or she highlight as the clutter that keeps you from experiencing success in your life?

(8)  What would that same person say was “good” in your life but was keeping you from doing your best?

(9)  How would the person who works closest with you but dislikes you answer the previous questions?

(10) If you take stock in your life today, assuming that the current pattern will continue for the rest of your life, will you be happy with the outcome?

(11) Is this the time for you to get a clearer focus and rid your life of some “stuff”?

Areas to Develop. Don’t forget that sometimes your greatest successes can become limitations. Sometimes you celebrate them too much and forget to keep a clear focus on priorities. Consider the three to five things in your life that you want to do most successfully and the values that drive you. Focus for a moment on any potential or perceived limitations to achieving your goal.

(1)  Do you take stock of your life in your emerging life plan?

(2)  What are the areas of your life that still need to be developed in order for you to fulfill this life dream, calling and life mission?

(3)  What areas need to be addressed with clear intentionality?

(4)  What areas of depth of wisdom, insight, relationship, spiritual understanding and understanding motivations that need to be developed?

(5)  Is there anything holding you back?

(6)  Have you let a minor setback keep you from experimenting or trying something else?

(7)  Have you focused too much on one strength without pursuing additional strengths to accompany it?

(8)  Have you simply become accustomed to what you do? Although you are comfortable in your current situation, is it possible that it’s not the best use of the totality of your strengths?

(9)  How do you maintain your passion?

(10)  How do you stay on the right road? How do you keep a clear focus and ensure that this isn’t another tangent or another “to do” in your life, but really the purpose, direction and focus of your life?

After you have done this assessment for yourself, find some other people to help you. Utilize friends, family members, counselors, pastors, life coaches, mentors and spiritual directors to ask questions like:

(1)  What are some areas in my life that are yet to be developed?

(2)  What are the developmental steps needed for me to develop them?

(3)  How do I move from where I am to actually fulfilling my life plan?

Future Dreams

As you look at future dreams, ask yourself the following questions. All of these come together to create a life plan for you. The goal is to invest the life you have been given in such a way that it creates the greatest impact on the kingdom of God and in eternity.

(1)  What else it there for me?

(2)  Is there one more big challenge? I there a mission or task that I need to undertake that I have nor yet done?

(3)  Is there something that no one else is doing that I can do?

(4)  What maturity and development do I need in order to be able to do it?

(5)  Do I have a unique perspective, calling or purpose in life that could be used in ways I have not thought of? In ways that perhaps others have not thought of, either?

(6)  What will be the lasting impact of my life? How can I begin to plan for it now?

(7)  What resources do I need in order to fulfill my missions(s)? People resources? Financial resources? Experiential resources?

A lot has gone into making you the person you are now. Some things you have just assumed, a few you have regretted. But they have all gone into making you the person you are today. Attempt to see your life with the greatest outcomes in view, and attempt to see your life from God’s perspective. He does have a dream for your life. He is on your side. He is working with you to accomplish it. May your life fulfill both your dream and His for you.

About the Author: Dr. Martin Sanders is a professor at Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York. He also serves as president of Global Leadership, Inc. through which he develops leaders, national pastors and missionaries in over 30 countries. Dr. Sanders is married and has four adult children. He is the author of the highly recommended book The Power of Mentoring: Shaping People Who Will Shape the World. Christian Publications, Inc., Camp Hill, PA, 2004 from which the article above is adapted – Appendix 1 (pp. 173-187). He is has also written a very good book on the family entitled: How to Get the Family You’ve Always Wanted.

Book Review: Am I Called? By David T. Harvey

Great Handbook For Helping You Confirm Your Calling to the Pastoral Ministry

 Dave Harvey has done a great service to the church-at-large- as well as for individual Christian men who are wondering whether or not God is calling them to serve the church in full time pastoral ministry. I finally have a book that I can hand out without any reservations to those who come to me and ask, “How can I know for certain that I have been called by God into the pastorate?”

In three parts: a) Approaching the Call; b) Diagnosing the Call; and c) Waiting, Harvey mines theological, and exegetically based advice with a plethora of helpful bullet points, questions to ask, evaluations, and practical steps to take as one wrestles with and pursues God’s vocational calling to the pastorate.

I especially appreciated how Harvey focused on applying the gospel to an individuals life and how he addressed key issues like character development, service and affirmation from the local church, and the importance of working with a plurality of leaders in the context of a local church – alongside the necessary theological training.

One of the highlights for me was reading the biographical stories at the end of each chapter on the pastoral calling in the lives of some well known and unknown pastors of history: Thomas Scott, Charles Simeon, Lemuel Haynes, Martin Luther, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, John Bunyan, and John Newton.

I highly recommend this book for young men who are wondering if they are called, those pastors who are struggling with their calling, and pastors and elders who are looking to invest in young men to develop as future pastors and church planters in the context of planting gospel driven churches around the globe.

Book Review: Rising To The Call by Os Guinness

Heed The Call To Live For An Audience of One

This short book of approximately 100 pages is a condensed version of Guinness’ larger work “The Call.” In this book the author helps to define our calling in life by showing what  it is not, and helping the reader to decipher what it means to live out one’s calling. His thesis is simply that one cannot truly live out their calling in life (being and doing) without living for their Creator God through following Jesus Christ in every avenue of life – that what you do is based on who you are in Christ.

The whole book is an articulation of this thesis, “For answering the call of Jesus is the greatest adventure, the deepest romance, and the most fascinating journey f our lives. In embracing the call as your master theme, you will be free. In following it, you will be a leader. In giving up everything for this one way, you will find yourself fulfilled in every way—until one day when the ‘last call’ will sound and you will see he Caller face to face and find yourself at home and free.”

