Editor’s Note: This is the second article of a series about “What’s at Stake When Looking for Work?” We know job searching is hard and it is important you are equipped well because there is a lot at stake. If you are looking for a job or need career clarity, check out the Career Navigator, career coaching program offered in individual or group settings.
Career-related formation starts early. Since the time we were small children we have been asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Years later, perhaps in therapy, we are asked what our parents wanted us to be. Most parents communicated expectations, even if very subtly.
Notice the same driving word in each case: the term is “want.”
We have been shaped to think about what we want (and to either match it with what our parents want or negotiate with them accordingly). God is not part of the equation. We rarely say, “I’m looking for what God wants me to do.” Or “my parents really just urged me to fully be the woman or man God wants me to be.” Human wanting eclipses divine desire.
At VOCA, we see this differently. We claim that the real question you should ask in vocational discernment is: “What is God’s plan for my work? God’s plan for my life hangs in the balance as I discern my vocational path.” This principle is both challenging and liberating. Before we unpack both those realities, I want to address the “God’s Will” debate.
The God’s Will Debate
There’s a great deal of debate about how specific God’s plan is for any of our lives. Does he have one spouse, one job, one optimal path in mind for us? Which then raises other questions: “have I missed his plan?” “If I made a wrong turn, how do I get back on the right path?” Some say “Of course. God has a wonderful plan for your life. It includes your work and family life, church, and spiritual impact. And he will supernaturally reveal that plan to you if you seek him.”
Others counter that God’s plan for us is more about the kind of people we are--people who trust and love him, people who love and serve others. There may be a number of people we can marry and still be in his will. There may be a dozen careers we could pursue and still be following his purpose for our lives. God made us intelligent beings who can make their own choices.
In full disclosure, I lean to the first option, that God has specific designs for us, that if we ask him, he will reveal to us. He usually reveals these plans through the people and options available to us rather than dramatic mystical experiences. And even if we have failed to seek his guidance in the past (or ignored it), he invites us to trust his leadership of our lives from the present forward.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
God has prepared good things for us to do, in advance. It’s our job to walk in them. “Walk in them” means lean in and fully engage with excellence.
The idea that God has a plan for my work brings challenges to our vocational journeys. It means that I have to add another voice to the process beyond my own, the people I care about, and the market for my talent. It brings the complexity of seeking direction from an invisible, spiritual being, who can be somewhat unpredictable in his willingness to give black and white directional guidance to his subjects. It means there is risk in how I choose. I could, at least in theory, miss what he wants me to do.
There is also tremendous freedom in knowing that God has planned in advance for me to do good in my work. He has the plan and the responsibility to reveal it. I just need to listen and follow. There is good work for me to do even when I don’t like what I’m doing. There is meaning in my work even when it is not fulfilling. And when I get sucked into the prison of self-doubt, I am released in freedom as I realize I’m God’s new creation. He will give me the capacity I need for the work he has planned.
Two Very Different Paths
When I began my career, it was all about what I wanted. Beginning in high school, I identified career paths where I would make a lot of money and garner a lot of admiration (and envy). The first years of my adult working life were marked by this unapologetic selfish ambition. Maxed out, stressed out and alone, I was ready to take a fresh look at Jesus. As I became convinced that Jesus was who he claimed to be, I realized that this changed everything, including my approach to career discernment. I needed God’s will for my career.
There were sacrifices, times of uncertainty, and seasons of doubt, but at the end of the day, I look back and see the good that was accomplished at each stage of the game and I have the peace that I am where he wants to be doing what he wants me to do.
One of the reasons I love our work at VOCA is that we provide a space for others to find that same peace, to find and follow God’s plan for their work. Be still and know that God is still working on you.