With all your mind & strength
Where do intelligence, interests and strengths fit when
Christians consider career options?
©Michael Krigline, MA
(July 2007) www.krigline.com
(Note: I wrote this to help Christians who are considering
career choices and changes, but I think the advice can also help
Several vocabulary terms are explained at the bottom for
the benefit of English-learners.)
“Know where you are
headed, and you will stay on solid ground.” Proverbs 4:26 (Contemporary
Like most high
school and college students, I spent a lot of time during my late teen
years trying to figure out what to do with my life. I wondered how I could
choose a career that would make my life “matter,” and as a new Christian I
also wanted to honor my Lord through my work. In those formative years, I
heard many preachers say that instead of developing our strengths and
intelligence, “good Christians” should crucify our passions and seek
careers of sacrifice and service, for “only through our weaknesses can we
glorify the Lord.” They used lots of convincing verses:
Lean not on your own understanding (Prov 3:5)
If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself
and pick up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)
He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his
life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25)
[Jesus said] Without me, you can do nothing (John 15:5)
I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus
Christ and Him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2)
What things were gain to me [my heritage, former work,
qualifications, etc.], these I have counted loss for Christ. (Phil 3:7)
I will rather boast in my infirmities… for when I am weak,
then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9,10)
said: “I hope you never get to the place where your job lets you use your
strengths, because that will make you proud and rob God of His glory; some
of you think you must train hard for your career, but I tell you that God
will give you the training you need.” Another said that we were to be like
clouds, floating on the “winds of the Spirit,” so any attempt to steer
(like a ship instead of a cloud) was working against God.
As a new
Christian, wanting with all my heart to do what God expected of me, I
believed these seemingly-wise men, and determined to live like a cloud,
able to float wherever God blew me. I would not sink roots or make
“five-year plans.” They convinced me that my own interests, gifts, and
strengths had to be crucified; whatever I was good at couldn’t be
what God intended to use for his glory.
Now, 30 years
later, I am convinced that either I missed whatever point they were trying
to make, or they were wrong. And since I hear similar messages today, I
wrote this article to keep you from making some big mistakes. God’s
plan for your life is not one of joyless weakness. He designed you with
unique abilities and interests, and you will find fulfillment and joy by
using those strengths in His service.
First, let me
admit that those preachers were partially right. Nothing we do without
Christ will last or have any real value. God’s primary concern is not your
wealth and happiness (it is His kingdom), and that will mean making great
sacrifices (esp. in comparison to the people around you who do not seek to
please Him). These preachers were also right to say that God is not
limited by our weaknesses or lack of training; He often delights to use us
in surprising ways. I think the primary motivation behind these
“pro-weakness” messages was that most preachers have seen many examples of
the wrecked lives caused by pride and delusions of self-sufficiency that
block the Spirit from guiding us.
because God is able to give you the training you need, and to
“blow” you in certain directions, doesn’t mean he expects people to leave
their brains and skills at the door when they invite Christ into their
hearts. According to Mark 12:30, we need to love Him with all our heart,
all our soul, all our mind and all our strength (and
therefore strengths). Paul also said that we are to be transformed
by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23). King David told Solomon
to serve God “with a loyal heart and a willing mind” (1 Chron 28:9). We
also see the role of one’s strengths in Proverbs 22:29, which says that
those who excel in their work will “stand before kings, not unknown men.”
scene in Exodus 35. God tells Moses that He has chosen Bezalel to design
many of the tabernacle’s beautiful ornaments (using gold, bronze, jewels
and wood). The text says that God gifted him with skills and the ability
to teach, and “has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and
understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship….” Now imagine
Moses saying to God: “Wait a minute Lord; this guy has too many strengths!
How could his work glorify You? We need to pick someone who has lots of
weaknesses instead. Then when everything turns out great You will get the
credit.” I’m glad Moses had more sense than that. The tabernacle was a
glorious work of art because God designed it and because God gave
craftsmen the skill to make it glorious.
The truth is,
God has “knit you together” in a unique way (Ps 139:13), and has given you
a brain, an education, a personality and strengths that can be used to
serve Him and to build His kingdom. Your part is to recognize that all of
these things (your mind, temperament, strengths) are from above, and then
to place it all in His hands. “Good Christians” ask God to guide them into
the career path designed for them; those who do not know Christ just leave
God out of the equation and do what they want to do. Unfortunately, many
misled Christians (like me, for many years) fail to recognize that our
interests and strengths are part of God’s design, under the mistaken
notion that only “drifters” and “weaknesses” are spiritual.
