Guidance To a Job or Profession

Article / Produced by TOW Project

Although God does not give most people a direct, individual, unmistakable call to a particular job or profession, God does give guidance to people in less dramatic forms, including Bible study, prayer, Christian community and individual reflection. Developing a general attentiveness to God’s guidance in life is beyond the scope of this article. But we will look at three major considerations for discerning God’s vocational guidance.

The Needs of the World

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The first consideration is the needs of the world. The single strongest indicator of what God wants you to do is probably your awareness of what needs to get done to make the world more like what God intends. This doesn’t necessarily mean huge, global problems, but simply anything in the world that needs to be done. Earning a living to support yourself and your family is one example mentioned in the Bible:

Proverbs 13:22

The good leave an inheritance to their children's children.

Proverbs 14:1

The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands.

1 Timothy 5:8

 

Whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Titus 3:14

Let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.

Another biblical example is working so as to meet the needs of individuals around you besides your family:

Proverbs 14:21

Happy are those who are kind to the poor.

1 Thessalonians 4:11

Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you.

Luke 3:10-11

The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

Proverbs 11:25

A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.

Matthew 25:34-36

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Working to serve the good of the larger society is also a biblical imperative:

Jeremiah 29:5-7

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

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Of course, it is impossible for you to meet every need of the world, so you have to narrow it down a bit. Start with needs for which you are personally responsible, such as raising your children or paying your debts. Beyond that, pay attention to needs that you are in a good position to meet, or that few other people are willing to address, or that you find especially pressing. You might be in a good position to run for an elected office in your own city or town, for example, compared to moving away to find work. On the other hand, you might be one of the few people willing to document human rights abuses in a country half way around the world. Or you might become convinced that teaching troubled youth is more pressing than joining a band. Moreover, it might become clear that something in your life other than your job or career is the most important way you are helping to meet the world’s needs. It would be pointless to get a job counseling troubled youth, only to neglect your own children.

The point is that God has given everyone the ability to recognize something of what the world needs. He seems to expect us to notice it and get to work, rather than waiting for a special call from him. There is no biblical formula for translating the needs of the world into a precise job calling. That’s why you need to seek God’s guidance in the various forms of discernment available to you.

Your Skills and Gifts

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The second consideration is your skills and gifts. The Bible says that God gives people gifts for accomplishing the work he wants them to do, and it names some of the gifts and skills that God imparts:

Isaiah 28:24-26

Do those who plow for sowing plow continually? Do they continually open and harrow their ground? When they have leveled its surface, do they not scatter dill, sow cummin, and plant wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and spelt as the border? For they are well instructed; their God teaches them.

Romans 12:6-8

We have gifts that differ,[1] according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

1 Corinthians 12:7-10

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

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As the last two passages show, when Paul discusses the gifts of the Spirit, he is usually referring to their use in the church. But if all work done by Christians is done for the Lord (Colossians 3:23), then we can infer that the Spirit’s gifts are also given for use in the workplace. Gifts and skills therefore provide an element of guidance for discerning God’s guidance.

Gifts Assessment Tools

Gifts assessment tools can be very helpful for discerning your gifts and exploring how they relate to various types of work. The most rigorous, statistically-verified tools are typically available through professional counselors and institutions because they require qualified interpretation.  Among these are the Strong Interest Inventory,  Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,  California Psychological Inventory,  Work-Life Values Checklist, and the PDINH: Global Personality Inventory (developed on a truly global basis).  While these are not explicitly Christian in their language, they can, with a skilled, Christian interpreter become starting points for exploring God's gifts and his guidance to work. There are also explicitly Christian tools with a conscious spiritual and theological foundation. SIMA (the System for Identifying Motivated Abilities) and MAP (Motivated Abilities Pattern) are two such that require professional interpretation.

Some tools with a Christian undergirding can be used without professional interpretation, such as What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles (published annually) and Live Your Calling:  A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission In Life, by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck. While these  can be self-administered,  it is best to use them with a trained vocational and career counselor and, ideally, within the context of a Christian church of other community. Christian career counselors can be found in most urban areas, in almost every Christian college and university setting, and in some individual churches.

A number of tools have been developed to help people discern their gifts and make use of them in workplace settings (see “For further exploration”). However, it is easy to pay too much attention to your skills and gifts. The present generation of westerners is the most gift-analyzed in human history, yet this penchant for analysis can lead to self-absorption, crowding out attention to the needs of the world. These passages say that God gives gifts for the common good, not personal satisfaction. Besides, in many cases, God gives his gifts only after you take the job in which you’ll need them. Paying too much attention to the gifts you already have can keep you from receiving the gifts God wants to give you.

Nonetheless, the gifts you already have may give you some indication about how to best meet the needs of the world. It would be narcissistic to declare that God has called you to be the world’s greatest pianist, and then expect him to download the necessary talent into you after years of mediocre piano playing and lukewarm practicing. Career guidance via skills and gifts is a difficult balancing act, which is why it must be sought in the midst of relationship with God and fellow Christians.

Here again, we must not become focused on work to the exclusion of the rest of life. God also gives gifts for our family life, friendships, recreation, volunteering and the whole breadth of life’s activities.

