We all want to find our purpose and find the “why” behind our lives. In other words, we all—on some level—want to know what God is calling us to do. Moses is a great example of someone who felt God’s call in his life and did whatever was necessary to live it out to its full potential. Throughout this series, we’ll be looking at Moses’ life to learn about the best ways to respond to God’s call, even when it may be difficult. He’s known for being the one who led Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, but there’s a lot to learn from his early life about how we can discern God’s call.

To understand the early part of Moses’ life and how it relates to God’s call, it’s important that we know some background about the time period. When Moses was born, the Israelites were living in slavery in Egypt. Their population was growing so fast that Pharaoh gave an order to have all Jewish baby boys killed. After Moses was born, his mom found a way to hide him by putting him in a basket and sending him down the Nile.

Moses’ early life reveals five truths about God’s calling in our lives.

1. Read Exodus 2.5–10.

Even though Moses was just a newborn, we can actually see the early signs of God’s call for his life. Moses’ mom gave him away and he was adopted into an Egyptian family, yet she still continued to have a significant influence on his life. In fact, she was present during some of his most formative years. She was able to teach him who God is, what being Jewish meant, and what their purpose as a people group was. When he was older, he was educated as an Egyptian and even became close with the highest levels of Egyptian leadership. Essentially, Moses was bicultural. This means that, when God was looking for someone who understood the struggles of the Jewish people but who also had close relationships with and could relate to Egyptian leaders, Moses was the perfect candidate. God was preparing him for his calling even when he was a newborn.

The first truth of calling is that God is always preparing us. Even if there are parts of our stories that we regret, or think of as negative, God is passionate about using those to shape us for our purpose. He uses every element of our stories—our families, our past experiences, and even our mistakes—to make us ready for the purpose He has called us to.

2. Read Exodus 2.11.

In the original Hebrew, the word for “saw” refers to much more than just observing. It means that Moses looked at the man being killed with emotion; it messed with him when he saw the Egyptian man kill the Jewish one. He may not have reacted to it in the right way, but what’s so important to see here is that way before God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt, something in his heart ached for the struggles of his people.

The second truth of calling is that God starts planting the seeds of calling early. It’s our job, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to reflect on our lives and try to figure out what those seeds might be.

Question: Reflect on your life to this point. What are some early seeds of your calling that you can point to? How has God used those to point you to your calling?

3. Read Exodus 2.15.

As soon as Moses starts to show signs of a conscience and begins relating to how the Jewish people are being treated, Pharaoh gets nervous. He immediately tries to have Moses killed, so Moses has to flee. He leaves his friends, his family, his social standing and everything comfortable behind and flees to a place where he has no one and nothing. All of this suffering comes before he even knows what his calling will be.

This points to the third truth of calling: God uses suffering to shape the character of the called. Sometimes, we have a lot of potential but don’t quite have the character developed to truly live out God’s call. Even though the times of suffering are hard and difficult, God wants to use them to refine us, not to harden us. Our task is to to let Him do that: our attitude should be one of willing brokenness rather than hardened bitterness.

Question: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned through suffering you’ve endured? How have those lessons helped you live out God’s purpose for your life?

4. Read Exodus 3.1–4.

When God got Moses’ attention with the burning bush, it would have been really easy for Him to immediately reveal what He was calling Moses to. But it wasn’t until after Moses approached the burning bush and took the time to listen that he heard God’s voice.

The fourth truth of calling is that God gets our attention in the hope that we will listen for and to Him. He’ll give us some kind of “burning bush”—maybe it’s a headline, or a conversation with a friend, or an experience that we can’t shake—but it’s up to us to sit and reflect and “look” at it. It’s up to us to dive deeper into it rather than move on because of the busyness of life.

Question: Do you regularly take time to slow down and reflect on what God might be trying to show you? If not, sit down and plan out a time this week to spend some time with God as you listen for what He might be calling you to.

5. Read Exodus 3.7,10.

Finally, God tells Moses what his calling is: to lead Israel out of their slavery in Egypt. When God calls Moses, though, it’s not just about Moses. God starts by talking about Israel and its struggles, suffering, and misery. He first identifies the need of the Jewish people, then calls Moses to meet that need. Moses’ calling was rooted in the pain of Israel.

The fifth truth of calling is that genuine calling is always linked to genuine need. So often, people give the advice to “find what you’re passionate about and pursue it.” This isn’t bad advice, necessarily, but it will always lead to emptiness later. If we make our purpose and calling in life only about our passions, it means we make our purpose and calling in life only about us. It’s a self-centered approach to calling. When we’re trying to identify our calling, we shouldn’t just look at what we’re good at. We should look at how what we’re good at can meet a real need in the world. Jesus was a talented teacher, but He knew that His calling was about more than just drawing big crowds and having a lot of followers. He knew that the world needed Him desperately, and His calling was to live a perfect life to save it.

Question: Are you using your talents and gifts to meet a need that you see in the world? What are some ways that you can begin to do this, even on a small scale as a first step?