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Your Career Relationship: Jesus as Success 

(This is the first segment of the next chapter in the book “Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.)

The closest thing to Harvard or Yale in Judea 2000 years ago was probably the University of Gamaliel or Hillel College.  Economics or psychology were not program options.  If you didn’t want to learn Jewish theology, you need not apply.  Well, there might have been another subject concentration on Hebrew law, or maybe a minor in scrivening.   I am being facetious, of course, (there were no such institutions, although Gamaliel and Hillel were renowned Jewish teachers) but, it turned out that the limited choices didn’t present much of a problem in the first century because most men in those days knew what their vocation would be from the time they learned to walk.  They were destined to be fishermen, farmers, shepherds or some kind of tradesman or craftsman.  Oh yes, I meant to say “men,” because most women didn’t even entertain the possibility of higher education. 

High tech complexity hijacked boring simplicity many years ago.  Career choices today are so numerous that it’s not out of the question for one to get an advanced degree in Twenty-First Century Career Choices.  Before your suspicions that this is hyperbole take root, note the following actual college offerings:  Adventure Education, Astrobiology, Bagpiping, Beatleology (yep, the Beatles, not the beetles), Bowling, Clowning and Comics, Horseshoeing, Fermentation Sciences, Nannying, Puppetry, Surfing (as in ocean), Theme Parks, Ecogastronomy (environment-friendly food production) and Enigmatology (the study of puzzles). 

These facts reveal the convoluted landscape of educational programs and career trajectories that pester the minds of today’s youth.  We all could wish for easier answers for beginners in the world of work, but the Bible sticks with generic strategies like prayer, seeking the will of God, and establishing right goals in life.  In the long run, it doesn’t seem to matter what job a person takes to realize those outcomes.  Still, we all have preferences, predilections and personal favorites, plus, we also have finite resources, aptitudes and opportunities.  We seem to be best suited to do one job, or at least to find a job in a certain field.  Sooner or later, we have to zero in on a particular choice—to the exclusion of everything else—and make the best of it.  How does one sort through the array of possibilities to determine exactly what career path to follow? 

These decisions and choices seem daunting to the world, but believers are not trying to find their ultimate purpose as if they were being tossed around in a dark and shadowy bounce house.  Believers enjoy a distinct advantage over all the others because of their relationship with Jesus.  We find the standard strategy in Proverbs: Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.  Choosing a career is like buying a house: you may not know which house you will end up with, but you definitely know the neighborhood you want.  In this analogy, the neighborhood is your belief system.  Focus on your faith and trust God to help you find the right career.  Here are a few things to factor into your decision.   

Reflect the Values of Jesus Christ in Your Career 

Values, as a word, needs a definition to have a full impact, but essentially it refers to ideals that are vital to a wholesome life. Your career selection should reinforce family relationships, love for God, respect for others, moral integrity and it should make a positive contribution to society.  When you study the life of Jesus, the central themes of His ministry become clear.  For example, He forgave sinners, healed the brokenhearted, had compassion on the hurting, spoke out against spiritual fraud, manifested humility and gave Himself up for righteous causes.  Your career or vocation should serve as a window through which the world can see Jesus in operation.  

Juxtapose these criteria with those of your secular counterparts.  How do they choose an occupation?  The most common questions prospective job seekers ask follow along these lines: 1) Is the money good? 2) How stressful is the job? 3) Will I like the boss? 4) What is the general atmosphere of the workplace?  5) Will this job prepare me for the next level?  Other considerations involve things like stability of the position, location, impact on significant others, perceived social status, intellectual challenge and the range of perquisites.  

Believer may weigh these aspects as well, but they also factor in Christian values.  Like multiplying a sum by a positive or negative number, the values question may change everything.  Everything on the carnal level may say yes, but if the God level says no, then no it is.  Or, vice versa.  Jonah, the reluctant prophet, rejected his calling out of bitterness and dislike of the job.   But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. Jonah 1:3. That didn’t turn out so well.  Our proper response goes back to the Proverbs principle.  Jesus expressed the same truth another way.  “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:32-34.

Your Career Choice Should Be the Result of Earnest Prayer 

More talks have been made in churches about prayer than perhaps on any other subject.  If talking about prayer could be turned into actual praying, we would probably be much better off!  Prayer is a staple of the disciples’ life.  The patriarchs prayed.  The prophets prayed.  Jesus prayed.  The disciples implored Jesus to teach them how to pray. We all know that we need to pray and that prayer works.  The Bible is filled with examples of power answers to prayer: 

Moses prayed and God spared Israel from judgment. Joshua prayed and God caused the sun to stand still. Samson prayed and God gave him back his strength. Hannah prayed and God gave her a baby boy, the prophet Samuel. Solomon prayed and God gave him wisdom.  Elijah prayed and God sent fire down from Heaven. Elijah prayed again and rain fell in abundance. Elisha prayed and God restored life to a dead child.  Jonah prayed and God delivered him out of the belly of the whale. The thief on the cross prayed, and God gave him eternal life.  Paul and Silas prayed and the prison was shaken!  Who wouldn’t want to pray with these kinds of results? 

Praying for direction in one’s own life, however, seems different.  It puts more pressure on us because of the imminent decision, a rapidly closing window of time, and a little fear and trepidation that it might not be the right choice.  Here’s the key:  prayer is not a one-way street.  This kind of praying calls for attentive listening to hear the voice of God. How serious is this need?  Jesus said, Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’” Matthew 13:13-15.  Isaiah’s reprimand, of course, was a parochial rebuke of the nation of Israel for their recalcitrance, but his plea to listen to the voice of God has universal application. 

Honest prayer means prayer without prejudice.  When it comes to praying about our own welfare and future, it is hard to avoid leaning in a particular direction.  But prayer that begins with a made-up mind can’t hear a contrary voice very well.  God may point you in a direction that the flesh resists.  Jonah remains the prime example, but other Bible figures also fit the narrative, like Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Saul of Tarsus.  All of the found success, however, when they laid down their fears and prejudices and consented to the will of God.

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