God’s Will and Your Job (pt. 2)
(Continued from God’s Will and Your Job (pt. 1))
Finding Your Vocation
The question of vocation becomes a crisis at two major points in life. The first is in late adolescence when a person is pressured into deciding what skills and knowledge he should acquire for future use. Some college freshmen feel pressured to declare a major in their first year, before knowing the available options and the limits of their ability.
The second period in life when vocation becomes critical is in mid-life when a person experiences a sense of frustration, failure, or a lack of fulfillment in his current position. He may ask, Have I wasted my life? Am I sentenced forever to a job that I’m finding meaningless, unfulfilling, and frustrating? Such questions highlight the fact that vocational counseling is a major part of pastoral counseling in America, second only to marital counseling.
We must also consider the fact that vocational frustration is a major contributing cause of marital disharmony and family upset. Thus, it is important to approach the matter of vocation with great care, both in the early stages of adolescent development and in the latter stages when the sense of frustration hits home.
The problem of discerning one’s calling focuses heavily on four important questions:
1. What can I do?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What would I like to be able to do?
4. What should I do?
The last question can plague the sensitive conscience. To begin to answer it, we need to take a look at the other three questions because they are closely linked to the ultimate question, What should I do?
What can I do? Reasonably assessing our abilities, skills, and aptitudes is a crucial and basic part of the decision-making process in choosing a vocation. What are my abilities? What am I equipped to do? We may ask and then protest, immediately saying, “Wait a minute. What about Moses? What about Jeremiah? Didn’t both of these men protest against God’s call by saying that they were not equipped for the task?” Moses protested that he had limited speaking ability, and Jeremiah reminded his Creator of his youthfulness. Both experienced God’s rebuke for seeking to evade a divine calling on the basis of the flimsy claim that they lacked the ability to do the job.
A couple of things need to be said about Moses and Jeremiah. Neither one had a full understanding of what was needed to carry out the summons God gave him. Moses protested that he lacked speaking skill, but God had already prepared Aaron to meet that part of the task. What God was looking for was obedient leadership from Moses. Public speaking could easily be delegated to another. God certainly took into consideration Moses’ gifts, ability, and aptitude before he called him.
We must remember that God is the perfect Manager. He is efficient in his selection, calling people according to the gifts and talents that he has given them. Satan’s strategy is to manipulate Christians into positions for which they have no ability or skill to perform well. Satan himself is very efficient in directing Christians to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
What can I do? can be answered by proficiency examinations, analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, and a sober evaluation of our past performance. Abilities and performances can be, and are, measured in sophisticated ways in our society. We need to know what the parameters of our abilities are.
Often people apply for positions for which they have no skill. This is particularly and sadly true within the church and related Christian service. Some hunger and thirst to be in full-time Christian service, but lack the ability and the gifts required for the particular job. For example, they may have the academic training and credentials for the pastorate but lack the managerial skills or the people skills to help make them effective pastors.
Perhaps the most important principle in Scripture regarding abilities is found in the apostle Paul’s injunction that we ought to make a sober analysis of ourselves, not thinking too highly of ourselves. Through sober analysis we can make a serious, honest, and clear evaluation of what we can and cannot do, and we should act accordingly.
The young person has a different question: What would I like to be able to do? Such a person may have developed very few skills or little educational background but realizes that he has enough time to acquire skills and talents through education or vocational training.
At this point the concept of aptitude is relevant. Aptitude involves a person’s latent abilities as well as his acquired abilities. A person may have a certain aptitude for mechanical things and have no aptitude whatsoever for abstract things. This person may desire to be a philosopher, but would make a far better investment of his time by learning to be an airplane mechanic. But preferences are still important. Here we tread into that critical and frightening area of human experience called the realm of motivation.
Research indicates that most people have more than one ability and that their abilities can be divided into two basic types: motivated abilities and non-motivated abilities. A non-motivated abililty is a skill or a strength that a person has but is not motivated to use. Some people are very good at doing certain things, but find no particular fulfillment or enjoyment in doing them. Performing them is sheer drudgery and pain. They may be proficient in what they do, but for one reason or another find the task odious.
I know of one young woman who in her early teenage years attracted national attention because of her proficiency at the game of golf. While still a teenager, she won a national tournament. Yet when the time came for girls her age to turn professional, she chose a different vocation, not out of a higher calling to seek a more spiritual enterprise than professional athletics, but because she had found the game of golf to be very unpleasant. Her displeasure came as the result of fierce pressure her father had placed upon her in pushing her to become a proficient golfer at a young age. When she became of age and was out from under parental authority, she decided to do something else. She had the ability to become a professional golfer, but lacked the motivation.
We might ask, “But how could she have become so proficient in the first place if she had not been motivated to perform well in golf?” We have to realize that she had been motivated to become proficient, but the motivation was largely based on fear of her father’s wrath. In order to please him, she disciplined herself to acquire a skill that she would never have pursued on her own. Once free from the driving force of his authority, she turned her vocational pursuits in another direction. The moral to the story is obvious. The person who gives his full measure of time and energy to a nonmotivated ability is a walking pressure cooker of frustration.
It is true that, as Christians, we don’t always have the luxury of doing the things we want to do. God does call us to sacrifice and to be willing to participate in the humiliation of Christ. To be sure, we live in the midst of warfare, and as Christians we have signed up for the duration. We should never neglect our awesome responsibility to the kingdom of God. Called to be servants, we are also called to obedience. Sometimes we are called to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing. Nevertheless, the overriding consideration is to bring both our motivation into conformity with our call and our call into conformity with our motivation.
All things being equal, Jesus did not want to go to the Cross as he expressed in his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet at the same time, he had an overarching desire and motivation to do the will of his Father. That was his “meat and drink,” the focus of his zeal. When it was confirmed to him that it was the Father’s will that he lay down his life, Jesus was, in a very real and vital sense, motivated to do it.
This is part eleven of R.C. Sproul’s book How Can I Know God’s Will?. If you would like to study this topic further, here are a couple of products that may interest you: Knowing God’s Will CD Collection or Knowing God’s Will MP3 Collection.