Today’s question comes to us from a listener named Joshua. “Pastor John, hello! As a Christian, at the end of my life, have I really done all that I could have for Christ if I don’t become a martyr for him? I’m currently working in a skilled trade, and by all accounts I am climbing the ladder of success, so to speak. But a few years ago, I began to feel that God was calling me into a path that might be deeper and more directly impactful for the kingdom. I began to feel as though a life spent in the workforce or corporate America was a waste of time and energy. I have spent several years trying to figure out God’s calling on my life, so far to no avail.
“My question is this: If I spend my life in a career that does not have the direct mission of spreading the gospel, isn’t that wasteful? Why would God place me in a job that isn’t involved in expanding his kingdom, but rather consumes my energy in material production? And more directly, have I truly done everything, used every ounce of strength, given every fiber of my being to the kingdom of God, if I don’t become a martyr for Christ?” Pastor John, what would you say to Joshua?
I have three cautions for Joshua, and then a couple of exhortations.
Remain with God
The first caution is this: I think it is invalid to persuade yourself to leave a job and enter a new ministry if the argument that you use to persuade yourself necessarily puts other obedient people in the category of disobedient.
“God’s calling on our life is obedience and faithfulness and love and zeal. How it ends is his business, not ours.”
Let me try to explain: Joshua says, “I began to feel as though a life spent in the workforce or corporate America was a waste of time and energy.” And then he says, “If I spend my life in a career that does not have the direct mission of spreading the gospel, isn’t that wasteful?” My counterquestion is, Does Joshua believe that all other Christians who spend their life in the workforce or corporate America, or who spend their career in tasks that are not the direct mission of spreading the gospel — are those people living in disobedience? Is that the implication of the argument that Joshua is using to persuade himself that he doesn’t belong there?
Now, if it is, then there are two possibilities:
- No Christian should work in the ordinary marketplace.
- The argument that Joshua is using to leave is invalid.
As I read the New Testament, it is clear that the apostles do not intend that all Christians should leave their ordinary employment. The principle that Paul follows in 1 Corinthians 7:20 is this: “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called” — that is, called to be a Christian. Or verse 24: “So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”
Now, “with God” changes everything. Oh my goodness — it’s not as though the apostles don’t want there to be radical change in your life and in the way you relate to people in your job. But you don’t have to leave your job in order to be a faithful Christian, according to those principles.
So, that’s my first caution if, Joshua, you are going to leave your job: be sure that the reason you are leaving does not put other people who don’t leave in the position of being disobedient, because that would be an invalid reason, since God does not intend for everybody to leave.
What Determines Devotion
Second caution: Joshua is clearly concerned that he not come to the end of his life and have to admit, “I didn’t truly do everything, use every ounce of strength, give every fiber of my being to the kingdom of God.” Well, that’s a worthy aspiration.
“Don’t assume that a change of location or a change of vocation will mean that you are more devoted to Christ.”
Here’s the caution: it is possible to be a missionary living in an extremely risky place and be killed by Christian haters, even though you, in fact, were not doing everything you could, were not using every ounce of your strength that you had, and were not using every fiber of your being in devotion to Jesus, but were in fact wasting a lot of time, acting in a worldly way, with great timidity, and caring very little about the people around you. That’s possible; that happens. Missionaries can become like that.
And conversely, it is possible to be working in corporate America and be using more of your strength, more fibers of your being, more ounces of your strength for the sake of the kingdom than if you were a missionary. In other words, there is no necessary correlation between where you work and what your assigned task is, on the one hand, and your wholehearted devotion to Christ or the fruitfulness of his kingdom, on the other hand.
So, be careful that you don’t assume that a change of location or a change of vocation will mean that you are more devoted to Christ or more effective in winning lost people and more fruitful in glorifying the King. That’s caution number two.
Martyrdom Isn’t Mandatory
Here’s the third caution: keep in mind that aiming to be a martyr is turning a God-decided result of faithfulness into a self-decided definition of faithfulness. You shouldn’t do that. It may be that the path of obedience God assigns to you will end in martyrdom. That’s not your call. God’s calling on our life is obedience and faithfulness and love and zeal. How it ends is his business, not ours.
And remember: many have been martyred who were weak and worldly Christians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And many have died natural deaths who were vastly more fruitful and effective Christians than some martyrs. There is no necessary correlation between the fruitfulness of your life and whether someone kills you or not. Now, those are my three cautions.
Here are my two exhortations: It is certainly true that God has mysteriously, wonderfully led thousands of people to leave ordinary jobs in their homeland in order to move them on to frontline missionary work. And in most cases, part of God’s strategy is to give people a sense of restlessness and a desire for something closer to an unreached place or an unreached people or a hands-on gospel ministry in the church.
“You don’t have to leave your job in order to be a faithful Christian.”
That restlessness is not the only means God uses to lead people, but it is often part of it; it certainly was part of it for me when I left one calling for another. And this restlessness is not an indictment of the other people who don’t feel it. So, I’m not telling Joshua to be quiet and stay where he is — maybe not. This may indeed be God’s moving in his life, which leads into the last exhortation.
Called in Community
Joshua says, “I have spent several years trying to figure out what that path looks like that God is calling me to, so far to no avail.” Now, I don’t know Joshua. I don’t know his situation, his relationships, his church affiliation, his maturity, his gifts. I’m in no position to tell him what to do specifically with his life.
But if he means when he says, “I have spent several years trying to figure this out,” that he’s been trying to figure it out alone — himself, between him and God — then probably what is needed is for him to be more fully embedded in a fellowship of believers, where other people can discern his gifts and his passions and his maturity, and in that way confirm for him God’s call on his life. That’s the way it ought to happen ordinarily: not an isolated person trying to figure out the emotional state of their own soul or God’s call on their life, but a member of a body of Christ, using his gifts in relationship to other people, and then discovering, from the fruitfulness of his labors, what he’s effective at and what he loves to do and what others give him affirmation in doing.
My answer to Joshua’s question is this: Whether you become a martyr or not will not be the evidence of whether you have spent your life fully devoted to Jesus — or wasted it. That’s not the test. And whether you should leave your present job and go into vocational gospel ministry is something you will most wisely discern in a Bible-saturated body of believers.