When I allow myself to daydream about speaking to a group of Christian college students about faith and work issues in a chapel setting, I start out by emphasizing that God can use them in whatever major they have chosen to study, as all legitimate work is intrinsically good.
I met Christ in December of my senior year in high school, so I was just a baby Christian when I was making crucial decisions on what career field I should pursue in college. I did not know then what I know now about the intrinsic value of work in its many forms. (For more on this idea, check out this article on my blog.)
Let me share what was going through my head at the time.
My love of animals
I have been an animal lover my entire life. My mom was a big influence. I especially loved frogs, toads, salamanders, lightning bugs (or fireflies, depending on where you are from), bunnies, and owls.
Yesterday, I even had a dream about catching an owl. It made me think of the animals I have actually caught and handled: most of the above (except for owls), snakes, beetles, and a bat. I read several books about animals. Way back in elementary school, I began to consider becoming a wildlife biologist. I thought that this might be an interesting, fun, and rewarding career.
Weighing the eternal value of certain fields
However, when I became a Christian in the midst of making major college and career decisions, I began to question my interest in this field. I sensed that since there may not be animals in heaven, perhaps I should redirect my career path to being a teacher. I knew that people had eternal value.
What I have learned is that just because something does not last into eternity, it does not mean that that it has no temporal value. (See article I wrote for my blog, “Drilling Holes in Metal”.) Moreover, people do have eternal value. Therefore, if we wish to pursue a career that meets people’s needs and brings shalom and healing to our world, it is of value in God’s economy. It matters to God.
In the book that changed my life, Your Work Matters to God, Sherman and Hendricks conclude:
What ‘really matters’ to God is that the various needs of His creation be met. One of those needs is the salvation of people, and for that He sent Christ to die and He sends the Church to tell the world about what Christ did. But in addition to salvation – obviously a need with eternal implications – mankind has many other needs. Just because many of them are temporal needs does not diminish their importance to God, nor does it diminish the value of the work done to meet those needs. In fact, God thinks they are important enough to equip a variety of people with various abilities to meet those needs. Furthermore, in meeting the legitimate needs of people, a worker is serving people who obviously have eternal value. In other words, the product of the work may be temporal but those who benefit from the work are eternal. So we find that whether or not the product of our labor lasts into eternity, our labor is full of eternal implications.
Does the Bible say anything about the importance of animals?
Let us begin in the book of Genesis. On the fifth day, God made all of the animals, in sea, air, and land (Gen. 1:20-23.) In Gen. 1:26-28, we find the creation mandate. Here, God lays out His plan to bless the humans who were made in His image by giving them a critical mission to rule over the animals (v. 26), be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it (v. 28). The implication is that humans do not exploit the creation, but use it as it was designed and be good stewards of the environment. They were to nurture it and protect it.
Later, Adam’s first job was naming the animals. (See Gen. 2:19-20.) Adam had to identify the animals’ characteristics in order to give them proper names. Perhaps he was our first wildlife biologist!
Backing up, in Gen. 2:9, we learn that “God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” It is not a stretch to think that the animals God made were also created for a variety of purposes. We see this in Scripture and throughout history. God made some animals for food. Others help us work (i.e., horses). Some are used for transportation (i.e., donkeys). Some were used by Jesus as a sermon illustration (i.e., birds). A great fish rescued a wayward prophet (Jonah). Some were made for just plain fun (i.e., the platypus). Based on this quick overview, I believe the work of those who study and care for animals has instrumental as well as intrinsic value.
How does God guide us in our career decisions?
I have written on the topic of God’s guidance in my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, and in a couple of articles I have posted in my blog. Part 1 was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog in early March 2017. Part 2 was published a few weeks later. I invite you to come back to these articles later on to get a better sense of the process of God’s divine leading.
I absolutely believe that one of the ways God leads us where He wants us to go is to use our interests. Hardy, in The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work, concurs. His challenge is that “we ought to take seriously the doctrine of divine providence: God himself gives us whatever legitimate abilities, concerns, and interests we in fact possess. These are his gifts, and for that very reason they can serve as indicators of his will for our lives.”
In closing, I want to make sure I am clear. I do not want to go back to 1976 and take a different career path. I merely want to say that I could have taken a different one and God still would have used me to glorify Him just as much as He has in the unique journey I have been on over the past forty years in the fields of math education, ministry, and the military. (See blog article on my personal experience.)
The words of the Apostle Paul in Rom. 8:28 certainly apply here. By His grace, God worked out all things out for my good and for His Kingdom. He will most certainly do so for you, too.
(Note: A great book on this topic is Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen.)