Follow by Email

How To Distinguish Your Purpose From Your Assignment

What is purpose? When I say that I want to discover the purpose of my life or the meaning of my life, what exactly does that imply? Is my purpose the same thing as my assignment? How can I distinguish between the two?

According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, purpose has two meanings:
1 something that one hopes or intends to accomplish
2 the action for which a person or thing is specially fitted or used or for which a thing exists

So, from the dictionary meaning, it is clear that when the word ‘purpose’ is used, what readily comes to mind is ‘goal’, ‘role’, ‘mission’, ‘career’. These all describe one aspect of purpose or the other. However, these descriptive words involve something we want to accomplish or an activity for which we are best fitted. In short, these could best be described by the word, ‘assignment’. The search for meaning is something much deeper than a goal, a mission or a career. It involves all those, and more.

You and I know a lot of people who are engaged in jobs or careers that they love and are best fitted for; but they are in search of something more, a meaning or purpose to their lives. So, then, there is a sense in which we use ‘purpose’ to refer to that original intent of God for human life. Who am I, really? What am I here for? Where did I come from, and at the end of this life, where am I going? In this, we see a yearning to understand the primary meaning of life, of individual existence. Purpose is about understanding the essence of life. In other words, purpose describes our collective search for meaning.

It is clear, then, that there is a difference between my life assignment and my life purpose. Both are related in many ways, but not exactly the same. Whereas Purpose deals with such fundamental questions as who am I and what am I here on earth for, Assignment deals with such question as what can I do to express or live out the very reason for which I am here?

Here are some tips to help you distinguish between purpose and assignment:

Purpose deals mainly with being, while assignment deals with doing. Both are important and necessary in the grand scheme of life, but until our focus changes from doing to being, we may never grasp the essence or meaning of life.

Purpose affects the very core of my person, while assignment is concerned with service to others. The discovery of purpose is transcendent, transforming and tranquil in its effect on my life as a person. On the other hand, discovery and pursuit of my assignment can certainly have an invigorating effect on me, but it has more impact on the lives of others. Purpose changes the individual who is called to change the world through his assignment.

Purpose asks, ‘Who are you relating to?’ Assignment asks, ‘what are you relating to?’ Discovery of purpose settles the issue of identity. The one who has found purpose knows he or she is related directly to God and to His people. So, his life is about cultivating a relationship with the One who is his Source and Sustainer, and also with the other members of the ‘family’. Discovery of assignment, especially for the one who has first found purpose, is about relating very well to the thing ( job, calling, career, gifting etc) that helps him the most to serve God and others.

Purpose is about living for Someone who is infinitely greater than we are, while Assignment is living for Something much bigger than we are. We find our purpose when we discover (or rather are found by) the One who loves us so much He gave himself for us. Meaning is tied to a loving relationship, especially, with the One who made us. Assignment is a sum total of the opportunities given to us to express our love and appreciation for God and the people He graciously put in our lives.

Someone can have an assignment without discovering the Divine purpose for the assignment, but it is difficult for one to discover his purpose without having an assignment that helps him express that purpose. So, assignment can exist without discovering purpose, but purpose can not truly exist without an assignment. Doesn’t the bible clearly teach that, on the Last Day, some people may have their works ( assignments, giftings, callings, philanthropy etc) burnt or destroyed because they did not carry them out with the right motive( purpose)? ‘If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.’( I Corinthians 3: 12-15)

In conclusion, our meaning comes from discovering and living our purpose, not from our assignments. In the sections that follow, we shall examine purpose and assignments in detail.