What should I do with my life?
It’s one of the biggest questions on most young minds, especially during and after our college years. The practical question is, “What will I do for a living?” When you do the math — 50 hours x 50 weeks x 40 years — and realize we’re talking about 100,000 hours, the question really is, “What will I be?”
Here are eight aims that should drive every Christian career path. Fall in love with these aspirations, and your work will bear much fruit for Christ, regardless of your field.
1. Aspire to Make Much of God
Our God, in all he does, is about God. He says, “My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11). His passion for his own glory inspires everything he does, including loving and saving sinners, deferring his anger in order that we might be saved (Isaiah 44:22–23).
And now, he calls the redeemed to do all they do for his glory. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whatever you do: privately and publicly, recreationally and vocationally, Sunday and Monday. God’s greatest work in the world is to make himself look exceedingly great in the eyes of people everywhere. And he wants that to be the heartbeat and aim of your life and vocation, as well, wherever you work: that people would see your good work and give your God glory (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12).
2. Aspire to Do God’s Work
If the only category you have for the Lord’s work is Christian ministry, it won’t take long for you to functionally disconnect your life’s vocation from your life’s mission: to make much of God. All work is God’s work — prepared by him, carried out by faith in him, and done before him and for him.
The accountant’s bookkeeping, the developer’s programming, the mother’s lunch-making are works from God, planned by him long before your first day on the job. All of your good works, on and off the clock, were prepared for you in order that you would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
Your work is God’s work because you cannot do it without him. Nothing, vocationally or otherwise, will please God if it is not done in faith; that is, actively trusting and treasuring Jesus. Paul says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). The bus driver’s route and the surgeon’s precision and the concierge’s counsel are all the Lord’s work when they are done in reliance upon him for strength and wisdom and giftedness.
“Where you work is not nearly as important as why you work.”
And this work is God’s because you never ultimately work for anyone but him. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24). This is not a piece of hyper-spiritual advice for overcoming psychological barriers in your job. When you love Jesus, in all your work of any kind, you are serving him.
3. Aspire to Find Your Joy in God, Not Money
You were created to know, love, display, and enjoy God (Psalm 37:4). But there are a thousand other things vying for that place in your heart and priorities. Perhaps no deadly distraction will be more subtly compelling than your career (or the success, fame, and money it brings). With 100,000 hours, your job will have a lot of your attention anyway. No one, however, can love God and money (or success or recognition or perfectionism or promotion). It’s not that it’s bad advice for your health. It’s impossible (Matthew 6:24).
You defeat these threats to your soul by keeping yourself more satisfied in God. Isaiah writes, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:2). Someone who eats like this — who feeds himself on all that God is for him forever — will not squander his life striving for nicer things or higher steps on the corporate ladder. Maybe God will give you this or that in your work, but it will mean nothing compared to having him (John 4:34). And loving God like that will lead you to all kinds of good decisions about where to work and what to do with the pennies and influence you earn along the way.
4. Aspire to Confound the World
With Paul, I appeal to you, future employers and employees, “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Your life — your whole life, including your work — is an act of worship. How? Next sentence: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Will you work in a way that conforms to this world? Or in a way that confounds it? Spirit-filled followers of Jesus are to be distinctly, noticeably different from people who do not know and love our Lord. Change the central reality of your life, and other things ought to change, at least enough that people around you start to ask about it (1 Peter 3:15).
So we should be intentionally thinking about every area of our lives — home, marriage, eating, buying, working — as road signs of the life-giving message of the gospel. We want the world to be confused enough about the way we live, work, and spend that they ask about the hope we have.
5. Aspire to Provide for Your Family
This comes naturally to most. I (and my family) have to eat; therefore, I have to work. Even within the safety and generosity of the church, Paul says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). God has made a world in which we survive by contributing to society in tangible, tradable ways. We live by faith, and that means we eat by work.
