The Lord works in obvious ways.
Discerning the will of God is not a coded mystery. Its far more relational than we imagine. Much like a person who shares secrets with a close friend, we are told that “the Lord confides in those who fear him. He makes his covenant known to them”. Amos tells us that the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to the prophets. Perhaps the trouble with our search for the will of God is that it is oddly synonymous with career choices and college admissions, as important as they might be. But before we get any answers, we must examine the nature of our questions. Its always hard to follow in the footsteps of God if we are walking in the wrong direction.
The profundity of the will of God is in its raw simplicity. The question of the will of God is not merely what we are to do, but more poignantly, who we are to become. In his biography, the late Steve Jobs, iconic CEO of Apple, says, “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it”. Though Jobs wasn’t a confessing Christian, he characteristically turns complexity into simplicity.
The struggle with discerning the will of God is not with revelation, since it has already been revealed. And clearly so. God’s will is that we should be like Jesus and live like Him. The struggle with discerning God’s will has to do with translation – imitating Jesus in the language of our generation. As far as our work is concerned, if we are to think of it biblically, perhaps the first place to begin is by understanding how God goes about His work in the world. Our work would be deeply enriched by imitating the pattern of His interests.
Jesus came into the world to work. Even today, God is at work through His Spirit and His people, directing the course of history towards the return of Christ. One day, He will rule with justice, righteousness and peace. Our work will be enriched if we use it to participate in that purpose. After all, if trusting in Christ is the hope of our salvation, one must begin to wonder why we are left on earth to work ourselves into the grave. Why not enter straight into our rest? Unless work has a special place in the restoration of the rule of God. What if our work was a way to restore people to God with the message of reconciliation? What if it was a way to restore the rule of God by bringing justice, peace and righteousness into our places of work? How would that change the way we think of our work? How would that change the way we prepare for work?
Its no trouble for God to give us a job in a world that belongs to Him. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Perhaps the onus lies on us to become the right person for the job. When a person is willing to imitate the pattern of God’s work of reconciliation and restoration, they draw the attention of a God who eyes roam throughout the earth to strengthen people whose hearts are fully committed to Him. More important than the question of where work is available, is the question of who is available for the work. God will move the minds, the hearts and the hands of principals, presidents and CEOs to act according to His purpose; if it means that it will put a person in His image, at work in His world.When our work serves His purposes, it becomes the stage for Him to be at work. We become spectators to the work that God does through us. Our work sets the stage for Him to be at work. We become agents of His rule, ambassadors of His kingdom and windows to His nature. There is no greater honor.
Restoring Healthy Patterns of Work
There is much to be concerned about when we think about work and academics in our country. We are entering an age of academic absurdity and corporate slavery. In 2011, Business Insider ranked India as the 13th most hard-working country in the world, with people working 486 minutes per day, of which 191 are unpaid minutes. Not far ahead, the first placed Mexicans work 594 minutes a day. A consultant who deals closely with IT firms says, “Companies receive flak if their results are not up to the mark in the quarter. Their share prices fall, leading to loss of confidence among clients. They have to make employees work hard at the expense of their personal lives to meet targets.”
The cost of competitive academics and demanding careers is tragically tangible. Every ninety minutes a teenager tries to commit suicide and every six hours, one succeeds. In 2008, India Today reported that more adolescents die of suicide than AIDS, cancer, heart disease, obesity, birth defects and lung disease. It is the third largest killer all across the country. In November 2011, there were thirty suicides in Bangalore. Suneel Kumar, Additional Commissioner of Police (Law & Order), says the leading causes for suicide are marital disputes, dowry harassment and work pressure.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were a stunning 16 suicides a day in 2006. A study by the Christian Medical College (Vellore) in 2004, discovered that the highest suicide rate in the world was reported among young women in South India. Anuradha Bose, who led the study at CMC Vellore, believes that stress factors such as family conflicts, domestic violence, academic failures, unfulfilled romantic ideals and mental illness all contribute to the high levels of teen suicide. In 2010, over 150 students ended their lives across the country in a single month. As a teenager, my own cousin brother took his life because he didn’t get admission into the college of his choice.
Clearly, the hopes of our nation are tragically misplaced. We have an inverted strategy for success. Where Joshua was instructed that obedience and meditation on the Word of God would bring prosperity and success, we have trusted in unrealistic grades, academic degrees and impressive resumes. Perhaps our nation has forgotten that “it is the Lord who brings one down and exalts another”.
There is a desperate need in the church to unlearn the idea of a career. The hopes of our children need to be nurtured to envision their work as mission from the Lord. They need to be groomed to be servants of the Lord, who seek their work from the Sovereign hand of the Lord, not the unjust hands of corporate rulers and academic authorities. Our nation needs to embrace God’s mission more ardently than their careers. Its not about choosing one at the expense of the other, though sometimes it might be. We are still meant to study and search for work, but a missional purpose completely alters the way we relate to our education and defines who we are to be at work.
The trouble with Christianity today is not that it is too ambitious but that it is not ambitious enough. Often, the structure of the marketplace leaves no room to pursue our passion. We restrict our search for a job, to viable options within the existing structure. When it comes to our search for work, sometimes we are not imaginative enough. What if the first place to look for a job was within ourselves? Perhaps by listening to our anger, tuning into the disturbances in our spirit and quietly giving attention to the deepest longings of our hearts, we might find something to do that has not yet been done before. What if God was calling us to create a future that we have only seen in our imagination? What if He was inviting us to trust in Him by taking a risk or making a sacrifice?
Ultimately, God’s will for our work is discerned by imitating the pattern of His work in the world. More specifically, He guides us through His Word, His Spirit, His people, our deepest desires and the circumstances that shape our lives. He expects us to use our minds to make bold decisions and act in faith. Though He might take us through seasons of uncertainty and invite us to unprecedented futures, God eagerly desires to put His people at work in His world. He doesn’t simply want to give us a job. He wants to give us a passion; and He has a passion for every person who is eager to serve His purpose. To that end, may we find our place in His work, that we may no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who is always working.
Image Credit: Sean MacEntee