Should I study engineering or should I go into ministry? Is teaching really what God intends for my future? How do I know my calling? Simply put, I would answer this question with the following: you don’t know your calling. This might lower some spirits, especially to those who feel strong conviction about the calling they believe God has for them.
I do not want, in any way, to negate those convictions. The Lord sometimes reveals His calling for us in various ways, but we can never know what the future “ought” to hold. God knows his plan, and He will bring about what is good for his glory, whether he reveals that to us or not. He is the only one who knows his plan in a true sense of the word.
In the Church, especially in Reformed circles, pastors and members alike emphasize the sovereignty of God. He is in loving control of the world. In Romans, Paul talks about the good of God’s plan:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
God is not only in control of the lives of his people but, by his gracious hands, he aims their lives at good no matter the circumstance, whether that’s through abundance or need, ease or trial. In a similar vein, the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the plans of God, specifically as it refers to the Jewish exiles:
For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
In this passage, along with Paul’s words in Romans, we see that God indeed has a plan. He is not passively waiting for things to happen so that he can respond. He knows all and he is in control of the entire universe. He does reveal that he has a plan, but does he share every specific detail of that plan to us?
We Don’t Know
Anyone who is familiar with Scripture will not be surprised about what I have said so far. The reason I call attention to this aspect of the character of God is to call attention to an incoherent shift in logic among some members of the body of Christ. While God is most certainly in governance over all of creation, that doesn’t mean he promises to reveal any of his will to any part of his creation. As a follower of Christ, I can rest in the truth that God has not only a plan for me, but one aimed towards good, towards Himself. However, he makes no promise to reveal the particulars of that plan to me. I have no entitlement to know what career I am called to.
We Don’t Have to Know
So, Scripture says that God knows his plan, but we don’t know what that plan entails except for the details that he chooses to reveal to us. He has revealed some of his eternal purposes in Scripture; however, he offers no promise to let us in on the particulars of his plans for our lives.
Sometimes, he does give us a conviction as to what vocations to consider. Yet, he does not promise to tell us what career field we are “meant” to be in. Thankfully, the freedom of Christ allows us to be okay with that sort of uncertainty. We are able to lack the knowledge of what we are supposed to do with our lives, while evaluating our gifts and weaknesses with wisdom, exploring the opportunities presented to us.
A big misconception in the contemporary American Church lies in the misguided belief that we have to “hear the voice of God” and find “God’s will for our lives.” Phillip Cary responds to this movement in the Church well:
The good news about self-knowledge is that it’s okay for your feelings and thoughts to be your own, not the voice of God. For the good news about God is that he makes himself known the way a real person does, by speaking to us from outside our hearts [in Scripture]. And precisely that external speaking, when we take it in by faith, gives a new shape to our hearts, conforming us to the image of his Son.
You don’t need to go looking in your heart for some feeling or intuition that some career is the right choice for you, hoping that’s the will of God. What you need to do is look at the will of God, as it is revealed in his Word, and be trained in wisdom and discernment so that you can be a good steward of the gifts he has given you by blessing the world around you.
We Can Move Forward
All of this initially makes me think: So I don’t know God’s will for my life. And I don’t have to. What do I do now? It would be easier to be given some vision of a classroom in a dream, showing me that I’m “supposed” to be a teacher. Yet, I haven’t had such a vision, so how do I move on?
Even though I cannot know the exact, precise will of God for my life, I can come to know his revealed will, the Word of God. The first step in discerning your vocation is to read Scripture. The more you come to know the Word of God, the more you will understand his will and his character, as well as yourself and your gifts. Studying his Word will give you the gift of wisdom and discernment in your choice of vocation.
In addition to reading his Word, pray that the Lord will grow you in wisdom and discernment. Pray that he will make his plans clear to you, if it is his will. Pray that you will honor him in whatever choices you make concerning your vocation, whether that’s going to Wall Street or Broadway.
Asking friends and pastors about what they think your aptitudes are can give insight into your vocational aspirations. If those around you think you are good at personal interactions and big-picture thinking, maybe you shouldn’t go into computer programming. If your closest friends think you are good at organization and finding practical solutions to problems, maybe you shouldn’t move to Hollywood to become an actor. This isn’t an infallible process, but it can be perceptive for your process of considering your vocational pursuits.
God, His Word, and His Church provide various resources for you to grow into Christ’s likeness in wisdom and discernment so that you might be able to move into a vocation that is glorifying to his name. You don’t have to find God’s will for your life in your heart. What you need is to receive God’s will from his Word and let that word inform every aspect of your life, including choices about the direction of your future.