God’s Will for Your Vocation
How do you
find God’s will for your vocation? I remember agonizing over this when I
was in college: “Lord, show me your will for my life!” The Bible will
teach you how to live right, so start by filling your mind with this
infallible source of wisdom. But search as I might, I could never find a
verse that said “Michael, you should become a teacher (or architect, or
social worker, etc.).” Certainly you should pray about this, but also
study yourself. Take a hard look at your interests and
strengths, as well as your weaknesses. Study your personality and
preferences. God’s fingerprints are all over you; ask Him to show them to
you, as well as how to develop them into a meaningful career to prepare
like to be alone, love math, and enjoy Sherlock Holmes, but have a hard
time remembering names or carrying a tune? It doesn’t sound like God
designed you for a career that involves entertainment or teaching, but
maybe you were made for computer engineering or some kind of diagnostic
work (detective, surgeon, editor, etc.).
Do you like
to be around people, have a great memory, hate math, find computers
boring, and enjoy traveling? Don’t sign up for computer-programming
courses, but see if God is leading you to study a foreign language and/or
to become a teacher or salesperson.
are thinking, “How can I ‘study myself’? I haven’t done anything, so how
do I know what I enjoy or am good at?” Those are good questions, but you
have actually done more than you think. Look back over the past five years
and decide on seven to ten things that you consider to have been the most
rewarding. Your list might include such things as a certain paper for
class, a part-time job, taking care of your nieces for a few afternoons,
creating a toy, mastering some software (or electronic game), or even
enjoying a particular vacation. These things don’t have to be related, nor
do they have to be “jobs” in the traditional sense. The goal is to pick
things you enjoyed spending time on and found rewarding.
Once you have
your list, think (deeply) about why each item is on the list, using
questions like: (1) Why did you consider it rewarding? (2) How did you get
into this? (i.e., what motivated you?) (3) What skills were required to do
it? (communication, analysis, creativity, use of hands or tools, people or
computer skills, speed, etc.) (4) Did you do it alone or with others? (5)
Were you active (e.g., leading, performing, influencing others) or passive
(e.g., watching, reading, listening, following instructions)? (6) Was it
easy or challenging? (different people thrive on each) (7) How long did it
take? (i.e., do you like quick results, flexible deadlines, or things that
require attention to details?) (8) Was there any part of this project that
you didn’t like?
finish, you should be able to find some patterns in terms of motivation,
preferences and skills. After years of “floating”, I did this. My
evaluation showed that I liked to organize information and explain things,
I enjoyed creating and modifying stuff, I was good with words (i.e., the
English language), I could work alone or with others, and that I was
comfortable using a computer. I also saw that I hated numbers and wasn’t
motivated by money. With the help of a career description list, I saw that
my strengths and interests lined up with being an English teacher
overseas, so (with much prayer and pastoral guidance) I set my sails and
rudder in that direction.
If you do it
right, your self-assessment will take a fair amount of time, but no one
said it would be easy. If you are not a very analytical person, then get
help! (Several resources are listed at the end of this article.) You can
find many tools and services on line, but you might also consider paying
for professional guidance. After all, we are talking about a rewarding
career. Isn’t that worth the cost of a few college textbooks?
Money Can’t Buy
developing your strengths is not only about finding a career. God wants to
equip you and use you to do lots of things that you’ll never get paid for,
but which will be very rewarding. Can you sing or play the guitar? You may
never perform for millions of people, but congregations and small groups
all over the world need people who can help lead singing and play musical
instruments (not to mention the fun you’ll have in Karaoke). Almost every
church has an education program that is usually in need of teachers and
people who love to watch babies. You can mentor inner-city kids, help shop
for a food kitchen, visit shut-ins and hospital patients, fix broken
things for needy families (or your church), write and take photos for
non-profit newsletters, or organize tree-planting or recycling drives (God
needs people to care for His environment, you know). The list of places to
use your abilities is endless, but no one is going to call on those who
remain skill-less because they are convinced that developing one’s
strengths is a sin.
eyes, and you will see that we rely on those who have developed their
strengths, not those who “drift with the spirit.” It is just as true in
the church (and the Bible) as it is in the world. The Bible is full of
passages that talk about the skilled workers needed for various
tasks (Exod 31: 2-12, 35: 31-35, 1 Kings 5:6, 7:13-14, 1 Chron 15:22,
25:1&7, 26:30; 2 Chron 2:7-8, 2:13-14, 26:15, 34:12; Ezra 7:6; Dan 1:17).
Nehemiah was a royal advisor with remarkable administrative skills.
