“To His servants Christ commits ‘His goods’—something to be put to use for Him. He gives ‘to every man his work.’ Each has his place in the eternal plan of heaven. Each is to work in co-operation with Christ for the salvation of souls. Not more surely is the place prepared for us in the heavenly mansions than is the special place designated on earth where we are to work for God.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 326.
“Lord, what do you want me to do?” Today, more than ever, choosing, preparing for, and practicing our occupations have become fraught with a bewildering array of difficult decisions and obstacles. Yet an attempt to address some of these without recognizing the recourse we have to practical solutions when serving Christ would be to express a lack of faith. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5, 6. These words are not just a trite familiar phrase, but are part of our living faith. This powerful promise is prefaced with an all-encompassing condition: the complete surrender of our lives, our affections, and ambitions to the Lord.
Preparation is not an event, but a continuous exercise of our time. Our personal diligence and time management to exercise our minds through study, prayer and cultural development and our bodies through temperance, manual labor, and exercise are the foundation of preparation. Do not simply wait for a teacher, friend, pastor, or parent to direct you in specific lines of preparation. The guidance they offer may be extremely important, but the preparation constitutes, with or without the counsel of others, what we make of our time. Ellen White often uses the phrases “usefulness in this world” or “usefulness in this life” to describe the product of this general preparation. “The strength or the weakness of the mind has very much to do with our usefulness in this world and with our final salvation.” The Review and Herald, September 8, 1874.
Inspiration further guides us with specific branches of education that should be taught to all persons as part of preparation for life’s work. Foremost is the study of the Bible, which in addition to the overarching education of salvation it gives, integrates the teaching of important lessons of history, prophecy, health, poetry, composition, public speaking, etc. General preparatory studies should include: human nutrition and physiology, agriculture, home-making skills, voice culture in speech and song, and financial stewardship. (See the book Education by Ellen G. White.)
Choosing a specific life work and the requisite education is certainly one of the most difficult topics to address. If the extraordinary cost of most kinds of education were the biggest concern, our situation would be greatly improved. Ellen White told us that our delay to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming would make our work harder. It certainly has in this aspect.
There are many questions one would do well to consider when prayerfully planning a career:
Have I really surrendered all of my plans to God, and am I regularly praying for His leading?
This, by all useful measures, is the foundation of a successful career in this world, and of readiness for the life to come.
Is financial wealth the goal of my career plans?
If so, the answer to the first question is no, and there is an idol in your heart that can be cast out only by conversion. The apostle Paul tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evil: …” I Timothy 6:10. Additionally, it should be noted that the drive to get wealth does not well correlate with personal and career satisfaction.
What kinds of activities do I enjoy, and what are my aptitudes?
When dedicated to God, our aptitudes and interests can be key indicators of God’s plan for our life’s work. The evaluation of aptitudes is just one reason why the general preparatory education is so important. The exposure to a variety of tasks gives one a chance to evaluate aptitudes.
On a more specific note, Ellen White advises that all should have the capability to make their living at some trade. For some, this may be a backup vocation; nonetheless, an aptitude and enjoyment toward at least one trade should be developed.
Additionally, there are varieties of aptitude tests that can be taken independently, or through a career counselor. These tests can prove beneficial in that they may reveal aptitudes that one may not have realized before.
How can I use my aptitudes, with my training and career, to glorify God and to witness to others?
Remember that every person is called to a ministry, no matter what the occupation. Then this question should be one of the most important to answer when preparing for and practicing our vocations. Any vocation can and should be used directly and indirectly to help further the gospel.
How would my calling be a blessing to society?
The work of Jesus, while here on this earth, was continually a blessing to society. From carpentry to preaching and healing he lived constantly to be a blessing. As we follow Christ’s example we will also find that this is one of the keys to personal and career satisfaction.
What advice or comments do the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy have to say about my intended vocation, and the requisite education?
The list of occupations that are dealt with in some way by the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy is long. Have you studied the subject matter out? The Bible and Spirit of Prophecy also have much to say regarding education. Anyone preparing for a career, or planning to switch careers, should include a prayerful study of inspired writings. In particular, the books Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, I and II Timothy and Education should be carefully investigated.
