Making Career Decisions Within God's Will For Your Life
January 17, 2007 • By Kevin Brennfleck and Kay Marie Brennfleck
National Certified Career Counselors
Are you wrestling with a career decision, not sure which path to take? Are you wondering which direction the Lord desires you to go? If so, you are not alone! Many Christians struggle with making career decisions at various points in their lives. For example, when Kay Marie was a sophomore in college, and a fairly new Christian, she desired with her whole heart to do what God wanted her to do with her life. As a communication major, she was considering getting a master's degree and teaching at the college level. She was concerned, however, that she needed to be in "full-time Christian ministry" in order to serve God most fully. She was haunted by a vision of standing before God some day and instead of hearing Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant," He would say to her, "Well, you did...OK." Perhaps you can relate to fearing at some level that you are missing God's will for your career and life.
As Christians, we desire to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. We want to do His will in all aspects of our lives--in the daily choices we make that govern our actions and in the large life decisions we have to make. Scripture does give us clear guidance regarding the moral choices we are to make as God's sons and daughters, such as in the Ten Commandments and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The Bible gives us instruction as to how we are to live our lives so as to be salt and light in this world, glorifying God with our lives.
The Bible does not, however, give specific guidance about many types of life decisions, including making career choices. No where in Scripture will you find a verse that will specify whether you should become an accountant or an engineer. Nor will you find detailed instructions on how to choose a career when confronted with multiple possibilities. Why doesn't the Bible address career choice? One likely reason is because in biblical times, career choice was not an issue. Men usually went into the family business--whether fishing or sheep herding or carpentry or being a merchant-- and women usually got married and had babies. "What should I do with my career?" was not a burning issue of the times.
Today, however, career decisions can seem overwhelming because of the sheer number of options that are available--more than at any other time in history. We long to make the "right" decision--the choice that proves to be good for us and that is the one we believe God would have us make. So what can we do to make wise career decisions that are within the will of God for our lives? Although the Bible is not a manual on career planning and decision making, it does teach some important principles that can assist you in becoming a wise decision maker. These principles have guided our own career planning as well as our career counseling as we seek to help others through the career decision making process.
PRINCIPLE 1: Our first priority in life must always be to develop an increasingly intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
In our society, we are concerned with accomplishments: what we do, how we perform, what we produce, how busy we are, etc. We may judge the fruitfulness of a pastor's ministry, for example, by the size of his or her church, the number of books written, tapes produced, the presence of a television ministry, etc. Yet Jesus said that all of this doesn't matter unless the person is intimately connected to Him: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned" (John 15:5-6).
Remember that Christ calls us to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Mt. 6:33)--not to seek what we can do for the kingdom of God. Being rooted in Christ is a fundamental "prerequisite" to finding God's will for your career. You will not be ready or able to find the career path He has designed you for unless you are seeking Him first. He calls you to love Him with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength--and to love others as you love yourself. The more passionately you are pursuing these callings, the better equipped you will be to hear His voice and to be the person you will need to be in order to do the things God has created you to do.
Also, be aware of some of the warning signs that your career (or prospective career) may interfere with your relationship with Christ. For example, does your job require you to act in unethical or immoral ways such as not revealing certain information about a product or service to a prospective customer? Does your work require you--or seduce you--to spend so much time at work that you have little time for anything else including your friends and family, your quiet times with the Lord, church, etc.? Does it tempt you to become prideful, greedy, manipulative, etc.? In other words, is your work leading you away from Christ rather than leading you toward becoming more Christ-like? If so, you would be right in questioning whether this is a career path the Lord would have you to pursue. As Jesus says, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Mt. 16:26).
PRINCIPLE 2: God has created you with the aptitude for particular skills and abilities, and with the inclination toward particular interests. Your design is the most important factor to consider in making career decisions.
John came from a family that was involved in full-time Christian service: his sister was a missionary, his brother was a pastor and his parents were Christian educators. Although he had very strong artistic talents and interests, John felt pursuing an art-related career wasn't an appropriate way to serve God, so he became a computer programmer, working for a large Christian organization. Although he enjoyed parts of his work, he longed to be using his creative talents. He felt a part of himself was dying.
You are God's handiwork. He created your inmost being, and knit you together in your mother's womb. You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:13-14). You have been given work-related gifts that have been chosen specifically for you (Romans 12:6-8). God desires for you to use the gifts He has given you. Working out of your design will bring you satisfaction, will bless and enable you to serve others effectively, and will bring glory to your Designer. To make good career decisions you must have a thorough knowledge of your personality, skills and abilities, interests and values. Without this knowledge, you are not fully equipped to make good career decisions.