Stephen wasn’t chosen as a deacon because he could wait tables, but
because he was “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” who “did great
wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:5, 8ff). The Christians of
Berea were commended because (unlike the Thessalonians) they used their
brains, searching “the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things
were so” (Acts 17:11). Two millennia later, we are still reaping benefits
from the vision, mental clarity and leadership skills that the apostle
Paul dedicated to the Lord Jesus, and where would we be if Dr. Luke hadn’t
been such a useful assistant to Paul, and a careful researcher of early
respected preachers frequently have extra letters in front of or after
their names (DMin, MA, Dr), showing that they have spent years studying
the Bible (often in its original languages) to cultivate a mind able to
understand and creatively relate its truths. Beloved Christian musicians
have spent countless hours learning to play an instrument, writing songs,
and recording them (with the help of skilled technicians, producers,
marketers, etc.). Even at the local church level, your leadership team is
probably made up of people who have demonstrated an ability to use their
talents for the kingdom of God.
intended for us to be miserable, simply serving in aimless weakness, then
he wouldn’t have said: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may
remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). I’ve found
that joy doesn’t come from an abundance of the world’s possessions, but
from seeing God at work when I use my God-given strengths to serve others.
The joy I feel when our Heavenly Father uses me doesn’t “rob God of
glory”; it is the God-ordained natural result for doing something well.
When my son does something well, I’m proud of him, not jealous! After the
Lord created the earth, He was pleased and decided that “it was very good”
(Gen 1:31); after my students learn something or applaud after I sing, God
created me to feel the same way.
last caveat here. When deciding on a career, don’t forget the importance
of servanthood, and don’t overrate the importance of happiness. Money and
fame can’t buy happiness or make it stay. Happiness comes and goes;
lasting joy comes from doing what is right and doing it well. If your work
is “fun” most of the time, be thankful for this sweet situation. If it is
never “fun,” you may need to change your situation, but maybe you just
need to look at things in a different way. This is where “picking up your
cross” may come in. Remember, God’s primary concern is not your happiness,
it is His kingdom--a kingdom of people who put others ahead of themselves.
Few things make us feel as worthwhile as helping others, so the most
rewarding career will probably be one that provides many chances to serve,
not one that promises to make you rich or happy.
one of the most underrated careers in the world is “assistant” (other
names include servant, secretary, spouse, support staff, volunteer…). The world is filled
with servants who had little choice in where they work or who have chosen
to work in background roles instead of seeking independent careers. The
more these dear people develop their skills, the better others
look. Though few people know their names or just how much they do behind
the scenes, the role of a servant is a high calling that carries rich
eternal rewards (Isa 49:3-6, Matt 6:4, 16: 27, 25:14-30, Col 3:22-24). If
you can’t figure out which career you were designed for, prayerfully
consider the role of an assistant because this “background” career is one
of the most important on the planet.
for “servants” (that’s all of us) fit well here: “Try to please [your
boss] at all times, and not just when you think they are watching. Honor
the Lord and serve your masters with your whole heart. Do your work
willingly, as though you were serving the Lord himself, and not just your
earthly master. In fact, the Lord Christ is the one you are really
serving, and you know that he will reward you.” (Col 2:22-24, The Bible
[Contemporary English Version])
to be Ships, not Clouds
you are now convinced that you weren’t created to be a cloud, floating
aimlessly through life, hoping that somehow God will use you. You
were designed to be a ship, with an anchor firmly in the Hope of the
Gospel, with a compass pointing to the Truth of God’s Word, with sails set
to make use of the Spirit’s wind, and with a rudder that is at your
command (so DO something with it!).
I can’t tell
you how God wants to use you, but I can tell you that God
wants to use you, and that he wants to use your strengths as well as your
weaknesses. Give them all to Jesus: your dreams, your disappointments,
your loves and hates, your fears and your areas of confidence. Fill your
mind with the Bible, and stay in close relationship with other Christians
(this is the way to prevent dangerous pride). Be willing to let God
redirect your path; He will speak to you through His Word, your Christian
leaders and friends, and--sometimes--even through that “still small voice”
that says “this is the way, walk in it.” Study yourself to find out
how God designed you, and continually develop your abilities and interests
so that you will be great at what you do. Give the Lord your heart,
soul, mind and strength. God wants to prepare you, guide you, and walk
with you to make a difference in this world.