How will my job choice and location affect my Sabbath keeping?
Certainly there are a number of job types that are not suitable to consider when factoring in Sabbath keeping. And one’s latitudinal location affects the clock time during which the Sabbath is kept, and needs to be considered.
Among jobs that are profitable to consider, jobs in the medical field have a special relation to the Sabbath. Anyone considering a career in one of the medical professions should carefully examine what the Spirit of Prophecy says about Sabbath keeping and the medical professions. A balanced summary of that counsel is beyond the scope of this article. But I will leave the reader with an additional question to ponder if considering a job in a hospital setting: Is the Sabbath respected in the institutions at which I seek employment?
But this is actually a broader question than it may at first appear. There are potential jobs that require an investment of time that would lead many people to make the job and/or requisite education the number one focus of their life. This, then, effectively enshrines the career as an idol, diminishing Sabbath keeping. Great care must then be exercised when considering especially time-intensive career choices.
In my chosen career, will I be directly supporting the advancement of sin?
Certainly the answer should be, No. At first thought, this may seem to be either an obvious or strange question. But it is worth a second thought. Of course, as a Christian you would easily eliminate jobs directly tied to the production of alcohol or tobacco, for example. But it is worth considering the many ways that our economy is integrated, and estimating how closely an industry or particular job may be tied to the overt degradation of society.
An example question could be: As a financial advisor, would I ever be directed to recommend investments in companies in the entertainment, alcohol, or tobacco industries because my recommendations must be based solely on their financial prospects? If so, how could I retain my independence as an advisor?
Are potential social benefits the prime goal of my educational endeavors?
The desire to be with friends of like age and educational goals, and to find a husband or wife, are the prime focus of many who are preparing for careers in college. While the desire for the wholesome social benefits of an education has a place, that place must be subservient to the preparation of life’s work; otherwise that proper preparation is in jeopardy.
Traditionally, for Seventh-day Adventists, this desire has been assumed to be met at a Seventh-day Adventist college or university. The disastrous position of these institutions with respect to God’s plan of education laid out in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy has been well chronicled. As such, they are generally bereft of this benefit.
How may my chosen vocation interact with labor or trade unions?
Ellen White specifically says that God’s people are not to be members of unions. Many trades are tightly connected with unions. The relationship between a chosen trade and unions should be examined carefully. Also, the apprentice should be aware of whether or not he has a legal right to work without belonging to a union. This is the case in some states (“right-to-work” states). Finally, it should be noted that unions have been making in-roads into professions. Notably, this is true of the teaching and nursing professions. Additionally, this author is aware of cases involving the unionization of physicians and engineers.
Can I obtain the education I need with a prudent investment of money and time?
Like a number of these questions, the details of the answers are large, and vary from case to case. But, in general, let the student consider that today, many professionals leave school with more than $100,000 of debt, and no prospects of paying this off quickly. While we do not flatly take the position that to incur debt for any amount, time or reason is wrong or unwise, we should remember the truth that “the borrower is servant to the lender.” Proverbs 22:7. Inspired counsel on investment in time and debt should be studied.
What kind of education do I need, and can I obtain it without being warped?
In today’s world, it is not possible to obtain a college or graduate education in many areas of study and in many circumstances from any institution, and not be warped—if we are acting presumptuously. Presumption would include choosing a career and educational path that would require direct, regular, active study of (or participation in, as the case may be) things such as: evolution, spiritualism, materialism, paganism, skepticism, competitive sports, fiction, and drama. This is because we already have specific counsel from inspired writings not to engage in these activities.
If the student is not truly converted—has not committed all of his aspirations to Christ—the unconverted desires may be interpreted directly as God’s will, and the student will find himself acting presumptuously as he chooses an education and career. It is then that he is most vulnerable, and most unaware of his vulnerability!
