Where do intelligence, interests and strengths fit when considering career options? ⇔
©Michael Krigline, July 2007 (edited 2023) ~ krigline.com ⇔
Note: I wrote this to help young Christians who are considering career choices and changes, but I think the advice can also help non-religious people. 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 English Version)
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 well-meaning 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 quoted a number of Bible 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)
I recall one preacher saying: “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 scripture-quoting 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.” I was convinced 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, decades later, I believe that either I missed whatever point they were trying to make, or these preachers got some things wrong. And since I sometimes hear similar messages today, I hope this article will keep you from making some big mistakes. I now believe that 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 pastors have seen many examples of the wrecked lives caused by pride and delusions of self-sufficiency that block the Spirit from guiding us.
But just 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 behind 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 provides this counsel: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect..” (Rom 12:2 ESV) “…to put off your old self…and to be renewed in the spirit of your mind….” (Eph 4:23 ESV). 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.”
Picture the 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, wood, etc.). 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 didn’t say 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, inherited genes, an education, a personality and strengths that can be used to serve Him and to build His kingdom. Moreover, He can even use your scars, poor choices and weaknesses, if you let Him. Your part is to recognize that your mind, temperament, strengths and “all good gifts” are from above, and then to place it all in His hands. Wise people 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 “the weak” and “drifters” are spiritual.
Finding 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 His design to you, as well as to reveal the meaningful career He has been preparing you for.
Do you 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.
Perhaps you 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?
When you 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?
Discerning God’s Will
Students in Asia sometimes ask: “Many of us think a job abroad would make us richer or happier, so why did you come to Asia to teach?” I often answer by saying, “I believe that God is smarter than I am, so when I was in college I asked Him to reveal what He designed me to do, and where my life can make the biggest difference.” This leads those who believe in God to another question: “How can someone discern God’s will?” It is an important question. I think God leads His children in four major ways; if these four ways point in the same direction, it gives us confidence as we move forward.
- The Word of God: “Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.” (2 Tim 3:16 CEV; also see John 10:35 & 17:17; Rom 15:4; 2 Pet 3:14-18; and Psalm 119.) God will never lead you to violate clear, general principles in the Bible. The better you know your Bible, the more likely you’ll be able to discern God’s will in time of need.
- Wise Counsel: “Fools think they know what is best, but a sensible person listens to advice.” (Prov 12:15 CEV) Also see Proverbs 11:14, 13:10, 15:22, and 20:18. Growing Christians should have several people in their lives who know God’s Word well, and who also know you well. This could include pastors, parents, teachers, good friends, and relatives. Discuss your questions, your research (“study yourself”), and your thoughts with these wise people. (Do this about any big decision, such as career, marriage, big purchases, etc.) If most agree, it will give you confidence. If your counselors provide unclear or conflicting advice, that’s probably a sign that you should carefully reconsider and pray more about your decision. (See Luke 5:16 and 6:12; if Jesus needed to withdraw and fervently pray, how much more do we?)
- Prevenient Grace, Open Doors, and God’s Design: This just means that God has been at work in you since before you knew Him, or even before you were born. “You notice everything I do and everywhere I go. Before I even speak a word, you know what I will say….” “Nothing about me is hidden from you! I was secretly woven together out of human sight, but with your own eyes you saw my body being formed. Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything about me.” (Ps 139:3-4 & 15-16 CEV) Only God knows everything about you (history, talents, genes, environment, dreams, spiritual gifts…). J Warner Wallace wrote: “If we accept the premise that an all-powerful God is the creator of all matter and life, it is reasonable to conclude our abilities (even if we are inclined to attribute them to genetics or environment), must ultimately come from the source of genetics and environment: the God who created everything in the first place.” Wallace adds: “Talents are developed and expected [while spiritual] gifts are matured and surprising.” [See 1 Cor 9:24-27; Paul points out that athletes “work hard” to develop natural gifts. Regarding Spiritual gifts, see 1 Cor 12:7-11, Rom 12:3-8, Eph 4:10-12.] So, “study yourself”; look back for His design, natural abilities, spiritual gifts, professional skills, hobbies/interests, what gives you joy, and other signs that can give you direction. God’s unexpected provision (as well as spiritual opposition) also falls in this category. Paul says this about God’s leading in 1 Cor 16:9 (ESV): “…for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” If you mysteriously notice an unusual opportunity, an “open door,” unexpected funding, connections through a particular relationship, or other forms of “supernatural intervention” [including “adversaries” or demonic attacks that seek to deter you], consider these factors as you seek to discern God’s will.
