At Work

Seek God First in Navigating Career Decisions: Some Guiding Questions

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Many of us will have winding career paths in our lives, but how are we to make the best, God-honoring decisions at those critical forks in the road?

Yesterday, my wife and I received a nice hand-written letter from her nephew, announcing some exciting news regarding a change in his career path. We have been cheerleaders for this young man his entire life, which is why he took the time to write. We were elated that he shared the news of his new opportunity with us.

As I responded, I knew I had some practical insights that might be helpful to him at this critical juncture. It seemed prudent for me to begin with the concept of seeking first the kingdom of God.

Jesus told his disciples,

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31).

But what does this look like? In context, Jesus was speaking about how God meets the basic needs (i.e., food and clothing) of his creatures, including us. How does he normally meet those needs? Through our jobs, which provide money to purchase food and clothing for us and our families. I see a very clear connection between seeking God first and finding the right job.

Seeking God First: Practical Questions to Ask

Cornelius Plantinga, in Engaging God’s World, shares a series of practical questions to ask yourself:

  • Where in the kingdom does God want me to work?
  • Where are the needs great and the workers few?
  • Where are the temptations manageable?
  • How honest is the work I’m thinking of doing?
  • How necessary and how healthy are the goods and services I would help provide?
  • How smoothly could I combine my proposed career with being a spouse or a parent?
  • Is my proposed career inside a system so corrupt that, even with the best intentions, I would end up absorbing a lot more evil than I conquer?
  • What would my career do for “the least of these”?

These are tough questions, but they might help narrow down the endless possibilities we see before us.

Discerning God’s Leading and Your Unique Design

Ben Witherington III, in his book Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor, encourages us that God is actively involved in this discernment process:

We do not simply choose our vocations. We are led to them, and this implies that we must be open to hearing from God what he is calling us to do in life. Even when we have been called and gifted to do something, God does not simply leave us to our own devices. Rather, he guides us and steers us in our work.

As we seek God, we can also be observing how he has uniquely designed and motivated us.

There is a scene in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire in which Eric Liddell, a devout Christian and British athlete, explains his sense of God’s calling to his sister Jenny, who was worried that his Olympic training would derail his calling as a missionary to China. Eric says,

I believe that God made me for a purpose – for China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. . . To win is to honor Him.

What about you? What is it that you do that makes you feel like you are doing exactly what God has designed you to do, and by doing it, gives God pleasure?

Other questions to ask yourself include: What has God specifically designed me to do, based on interests, skills, accomplishments, and experiences? What am I most concerned and passionate about? What have others noticed in me regarding my gifts?

Your Career as a Spiritual Journey

Along the way, keep in mind that starting a career or finding a new job is always a spiritual journey for a Christian. You must spend some time in the Bible, pray for wisdom, and trust God to lead you. He promises that he will (Ps. 25:12, 32:8; Prov. 16:9).

My nephew reminded me about the importance of trusting God through a time of transition because the end result is not always clear. It is not easy to leave a path that has been traveled for many years and embark on a new, uncertain path. My nephew had some new-found wisdom:

…the change challenged me to trust God and listen to his guidance.

Ultimately, you must look at all your options and make a sound and timely decision when a job is offered. Accept the job that seems best to you as a step of faith. Keep on listening to what God is saying about your vocation because it will likely change over time.

I’ve had my own winding career journey from finding my first job after college, to ministry and various jobs in and with the Army for over 30 years. I understand now that my path is not so atypical.

Lee Hardy, in Fabric of This World, explains,

Career paths are rarely straight. Typically they are afflicted by detours, unmarked intersections, forced exits, blind alleys, and cul-de-sacs.

So, I encouraged my nephew to be flexible and to always remember what Paul boldly declares in Romans 8:28,

…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about God’s purpose for your work in How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work 

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  • Art Gonzalez

    This article was amazingly helpful. The Lord surely provides what you need. I was stuck deciding between a position with Los Angeles County as Social worker, which is a position that I’ve wanted for many years, or continue on working towards a masters in educational counseling. I was thrown off when the Lord started moving me towards the latter choice but after reading this article and considering the questions asked my perspective is a lot more clear. Thank you Russell for your insight. May God bless you in everything that you do.

  • Stephen Flanagan

    This is a good treatment of what is undoubtedly a very difficult subject. One element that might be added is one of timing and preparation. Should you “jump” into your career path now or should you prepare yourself better (and in so doing further test your calling) – or perhaps consider a hybrid of working part time while you build up your expertise through additional training/education. Again you need to look to aptitudes (some of us are better suited to on0the-job while others are gifted with academic abilities. But if one is do thrive there may be times when deferring entry until better equipped may be in order. I have witnessed many who plunged right in who were unprepared – so perhaps taking time to “consider the costs” as part of the weighting factors.
    Of course God overrules all – as my own career path clearly demonstrates so it isn’t something that you should be needlessly anxious about. The guidance provided in the article is a great perspective to avoid this.

  • Jennifer Jung

    Thank you for your article. I recently quit my job, thought it wasn’t the right career for me. Now it’s been more than 3 months and I am keep looking for a new job. Honestly I don’t know what I want to do, I just want to get a job, but deep inside of my heart this isn’t the feeling that I should have – rather, I should seek for his guidance. I didn’t know how and what to pray for but after reading your blog, it really helped. Thank you!

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