Choosing a Career
To pursue or not to pursue? That is the question!
Can I begin by saying that at first this question sounds quite negative in the sense that it almost stipulates that there are many careers that we cannot pursue simply because we are Christians, when in fact there are a multitude of occupations that are open to us.
But how are we to know the one to which God has called us? Certainly, there are not any biblical texts that tell you that this is what you are to do with your life. There are texts that say there are things that you must not do. For example, the ten commandments in Exodus 20. How then are we to arrive at the personal knowledge of God’s will?
As Christians we are certainly in need of guidance. God, of course, is to be the Guide of our lives. The Shepherd makes me, leads me, restores me, and guides me (Ps. 23). For the Christian, then, the choice of a life-calling will be one of the most important decisions he ever takes. It is essential to be assured that we are doing the will of the Lord.
Marking Out Possibilities
God has given us minds with which to reason, to think, to reflect, to analyse. To begin, God wants us to mark out the possibilities. If we were to read through a career manual, at first sight it might seem impossible to choose because of the variety. But it is not really so, because all of us are able to limit the possibilities. There are some careers that are not legitimate for a Christian, such as being a manager in a cigarette factory, or a publican. These conflict with the biblical teaching that
our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and you are not your own, for you are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.1 Corinthians 6:19-20
We ought, therefore, to look after our bodies, and not abuse them. Another example is, if we train to be a medical student, qualify as a doctor, and specialize in obstetrics, it would clearly be wrong for us to end up working in an abortion clinic. We would be violating the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill”, and defying the truth that each of us have been made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26).
Gifts and Graces
God enables us then to mark out the possibilities. He also wants us to consider the grace and gifts that he has bestowed upon us. This should be a major help in discovering God’s will. God is the God of creation and providence in our lives. His way is perfect and wise as he governs all his creatures and all their actions, as the Catechism tells us. “In him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God does not contradict his works of providence by his gifts. He delights in matching them together – “Having gifts differing then according to the grace that is given to us” (Rom. 12:6). Let us then use such gifts for him, and through him who enables us.
Considering needs must also be at the forefront of our minds. As believers we do not live to ourselves. When we choose a career, therefore, our work is in the service of God. It is not merely for earning money, or for self-glorification. Our chief duty, our chief end, is to love God, to glorify him, and to enjoy him forever; and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We ought therefore to ask the question: What needs are there which my life can be used to meet?
Can I say at this point that not all Christian men are called into full-time ministry, nor are all Christian ladies called to be like Amy Carmichael, Elizabeth Elliot, or Ann Judson. But nevertheless we must have hearts, minds, and wills that are open to God’s word to consider not only secular work, but also church work and mission work. I do not like calling it “Christian work” because as believers our lives ought to be consistent. All our work is to be reflective of our Lord and Saviour. Therefore in considering needs, we need to have a heart like Lydia’s – a heart that is open and receptive, a heart that is willing and submissive to God’s will, and ready to act upon it (Acts 16:14-15).
We ought also to consider personal desires. Personal desires! – I hear you say. This is where we all listen and read carefully. In Psalm 37:4, we read, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”. Sometimes as Christians we do not always believe that God has a loving purpose for us. We will never come to know and enjoy the will of the Lord and find it good, perfect, and acceptable until we first gain a true view of God and his fatherly character towards us. Our desires on their own, of course, are not a trustworthy guide, but if we delight ourselves in the Lord, producing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), then surely this points us in the direction of the sphere of work that God in his providence has created us for. However, if we do not seek God’s face, if we are careless of whether this or that will be more glorifying to God in our lives, it is unlikely that the will of God means anything vital to us at all.
Questions To Ask
Now let us put some questions to ourselves, keeping in mind that as believers our chief end is to glorify God:
- The particular career that you are considering, is it merely for self-fulfilment? Is that the be all and end all?
- Is it for your own self-gratification?
- Is this particular career going to allow time to serve God?
- Is this particular career going to allow time to meet with God’s people?
- Are there particular temptations involved in this career to which you may be susceptible? For example, the temptation to be deceitful in order to sell property, push sales, or to perform well?
- If you go into the field of media coverage, what about the “gutter press” and character marring that goes on, when as believers our words and conversation ought always to be with grace and seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6)?
- Is this particular career a high-pressure, high-stress job with which you can cope? If you come home each day feeling mentally, physically, and emotionally worn out, then of course when it comes to spending time with God or going to mid-week Bible study you are unable to because all your energy has been sapped. If this is the case, you need to ask: Is this the job for me?
- Does this career enable you to seek God first?
- Is it God’s choice for you?
- Does this career allow you to show God’s love in a practical and creative way?
- Does it allow you to have an influential position from which to further Christian principles? (cf. Matt. 5:13-16 where we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world).
Whether we are cleaning the church toilets, or leading a medical team, or whether we are involved on the mission field or in our own local assembly, there is one exhortation for all:
Whatever you do in word, or indeed, do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.Colossians 3:17
Whatever employment we engage in, it must not conflict with the clear teaching of the word of God. We cannot be supportive of lying and deceit (Ex. 20:16). The key question must be: Is there clear teaching in the Scriptures that shows me that this job is dishonouring to the Lord? Am I breaking any of the commandments of the Lord by engaging in this employment?
Whatever we do must be to the glory of God. We must ask: Am I glorifying the Lord in this job. (1 Cor. 10:31)?
This employment should not interfere seriously with our Christian discipleship. The job itself may not be wrong, but is it going to prevent us from meeting together in worship with the people of God?
We should always have time to cultivate our relationship with the Lord in any post we take up (Matt. 6:6; Heb. 10:25; Ex. 20:8-11).
We should never enter employment where we are not permitted clearly to state that we are Christians. Think of Esther and her initial secrecy concerning her faith. See how the Lord dealt with her, and she had to declare to whom she belonged.
Taking all these things into consideration, what has God promised to us as his children? He has promised: Grace which is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:6); Direction for our path (if we acknowledge him – Prov. 3:6); Guidance with his counsel (Ps. 73:24); Footsteps that will not slip (for, “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” – Ps. 37:23).
With these promises in mind, when we come to consider which career to pursue, or not to pursue, let us think again of the foundational principles: Consider God first and his kingdom; consider his will for us; consider his grace bestowed upon us; consider his gifts given to us; and consider the needs around us.
We conclude with two helpful quotations:
John Murray: “What path of life each individual is to follow in reference to this basic interest of life (i.e. his daily work) is to be determined by the proper gift which God has bestowed and this is the index to the divine will and therefore the divine call”.
Elisabeth Elliot: “Let us rest assured that God knows how to show his will to one who is willing to do it”.