I think the most helpful contribution that Guinness makes in this short book is how he demonstrates the extremes of bifurcating our vocation as secular or sacred – and makes a great case for the fact that everyone is “called” in everything and in every way to live for God.

Though small in size the book is full of fantastic quotes, excellent illustrations, and cogent argumentation to augment his thesis. It is not an easy read; sometimes you need to read a sentence or a paragraph more than once (after all – Guinness is an Oxford, England graduate). However, you will benefit from reading this book.

For modern Americans it will not give you the step by step applications you are used to – but it will reward you in the process of thinking how all that you are, and desire to do, can be done to please God – you were made to know and to live for an Audience of One – Jesus Christ. It is essentially a big picture book on discovering your purpose in life, not a step-by-step book. If you are looking for a bunch of steps to finding God’s will for your life you will be disappointed – If you are looking for how God is the center of all of life you will be helped.

Book Review: Discovering God’s Will by Sinclair B. Ferguson

My Favorite Scottish Theologian/Pastor on God’s Will

 I am partial to pastor theologians (men that teach or have taught in the seminary and are also preaching pastors) like R. C. Sproul, John Piper, Mark Dever, Eugene Peterson, James White and the writer of this book, Sinclair Ferguson, because they are well studied, but as they have a book on one knee, they also have a lamb on the other knee. They know the Scriptures, but they also know people and how the two need the Word and Shepherding.

In this book Ferguson emphasizes the fact that the best way to get guidance in the Christian life is by knowing the Guide – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s very important to know about the Guide, but so much more important to know the Guide personally and intimately as your Shepherd, Leader, Supplier, and Restorer. He instills in us the idea that you will only do the will of God insofar as you follow His lead in your life.

In the first chapter of the book Dr. Ferguson develops the ideas that a Christian is one who walks on the paths which God has laid; enjoys the purpose for his life which God has ordained; and looks to the destiny which God has planned. Some of the key questions he grapples with are the following: Why has God made me? What is my life for? Will this course of action tend to further the glory of God? What does it mean that our lives should reflect his glory?

In chapter two Sinclair develops the idea of how God has revealed his character and ways in three specific ways: 1) God’s direct commandments and prohibitions; 2) The numerous principles worked out in the Scriptures; and 3) The illustrations and biographical accounts which reveal how these principles of God’s working with his people turn out in personal experiences. He states, “The chief need we have is that of increased familiarity with sensitivity to the wisdom of his word…But we are not called by God to make the mysterious, the unusual, the inexplicable the rule of our lives, but his word.”

Some practical principles on guidance:

1)    God’s guidance will require patience on our part.

2)    It is essential that we come to see the part which our own thinking should play in the discernment of the will of God.

3)    The discovery of God’s will and its accomplishment involves our own will.

In chapter three he develops the idea of guarding the heart, and deals specifically with our motives and conditions with an excellent treatment of the deceptiveness and transformation of the heart from the Proverbs, Psalms, and the book of James.

In chapter four Ferguson develops the idea that “to live in the will of God is to walk in love, to walk in light and to walk in wisdom.”

The principles of conduct he develops in chapter five are to help us answer six key questions when the Bible doesn’t specifically address something we have to decide about with reference to moral or ethical dilemmas we encounter:

1)    Is it lawful? (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

2)    Is it beneficial to me? Will it complicate, rather than simplify my life? (1 Tim. 4:4; Rom. 14:14; 1 Cor. 6:12)

3)    Is it enslaving? (1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Tim. 1:7)

4)    Is it consistent with Christ’s Lordship? (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 7:23)

5)    Is it helpful to others? (Rom. 14:20; 1 Cor. 10:33; Jn. 17:19; Rom. 15:3; Heb. 4:12)

6)    Is it consistent with the example of Christ and the apostles? Are there incidents, or is there teaching in Scripture, which can be applied to the situation in which I find myself? Will it give me a clue to the will of God for my life now? Is it for the glory of God? For that matter, am I living for the glory of God? (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:7; 2 Tim. 3:20; Heb. 6:12; 13:7)

In chapter six he urges us to consider our calling by considering our gifts, needs, and settled interests.

Chapter seven underscores several principles and questions to ask concerning marriage:

1)    Be realistic in your expectations.

2)    Be biblical in your preparation by answering some of these key questions: What is marriage for? What should I look for in a husband or a wife?

3)    How do we fulfill the different roles of husband and wife? (Eph. 5:21-33)

4)    What is the character of marriage?

5)    What is the ultimate aim of marriage? I love what Ferguson says in answering this particular question, “The ultimate aim of marriage is to reflect God’s image; to reflect the glory of his grace and Being. This means that marriage can never be an end in itself. It exists for a greater purpose than its own fulfillment.”

Chapter 8 develops the theme of waiting on the Lord. He elaborates on issues we wrestle with like impatience, God’s apparent silence, and how to trust in God during these waiting times. Some of the difficulties of waiting are addressed as well like:

1)    We are reluctant to accept our status in this world as pilgrims.

2)    We are sometimes unwilling to bow to the sovereign providences of God in our lives.

3)    We lack faith in the goodness of God.

4)    We are too easily influenced by the attitudes of the age in which we live.

The last chapter of the book hones in on the ways God leads us. He closes by giving a practical exposition of Psalm 23 – God supplies our needs (v.1); God restores His people (v.3); God leads His people (v. 3); God protects His people (v.4); God richly blesses his people (v.5); God preserves to the end with his people (v.6).

I would describe this book as encouraging, Christo-centric, pastoral,  helpful, enriching, and biblically grounded. I highly recommend this book – especially if you don’t like to read a lot – the chapters are short and concise, and Dr. Ferguson does not waste words – short, sweet, and to the point.

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