015 Finding your purpose and some Japanese thinking (Ikigai)

I recently wrote about how knowing your purpose is a key to living in joy. But what if we don’t know our purpose? What if we’ve never been able to work it out? – Then this post will really, practically help you…

Maksud continued to wander the wilderness, the cold east wind blowing her hair across her face. Strands of her long black hair blew into her eyes as she battled against the wind and sand, still unsure of her destination. She looked up from the ground into the distance, something mystically arising within her soul: Something that felt like hope despite the harshness of her surroundings. She had heard in the distant past that sometimes hope defies reality. She stared hard into the distance, willing some glimmer to appear. Maksud reminded herself that sometimes a glimmer of hope is all you need to feed the thirsty longing of your soul. Just for a second she thought she saw a shadow through the blowing sands. 

Have you ever felt like Maksud? Your direction in life seems shrouded in shifting sands which blind you to the direction your life should take. It’s easy to feel like there’s no point – no purpose. It’s easy to feel that you are wandering while everyone else is ‘living a purposeful life’. Can I encourage you?

Let hope arise – sometimes hope defies (or changes) your reality

In this post I want to provide you with a practical idea based on a Japanese concept called ‘Ikigai‘ which may inspire hope to rise, and glimmers to appear in how you think about your purpose in life. You have something to offer the world that no one else can give. You are unique in the life experiences, education, skills, knowledge and ideas that fill you. No one else is like you, and no one else can give what you can give in the way that you can give it. In your life you will connect with people that others cannot connect with and you will speak into their lives in very unique ways. Understanding your sense of purpose is vital in this.

Seven Benefits of living your purpose

  1. You will be more focused – purpose directs your decisions, journey and destination because you will have a stronger sense of meaning in life
  2. You will be more passionate, with a deeper joy in living
  3. You will be more hopeful – it is a joy to know that every day you can do something (even a small thing) that is linked to your overall purpose in life
  4. Life is more straightforward – decisions are made through being purposeful
  5. You will be more motivated – you are able to move in the direction you want and will be doing what energises you
  6. You will be more resilient – having a stronger sense of purpose means that when life is tough (as it can be often!) you have strong reasons for weathering the storms and persevering to move forward
  7. Purpose has been linked with better health and stronger personal relationships

This list is not exhaustive – there are a great many benefits a purposeful life can give to you. So how can you practically work out your purpose? Here goes…


In Japan there is a simple concept called Ikigai (loosely translated it means reason for being). The image below shows the 4 main parts of Ikigai. They are:

  1. What are you good at?
  2. What do you enjoy?
  3. What does the world need?
  4. What can you get paid for?

img_9767Ikigai is the place where all four ‘spheres’ connect and overlap. The original concept of Ikigai does not place importance on what you can earn because true happiness in life is not about what you accumulate in life, but rather in how you live your life. The ‘earning’ part of the model is shown because we have to consider how to survive practically in life, and there is a monetary cost to that. It’s hard to feel fulfilled when your stomach is empty!

Ikigai is also not about knowing what career to choose – a career choice should come from having a sense of purpose.

Ikigai – A Purposeful Process

Get yourself a large sheet of paper and write the 4 questions across the top of the page (see the photo below for my example)

Ikigai lists

Make Lists

Next, start listing everything you love doing under the heading “What do I love?” – be exhaustive in the list. Take your time. You might need to come back to it many times (I spent weeks reflecting on this).

It can be helpful to talk with friends or family to get their ideas (but only write down what is true for you, not them!). This list is likely to be your longest list: add sports; musical interests; work ideas; creativity pursuits; tasks; everything you can think of that makes you feel happy!

Then do the same for the next three questions. Be sure to write as many things as you can think of. Put down everything you think is relevant to each question. Remember there is no wrong thing to write – you can always cross it out again – it’s vital to the process. Allow yourself to dream, but keep it real.

Look for ‘themes’

Once you have done this, look at each list and begin to look for what words or ideas reoccur – circle these as shown on my example – you should now be seeing how some of the initial ideas on the ‘love list’ are also on your other lists (if not, should they be?) – seeing words and phrases on 3-4 of the lists will help you see the parts of a greater ‘purpose’ or sense of meaning for you.

In the lists above, the person listed things like ‘inspiring others’, ‘telling stories’ and ‘teaching stuff’ – each of these could easily join together into the role of a Teacher. They also said they were good at ‘explaining things’ – a great teaching skill! They had always seen ‘public speaking’ as a presentation skill, but never as a teaching skill – this process changed their view and allowed their mind to open to wider possibilities!

Create a Purpose Statement for your life

Take the reoccurring statements from your first three lists and try to craft them into a statement of purpose for your life – this is perhaps the hardest part of the exercise. It will take time. You will need to draft , draft and redraft until you are content with the statement you have made. This part of the process took me over a month!

