Choosing a Career Path
Alice in Wonderland once came to a fork in the road. Icy panic struck her as she stood frozen to the spot by indecision. She was confused over which way she should go. Startled by the Cheshire cat up in a nearby tree, Alice asked the Cat which way she should go. "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. Alice replied, "I don't much care where". The Cat saucily answered, "Then it doesn't matter which way you go."
This story illustrates quite accurately the position that many of our Year 12 students currently find themselves in. Many are contemplating their future career path; should they pursue a job? What job? Or continue studying? What field? Many students don't know what they would really like to do. They are standing at a fork in the road. In this context, is the advice given by the Cheshire Cat good advice; "it doesn't matter which way you go"?
From a very early age, children are asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I suggest however that the question really ought to be somewhat different it ought to be: "so what do you think God might want you to be?" As a child of God, no decision can really be made on the basis of what we want; rather, in our career choice we also need to be eager to search out what God wants of us and how we might best use our gifts for the Lord and His service. As far as a career choice goes, the Cheshire Cat is wrong. It does matter a great deal which way you go.
How then does a child of the Lord determine what career the Lord really wants us to choose? This is a difficult question to answer. It would be nice if everyone could say that they had some clear direction from the Lord about what career to choose in their lives. But when we read through Scripture it is clear that we are not going to get such specific direction.
Choosing a career can be difficult. Firstly, it is a matter for prayer. You should seek God's direction for His will for your Life. Secondly, one should examine the specific gifts that God has given. God has given to each of us unique abilities, talents, and gifts. I have heard it described that that your unique abilities represent your SHAPE — Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences. This bundle of gifts, abilities, personality and talents is the thing God has given you that makes you who you are and sets you apart from other people. He made each of us different with unique talents and interests and He delights in us as His unique creation. God purposefully planted gifts within us, and He has plans to continue to grow those gifts, as well as our skills and experiences. We are called to love and serve our neighbours with the gifts God has given us. It is also helpful to talk with those who know you well. If you are uncertain about your own gifts and talents, your parents, friends, elders and teachers each can recognise your talents and serve as wise counsellors providing you with helpful insight. Whether you are a musician or an accountant, a teacher or a cook, God gave you those abilities to serve others. 1 Peter 4:10 says, "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." Some people are more suited to jobs that require intense critical thinking and mental concentration, but they have no aptitude for hands on work like laying bricks or fixing leaking taps.
The vocation that we choose should be something that interests us. Some of us are fascinated by operating machinery, others by construction. Some are fascinated by chemistry, others by computers. Once we have identified our talents, abilities and interests we need to match this to a career. Ideally it should be a career that has a shortage of skilled applicants and is likely to remain in demand in the foreseeable future. Daniel Pink in his 2006 book, 'A Whole New Mind' speaks about the influence of automation and he states that any job that is dependent on routines can be replaced or reshaped by technology. Automation undoubtedly will have a big influence on the careers of the future.
When choosing a career, we need to recognise also that selfish motives can stand in the way of making the right decision with regards to a career. If my priority in searching for a career is for earthly treasures that moth and rust corrupt, then I won't be making a choice on how to best use my gifts for the Lord and His service. When it comes right down to it, if I set out to acquire the skills to give me the best shot at a six-figure salary, then I need to heed the clear warnings of scripture that the desire for money will deceive and ultimately destroy.
It is not true that one career, one job, is somehow more holy, more Christian, than another. Some people have the idea that different jobs fall into different levels of service for God. It is not true that Christians should aspire to "Christian Careers" like ministry or teaching and that careers like roof carpentry or sales serve a lesser purpose. God uses ordinary people to build His Kingdom. Each person in their career, whether as a police officer, painter, professor or plumber needs to fulfil their cultural mandate. They each have a task and place that is significant in society. Meet Mike who became an auto mechanic because he always enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together. It was not a spiritually based decision, but a very pragmatic one. Mike as an auto mechanic however is called to shine as a Christian. He does his work with joy and he reflects the Lord in both his honesty and his extraordinary talent. As he talks to customers, he listens for opportunities to bring God into the conversation and he regularly invites people to come to church.
The parables of Jesus illustrate the importance of being faithful in small matters. In Matthew 25:23, the parable of the talents, the servant who had increased his talent was told by the Master, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things." And in Luke 19:17, the parable of the ten minas (a mina was about three months' wages), the faithful servant is told, "Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities". It's important to note that the Master was pleased with both the servant who increased in a small way and the servant who increased in a large way. He was not more impressed with the one who brought the greatest increase. From this parable, we learn that God simply wants us to be faithful, to take the gifts He has given to us and to put our best effort toward creating something more for Him. We see this in Lord's Day 49; where "Your will be done" means, "That everyone may carry out the duties of their office and calling as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven". You could substitute the word "vocation" for "office and calling".
There are certain careers that must be avoided. These careers are dishonouring to God. A career as a biologist that involves destructive embryonic research, clearly goes against the sixth commandment. A career involving prostitution or pornography transgresses the seventh commandment. A career that requires non-essential work on Sundays goes against the fourth commandment. And then there are jobs that we may need to forego even though we have been blessed with certain talents or abilities. Meet Jamie who can kick a football dead straight for fifty metres. Jamie is blessed with incredibly quick feet, razor sharp control and wonderful vision. With his talents he could easily be one of the rising stars in Australian football. But Jamie heeds the call to be in Church on Sunday and so his football talents will not be fully realised.
When choosing a vocation then, we must realise the call to use the talents we have been equipped with to do what God commands. We also need to be on guard not to buy into the world-view that says that keeping a home and raising children is not significant enough work for a talented woman. No contribution is more valuable to society than that of a mother raising God-fearing children in her home, in our communities, our churches, and our world.
May the Lord grant His blessings on the Year 12 students (and others) who are currently making big decisions about their career path. May they not take an Alice-in-Wonderland approach in making these decisions. In supporting our students in making choices, we also ought not to take on the role of the Cheshire Cat. Rather, let serious consideration be made how in our office and calling we can use our gifts and talents in the service of the King.