This verse (Romans 12:6), by the way, was the inspiration for and source of the title under which the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator was published, and there can be no doubt that many in the world at large regard God’s gifts to be an essential element of professional calling. See Isabel Myers, Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type (Palo Alto, CA: CPP Books, 1993).

Your Truest Desires

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Finally, the Bible says that your truest or deepest desires are also important to God.

Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 145:19

He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.

Matthew 5:6

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

John 16:24

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

Christians sometimes expect that if God calls them to some job, it will be something they hate. Otherwise, why would God have to call them to it? One morbid Christian fantasy is to think of one country you would hate living in, and then suppose that God is calling you to be a missionary there. But the best missionaries have a great desire for the place and people they serve. Besides, who says God wants you to be a missionary? If God is guiding you towards some kind of job or profession, it’s more likely that you may find a deep desire for it in your heart.

However, it can be exceedingly difficult to get in touch with your truest or deepest desires. Our motivations become so confused by sin and the brokenness of the world that our apparent desires are often far from the true desires that God has implanted in the depths of our hearts.

Romans 7:8, 15, 21-23

But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead…. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

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For this reason, we cannot just say, “Do what makes you happy.” What makes you happy — or seems to make you happy — might be far from meeting the needs of the world, or using your skills and gifts for the common good, or even from fulfilling your true desires. And the opposite is often true. The work that would fulfill your true desire appears at first to be undesirable, and may require great sacrifice and difficult labor. And your truest desires may be met in many areas of life, not necessarily in work. Knowing what you truly desire requires spiritual maturity, perhaps more than you may have at the moment you’re facing a decision. But at least you can get rid of the idea that God only calls you to something you hate. In this light, Frederick Buechner writes: “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[1]

Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, rev. ed. (San Francisco: Harper, 1993) under “Calling.”

Freedom in Christ

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These three considerations — the needs of the world, your skills and gifts, and your truest desires — are guides, but they are not absolutes. For one thing, in a fallen world, you may have very little ability to choose your job anyway. Throughout history, most people have had the job of slave, farmer or homemaker, and that is still the case in much of the world outside the most developed countries. It is hard to imagine that - residents of a few developed countries aside - God wants most people to be slaves, farmers or homemakers. Rather, it seems that circumstances prevent most people from choosing jobs they truly desire to do. This is not to imply that some people don’t or shouldn’t enjoy farming, homemaking, or any other kind of legitimate work, but rather that the circumstances of the world dictate that many people work in jobs they don’t like.  Yet, under God’s care, even being a slave can be a blessing (Matthew 24:45-47, 1 Corinthians 7:21-24). In no way does this legitimize slavery in today’s world. It simply means that God is with you wherever you work. It may be better to learn to like the job you have — and to find ways to participate in Christ’s work in it — than to try to find a job you think you’ll like better.

What Does Calling Mean if You Hate Your Job?

Even in the developed economies, many people have little choice about the kind of work they do for a living. The Christian community would do well to equip people both to make choices about their profession, and to follow God’s leading in whatever work we find ourselves doing.  Whatever your job, God’s gifts enable you to work for the common good, to find more contentment in your work, and to overcome or endure the negative aspects of your situation. Most importantly, God promises eventual liberation from work’s toil, sweaty labor, and thistles.

Even if you do have the freedom to choose your job, the three considerations we have been considering - the needs of the world, your gifts and skills, and your truest desires - are guides, not dictators. In Christ, believers have perfect freedom:

John 8:36

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

2 Corinthians 3:17

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

That means you have the freedom to take risks, to fail, and to make mistakes. God might lead you to a job you know nothing about, have no present knack for, and don’t think you’d like. Would you be willing to take that job? Conversely, you might discover late in life that you missed God’s professional calling for you. Take heart, at the end, you will not be judged on getting the right job or fulfilling your God-given potential. You will be judged on the merits of Jesus Christ, applied to you only by God’s grace in giving you faith. The calling to belong to Christ is God’s only indispensable calling.

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The body of Christ on earth is the community of believers (Romans 12:5). Therefore, freedom in Christ means that God’s calling or leading is best discerned in dialogue with the community, not in isolation. We have already seen that the needs of the world (a form of community) are important as you discern what kind of work God is leading you towards. The community is also an important factor in how you discern God’s leading. What do others perceive as God’s leading for you? What do they experience as your gifts and skills, the needs of the world, and the deepest desires they discern in you? Engage in discussions about God’s leading with those in your community who know you well. It may be wise to talk with a spiritual companion or advisor, to gather feedback from people you work closely with, or to ask a group of people to meet with you regularly as you discern God’s leading.

 

 

 

The community is also an essential element in discerning who is led to the different kinds of work needed in the world. Many people may have similar gifts and desires that can help meet the needs of the world. But it may not be that God wants all of them to do the same work. You need to discern not only the work God is leading you to, but also the work he is leading others to. The community needs a balanced ensemble of workers working in harmony. For example, physicians bring powerful gifts and skills — and frequently a deep desire for healing — into the world’s great needs for physical healing. Yet in the US, at least, there may be too many specialists and not enough primary care physicians to meet the community’s deeds. One by one, medical students are matching their gifts, desires and the needs of the world to discern a leading toward medicine. But all-in-all, the ensemble of physicians is becoming a bit unbalanced. Discerning God’s calling is a community endeavor.