To Choose a Career - How Does One do It?
Generally speaking, the later teenage years and early twenties are crucial years in anybody's life. These years are crucial because one normally makes here three fundamental decisions that affect the remainder of one's life radically.
There is first of all the decision whether or not to serve God; one decides to make public profession of faith or not to do so.
In the second place, one chooses a life partner; one considers marriage.
And in the third place is that difficult choice about a career; what kind of work do I care to do for the rest of my life?
Mundane as the last of the three fundamental decisions may appear to be, it certainly is not an easy question for many young people. Those who know from early age precisely what they want to be are few. For the greater majority, questions — even confusion — abounds. Without extra interest in any specific area, what criteria ought one to consider in coming to a choice for a career? And how do we as parents determine the field of work that our children should be encouraged to enter?
This matter of career choosing has historically not been the problem that it is today. The son simply followed his father's trade, while the daughter became homemaker. But those were the days when there were only some 100 different vocations available, education was hard to get, and the economy was a very closed system.
With the coming of the industrial revolution, and particularly in the past few decades, that has all changed dramatically. A young man need no longer become what his father was. And a young woman need not wait patiently, with nothing constructive to do, for some eligible bachelor to ask her to be his housewife. The door for opportunity is wide open, with some 40,000 different vocations to choose from. 1
Exactly because the door for opportunity is wide open is the field so challenging for young people and their parents. With the proper education, one can become just about anything. It is the overwhelming number of choices that makes the question so difficult: what shall I become? And how do I go about choosing?
I might warn you immediately that I am not able to give neat, clean-cut answers to the question at hand. I would dare say that nobody can. There are simply too many variables, too many factors that differ from person to person. It will still remain the responsibility of each who is faced with the question of a career choice to determine what field God would have him to enter.
That, however, does not mean that we are not able to come to some conclusions about the question of what criteria one is to consider in determining one's choice of career. I would first ask your attention for some of the Biblical givens that may be relevant for the subject at hand. Following that, I propose to work out these Biblical principles into concrete criteria.
After God finished creating the world, God evaluated all that He had made. His evaluation is recorded in Scripture: "God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).
"Very good,'' God said. But "very good" is not the same as "complete." The world as God created it was not the world as God ultimately wanted it to be; He created it in need of cultivation, in need of development. It is not that the earth needed simply a caretaker; God created the earth in such a way that it needed a developer. Consequently, when God placed the man in the Garden of Eden, His instruction to Adam was not first of all to "keep," to "take care of" the earth. First was the command to "till" it, to develop it (Genesis 2:15). The world as God created it was "a workshop, an arena, a building site" 2; it was "world-in-the-promise, a world-in-hope."3
We hinted already at the means God chose to bring His world to that state of completion that He desired. The Lord determined to create a creature that was able to develop this world, able to cultivate it. Said God: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds. of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth; (Genesis 1:26). So that is what God did. And after God had created man, He repeated to man the purpose of his existence: "...fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion..." (Genesis 1:28). That is the mandate which is repeated when God placed man in the Garden of Eden; man was instructed "to till it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15).
On the basis of what we read in Genesis, it hardly seems necessary to mention that this command to Adam to develop God's world was not a command that centered around personal satisfaction for Adam. No, this command implied that man's actions were, first of all, to be "for God." The life and the activity of man was to be a matter of service. 4 And that service implied specifically that man was instructed to work with the creation God had made, to develop it with a view to uncovering all the potentials that God had placed in it, exploiting them, and so to demonstrate with the world God had made the greatness and the glory of the Creator.
As such, then, Paul can call man God's "fellow worker" (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9). The creation has to be brought to completion, and man receives the noble office of assisting the Creator in that endeavor. Granted, Paul speaks first of all of the apostles in their capacity as preachers of the gospel. But Dr. Schilder is quite correct when he comments on this text that "this is not only a suitable text for a minister's inaugural sermon, but it is also the day-text for any cultural worker, for the professor as well as the street sweeper, for the kitchen worker and for the composer of a Moonlight Sonata." 5 This is the cultural mandate given to every person: discover the possibilities that lie in the world, develop them, and use them to the greater glory of God.