Michael Krigline “drifted” through several
majors—graphic art, social work and sociology—then drifted through the 80s
and 90s as a volunteer youth worker (in the UK), foreign student (in
China), salesman (then manager), graphic artist, part-time scholar,
servant to international students, education director of a 600-member
church and work-at-home dad (among other things). After he decided that
the “drift” idea was missing the boat, he set his sails to teach English
abroad, earned an MA (in Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and
since 2000 has enjoyed a rewarding career teaching English in China. You
can read more of his thoughts at www.krigline.com.
(copy and paste into your browser):
Career Direct. http://www.crown.org/Cart/Individual/Career.aspx.
Tools for helping Christians figure out who you are and how to give
direction to your studies and career (from Larry Burkett & Howard Dayton)
Career and occupational description links.
Intercristo (http://www.intercristo.com) offers a range of services to
help Christians find meaningful jobs.
Articles from a career coach: http://www.intercristo.com/RobertMeier.asp
Motivated Abilities. http://www.peoplemanagement.org.
Helpful service for career guidance—there may be fees involved.
Personality types. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_Plus.
Overview of information about personality types (esp using categories from
Florence Littauer and Myers Briggs).
Career help. http://www.collegegrad.com/career/careerdescription.shtml.
Career descriptions and self-analysis tools--there may be fees involved
Occupational Outlook Handbook. http://www.bls.gov/oco/
US Department of Labor site, and great source of career information.
Internet resources. There are many tools on
line; for example, type “spiritual gifts inventory” into your favorite
search engine (you might want to add the word “free” to limit the search).
You can also find personality tests on line; try typing “personality
inventory” into a search engine like Google.com.
(mainly for English-language learners):
career: your job, especially a job you do
for a long time (e.g., a career in education)
formative years: the time when your
character (or sense of morality) develops
crucify: to put to death (literally or
figuratively), specifically by nailing a man’s hands & feet to a wooden
cross (a common way that Romans killed prisoners in the first century)
sacrifices: things you give up (e.g., your
desires, safety, or even your own life) in order to help others (such as
the choice to teach poor children for less money than you would make at a
delusions: a false belief; something you
deeply believe but that isn’t true (he had delusions of his own
importance; in her delusion, she thought she could fly)
ornaments: decorations added to make
something more beautiful (instead of to make it more useful)
tabernacle: a large tent, especially the
holy tent used by the Jews before the permanent Temple was built.
temperament: your character, especially in
terms of mood or what makes you happy, angry, etc.
notion: idea or thought
vocation: your job or career, particularly
if you feel a deep urge to do something that demands a social commitment
to agonize over sth: to mentally struggle
or worry intensely about something
infallible: perfect; without error or
Sherlock Holmes: [福尔摩斯]
a famous, fictional detective
analysis/analytical: a careful examination
of something or its parts; an analytical mind can think in a
detailed and intelligent way to provide a deeper understanding
to mentor: to teach or tutor someone (over
a period of time) who has less education or experience than you have
(e.g., an adult man spending time with a fatherless boy or a skilled
worker showing a new worker how to complete a complicated task)
recycle: to process trash so that the
material it is made from can be used again (especially paper, plastic and
glass); a “recycling drive” is an organized effort to collect recyclable
two millennia: two thousand years
miserable: extremely unhappy or
uncomfortable, especially because your situation is not the way you think
it should or could be (e.g., due to bad health, poverty, etc.)
caveat: a warning, especially about a
limitation or special condition
servant: here, I mean anyone whose job is
to serve others, usually without much pay and normally without a college
education, such as waiters, secretaries, housekeepers, sales clerks, field
hands, sanitation workers, guards, bus drivers, teaching assistants, and
the vast majority of earth’s workers
servanthood: the personal quality that
indicates a willingness to serve or help others, or put others ahead of
“picking/taking up your cross”: to accept
a difficult task, often because of deeply held religious beliefs about
what is expected
background: not “in front” where it will be
seen, but quietly or without notice
behind the scenes: done in the background
where it can’t be seen (such as the important work done behind a curtain
while actors are performing)
a boat designed to take goods and people across the water; it’s parts
include an anchor (锚)
to keep it place when needed (such as during a storm), compass (南针)
to provide direction, sails (帆)
to harness the wind’s power, and rudder (舵)
to steer it.
Many numbers in
parentheses (e.g. Rom 12:2; Dan 1:17) refer the reader to sentences in the
Bible. The Bible can also teach you about most of the people mentioned
(Solomon, Moses, Bezallel, Nehemiah, Luke, etc.). Bible quotes in this
article are from the Contemporary English Version [computer file],
electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997,
©1995 by the American Bible Society.
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This resource was created under my
understanding of "fair use" for educational resources.
© 2007 Michael Krigline, all
rights reserved. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy
it for personal or classroom use.
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