Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
This has to be one of the most important questions you need to ask and to which you must find the answer. God calls us to work and He calls each of us to a specific task. This is true whether we be called to dig ditches or preach the gospel; whether we be called to marry and bear children and keep house, or teach in the Christian School. It simply is not true that only ministers and perhaps Christian School teachers have a calling from God while all other Christians just have jobs. God calls us to our work.
This means that we must know exactly what God wants us to do with our lives. What purpose does God have for me? To what occupation does God call me? What is God’s will for my life? You must give answer to these questions.
But how do I know and how can I learn what God wants me to do with my life? How does God reveal His will concerning our calling in life? God will not do that in some mysterious way. God will not somehow whisper in your ear saying, “This is what you must do with your life.” But God does indeed reveal to each of us what He would have us do. God reveals this in His Word. Very simply put, if you want to know what God wills for your life’s work, you must look for the answer in the Bible. And as you meditate upon and search the Holy Scriptures for the answer you must pray fervently that God will guide you to make the correct decision concerning your life’s task.
The Bible has a great deal to say about work. We usually think of Sabbath observance in connection with the Fourth Commandment. While the Fourth Commandment is indeed about Sabbath observance, it is a commandment that covers all of our daily living. It is really a commandment about the way we are to keep God’s commandments every day of the week. God tells us, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” But God also says in this commandment, “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work.” And God adds that “the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work . . . .” We must work six days and rest from those labors on the sabbath. Why? Because that is the way God worked. God blessed and hallowed the sabbath day and commands us to keep it holy because “. . . in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day” (Exodus 20:8-11;Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
It is true of course that when man fell into sin God cursed the ground and therefore man works in the sweat of his brow. But Jesus also redeemed us from that aspect of the curse through His death on the cross. And because God raised Him from the dead you and I are called to abound always in the work of the Lord in the confidence that our labor is never in vain in the Lord (I Cor. 15:58).
This means that our work is a gift from God. It is a privilege. But the Bible also teaches that our work is a commandment and a duty which we must perform in obedience to the will of God and to His praise.
All of this brings us back to our original question: what does God want me to do with my life? In the light of Holy Scripture there are at least five considerations involved in making a decision in harmony with God’s will. These are: 1) There are occupations in which a Christian may not be involved. 2) We need to consider the gifts God has given us. 3) We need to consider our desires. 4) We must face the question: does God open the way for me? and 5) We must consider where the greatest needs are in God’s church and Kingdom.
There are those occupations which you may rule out because no Christian ought to be involved in them. Those which would make it impossible for you to observe the Lords Day (except for legitimate works of mercy or necessity) fall into this category. Any occupation which involves disobedience to the Word of God is obviously not for the Christian.
Crucial to making the correct choice of vocation is the consideration of the gifts you have received from God. Every Christian has been blessed with gifts and abilities which God calls him or her to use for the benefit and blessing of the church (Romans 12:6). Has God blessed you with intellectual abilities, communication skills, and a love for your fellow saints? Just maybe this means you ought to consider the ministry. Have you been blessed with an aptitude for the sciences? This may mean that God wants you to serve Him in the field of medicine, as a nurse or doctor or some other health-care worker. Has God blessed you with a strong body? Has he given you a love for His beautiful creation? Perhaps the Lord is calling you to the farm. Ask yourself the question: “with what gifts and abilities has the Lord blessed me?” And then, ask: “How can I best use these gifts in the service of my fellow-saints and in the service of my God?” You may be sure that God does not call you to a work which He has not given you the abilities to perform. God gives to each of us the gifts necessary to do the work to which He calls us.
In this connection be sure to seek the advice and counsel of your godly father and mother. They bore you and reared you. They watched you mature from a helpless infant to a mature young man or woman. They know you better than you may think! God gave them to you and you to them exactly in order that they might help and guide you also to seek that calling which God has in mind for you. Seek also the advice of your Christian School teachers. These too know you better than you may think! God gave you a pastor and elders to guide you along your pilgrimage. Ask them to help you. They will be more than pleased to give you godly counsel in the matter of your vocation. Scripture calls us to seek the advice of our parents, teachers, and officebearers when it says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth (pays attention to and accepts) unto counsel (advice) is wise” (Proverbs 12:15).
Consider too your desires. Sometimes because of our sinful natures our desires are impure and wrong. These of course we must put away from us by God’s grace. But consider your desires. To what do you aspire? Do you have a strong desire to help people in need? Has God graced you with more than the usual compassion and sympathy for your fellow-saints? Does this mean He calls you to serve Him as a minister, as a nurse, as a Christian doctor? Do any of these appeal to you? The Bible says, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalm 37:4).
Having ruled out those occupations in which a Christian may not be involved, and having considered the gifts and abilities with which God has blessed you and the desires and aspirations which the Lord has put into your heart, you must now face this question: “Does God open the way for me?” Does God make it possible for you to pursue this or that career? If the way is open, this too is an indication that God is calling you to this work. Certainly you may conclude God does not call you to a vocation for which He does not open the way.
Finally, assuming all of the above, you must consider where the greatest needs are in God’s church and kingdom. God has blessed our churches and people with many children of the Covenant. God has blessed us with the means in many of our communities to establish covenant Christian schools. At the moment of this writing there is a severe shortage of teachers for those schools. At a time when mothers with young children (even preschool children) are forced to teach, and when older veterans in the teaching profession are forced to postpone well-deserved retirement, no one can deny that the need for teachers is great indeed! Perhaps you are blessed with an aptitude for math and aspire to serve God as an accountant. Ask yourself where is the greatest need? In the accounting profession? In education? Perhaps God calls you to teach math in the light of Holy Scripture in one of our Protestant Reformed Christian Schools.
God has blessed our denomination with numerical growth. By His grace three new congregations were organized in the past year. Some of the larger congregations are at the point where they are thinking of organizing daughter churches or calling a second pastor. God has opened many doors in missions. Two missionaries are needed in Jamaica; there are opportunities for church extension work in North America; and there is a need for ministers in Australia and Northern Ireland. There are several churches without pastors. Several of our ministers (including one of our professors) will, D.V., reach retirement age within the next few years. One of our retired ministers is no longer able to preach because of illness. God recently took to glory one of our professors. Perhaps you have intellectual abilities, you enjoy reading and studying, and you have gifts of communication. With those gifts and abilities you are thinking of college and law school (an honorable profession indeed). Is the greatest need in the law profession? . . . or in the ministry of the gospel? Over one hundred years ago the great Southern Presbyterian preacher-theologian, R.L. Dabney wrote the following and what he says is still true today:
Go where we may, we see more merchants than can find customers, more physicians than have patients, more lawyers than clients. Society has enough of them—too many. But. . . to carry the gospel to every one of the 800 million of pagans on our globe, the church needs a hundred times as many ministers. Now, what young Christian, qualified to preach, who asks in the spirit of the true convert “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” can say in view of these facts, that God and his fellow men have more need of him at the bar, behind the counter, or in the physician’s calling, than in the pulpit? If he cannot, let him beware how he neglects the prayerful examination of the duty of preaching, at the peril of the wrath of his Saviour.”* (emphasis Dabney’s)
As you prayerfully and in the light of the Bible consider your gifts, desires, and the needs of God’s church and kingdom, may God give you grace to choose that vocation to which He calls you.
*R.L. Dabney, Discussions Evangelical and Theological (Banner of Truth edition), v. 2, 1967, p. 41. (quoted by Sinclair Ferguson in his book, Discovering God’s Will, Banner of Truth, 1984, pp. 84-85.)