When I was a kid, many people told me I could pursue any career I wanted. I went through a number of desired careers including (but not limited to): comedian, doctor, and insurance salesman. In high school, a career counselor looked me in the eye and said: “Ignore all that stuff. You have limits, you can’t just do anything you want. You need to figure out what you are capable of doing and pursue that. But if you can find something that you love to do, you will never work a day in your life.”
I like this advice for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is very practical. It is particularly wise for those planning to have a career in professional sports. However, at the end of the day this is terrible advice for a Christian. Below are three ways I believe the Bible confronts this career advice, and tells us how NOT to choose a career:
Don’t Expect to be Sufficient
“You need to figure out what you are capable of doing and pursue that.”
I think the reason that you tell kids they can do anything when they grow up is that you want them to dream. You want them to picture what it would be like to float above the surface of Mars or deep in the ocean underworld. You want them to picture themselves holding life and death in their hands during a brain surgery. We want them to dream because when they are kids we don’t know what they will be good at and we don’t want to limit their futures.
Then, as kids grow up we encourage them to look at what they are good at, to examine their gifts. I get it, my beautiful, passionate, intelligent wife has been known to pass out when she sees blood. It’s unlikely she will ever be a surgeon. I really enjoy academics and analysis, but have a pretty low tolerance for “emotions.” It is unlikely that I should ever become a marriage counselor. Let’s be practical, right?
But is that kind of practicality biblical? Speaking of his own career, Paul said:
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 2:4-6)
Paul was a remarkably confident leader. He knew that he was pursuing God’s will and at times even speaking for God. However, he never believed that he was doing so in his own power. Instead, Paul knew that the sufficiency he needed to do his job came from God.
If you are choosing a career based on you and your abilities, your are placing your trust in the wrong place. While it is wise to consider your own limitations, we always need to view those limitations in light of the limitless God we worship, and who promises to equip us. The first translator to the Kimyal people was crippled by polio as a child and had to be carried into her village. William Carey had little formal education and worked as a cordwainer (shoe maker). If you read their stories, hear their hearts, they did not choose their careers because of their personal abilities. These believers set their eyes on the Lord as they decided their career. They were not sufficient for the task, but HE was.
Don’t Seek Personal Fulfillment
“If you can find something that you love to do, you will never work a day in your life.”
I used to work as a math tutor, mostly for middle school and high school kids. I was with these kids one-on-one for an hour a week and I had a good list of questions to keep the small talk going. One question was: what do you want to be when you grow up? So many boys (so many) said they wanted to be professional video game players. Bizarrely, YouTube has made that a real option for far too many people.
Of course the Bible does not give us specific career advice, but Jesus did let us know some of God’s priorities for our lives.
“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'” (Matthew 22:37-40)
As a whole, the message to us is clear: be others focused. All of our choices should be motivated by love of God primarily, and secondarily by love of other people. I believe that these commandments should dominate our decisions for careers as well. When thinking about a college major, career, or even summer job, our eyes should be on the Lord and on others.
Rather than “find something you love and you will never work” the Bible calls us to “find some way to love and work hard at it.”
Don’t Forget About Missions
I know, I know: “Dave you are making it seem like the only way to please the Lord is to be a missionary.” I’m not saying that. But I am laying it on pretty thick for a reason: if everyone followed the above advice there would be like two missionaries.
No missionary that I know looked at the task and said: “I am capable of doing this.” None of us feels like we have never had to work a day in our lives. Missions is hard and even though it is often fulfilling and exciting, it is work. I love it and I hate it and that was just today.
While the needs in missions are huge, there are very few people (fewer and fewer it seems) considering it as a real option for their futures. Why? Well, I think for one reason people don’t know about the huge needs. As we have talked about Bible translation at churches in America many have told me they didn’t know there was still a need. But I think we also have a tendency to consider missions very differently than we consider other career paths.
I remember being in college. How did I choose my major? I was talking to a friend late at night about wanting to make a film about the Maccabees. So, I decided to become a film major…yep that was it. Some people certainly spent more time, and prayed and sought guidance for their major/career, but in my experience most do not. Most people are like me, choosing a career based on likes and desires and perceived abilities. However, whenever someone brings up missions, we tend to become much more spiritual. Thoughts, prayers, and lots of time are needed to make this kind of decision. But here’s the thing: it’s not different. All of us need jobs and careers, we are all just people seeking to make good decisions. Most missionaries I know never received some special call, they just…considered missions.
So, this is my appeal to you, seeker of a career/major/career change: Dream! So you’re not a kid anymore, still dream! But this time, instead of dreaming about how awesome it would be to float in space, dream about what awesome things God could use you to accomplish. Dream about how God could use you to help people and to bring him glory in your career. And throw in missions into your dreams. Take time to think about what it might look like for you. Research the greatest needs in missions, the places that need the Gospel the most. Picture yourself sitting on a wooden bench in Africa telling an illiterate man about Christ, or nursing a dirty sick baby back to health. Maybe you won’t be a missionary, maybe you will choose a different path, but it doesn’t hurt to dream does it?
Since it might come up as a question for those of you who are already in careers, here is an interesting “Ask Pastor John” answering the question: Is My Career in Marketing Vain?
*main image from betterbreedcameroon.org