If you are paying attention to what has been happening in education, you surely realize that there is no field of study that is not at minimum tainted in some way (directly or indirectly) with one or more of these listed problems. If there were no other reasons (but there are), this is sufficient to bar any and all from making sweeping specific recommendations regarding any area of study. We should keep in mind that God would have us all be intellectual Christians (Testimonies, vol. 3, 160), but that in seeking intellectual excellence through education, many have unwittingly allowed worldly philosophy to make them skeptical of the power of the gospel. Remember, in Christ’s time, it was the common people who heard Him gladly. And this is still often true.
Regarding educational preparation, much prayer, and individual counsel from godly advisors, is needed for each individual case.
“A knowledge of science of all kinds is power, and it is in the purpose of God that advanced science shall be taught in our schools as a preparation for the work that is to precede the closing scenes of earth’s history.” Christian Education, 83.
How transportable and flexible is the career of my choice?
This has to do directly with the potential demand for your services in domestic and foreign labor markets, your employability (including self-employability), and what living location options are reasonable for you to expect. Even within a category (such as physician, attorney, or engineer, for example), the answers to these questions can vary greatly depending on the specialty.
How will my career choice fit with a family and church?
Since career choices, at least for the young, often come at a time when they are also thinking of marriage and family aspirations, each should prayerfully consider these subjects together and the mutual impact they have on each other. Counsel from godly parents and friends is of special value here.
Have I done some research to find out what options are really out there?
Actuary, stevedore, apiarist, pattern maker, industrial hygienist: it is advisable that one become familiar with a wide variety of occupations. If you are not familiar with a wide variety of occupations, you may be missing details, or even broad categories of labor, that would well suit you.
If it is a career that you are already familiar with in name, such as a nurse, teacher, mechanic, or accountant—how well do you really know what the job entails? In-depth research would include finding people who are in the field, and interviewing or shadowing them.
Evaluating mid-career options:
If you are in mid-career, you may have occasion to ask: “Where do I go from here?” If you are simply working to survive, your general career preparation was deficient, or your career does not suit you well.
It is true that we cannot perfectly redeem the past, but with God’s help we may make greater strides in our work, both for this life and in preparation for the next, than we can easily imagine. Remember that one of Satan’s traps is to keep people so caught-up in the business of life and earning a living that Christ loses His place at the center of affection. (Matthew 13:7, 22.)
Certainly the Lord can help you optimize a job situation that may not seem to suit your life plan best if you are willing to diligently apply yourself. It is possible that you should seriously consider your options to change employment, but not without carefully considering a potential new career from all angles. Otherwise, you may find yourself jumping from one poor-fitting job to another, and falling farther behind financially for doing so.
There are many tools for examining mid-career improvement and change potential. As always, at the top of the list are the Bible and prayer. Godly, wise friends and family may also be an important resource, (See Testimonies, vol. 1, 224, 225 on the use of counsel.) Other potential tools may include (depending on the occupation involved) community college, distance education, gospel ministries, agricultural extension agents, books, SCORE (non-profit organization of counselors to small entrepreneurial businesses), licensing organizations, etc.
The biggest challenge and obstacle to development that any mid-career person is likely to find is the need most of us have to improve our mental discipline and time management. Without this discipline, success in any line will prove elusive.
Secular vs. gospel employment:
But wait, you say, “Your specific occupational examples focused a lot on secular employment, and obtaining the requisite education for secular employment. That is not what is most important about career planning. What about preparing for employment as direct, full-time gospel workers: missionaries, pastors, evangelists, Bible-workers, Christian educators, and medical workers?”
What of gospel employment?
Some questions one should ask before choosing an education and career. But nothing was said about employment directly in God’s work. That certainly is a most important employment option for one to consider. The relation of secular lines of employment to the work of the ministry in various lines is a very important discussion.
There is an enormous dearth of Historic Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) churches and institutions—and the pastors, Bible workers, teachers, and medical professionals that should be employed by them to lead out in the spreading of the three angels’ messages. There is a lack of people willing to take the large risk of committing to these fields, but there is also a critical lack of a support base for these people. This is a large-scale problem. But, as we will find out, large-scale solutions to problems of this type must start with individuals and families. That is where you and your occupation fit into this problem, reader, and that is what I want to discuss with you.