Work, then, was for Adam a command. His permanent calling — his "career," if you will — was to cultivate God's world, to develop its potentials. That was a "career" laid upon His shoulders by no one less than God; God created him for exactly this purpose.
But that command of God to work with God's world for that particular purpose counted not only for Adam. God's plan was that more human beings would populate the earth; God instructed Adam and his wife to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28). In fact, it would be through the presence and efforts of countless humans that the earth would be "subdued," its potentials discovered and used to the glory of the Creator. That implied also that each person to come upon this earth had that same life-task, that same "career," laid upon his shoulders; each was to be a fellow-worker with God in bringing His creation to completion.
Yet it was not the intention of the Creator that each person should be a fellow-worker with God in a manner identical to his neighbor's. God created two people, Adam, and Eve. Both received the mandate to have dominion, to cultivate, to develop, to be God's fellow workers. But each was told to do so in his/her own way. The task of the woman, for example, was colored by her position as wife; she was a fellow worker with God in a different way than Adam was.
When God promised children, He did not promise children who would each do identical work. Rather, God created variety, each child with his own gifts, each child with his unique ability to work in God's world. That Abel later became a shepherd while Cain became a farmer was not at all wrong. Within the one big calling given to all, within the one "career" that all men are obliged to follow, there is room for divergency, room for carrying out one's career in different ways. Such was the way that God had created things to be.
There came the fall into sin. The essence of that fall implied that man refused to be God's fellow worker any longer, man refused to develop God's world for God's glory, let alone take care of it for God. With the fall, man disowned his life-task, denied the calling for which he was created. Not that God's mandate to man to be His fellow worker was now changed. The calling to work for God's glory remained. But with the fall man refused to live up to that calling; in fact, he no longer was able to obey that calling because he became depraved. That meant that his work, and therefore his career, would no longer be service for God; it would instead be against God.
The net result of that fall was that work, any career, lost its purpose; work became vain. For the goal of working became something that was in man himself, be it survival as such, or satisfaction, or status, or prestige, or pleasure. Instead of seeing work — and so also his career — as the purpose of his existence, fallen man sees work more as the means to an end. That thought is reflected by the message of that bumper sticker: "I owe, I owe, I owe, and so to work I go." That same self-centered, self-satisfying philosophy of work becomes evident in the current mentality that one works for the free weekend; work is the necessary evil leading to the pleasures of freedom and money needed to enjoy that freedom. These conceptions of work are the result of the fall into sin.
These observations make the Christian aware that much of what the world will tell us about work and about career choices will be based on a view of work that results from the fall into sin. That, in turn, will encourage us to (re)evaluate the conclusions we hear around us.
c. Redemption in Jesus Christ
It pleased the LORD to send His Son to ransom this world from the futility into which it had fallen. As the second Adam, Christ reconciled the world to God once again.
The result of this reconciling work of the Mediator is that the people of God are enabled to image God once again (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). That, in turn, means that God's people are equipped to carry out the mandate originally given to Adam in Paradise. Christians are made by Christ to be fellow workers with God again; their task in life is once more to cultivate this world to develop its potentials for the glory of the Creator. That cultural mandate, as given in Paradise, is restored to us. That means that all that could be said above about the task given to man in Paradise applies for us today again (cf. Psalm 8).
From these few Biblical data, a couple relevant conclusions follow.
In the first place, any talk from a Christian about a career will be markedly different from what an unbeliever has to say about work and careers. For the unbeliever is stuck in the rut of the fall into sin and the consequences of that fall upon work, while a Christian knows himself able to approach his life-task from within the framework of the rules of Paradise. So a Christian has a distinctly different approach to choosing a career than his unbelieving neighbor.
In the second place, it is absolutely not so that one career, one job, is somehow more holy, more Christian, than another. There exists the impression among Christians that the bulk of work readily available in our society is a far cry from any genuine Christian calling.6We feel that a minister or a teacher in a Reformed school has a more Christian career than a carpenter or a street sweeper. Yet it is not so. "The earth is the LORD's and the fulness thereof" (Psalm 24:1); man is to develop all the world for the glory of God. Just as the noble tasks of Paradise were not restricted to preaching and teaching, so the noble tasks of today are not restricted to a few special careers. Before God one job is as honorable as another — provided each job is done within the framework of the mandate given in Genesis 1 and repeated elsewhere in Scripture.