Ikigai does not guarantee that you will be happy in life, but the process will lead you to a clearer idea of what your purpose in life actually is. The purpose statement that flowed from the example above ended up being…

Inspiring others to learn from life through teaching, speaking and writing

Notice that this statement doesn’t mention their career – your career choices will flow from your sense of purpose. They could be a blogger, motivational speaker, teacher, life coach, youth worker, or a travelling preacher and still live their life ‘on purpose’.

Make choices based on your Purpose Statement

By the time you are reflecting on ‘What can I get paid for?’ you should have a ‘glimmer’ (or a clear insight) of what your purpose looks like. The person above knew before this point that they needed to work with young people and that they needed to be doing public speaking because it gave them a massive sense of happiness and energy.

If your purpose statement was about being fabulous in finances and impacting the banking world, you would not then choose a career path as a train driver. You would make choices that facilitate the fulfilling of your purpose. You would aim to work in finance, and to grow in depth of knowledge and experience with which you might make an impact. Growing in your purpose requires narrowing down your options – this is one of the ways you will become more focused.

Moving forward on Purpose

It is important to point out that purpose is not always about what career you have (although it can be). Purpose is about what gives your life meaning and this differs for each of us. Our situation in life can deeply influence our sense of purpose. A Japanese lady who was struggling with her purpose came to the conclusion that her purpose was to be the best mother to her children possible.

The key thing in finding purpose is about happiness – what will give you joy while you are giving yourself to the world around you? As you move forward keep on reflecting on your purpose – continue to draw on it in your life choices as you aim to live it out with passion, energy and meaning.

Mark Twain

I must point out that knowing your purpose does not make your life easier (it might make it harder!) – it makes it more fulfilled (but only when you life according to your purpose. Living out your purpose will require grit, determination and a lot of perseverance. Other people will always try to get you to live according to their purpose for your life – stay focused and stay on your track – it will be worth it in the end.

May you know an ever deepening sense of happiness as you  uncover your sense of purpose and give back to the world around you.

If you have found this article helpful please leave me a comment below, or drop me an email to let me know how it has helped you. You might also wish to share it with your friends, or on social media – this would be kind, and appreciated.  With warm regards, Stuart.




‘The Stenchmire’ – about facing your fears

It shuffled silently through the undergrowth, the stench of its breath illuminated like mist under a cold full moon. I could almost feel the darkness within it as I hid, trembling in the tree trunk, heart bursting in the fear of being found. It wandered past slowly and I exhaled my relief. That was when he stopped, turned, and looked directly into the darkness where I crouched.

There are many things in life which can leave us feeling paralysed in fear: other people, job insecurity, terrorism, etc. Fear has this way of making us feel helpless, and so we hide. We hide our true selves. We lock ourselves in the inside of our bodies and we hope that no one will see who we really are, or what we really feel.

Image result for undergrowth at night

What if we’re not meant to live that way? What if the story looks more like this:

It shuffled silently through the undergrowth, the stench of its breath illuminated like mist under a cold full moon. I could almost feel the darkness within it as I stood before it, heart bursting in fear, yet determined to slay this beast once and for all. It wandered slowly and menacingly towards me. I exhaled my determination to stand my ground. That was when he stopped and looked directly at me in the moonlit darkness where I stood. I stood silent as a sentinel, staring him down, refusing to be the first to look away. We were like statues, cold and hard in the night until just when I was going to loose my stare, he lowered his head, turned and walked back into the darkness from where he came.

Sometimes you need to face what you fear. Sometimes you need to find out that you are stronger than you think. It’s not easy; it doesn’t mean you don’t feel afraid, but it does mean that you don’t let fear shackle you and hold you down as helpless.

May you find the strength to stand your ground, look fear in the eye, and put fear in its place.

Somebody is calling you out of the crowd

We all have a favorite band, team, preacher, etc. We tend to follow their progress; listen to their music or teachings. We follow them, perhaps closely, perhaps from a distance. We invest our time, energy, and even our money in following them. Following others is a natural aspect of life.

We are all following someone or something.

So Jesus bursts on to the Galilean preaching circuit and begins speaking about a new way of living; a new way of being; a new life worth loving! His teaching pulls in the crowds and it all looks good. One could easily get lost in the crowd.

It’s easy to get lost or hide in the crowd.

So Jesus has a crowd-busting strategy: he calls individuals. The ones who are hiding in the crowd; the ones who are hiding their shame; the ones who are despised by everyone else.

Perhaps today he’s calling you and me.

So he calls this bloke Levi.

Tax-collecting, Roman-loving Levi.

Swindling, cheating double-dealing Levi.

He calls him out and he tells him FOLLOW ME.

And Levi gets up and follows just like that. Not only does he get up. He gives up…EVERYTHING! And he follows Jesus.