Most of the world takes this for granted, but God-loving, money-fearing people might overlook it. We serve a providing God (Luke 11:10–13; James 1:17), and we image his providing love for us when we provide for those entrusted to us. Practices like planning, budgeting, and saving are not faithless acts. In fact, that kind of stewardship will glorify God greatly when they’re done in love for him and your family.
“As you work, think about how your gifts might best serve your local church.”
It’s important to say that this will not always, or even mainly, be financial. Fathers and mothers must provide for each other and their children in a thousand unpaid ways. Providing spiritually and emotionally might even mean setting aside an income or promotion, at least for a season. The principle is to provide for your own in a way that points people to God’s provision for us in Jesus.
6. Aspire to Overflow to Others
For the glory of God, you should aspire to provide for yourselves, but it shouldn’t end there. God has much more in mind for your money than simply your family’s food, rent, and gasoline. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). Paul didn’t say, “so that he need not steal from others.” No, godly work isn’t merely concerned with me. Truly Christian careers, in whatever industry, meet the needs of others.
The promise we have from Jesus is, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We stupidly seek after blessing by earning and hording. Jesus promises we’ll be better off — really better off — when we stop keeping for ourselves and liberally let go of what is ours for others. So we should pray and interview and negotiate and sign contracts with this goal in mind: regularly and radically sharing our wealth with others (1 Timothy 6:18).
7. Aspire to Build and Protect the Church
God saves the world through the church (Ephesians 3:10). It’s his only means of carrying the message of the gospel to all the workplaces and peoples around the world. There isn’t a Plan B, a strategy yet undiscovered that might replace the church. And our victory through the church is sure (Matthew 16:18), so no true investment there will ever be in vain.
All of our work should be contributing to that great cause: the church growing and multiplying by bringing God’s children home with the good news of Jesus Christ. The church is a body made up of lots of members that depend on each other, like eyes and hands and legs (1 Corinthians 12:12–26). If you are following Jesus, you are part of that body. If you’re in Christ, you can’t decide whether or not you’re a part of his body. You can decide whether you’ll be an active, healthy part of it.
If you’re not, the church will suffer. It will lack the unique gifts God has given you to serve her. It could be teaching or counseling or finances or greeting or cooking or driving or a thousand other things. So as you work, have in mind how those 100,000 work hours might serve the local church most.
Amazingly, the work of the church is not ultimately done by pastors, but lay people. The shepherds are there “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). Pastors equip you and me to do the ministry. That suggests you are just as likely, maybe more, to be engaged in the mission of the church if you’re not paid by the church. That makes every non-vocational lover of Jesus incredibly strategic for the kingdom.
8. Aspire to Work for What Lasts
“Our God, in all he does, is about God. Therefore, our work, in all we do, should be about God, too.”
Lastly, work for what lasts. Have in mind that this life is short, and everything not done for Christ will be in vain. Defy the deceitful notion that we have to build up and acquire here. Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27). And again, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19–20).
This does not necessarily mean doing something explicitly Christian. Remember all work is God’s work and can glorify him. It does mean that things done for selfish and sinful reasons will not last. We want the investments we make with our time and money and creativity and talents to be investments that last into eternity, and they will when they beautifully reflect the bigness and goodness of our God, whether very explicitly in ministry or more subtly in secular work.
If these eight aims above are your aims, there are 100,000 (and more) good ways for you to spend your 100,000 hours, and the vast majority of them will not pay you to proclaim Christ. Vocational Christian ministry is not the only option. In fact, for most of us, the ministry that will make the most of Jesus likely is not “ministry.”
Maybe your 100,000 hours will supply the needs of strategic ministries or equip you to serve the church in really unique ways (technical, communications, maintenance, and more), or surround you with not-yet-believing people with whom you can more naturally share the gospel. Be open to the specific call of God on your life to vocational ministry, but don’t think that is the only option for effective, faithful, and fruitful ministry.
Whether you’re writing sermons at a desk, selling desks, putting them together, or harvesting the lumber, God can use you uniquely and powerfully for his cause in the world.