Working with the Data
How, then, does a Christian youth go about choosing a career? On the basis of the Biblical data set out above, the following could be said.
Each Christian has a general, God-given calling in life. That calling is to be God's fellow worker in developing this world, bringing it to completion; life is service. What we do with our lives must fall within this framework, consequently, when a young person looks for a career, he is to ask whether he will be able to function as a fellow worker with God in his chosen field or not. Then I repeat: all careers are good and worthy in themselves; none are more holy, more Christian, than others. That means that all are open to the Christian. The exception is, of course, a career where one is compelled to transgress God's commands. An obvious example is a career as prostitute. Another example might be a career that in itself is quite legitimate before God, but that entails joining an anti-God union.
This first criterion about service implies the second: in choosing a career, one must be motivated by this thought of serving God. One chooses a career not with one's own comfort in mind, but primarily in order that God might receive all glory. That follows from the fact that we were not created for our own enjoyment; we were put on this earth for God. That means concretely that the amount of money one can make at a certain career may not be the determining factor in whether or not to choose that career. Letting money be the determining factor would reflect a selfish approach to life.
What may be said of money as a wrong motivation may be said of other benefits of a certain career as well. In a book entitled Economic Decisions for Canadian Consumers, Leet and Driggers tells us that "we really receive two types of income from a job: labour income and psychic income." Labor income is the monetary advantage of a certain job, while psychic income is "the feeling of satisfaction, status, prestige, or pleasure gained from working in certain surroundings or at certain occupations." 7
Although the distinction into two types of incomes is neat, "psychic income" ought not to determine our choice of career anymore than "labour income." For both thoughts revolve strictly around the benefit for the worker. But we are not on this earth for ourselves; we are here for God. So what we do must be motivated not by our physical or psychological appetites, but rather by being fellow workers for God.
As humans we think in terms of our daily needs. Our eye is on a roof over our heads, bread on the table, clothes for the children God might one day give us. And certainly we are responsible to do what lies in our power to acquire that roof, that food, those clothes. But the pursuit of material or psychological possessions is not to dominate our actions. God gave Israel manna day by day. And that is for us a lesson that our needs are supplied day by day. It is because we live day by day out of God's hand that Christ instructed us to pray for our daily bread. His promise was even this: "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (Matthew 6:33). It remains a fact that we do not work in order to eat; God gives us our daily bread. It is rather so that we receive life, health, a garden of plenty, in order to work, to develop God's world.
What, then, is the crucial factor in determining what one is to do in life, what career to pursue? I put it to you that it is a matter of talents.
God gave Adam the mandate to be fellow-worker with God. To carry out that task, God gave to Adam certain gifts. Eve received the same mandate, but different talents. We know she had different talents than Adam had simply because she was female and Adam male. The reason she received different talents was that God wished her to carry out her mandate in a different way than Adam was to. For God gives talents according to the needs that each person has to perform the task laid upon him within that broad calling of being His fellow worker.
The same may be said for each of us. Each person receives from God certain talents — none is without — and these talents are given with a view to the specific task God wants us to do within His kingdom. It is not without significance that the last parable which the Lord told before He went to the cross, before He actually restored to His people that mandate of Paradise, is the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30).
The instruction within that parable is that he is to use well the talents that God has given. One is to work with them, even to develop them, so that the Master can receive what is His with interest. That counts for the money that the master gave to his three servants; it counts just as much for the gifts that God gives to His people. God did not give to us gifts so that they might be left unused anymore than the master of the parable gave money to his servants to be wasted. It is true that we have all received different gifts. But each child of God has received sufficient to carry out the mandate of Paradise in the special way that God wants each of us to carry it out.
So it remains our responsibility to find out what the gifts are that God has given, what one's strong points are, what one is able to do. Yet even the talents that God gave to us are not perfected, are not mature, right away. We have to develop the talents given; we have to work with those talents so that they will earn the return that our Master is seeking.
