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When Destiny is an Unattainable Goal by Tony Stoltzfus

Jun 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Content

Ever coach someone who just can’t seem to get unstuck on their calling journey? Our first instinct as coaches is to help the person identify circumstances that block them or internal obstacles that hold them back, and then find a way around those obstacles. We operate this way because of a core belief most coaches share: that every person has a God-given destiny, and that anyone can find and follow that destiny today.

But what if our fundamental beliefs about destiny are wrong? Does everyone really have a destiny?  And is it possible no matter where you are at in life to find and follow that purpose?

If our core belief is incorrect, we’ll have to radically revamp the way we coach. So let’s go back to the bible for a moment and see if we can figure out where we stand.

I’d like to focus on the second half of this proposition: that we can find and follow that destiny at any point in life. To put the question in SMART goal terms, is finding and following our destiny an attainable goal at every point in life (where “attainable” means within our span of control)?

Asking the Question

Let’s flesh that out into some queries we can take to scripture and ponder:

1.     Am able to discover my destiny by getting to knowing myself?
Is all the information we need right there inside of us? Is finding our destiny simply a matter of looking inward at our passions, our innate design and strengths, and what our life experience has prepared us for? Or is calling at least partly a matter of a supernatural revelation or commission that comes from outside ourselves, so that knowing our destiny is dependent on whether and when God chooses to reveal it?

Study: List several biblical leaders who seemed to have a clear sense of what they were born to do. How does scripture record that they discovered that destiny? Did they set out to find it, or did God’s revelation find them? What were the natural and/or supernatural ways they figured out their life call?

2.     Is my destiny equally discoverable at any time in life?
Has God so arranged life that every faithful Christian will know their personal call, regardless of their age or stage in life? Or is it normal to have times in our adult lives when we know less (or even almost nothing) about what we are uniquely called to?

Study: Walk through the biography of Abraham. How much did he know about his destiny at different points in his life? God spoke to him about his destiny repeatedly—was it the same thing over and over, or was Abraham’s call progressively revealed to him over time?

3. Does following your destiny look the same during all seasons of life?
Should every Christian at every stage in life actively work to align his or her roles, activities and commitments around their call as best they can? In other words, is it always my assignment to rearrange my life to fit my ultimate calling? Or does God’s plan include times in life to step back from or entirely let go of what we thought we were to do?

Study: Take a look at Joseph, Daniel or David’s life. How well does the primary role this person is in align with his call at age 20? At 30? At 50? At what point in life would you say they moved into a role that really aligns with their calling and enables them to accomplish their life’s work?

4.     What does the process of coming into one’s calling look like?
Is the sign of faithfulness to our call walking an ever-upward path that leads to greater and greater outward results? Or does God’s preparation plan include valleys and hard times that are just as essential in shaping us for our calling as our successes?

Study: Look at some characters in scripture whose lives are profiled over a longer span of time (like Paul or Moses). Do you see evidence of a steady, upward path of ever-increasing accomplishment in their lives? Or do their lives typically include times where they didn’t seem to be accomplishing much of anything, or their destiny seemed to be getting further away rather than closer?

Getting Answers

I did some research on these kinds of questions in the course of writing the book, The Calling Journey. So I’ll tell you some of my own answers to these questions—if you promise to also do some looking in scripture yourself!

1. Am able to discover my destiny simply by getting to knowing myself?

I believe that knowing your destiny is a combination of supernatural revelation and of knowing oneself. My research indicated that this revelation comes at different points in life. About half of individuals seem to have a clear calling event where God spoke to them about their destiny early in life, while the other half didn’t have really grasp their call until their 40’s or even later. Looking at scripture would bear this out. David and Joseph received revelation about their call in their teens; while for Moses and Abraham it came much later. Abraham in particular is a good example of a call being progressively revealed. Each time God spoke to him over a period of 25 years, his understanding of his destiny became clearer.

2. Is my destiny equally discoverable at any time in life?

The answer to the above question also answers this one. My research would indicate that destiny tends to be more easily found or identified the older one is. Even in cases (like Joseph’s) where there is a clear calling event early in life, the meaning is often misinterpreted. Never in his wildest dreams did Joseph think that he would end up as a ruler in Egypt until he was hauled there against his will.


For coaches, overthrowing the assumption that anyone can find their call at any time has several powerful implications. First, God does not seem to intend that all of us know what we are called to at every point in life. While there is a reservoir of information implanted inside of us, destiny discovery cannot be treated as something where we simply set a goal to find it—that would not be a SMART, attainable goal. If finding our destiny is not totally in our control, we need to be able to help clients understand why they don’t yet know (without feeling like second-class citizens of the Kingdom), and we need to understand that their not knowing is not a failure on our part as coaches.

Second, looking within will not produce a complete picture of our purpose. We have to have tools to identify and track what God has revealed, in addition to inventorying our dreams and strengths and such. Doing Christian life purpose discovery without looking at supernatural revelation in its many forms is not biblical.

Third, we will need to develop tools that help people live strategically even when they aren’t sure of the final destination. The Five Fingers tool (click for a free version of the tool) is an example of this—it only requires the client to take a good guess at where they will be in a decade or two to work, without requiring that they know. More tools like this are needed.

3. What does the process of coming into one’s calling look like?

For the final two questions, I’ll simply refer you to the final outcome of my research, the book  The Calling Journey (click here to see the free on-line timeline-builder tool). This timeline tool maps out distinct stages we go through on the path to our call, and highlights how God has a different growth agenda in each stage and valley. There is a process God uses to prepare us for our destiny that utilizes failures and desert times as well as upward seasons to make us into who we were born to be. In other words, what it means to follow your call is different at each stage of your life.

This, too, has huge implications for how we coach. The main one is this: instead of coaching people toward an ultimate outcome–getting into your destiny role—we need to shift toward coaching the process of destiny development. This involves knowing how God uses each calling stage to shape us, and coaching in line with what God is doing in that stage.

How it Looks in Real Life

A real-life example might help you grasp what a difference this makes. I’m working with an individual in a major life transition (the Valley of Identity on the timeline). This late-life transition is often catalyzed by the loss of favor and influence or being ejected from a long-term role. During this transition, God’s agenda is to create a healthy detachment from our call and our accomplishments, which allows us to walk freely in our call, rather than needing it to happen in order to be fulfilled or feel worthwhile.

A key long-term role for this individual has come to an end, and she is feeling completely unmotivated and de-energized.

Now, if my belief as a coach is that we can find our passion and align with it at any time, I will tend to lean toward helping this person rediscover her passion in a new form, re-ignite the energy of that passion and move back into productive service. I will coach toward the outcome of getting her into a destiny role.

However, if as a coach I believe that following a call looks different in the different seasons of life, I will coach the process, not the outcome. First, I’ll seek to understand what season this person is in. When I discover they are entering a valley time, the whole situation gets reframed. In the valleys, God intentionally removes doing and accomplishment to deal with core motivations. Leaning into God’s agenda means letting go of productivity for a season, leaning into rest and reflection, letting things be. If I assume my job is to coach her to re-ignite her passion and move back into productive work, I am working directly against God’s agenda for this time in her life!

The next time you coach someone who is stuck, or doesn’t know what they are called to, stop and take stock before you put on your destiny discovery hat. What season is this person in? What does God tend to do in this season? And how can I align the way I coach with God’s agenda instead of my assumptions about destiny?

Tony Stoltzfus coaches senior leaders on how to engage God in difficult seasons. More of his research and reflections on coaching destiny are found in the books
The Calling Journey and the Christian Life Coaching Handbook.

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