Many people have never been taught specifically how to make decisions, especially decisions about their vocational calling. When we are unsure what criteria to use in choosing a career, for example, we may look primarily at objective factors like salary and benefits, or ultimately make decisions based on our intuition or feelings about the options. We may know that there are other things we should consider, but not be sure what they are.
To further complicate the situation, we may also wonder, "Shouldn't finding my calling be a mysterious spiritual experience instead of a systematic process? Can it really be a calling if it is something I have decided to do instead something to which God has directed?" These kinds of questions stem in part from our difficulty in knowing how to find a balance between the human and the divine.
Given the challenges of decision-making, it is understandable why some people avoid it. Instead of making choices, they tend to let their path through life be shaped by outside circumstances and decisions others make for them. They may use phrases like "I fell into my career" or "I just found myself in this situation" which convey a sense of just letting life happen instead of intentionally choosing a direction.
Many Christians struggle with knowing what to do when they face important decisions about their callings. Is it up to God to guide or up to us to decide? The key to resolving this dilemma is realizing that it is both: God promises to guide and you are called to decide.
Called to be a Decision-Maker
God certainly can indicate supernaturally which job or career path you should pursue. At times, He may choose to do so. More typically, however, He calls us to take responsibility for making good decisions about how to use our gifts in the world. In the absence of direct supernatural guidance, we need to assume that God wants us to prayerfully and thoughtfully decide which work or ministry/service option is the best choice. "It is possible to pray, read God's Word, seek counsel, and still not feel led by God," says Dr. Bruce Waltke. "That's the time to rely on sound judgment. God gave each of us a brain, and He expects us to put it to good use."
Scripture illustrates that even biblical "superstars" like the Apostle Paul saw making decisions to be a natural, normal and necessary part of life. While Paul did receive divine guidance (see Acts 16:7 and 20:22), he and others also made decisions (Acts 19:21, 20:16, and Titus 3:12). Developing the ability to make wise decisions is a critical skill for Christian life and ministry. A track record of making good, biblically-grounded decisions is evidence of spiritual growth and maturity.
Guidance for Contemporary Career Decisions
How can the Bible be helpful to you in making career decisions and other life calling choices today? After all, you won't find a Bible verse that tells you specifically which college major to choose, whether you should change jobs in mid-life, or which career option will be best for you. In addition, the world of work in biblical times was very different from our own.
In Jesus' time, for example, most men went into the family business whether it was becoming a merchant, rabbi, carpenter or shepherd. Most women married early, had children and took care of their home and family. "What should I do with my life?" was not a burning question of the time. The biblical world was very different than our own, yet the principles revealed in Scripture for making career and life decisions are still relevant for our contemporary lives.
The Bible plays a critical role in our decision-making by showing us what is important to God. For example, the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) clearly illustrates that God calls us to proactive stewardship of our gifts. To apply this biblical principle to making decisions about work and ministry/service activities abilities, we need to ask ourselves a question such as: At this time in my life, how can I best use my gifts, abilities and other resources to further God's purposes in this world? God gave you your gifts to do His work on earth, not for your own career success and advancement.
God uses His Word to enlarge the frame in which we see our work and our lives, transforming our perspective from the temporal to the eternal. The Holy Spirit within makes it possible for us to understand God's revealed will and apply it to the specific circumstances of our lives. God can also guide us through the wise counsel of others who help us put biblical principles into practice within the decisions we face.
We partner with God in discerning our calling when we work through a reasoned process of evaluating options in light of Scripture and our design. With each step, we seek God's guidance in His Word and through prayer. We remain receptive to the Lord's instruction should He choose at any point to indicate specifically what He wants us to do. When we are willing to be obedient, regardless of what God calls us to do, we become people He can guide and use to fulfill His purposes here on earth.
Excerpts from Live Your Calling (2005) by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck. Used by permission of Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.