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Choosing a career can sometimes seem overwhelming. When you combine the plethora of opportunities with the competing desires of our spirit and flesh, you have the potential for confusion, uncertainty and constantly second-guessing yourself.
But take heart! God takes even our bad decisions and weaves them together for good (Rom 8: 28, Gen 50:20). This article aims to provide encouragement and advice to help you make wise and godly career choices.
As Christians, we desire to live in a way that's pleasing to the Lord. It’s easy to ask ourselves, “What would the Lord want me to do”. However, if you don't wait on Him in all your decisions, you can make a lot of mistakes and waste a lot of time.
It’s easy to get ahead of God in our excitement to pursue His calling. In my case, when I sensed the Lord telling me to get my doctorate, it made sense he wanted me to do better.
But rather than waiting for confirmation from Him, I jumped straight in and quit my job. Then, at the last minute, I was unable to refinance my house. This meant financial pressure for my family. Travelling back and forth to school also meant giving up time with my children who were in their middle and high school years at the time.
I can't get that time back, but I’ve learnt a valuable lesson that I'm able to share with each of my students. It’s tempting to jump ship when we sense God’s leading, but we can miss many of his blessings if we move too fast.
It’s more important to be putting God first, guarding your spiritual life and physical health and waiting on Him.
Fortunately, we can keep seeking God and receiving his grace. Despite my mistakes, I ended up here at Liberty University, where I first sensed God was leading me more than 10 years earlier!
God has created each of us with specific aptitudes, skills and interests. Your career is what you do to take care of your earthly needs, like making money to support yourself and your family. Some people’s ministry is also their career, but sometimes it's not.
As Paul said, God can use you wherever you are. In Colossians 3:23-24, we’re told, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
You may be the only Christ someone ever sees. Your ministry may be living in a way that shines for God in your family, community or workplace. If we didn't have plumbers, teachers or store clerks out there being Christ, some people would never be ministered to. He has given certain people the gifts and inclination to be the minister, preacher, youth pastor or missionary, but he has gifted other people with other things so they can be Christ for someone who may never darken the door of a church.
Here’s some pointers to help guide you in the right direction when it comes to making good career choices.
1. Prioritise your relationship with God
Before you even start considering career choices, it’s vital that you’re developing an intimate relationship with God. As Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” If you're not doing that, you're starting off on the wrong foot looking for a job.
It's crucial to ask whether this job could affect your personal relationship with God. Are you going to be so wrapped up in it that you’re exhausted when you get home and don't have time for things that are more important – including God, devotions, and family?
We can get so caught up in fear about having enough money and paying the bills that we forget God is there and promises to take care of us. That's where we need to put our focus first.
2. Could the job impact your faith?
Along with asking whether a career will keep you from growing with God, you should consider whether anything in a job will lead you to compromise your beliefs or values.
This may not be immediately obvious, but over time will you be expected to answer calls on a Sunday morning, work seven days per week, stay later every day or travel all the time? Think about the pressures that might be putting on you and how this will impact your faith and your family.
A great way to look at this is to ask yourself whether a career is worth everything you're giving up for it, such as your time and energy. These are gifts God has given us. Is a job worth it?
3. Consider your gifts and talents
Many Christian books have been written about this subject, so I won’t go into that here. What’s important to remember is that God may have given you several talents, and you don't always get to use the one you want to. He may ask you to use a specific gift in a situation because that's where he needs you now. He may use your other gifts and talents at different times throughout your career.
4. Be open to new things
Also, God may ask you to use your gifts in a whole different way. I never thought I’d get a doctorate. I was a teacher and loved being in the classroom, seeing kids reach potential they didn't know they had and experiencing the ‘Aha’ moments.
When I started further study, I thought I'd never do administration, but I ended up doing administration! I was a high school Spanish teacher for 20 years and the next thing I know, my research is with elementary kids.
Then I worked with the federal government. Now at the college level I'm teaching young adults. I'm a people person, and God has used my skills but in different ways in the same area. You never know exactly where God might use your skills, so be open to his leading and prepared to be flexible.
