"For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition." (1st Thessalonians 2:1-2)The Word used here for "coming to" means "an entrance" or "to enter", the word for "vain" means "empty", and the word for "opposition" means "a place of assembly" possibly "for a contest". Thus we can read Paul's introduction as this: "When we chose to come to you it was not without purpose or reason, but even though we had been mistreated in other cities, we were still determined to enter into the arena that is your city to speak light and do battle with the forces of darkness." Paul lived a life of purpose. Purpose is a powerful thing; it motivates us, it give us strength to get up when we are knocked down, and it gives direction and momentum for our life.
Paul's ultimate purpose was to love and serve God, but that purpose was further refined and developed over time. There were many significant events in Paul's life that lead to shaping and refining his purpose. First was his conversion. After Paul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was struck blind. God spoke to Ananias to go and lay hands on Paul and heal him saying, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." (Acts 9:15-16) With this revelation Paul understood his calling to bring the Gospel to the gentiles. Later, in Antioch, as he and others were worshiping and fasting, God spoke to them saying, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." (Acts 13:2) It was due to this revelation that Paul started out on his missionary journeys. Still later, in a night vision, Paul had a dream, "A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." (Acts 16:9-10) It was a response to this vision that they had come to Thessalonica. With each revelation from God, Paul's understanding of his purpose was refined and sharpened and he became increasingly aware of his propose in life.
What are the keys to finding the purpose for our lives? First, we must grow in relationship with Jesus Christ. As we grow to know Him we will also come to understand ourselves and the reason and purpose for which God has created us. Our purpose does not come from the world, it comes from God. He who created us gets to decide our purpose and it is only but coming to know Him that we can understand why He created us and for what He has called us.
Secondly, we must walk in obedience towards God. Purpose is progressive and grows as we grow in Christ. Often times God reveals our purpose in bits and pieces, showing us what we need to know today while keeping the rest veiled in secrecy. Solomon reminds us that, "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (Proverbs 16:9) Notice that God's direction is on our steps; He guides us one step at a time. As we are obedient to God's present revelation for our lives, He will in turn stand ready to reveal to us what we must know for the next stages of our lives. The key is progress and obedience; obeying one step at a time.
Finally, we must remain in fellowship with Christ's body. Not all of God's revelation comes directly from His Spirit, sometimes He uses His body to communicate His will and desires for our lives. Notice that it was only when Paul was in communion with his brother's and sisters in Antioch that God spoke to them regarding himself and Barnabas. Also, remember what Paul wrote to Timothy, "Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery." (1 Timothy 4:14) Timothy's revelation of his purpose came through a word of prophesy and the agreement and acknowledgment of the elders where he was. God often speaks through men and women and, if we discount the grace of God that is within them, we will often miss what God is trying to show us and His revelation for us.