PRINCIPLE 3: Being a Christian does not exempt us from the responsibility to become wise decision makers. Therefore, it is your responsibility to use your God-given mind to learn how to make good career decisions.
If you wanted to buy a computer, most likely you wouldn't pray about it and then just walk into a computer super-store and see which computer you felt "led" to buy! Most people would agree that to do so would be foolish. Instead, most people would agree that it's best to research information about the different computers on the market, identify their specific needs, investigate prices at different stores for the computers of most interest, and then make a purchase. Certainly prayer should be a part of the process, but God expects us to do our part in making wise decisions, as well.
Learning how to make decisions is a part of developing wisdom and maturity, both of which God desires for us. The book of Proverbs is full of admonitions about the importance of gaining wisdom to live a life that is pleasing to God. The proverbs are given to us "for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life..." (Prov. 1:1-3). God desires for us to have not only spiritual maturity and wisdom but also wisdom that relates to making decisions in this life.
Career decisions are often scary for people. There may be more than one good option, and seemingly, much is at stake. Unfortunately, many Christians avoid their responsibility to make the best possible decision in the situation. Instead, they let other people or outside circumstances "make a decision" for them. Circumstances or "signs" may be interpreted as God's will for them. For example,
Jackie was working as a file clerk. Bored and tired of earning minimum wage, she was asking God to lead her into a new career. One day, when she left her job for the day, she noticed a real estate office right across the street that had a sign up: Wanted: New Real Estate Agents. Excited at the thought of a better paying job selling houses, she drove home and found a flyer on her door advertising a school to train real estate agents. She concluded this was God's answer to her prayers. She became a real estate agent and found that she hated selling. She left the field soon after entering it, feeling like God had led her astray.
While I don't deny that God can lead through circumstances, Scripture does not support that God wants to bypass our wrestling with making difficult decisions in partnership with Him. (For example, Scripture gives many references in which the Apostle Paul used logical thinking--combined with prayer--to determine his direction. See Romans 15:18-24--especially verse 20--for one such instance.)
Just as you would use computer magazines, knowledgeable computer users and computer professionals to decide which computer would be best for you to buy, there are resources available to you to assist you in learning how to do good career planning and make good career decisions based on the right information about your design and the world of work. God does guide us; He does, however, expect us to take responsibility for using the minds He has given us to the best of our ability.
PRINCIPLE 4: Living out God's will for your career and life will require that you take risks.
Stephanie's mother had always encouraged her to "play it safe" and not take any risks so that she wouldn't get hurt in life. This mind set had resulted in Stephanie, a bright and creative young woman, being tremendously underemployed as a receptionist. In one of her career counseling sessions she stated that she was sure that as soon as she "knew exactly" what God wanted her to do she would be able to take the steps to change careers.
Stephanie's words, and those we have heard from other clients in similar conversations, reveal that they are expecting God to give them a clear, specific vision of what He wants them to do and exactly how they are to go about doing it. The underlying reason is that they believe a career change will then be risk-free and failure-proof. The hope and belief--often unconscious--is that once they have their clear vision it will somehow magically become reality without them having to face any of the fears that have kept them stuck in the past.
The problem with this mind set is that God doesn't work this way. God doesn't call us to risk-free living, because we wouldn't need to develop our "faith muscles." The typical way God works is to impress upon our hearts and minds a need, a cause, an issue or an interest that we develop a desire to do something about, and then to lead us one step at a time. Jesus' call to His disciples was for them to follow Him, and become fishers of men. They had no idea what was in store for them! When Jesus called the Saul (Paul), He did not reveal to him all that his ministry would entail or require from him.
The same is true for us today! In our own ministry, and in the work and ministries of clients and colleagues, we have seen how a sense of call or vision may not be very specific and it's certainly not accompanied with detailed directions or guarantees on how to pursue the dream successfully. God's guidance is given one step at a time, and often requires that we take some scary steps of faith. In the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30), the point is often missed that the first two servants were not told what to do with the talents that were entrusted to them. The first servant "went at once and put his money to work and gained five more [talents]." He used his own reasoning powers to decide how best to work with the talents he had been given. He took some risks!
Learning to take risks is an essential part of following God and living out His will for our lives. Without risks, a person's life becomes a process of digging an ever-deeper rut in which he or she stagnates and cuts himself or herself off from all that God intends life to be. As Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." We know that, as God's sons and daughters, we have already won in this life--we are victors! God calls us to live courageously--to take risks in order to use our gifts and bring salt and light to this hurting world. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain!
"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Eph. 3:20-21)