5. Don’t get hung up on getting it right from the start
I went from working in customer service straight out of college, to the military as a Russian crypto-logic linguist, to teaching Spanish, to doing research. I never thought my life would end up at this point, but in retrospect I can see God’s hand. Even in the mistakes I made, I see how he’s connected all those dots to get me here.
What we think of as waste is his way of recreating something. During my junior undergrad year, I studied in Costa Rica. While there, I took a pottery class and made a pot I thought looked pretty good. The teacher looked at it and said, “This is so symmetrical, let's just fix it.” She took a big wooden spoon and started pounding on the side, so I ended up with a pot that was round on one side and flat on the other. I think that’s kind of like what God does – he takes what he gives you, sees how much he can use you and makes something wonderful out of it.
6. Wait on the Lord
As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get caught up in excitement and make decisions before confirming they are aligned with God’s plan.
Or we fear that a job like this will never come up again, that this may be the best job, pay the best money or have the best title – and that fear makes us jump.
God doesn't always say “Ok, it's time to go,” but we need to wait until we have peace about our choices. Sometimes God also uses other ways to guide us, such as something in a dream, another person's words and actions, or a passage he pops into your head.
When I decided to pursue a doctorate, I did not have peace. I just knew I was frustrated, pulling my hair out saying, “God, I've got to do something. I'm hating teaching right now, but I know this is my mission field.”
I did my master’s at Liberty and that's when I started thinking “Ok, God wants me to stay here but I've got to fix some things first”. I was so anxious to fix things that I jumped and didn't wait.
I don't know exactly what would have happened if I’d waited, but I do know there would have been less frustration. I would have picked better jobs and been in better shape financially. From the time I went to Liberty at master’s level it took 10 years – and a journey to the University of Virginia for my doctorate, Harvard for my postdoc and two years working in federal government – for a position to finally become open. Then it took almost two years to get into that.
God still used all these things to direct me into the career he wanted me to have, but I probably wouldn’t have experienced so many frustrations had I waited for his peace.
7. Talk to mentors and people in that career
I recommend sitting down for coffee with someone who's in the job you’re considering. When you start talking, you start seeing other things in that position that you haven't before.
Ask what it's really like. You don’t get the full view of something by looking at a job description. Plus, a company wanting to hire you is not going to make themselves look bad in front of you, so try to find someone who can talk to you about that particular job.
8. Try the D.E.C.I.S.I.O.N acronym
This idea comes from a website called What Christians Want to Know.
- D – “Do our best at what we are responsible for currently”
You need to be doing your best at what God has you doing right now. He’s unlikely to move us if we’re not putting effort into our current situation.
- E – Enter into more quiet time with God
Instead of asking all your friends, colleagues and parents what you should do, spend more time praying about things and meeting with God.
- C – Cease anxious thoughts about our future
Focus on making sensible plans instead of fearing what might happen. That's how we end up jumping too fast and taking the wrong job.
- I – Inquire about opportunities that God opens up for us
Ask him about the opportunities he has for you. You may be feeling comfortable and loving what you do, but you also need to be open to other things.
- S – Seek advice from those who are in the field we are drawn towards
As we discussed above, talk to people who have gone before you into a career.
- I – Ignore the temptation to make money the most important goal
In one of my jobs, I made more money than I’d ever dreamt of. I was also working 80-100 hours per week. At one point, I arrived in Chicago for a conference, got to the hotel and started bawling. I hadn’t slept in 24 hours after working 90 hours that week. Money is nice and God blesses us with it, but money can't be your focus.
- – Organise your life in preparation for change
If you sense God’s leading, start getting things ready. For example, are your finances in order? Have you talked with your family? Are you living that much in him that you can go where he leads you when he leads you?
- N – Navigate yourself towards your God-given calling and purpose in any field of work
As we discussed above, you can seek God’s confirmation as you consider how to use your gifts and inclinations in your chosen career.
I also recommend a book by Andy Stanley called “The Next Generation Leader: 5 Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future.” The leader isn't always the CEO – they could be the teacher, the Sunday School helper, the cafeteria worker or the person stacking shelves at Walmart.
The important thing is knowing that you can use your gifts in any situation and that God holds you accountable for how you use them.