Concretely, that means that we are to exercise the talents we have. If one's strong point is with numbers, that person is to study mathematics. If it is with caring for children, she is to study child care, get as much experience and knowledge in that area as possible. If it is with wrenches and grease, he is to work with that, practice it, study it. That would imply, too, that we are not to be content with just going to school as long as we might like. We have a mandate on this earth, a task to be God's fellow workers. God gave us talents to perform that office; we do wrongly if we fail to develop those talents to the full, to drop out of school because we no longer feel like going. Then we are not functioning as well as we should in God's kingdom. And God isn't getting the glory that is His due.
When our young people wonder what they are to become, what kind of career to follow, the first thing to do is to identify the talents God gave. There parents and teachers can help greatly. And the second thing to do is to develop those talents and to study. If at all possible get your Grade 12. And if the means are there, go to college or to university. Learn to work as well as possible with the potentials that God gave to you. Challenge yourself so that your two talents will make two talents more, your five talents will make five talents more. One thing that God has little use of is this: that God gives talents and the recipient fails to exploit them, but buries them instead.
Once one has isolated which gifts God in His wisdom has been pleased to give him, one can determine also in what general direction God would have one go. Still, there are further factors that may influence what one ultimately becomes.
i. One can from early age already be interested in pursuing a career in a certain field. One can consequently enter that field, study it, eventually seek a job in that area.
Although interest in a certain career can certainly indicate that there may be talent for that field — we tend to enjoy doing that which we are able to do — I would like to caution that interest in a field is not the determining factor in whether or not one should choose a career in that field. The crucial question in career choosing is not the question of interest; it is that of talent. We are to be aware that one can be interested in a field, can even enjoy working in that field, while one's talents will not be used to the full. That is not to say that interest is not important. But the important question is still: Is the criterion talents or interest? We ought to be aware that self-denial is part of being a Christian. However interested I might be in a certain career, that career is not for me if my talents will not be fully exploited there.
ii. It is true that no one career is more or less noble in God's kingdom than any other, provided one works in that career as a fellow worker with God. Yet is it also true that one career may have a greater impact on society than another. A journalist contributes more to the shaping of society's thought and future than, for example, an air traffic controller. Assuming that one had talents that could go in either direction, it would be proper to opt for the career that has the greatest impact on society. After all, a Christian is also instructed to shine the light of God's gospel over the society in which he lives. He does well to choose, if possible, a strategic battle point, a point that lights up more of life than some point with a lower profile.
That would imply, too, that one is not to shy away from a career that implies public responsibility and consequently the possible scorn of fellow countrymen. Our talents are to be used to the limit, definitely. Yet using talents to the limit does not necessarily mean that they are used as well as possible. A talented soldier fighting his hardest on the front lines is of more value to the king than that same soldier fighting his hardest in some back alley. So it is also in the kingdom of God. We are to care for God's world in a place that has the greatest impact on the whole world. We are to choose careers, if at all possible, that gives us the opportunity to let God's light shine over many. A Christian living in the awareness of the demand of Genesis 1 is to dare to be a leader in society. That is part of exploiting his talents to the utmost for the kingdom of God.
iii. Yet ultimately, after all is said and done, after one has identified and developed his talents, all may well hinge on what opening the Lord makes available. One can desire to be a legal secretary, and so study for it. But if God does not grant the opening, it is clear that God has another task laid aside for that person in His kingdom. One is then to take what God lays before him, go where God leads, never mind the wages, never mind the satisfaction, never mind even the training. It is for us to seek and to take the openings that God makes available to us, there to exploit our talents to the utmost. For the Christian lives for God.
That brings us to the significance of prayer in the entire question. It is for God that we exist, that we live. It is God who gives the mandate to be fellow workers in completing His creation. It is God who gives to each the talents needed to perform his specific role in that great mandate. It is God who leads us to the post where He would have us use our talents. It is for us to develop those talents, to cultivate God's world wherever God places us.
By so doing, we promote, through our faithful use of the talents God gave, the speedy return of Jesus Christ, that day when the world God created shall be brought to perfection. In that day, the Creator of heaven and earth will be endowed with all praise and glory. For that we work. For that we choose a career.