In the Gospels we see Levi a number of times. He not only followed Jesus practically through the streets, becoming one of his closest mates. We see him living his life for Jesus. He hangs on every word of Jesus, and putting those words into action. He follows Jesus with his life even after Jesus has died. He writes one of the Gospels. He follows Jesus with EVERYTHING.

Perhaps today he’s calling you and me to follow and give up everything.

May we hear his call and follow him with everything today


012 Coffee Creativity: The Case of the Nude Barista

The sun is shining on Harrogate today and I can hear the morning coffee call. Responding to the call I step into my local independent coffee shop. I’m greeted by the owner and the barista, both of whom are bright and cheery. The welcome is warm and authentic.

This place is a little treasure trove of coffee in the centre of Harrogate. The vibe is relaxed, and every time I walk through the door I have the urge to be creative – it’s the leaidback inspiring conversations and vibe that does it for me. I can imagine John Keats travelling here from Hampstead Heath just to sit and write great poetry. If I had the time that’s what I would do, but I need to move on to work most days.


I order a skinny latte with an extra shot, asking about the beans on offer today. The barista passionately describes the Nude and Volcano beans, describing them with such detail that I can almost smell and taste them! I opt for the Nude (The Volcano is an excellent choice if you prefer an espresso).

As he makes my latte the barista continues to talk about the coffee (he loves this job!) and before I know it I’m talking about how my love for coffee was birthed: Writing regularly in a coffee shop that didn’t mind me sitting for a few hours with a notebook, pencil and coffee. We wax lyrical about how much better paper is to screen reading and writing, and about how pen on paper is becoming a lost art and habit. And then my latte is ready.

I thank him for the coffee and fine conversation and I walk out feeling inspired. Walking round the corner I take the lid off the coffee, stop and inhale deeply. The scent drifts up, filling neural pathways with positive thoughts and messages: I feel happy, and the coffee smells like heaven. I am drawn back into memories of quiet afternoons writing with a coffee and I have this sudden impulse to write. Ironically, I have no notebook with me today!

creative mind

As I reflect on this morning’s experience it struck me that I had entered a highly creative environment: the barista is a creator, forming a unique coffee with each cup crafted. Creativity (like the scent of good coffee) permeates an environment and has a viral affect upon us. In short when we see creativity it sparks the desire to be creative within us. I’m reminded that we were born Nude and made by a creative God. With his thumb-print on our souls his creativity permeates us and allows us the ability and opportunity to unleash our creativity. Perhaps all we need to unleash creativity is a creative barista and the viral effect of a good coffee.


011 Shine: Handling your Critics

Abe lincoln

No person in American history was so respected and yet so hated as Abraham Lincoln. Thousands opposed him in his views on war and slavery, as well as his attempts to keep America united.

One day a friend pulled Lincoln aside and told him that his critics were speaking so negatively about him.

Lincoln responded, Every time there is a full moon dogs will bark and bark at the moon for as long as it is clearly visible in the sky.” 

Puzzled by Lincoln’s response, the friend asked, “What are you driving at? What’s the rest of the story?”

moon barking

Lincoln answered, “There is nothing more to tell. The moon keeps right on shining.”

There are always ‘dogs barking’ around us.

There are always the voices of negativity around us, as well as the negative voices looping their insidious messages in our minds.

We can listen to them and allow our lives, our vision and our hearts to grow dark…

…or we can choose to keep on shining.

Whatever you are going through today, please do not give up – you were truly made to let your light shine.

light shine

Rediscover Wonder with Rob Bell and walk upon the Oceans

I was speaking with a friend on the phone today and he asks how I’m doing. I answer with the usual cliches and responses and then I stop. I stop and say “I’m struggling to hear God these days – I have for a while”. And I don’t expect my friend to judge me and tell me I just need to pray about it because Ellis is one of the few people I know that I am totally real with and who never feeds me cliched responses to issues I face. So he listens as I spout verbal vomit and when there’s nothing left I have this realisation that God has actually been quietly ministering and whispering all along.

One of the voices I’ve been listening to recently is that of Rob Bell. Now I know that there are some out there who will judge me just for mentioning his name but that’s okay because God loves you and me and Rob Bell (God’s love is a great leveler of people, don’t you think?).

Bell has awakened within me a desire for a simpler, less orchestrated faith over a demanding ritualistic performance driven faith. I’m enjoying the way he weaves scripture into the colourful fabric of life. I want to look again at the world with child-like wonder and create at the feet of Father God – isn’t that what God made us for? – to go out and multiply the wonders of creation through expressing the gifts, intellect and love he placed within us.

Here’s some ‘classic Bell’ to let you see how he has encouraged me recently:

Another way I realised God has been whispering to me is through a song by Hillsong United. It’s called “Oceans” and the video is at the end of this article. The song is based on the tale of Jesus calling Peter out to walk on storm-ridden waters.