- God’s “Still, Small Voice”: This is the hardest to describe, and probably the easiest to be mistaken about. Just as God spoke to many people in the Bible (directly, in dreams & visions, etc), I believe that God still “speaks” to us, especially when we are facing a life-changing decision. The phrase “God’s still, small voice” comes from 1 Kings 19:9-12 (KJV). God said he would soon “pass by” his servant; there was a great windstorm, an earthquake, and a fire–but God was not in any of these, “and after the fire a still small voice”–and Elijah heard God speak. I also find Isaiah 30:21 helpful: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice saying, ‘This is the road! Now follow it.'” I think the point is that we shouldn’t expect God to “speak” to us in loud, earth-shaking ways, but He may whisper to humble children who walk with him in holy reverence with a seeking, submissive heart. Sometimes, it is just a deep impression about what you believe God wants you to do. Sometimes it is almost like a voice, though perhaps not audible to your ears. Yet, as I said, this fourth “means of discernment” is the easiest to be mistaken about, because “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9 ESV) It is too easy to “hear a voice” that says what we hope God will say. Therefore, yes, listen for that inner leading, but do not trust it alone without the other ways to discern God’s will. (See Ecc 5:7; Heb 1:1-2)
Rewards Money Can’t Buy
Remember, 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 musical fun you’ll have with friends). 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, cook for a distressed neighbor, fix broken things for needy families (or your church), write and take photos for non-profit newsletters, foster a child or stray pet, 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, and those who have developed their skills are in the most demand, while others watch life go by.
Open your 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 church history?
Today, 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.
If Jesus 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.
There’s one 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 a mature Christian feel as worthwhile as helping others, so the most rewarding career will probably be one that provides many chances to serve/help/bless others, not one that promises to make you rich or happy. To quote Pastor David Jeremiah: “Every time we deny ourselves in order to serve someone else, we grow in Christ.”
“Have You not saved us so that we might serve You in the ever-new life of Your risen Son?”Seek God for the City (WayMakers, day 1)
Furthermore, one of the most underrated careers in the world is “assistant” (other names include servant, secretary, spouse, grandma, 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.
Paul’s instructions 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, CEV)
Designed to be ships, not clouds
Hopefully, 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 youth minister, foreign student, 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 has since enjoyed a rewarding career teaching English in China. You can read more of his thoughts at wp.krigline.com.
Resources (copy and paste into your browser):
- SpiritualGiftsTest.com. https://spiritualgiftstest.com Has a free online gifts test in several languages, an extensive “definitions” page https://spiritualgiftstest.com/spiritual-gifts/, and “suggested careers/ministries” for each type of gifting https://spiritualgiftstest.com/suggested-ministries/. (I found this website in 2023)
- Career Direct. https://www.crown.org/vocational-stewardship/. Tools for helping Christians figure out who you are and how to give direction to your studies and career (from Larry Burkett, Howard Dayton, et al)
- Career and occupational description links. http://www.khake.com/page97.html
- Assessment. http://www.intercristo.com/CareerFit/Careerfit.asp. Intercristo (http://www.intercristo.com) offers a range of services to help Christians find meaningful jobs. Also help.christianjobs.com
- DiSC assessment tool. https://www.123test.com/disc-personality-test/
- 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.
Vocabulary (mainly for English-language learners)
- to agonize over sth: to mentally struggle or worry intensely about something
- 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
- 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)career: your job, especially a job you do for a long time (e.g., a career in education)
- caveat: a warning or caution (especially about a limitation or special condition) that might be easy to overlook
- 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)
- 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)
- formative years: the time when your character (or sense of morality) develops
- infallible: perfect; without error or mistakes
- 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)
- 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.)
- notion: idea or thought
- ornaments: decorations added to make something more beautiful (instead of to make it more useful)
- “picking/taking up your cross”: to accept a difficult task, often because of deeply held religious beliefs about what is expected
- 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 materials
- 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 “rich” school)
- 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 oneself
- Sherlock Holmes: [福尔摩斯] a famous, fictional detective
- ship (船): a boat designed to take goods and people across the water; its parts include an anchor (锚) to keep it in 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.
- 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.vocation: your job or career, particularly if you feel a deep urge to do something that demands a social commitment or sacrifice
- What do you see when you “look back” for God’s fingerprints?
- Talk about the dangers of using your own strengths, as well as the benefits.
- If you have a “natural gift” that you’ve seen God use in a special way, talk about it.
- What “Spiritual gifts” do you (or others) see in you?
- Talk about a time when you sensed that God was “speaking” to you, to push you toward or away from something.
- Share about a situation where a friend/pastor/counselor helped you understand God’s will.
- Comment on what the author said about the important role of “servants”; do you agree or disagree? Explain.
- How do you define “joy” and how is it different from “happiness”?
- If you have discovered a different “test” or tool that helps people when looking for a new Job, tell your classmates about 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 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, ©1995 by the American Bible Society.
For more information about Christianity, check out https://peacewithgod.net/
Original content ©Michael Krigline, including photos/illustrations if noted. For contact info, visit About Us. For privacy info, permissions info, or to make a contribution, see our Website Standards and Use Policy page (under “About Us”). This resource was created/posted under our understanding of “fair use” for educational resources. [Titles that start with ↑ point to devotional articles that help us “look up”.]