Isaiah, through inspiration, tells us: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save …” Isaiah 59:1. We need to first remind ourselves that God has not made His ability to complete His work on earth completely dependent on man! What hopelessness would be our case if it were so? If needed, God can turn to the rocks. But, amazingly, He has made His work partially dependent on us! Paul says, “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10: 13–15.
God has promised that there will be people who choose to cooperate with Him in finishing His work (see, for example, Isaiah 55:5–11 and Malachi 3:16–18), but this power of choice means that Seventh-day Adventists collectively and individually may or may not be part of that work. The fact that the SDA denomination has strayed significantly from God’s plan for finishing His work is well documented elsewhere. The denomination has been actively opposing those who are preaching and teaching present truth for a number of years now. And the tightly centralized organization of the denomination makes it difficult at best to associate with it regularly without being indirectly involved in their work that often ultimately impedes the gospel. We need to examine for ourselves the implications of this for our occupations.
The reality of our current situation as Historic Seventh-day Adventists is that we could not have a more scattered approach to this problem. There are a number of independent, congregational-style churches (with different names due to past lawsuits and ongoing threats of lawsuits) which have organized in a number of places around the world. A few of them are organized to evangelize and fend off fanaticism. A few of them are capable of hiring pastors and/or Bible workers.
But many Historic Seventh-day Adventists are ambivalent about supporting these churches regularly; and this ambivalence breeds weakness. They may have found a conference church nearby with a good pastor, or another one with a good Sabbath school teacher. Perhaps they worship at home, or just put up with some error, some immodest dress, some poor music, etc. Only when some special weekend revival meeting by one of a select number of ministers is held in their area do they congregate together. This sporadic, halting congregating has in part led to a loss of vision for what the business of God’s church really is. Weekend revivals are a wonderful blessing, but that is not the mission of the church. We, as Historic Seventh-day Adventists, are not in a position to evangelize in any major way—either to invite the world into General Conference-sponsored SDA churches because of apostasy, or to invite them into Historic SDA churches because we have not taken the collective action to ensure that they exist and function robustly!
The organization of the church mutually obligates secular employed and gospel employed workers:
At the outset of the Christian church, Christ placed the physical welfare of the gospel laborers largely in the hands of those employed in secular labor, (See, for example, Matthew 10:1–15 and I Corinthians 9: 1–14.) He placed the organization of the churches for: 1) missionary work (Titus 1:9) and 2) prevention of heresy and fanaticism (Titus 1:10, 11) largely in the hands of apostles and elders (see Titus 1:5–11, I Timothy 3:1–7, I Thessalonians 5:12–15 and The Acts of the Apostles, 262), and the ongoing welfare of the church largely in the hands of elders, deacons, and deaconesses. (See I Timothy 3:8–13, Acts 6, The Acts of the Apostles, 89, 90, and The Review and Herald, July 9, 1895.) Thus those with secular occupations and those employed in the gospel work have mutual obligations to each other through the church body. (See I Corinthians 12:18–25.) If you have a secular job, you have a duty to consider what responsibility you have in helping God’s people collectively work toward making the work of pastors, evangelists and teachers viable! This includes financial support, but, as we will see, goes well beyond it.
Collective intelligence and our collective will to action:
God has appointed both individual and collective will to humans. As Historic SDAs, we have long exercised our muscle of individual will and action, while our muscle of collective will, intelligence, and action has nigh atrophied. In Heaven, the collective will to action is critical to success in the Great Controversy! What about our collective action?
Let us illustrate the importance of collective intelligence and action for God’s remnant by comparing our needs to evangelize and educate with large-scale projects in the secular world. There are millions of very talented, intelligent and industrious people in our world, but not a single one of them knows in full how to create and manage a major infrastructure project, build a jet plane or computer, or manage a monetary system. Nor can one person simply assign a specified amount of physical and mental energy to be expended by a group of people working separately and accomplish any of these projects. All of these projects require collective intelligence. If the secular world we live in was managed like our gospel work, we would all be tool-poor, barterers, and hunter-gatherers the world over! (Luke 16:8.) It is a key responsibility of each person in the church with secular employment to be a part of the collective intelligence and will to action that is needed so that gospel workers can be trained and hired!