There was a storm.

Waves crashed.

Wind blew.

But Jesus was out there walking on water, calling Peter out.

I realised God was calling me out.

He was working in the stress of my current job insecurity, my hectic family life, recent hurts at the hands of spiritual leaders, and my tiredness as I study a Masters degree.

He was saying “it’s okay. The storm is here, but so am I and I’m simply calling you to trust me as you are on stormy waters. Walk to me and walk with me in these troubled seas. I’m with you and I won’t let you drown”.

God knows what we need when we need it and he walks with us even when the storms crash down upon our troubled heads. He delivers, rescues and restores.

I’m thankful today for Rob Bell, Hillsongs United for a cool song, and my mate Dave for allowing me to be who I am and to vent. Ellis’s website is at Bittorrent Gospel and he is worth following on Twitter at @littlewarrior. How about you? Perhaps the storm is fierce? I can’t promise answers, but somewhere out there Jesus is out on the water calling your name.

May we hear and respond to Jesus’ great love, amazing grace and boundless mercy as we seek to rediscover wonder and walk upon the oceans.

Gospel – The Story of the World

Today I want to share with you what I believe because I trust it with my whole heart. My belief goes back in history to before the time Jesus was born. It goes back to the beginning of time.

The World
It was a time when the world was dark, and empty. There were no trees, rivers or seas. There were no birds, lions or honey bees. There was just the deep darkness of nothing. Out of the darkness the voice of God spoke – and as he spoke things began to happen. The world began to form – who knows how it really happened? The important point is that God began to form the world with his words. After six God-days the world was created, and so were we. God looked at all he had made and he said, “It is good!”

Time and Seasons
God created the world and with it the seasons. The seasons marked the passing days and months and years – even time was made by God. Each season brought new fruits and food stuffs. Sunshine came and went with each day as mankind enjoyed the world God had created.

A love story
So far this is sounding like a nice story about another time and another place. And up till this point it is, but this is where this story becomes our story. The first humans had it all: They loved the world they lived in. They enjoyed life to the full. They walked with God in the cool of the day. Imagine… walking with God and he’s speaking to you like a friend. Life was perfect. The world was perfect. Everything was perfect.

But the first humans were not content to walk with God: they wanted to be like God, and when the opportunity came they did what God told them not to do – they ate from the wrong tree. There were hundreds, even thousands of fruit trees and they were told to leave one of them alone, but they did not do it. They ate the fruit God told them to leave.

God tells them to leave the garden. Sin comes into the world. Pain comes into the world. Struggle comes into the world. Shame comes into the world. Guilt comes into the world. And these things separate the humans from God. God loves them and wants them to be with him – walking with him, but their hearts have been made dark by their wrong-doings.
They are now walking in darkness. Every human born into our world also walks in this darkness. We are separated from God.

How can we return to God? Some people have tried being good all the time – but we fail very quickly when we try this. Sometimes we try to convince ourselves there is no God – but the world alone is evidence for God’s existence, not to mention other things we could say if time was on our side. Often we just convince ourselves that we just don’t care, or it doesn’t matter.


The love story continues
It all seems hopeless. In our story can we ever return to God? Will we ever be able to walk with God? Well, thousands of years pass by. There are a few that continue to believe in God. There are even those that were awaiting the arrival of the “Messiah” – God’s chosen one who would break the darkness and bring God’s love and light into the world. These people believed that God loved humanity too much not to do something. Would God act?

The Hero
Then Jesus stepped into time. He proved he was God’s chosen one in many ways: miracles; his great teaching about love; his life (he fulfilled over 300 prophesies given by many people over hundreds of years); his death; and by rising from the dead. Only the chosen one of God could do this. Why?


To show the world that God created that it was not alone in the darkness. The love of God was made real. It was in Jesus – His death proved God’s love for you and me. Jesus is the hero in our story. He is the enlightened one. The rescuer. The light in the darkness. God did this because he loves you. Have you ever thought about what that means? GOD LOVES YOU! Here is the truth – let it light up your heart today. Perhaps you have never thought that God loves you and wants to be your friend. “I wish I could walk with God in the garden”, you may be saying. Because of what Jesus has done we can say to God, “Be the light in my life today”. Invite him into your life to show you how much he loves you. This is not someone else’s story – it’s your story.

revolution love

The end of the story?
Every story needs a happy ending. I wonder if the story of your life and my life will have such an ending. Only you can tell the end of the story. Jesus is the undeniable light of the world. I believe his love can light up the darkest heart. I believe his love can transform the most difficult situations. I believe that there is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us. Ask the rescuer to shine his love and light into your heart. Make every day a day where you chose to walk as close to God as possible – he’s waiting to walk with you: all you need to do is ask him to come and walk with you. His light may be the difference you are hoping for this year. How will your story continue?