(Note: I wrote this article and posted it on my blog before my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession was published by WestBow Press in February 2018. This critical topic was later included in the book. I invite you to check it out. This article was published in the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog. It made their top ten list of blog posts in 2017. It was also posted on the Intersect Project’s’ Faith and Culture blog and the Coram Deo blog.)
Yesterday, my wife and I received a nice hand-written letter from her nephew, announcing some exciting news regarding a change in his career path. We have been cheerleaders for this young man his entire life, which is why he took the time to write. We were elated that he shared his new opportunity with us.
As I responded, I knew I had some practical insights from a seminar I developed during an independent study two years ago entitled Immanuel Labor: God’s Purpose, Plan, and Presence at Work that might be helpful to him at this critical juncture. As our oldest son is also making a major change in his career at the end of the school year, I thought it would be good to share these thoughts with a wider audience.
At the beginning of the second half of my seminar, I play two classic songs that are perfectly suited for this topic. The first is Michael W. Smith’s Place in This World. The second one is from Wayne Watson, For Such a Time as This. In listening to them yesterday, I was once again moved to tears, as I recalled how God has led me in my own winding career path, which I will reflect on briefly below.
It seemed prudent for me to begin with the concept of seeking first the kingdom of God. It is extremely encouraging to me that my son and nephew are doing just that.
So, how do we do that with respect to our careers? Plantinga, in Engaging God’s World, states, “To strive first for the kingdom’ in choosing a career, a Christian will ask himself particular questions:
- Where in the kingdom does God want me to work?
- Where are the needs great and the workers few?
- Where are the temptations manageable?
- How honest is the work I’m thinking of doing?
- How necessary and how healthy are the goods and services I would help provide?
- How smoothly could I combine my proposed career with being a spouse or a parent?
- Is my proposed career inside a system so corrupt that, even with the best intentions, I would end up absorbing a lot more evil than I conquer?
- What would my career do for “the least of these?”
These are tough questions, but I think if we were honest, it might help narrow down the endless possibilities we see before us, so that we can make the best, most God-honoring choice.
Witherington, in his book Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor, states “We do not simply choose our vocations. We are led to them, and this implies that we must be open to hearing from God what he is calling us to do in life. Even when we have been called and gifted to do something, God does not simply leave us to our own devices. Rather, he guides us and steers us in our work.”
Here’s a personal insight. Jesus told His disciples, “Seek first his kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31). In context, Jesus was speaking about how God meets the basic needs (i.e., food and clothing) of His creatures, including us. How does He normally meet those needs? Through our jobs, which provide money to purchase food and clothing for us and our families. I see a very clear connection between seeking God first and finding the right job.
At this point, I show a video clip which illustrates well what we just discussed. Chariots of Fire won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1981. It is about two British track and field athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, who competed in the 1924 Olympics. It’s a great story. This is a scene where Eric Liddell is explaining his sense of God’s calling to his sister, Jenny, who has been worrying that the long hours he has been putting into his training for the Olympic games is going to derail him from his calling to be a missionary to China.
Eric says, “I believe that God made me for a purpose – for China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. . . To win is to honor Him.”
What about you? What is it that you do that makes you feel like you are doing exactly what God has designed you to do, and by doing it, gives God pleasure?
Next, we discuss finding your calling or vocation. This is what I have to share.
First off, starting a career or finding a new job is always a spiritual journey for the Christian. You must spend some time in the Bible, pray for wisdom, and trust God to lead you. He promises that He will (e.g., Ps. 25:12, 32:8; Prov. 16:9). My nephew reminded me about the importance of trusting God through the time of transition, as the end result is not always clear. It is not easy to leave a path that has been traveled on for many years and embarking on a new, less clear path. He states that “the change challenged me to trust God and listen to his guidance.”
Second, we must examine God’s design (self-assessment). Ask yourself these questions: What has God specifically designed you to do, based on interests, skills, accomplishments, and experiences? What are you most concerned and passionate about? What have others noticed in you regarding your gifts?
Third, you must look at all your options and make a sound and timely decision when a job is offered. Accept the job that seems best to you as a step of faith. Finally, keep on listening to what God is saying about your vocation because it will likely change over time.
Nelson, in Work Matters, says this, “At soul level, we long to fulfill the purpose for which we have been created and placed in the world. . . While having a good deal of life mileage under your belt does add helpful perspective, I believe that at any stage of life you can discern and live out your God-honoring vocational contribution in the world.”
You may recall my own personal experiences with finding my first job after college, call to ministry, and jobs in and with the Army for over 30 years. I understand now that it is not so atypical as I had originally thought. Hardy, in Fabric of This World, explains: “Career paths are rarely straight. Typically they are afflicted by detours, unmarked intersections, forced exits, blind alleys, and cul-de-sacs.” Based on this assessment, I would encourage you to be prepared to be flexible, and to always remember what Paul boldly declares in Romans 8:28, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
These are some general principles on finding or changing career fields. Next time, I will share some more insights on finding the right job that fits.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.