God, in His infinite wisdom, has given to His church collective tasks in evangelism and education that simply cannot be met exclusively by exercising our talents individually! There are parts of our individual characters that simply cannot be properly developed unless we are at least attempting to work collectively. Unfortunately, many of us have been assuming otherwise.
The need for gospel workers and teachers today cannot be satisfied exclusively with some portion of the General Conference of SDAs that is doing a good work—however good that work may be! For example, the Michigan Conference and Amazing Facts are not in a position to hire all of the gospel workers that are needed, nor are they in a position to exercise collective action with the General Conference on all fronts. However large this problem may seem, we must at minimum not ignore it, or pretend that because it takes the action of many, we are in no position to make an attempt to rectify it. You can see that this is about much more than pooling our money.
Difficult Questions and Risk:
It is time to consider more than theoretical future solutions; it’s time to consider pragmatic ones. It is past time to ask some very difficult questions, questions such as: “If someone felt called to the gospel ministry (the gospel ministry as defined in Testimonies to Ministers), what real employment options do they have? Would you want to be in their shoes? Are you in their shoes? (Remember, God will call 11th hour workers from secular employment to gospel employment.) What would it take to train and hire workers? Would the Historic SDA church nearest me need to be better organized? Could I help? Would it take more than one local church to get the job done? Would I be prepared to recognize and act collectively with 11th hour workers from other churches? Would it take things like an identity, plans, goals, boards, and bank accounts? Am I an amicable enough person so that others could get along with me well enough to prosecute a plan of action?
The preceding paragraph may sound like heresy to some. But we are halfway there, and that half-way position will not long be stable. There exist historic SDA churches. There are groups of Historic SDA churches working together in various places in the world. There are Historic SDA teachers and medical professionals. And all of these exist because people believe that the gospel message drives and defines the identity of the remnant, and not the other way around! (Revelation 14:12.) Today we are either half wrong, and need to close shop on these activities, or we are half right, and need to “strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees.” [Isaiah 35:3.]
You may be tempted to say that the thought of working on a large scale is preposterous, given our current situation and the shortness of time. You may ask, “Do you really expect to launch some large, potentially bureaucratic edifice for training and employing workers when God has said that He will complete His work through surprisingly simple means?” These are fair questions, and they are best viewed through the following statement and a question. First, a statement: A large organization does indeed have the potential to be corrupted by politics, but when we realize the difficulty we have in organizing even two small churches to work together, this problem finds its place lower down on the list of current problems. Second, a question: Even though God has said that He will finish His work in simple ways that will astound us, do you think that He will sanction our part in that work if we simply excuse ourselves from attempting to act collectively, because it is hard to do and takes time?
Finally, let us speak about risk. The good news for us is that Christ has already guaranteed the outcome of the war; there is zero risk that He will lose the great controversy. But there is very real risk in each battle of the great controversy, risk that souls will be lost. When you undertake a project by yourself, you are individually, to a large degree, in control of the risk of failure. When you engage in collective intelligence and action, you as an individual are in a much smaller way in control of the risk of failure. Act collectively with others only in prayer, and with the knowledge that you are collectively putting your efforts at the risk of each other’s good will. There is no way to make money through investment without putting money at risk of loss—at least temporary loss. And when we invest our talents for Christ, we may indeed realize temporary loss and may not in this life realize the gain of our investment. But our risk in these endeavors pales to the very real risk that God made to save you and me, the risk of the loss of His own Son! May God bless you as you prayerfully consider these words.
John T. Grosboll, PE is a mechanical engineer living near Vancouver, Washington. His secular employment includes several years of experience in primary metals and transportation-related industries. He, along with his wife, is actively involved in the work of the Historic Message Church in Portland, Oregon. He may be reached at Grosbolls@yahoo.com.