career callings and 17th century advice

choosing a path

I’m steeling myself for the fast-approaching day when our second child will pack her last box and drive away. A different address will become hers. A different life, one not under our roof, will become hers.

When our first daughter left a year ago, I thought I’d learned a lot about the emptying of the nest, but now, I find that large pockets of insufficiency still fill my mothering data base.

Yes, stored bits of how-to-send-your-child-off-to-college advice do rattle around in my head, originally tucked away from years of observing moms gone before me, but I don’t find I have what’s needed to help our precious second daughter answer that big college question — what specific career calling she should pursue.

How do we discern career calling?

Years ago, I remember hearing a famous talk-show host say that her father’s career-choice advice had been to “find out what you love to do and then figure out how to make money at it.” The talk-show host had obviously done just that. (And the advice is good if what we naturally love to do lines up with honoring God, and we discern that He uniquely created us to do what we yearn to do for His glory.) But, what if my child loves many different things? What if what she loves to do does not equal a sure money-maker?

And besides, there’s a lot of I and me in the talk show host’s advice. Her dad might not have meant it that way, but his advice could be construed as commending self-actualization and money accumulation. For those who want to honor God above all, lots of I and me in a sentence should alert us to possible problems.

So how do we choose a career? How do we determine what God created us for and is calling us to? We need advice that speaks to the question of money and salary, but also addresses how our own unique “what I love to do” has been specially given so that we might serve others and bring glory to God.

In the 17th century, Richard Baxter gave advice to his congregation that rings with a clear tone of truth. His pithy thoughts are applicable to the moments when we guide our children through the choppy waters of “what do I want to be when I grow up?” and also apply to those of us who daily navigate the sea of “how should I spend my own time now that I myself am an actual grown up?”

Baxter’s practical points when seeking to discern God’s calling toward a life vocation:

What can’t be a calling:

  1. Sinful or unlawful work can’t be a calling.
  2. Just because a job is legal doesn’t mean it can be a calling.
  3. Don’t choose a job that drains your soul.

How to choose a career:

  1. Choose a career that contributes to the public good.
  2. If two careers both contribute to the public good, pick spiritual benefit over cash bonuses.
  3. Choose a career that won’t crush your Sabbath rest.
  4. Yes, it’s fine to make a decent salary.
  5. Ask a veteran in that field or company before making a final decision.

Baxter’s advice, simple and direct, helps when we help others discern their calling, and as we also make our own daily choices. We don’t choose a career that pays big money but crushes our ability to rest in and worship the Lord; or that feeds our ego, our bank account, or our self-image, but drains our soul.

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)

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About Jill

I'm a wife, mom to three beautiful children, and currently work at two jobs for which I'm very grateful -- part-time at my kids' school, and as children's ministry director at Redeemer PCA in Athens, GA, a place our family treasures as our church home. It's been thirty years since the Lord saved me, and to this day I'm astounded at His steadfast love shed upon unfaithful me. My hope would be that I might speak and write in ways God would use to soften hearts toward Him, that we would together be enamored by the glorious beauty of Jesus and awakened to His love unimagined. Thanks so much for reading!
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