Having a new job is exciting – new challenges and experiences, opportunities to work with new people, and chance to learn and grow professionally. Finding a new job, on the other hand, can seem like navigating a maze with many unexpected turns and dead ends. The ebbs and flows of the job search quickly turn into the rise and fall of emotion, a ricochet from excitement and eager anticipation to disappointment and defeat. An extended job search, like those taking place during the global pandemic, can lead to frustration and anxiety. The slowness and uncertainty of the process often leaves us wondering: Why does this have to be so hard? Where is God in all of this?
The job search is such a normal part of life and yet so laden with grief, a tangible way for us to experience the call of God, and yet so often a source of anxiety and indecision. What if we could rethink the job search entirely? What if we could see the unknowns and uncertainties of the job search as blessings rather than curses? What if we could see the job search as one of the ways we co-create with God? Could we allow ourselves to embrace the promises of God in such a way that we would actually think differently about such an ordinary thing as a job search?
To start this journey, we need some signposts. To rethink something as common as a job search, we must begin with some of the most basic truths of the Christian faith. Even though they are familiar, perhaps we have never applied them to the everyday topic of the job search. Consider these four basic ideas:
- We are made to work. In over-simplified terms, the story of Creation tells us that humans were placed on earth with the responsibility to take care of the place and to build a God-honoring society. God demonstrated his awesome power by making everything that exists out of nothing, ex nihilo. He did not give us the power to do that, but he did give us the power to create in a lesser way. “Fill the earth and subdue it” is the culture-making mandate given to Adam in Genesis 1. First, God calls us to fill the whole earth with human society, not just the Garden. Second, God calls us to make something of what he has given us in Creation. In his mandate to us, he calls us to work with him, under his sovereign, guiding hand to make something out of Creation, to create something out of something, ex materia. We are not only made to work, but we are made to co-create with God.
- We broke it. Through our sin and rebellion against God, corruption entered the world. As a result, death, disease and futility are now part of our reality. Work has become much harder and less fruitful. We work by the sweat of our brow (Genesis 3:17-19). Much of our limited energy goes into fighting back the weeds, season after season. Work has not become evil, but it has been damaged by evil. The perfect working environment of the Garden has given way to frustrating and anxiety-inducing workplaces. Working relationships that should be harmonious have been sullied by selfishness, fear, and the need to control. Workplaces have become terribly inefficient because of misaligned goals, misjudgment, and misinformation. We made this mess and now we are dealing with the aftermath. No wonder the job search is so hard!
- We’re called to be part of Redemption. God’s purpose for Creation, what has been called the missio dei, the mission of God, has not changed. Our sin and rebellion, while terrible and tragic, has not thwarted our Creator (Isaiah 46:10); our rebellion is not standing in his way. Jesus is the living proof of this. He came to set things straight. He came so that, in him, we might have new life. As we consider the salvation message of the Gospel, we must also consider that Jesus is the one through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). He is the one making all things new (Revelation 21:5), including us. He did not give us new life so that we could just stand around. He gave us new life so that we could get back to work! In Christ, we have a part in the remaking of all things. Our mandate to co-create from Genesis 1 has become the mandate to co-recreate. The bible describes this in many ways. We are the members of the body and Jesus is the head (I Corinthians 12:27). He is the vine, and we are the branches (John 15:5). We are the body, and he is the head (Colossians 1:18). We are his Ambassadors in the world (II Corinthians 5:20).
- We live in and look forward to eternity. In Christ, we have new life. And yet, we also still have the body of flesh (Romans 7:18-19). Perfect, new bodies and a perfect, new world are promised to us (II Peter 3:13), but they are not here yet. We live in a season of hope for the future, the return of Christ, and the consummation of all things to the glory of God. The practical reason that our work is significant in the present is that it is the engine of economic activity. Paul instructed the church in Thessalonica that if someone doesn’t work, he shouldn’t be allowed to eat (II Thessalonians 3:10). Our work generates economic value that, in turn, blesses our families and the people around us. Our work is significant in the present and the eternal.
Many of the readers at TWI will recognize these four basic ideas as the overarching narrative of Scripture: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. It’s the Big Story. It’s the roadmap for our wandering souls. It’s the Gospel of Grace, full and free. It’s the story of our past, present, future…with Jesus at the center of it all.
Having established these foundations, let’s return to our goal: to rethink the job search. In a job search, we are confronted by a confluence of competing ideas. With eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and a deep longing for restoration (Romans 8:22), our imaginations sometimes produce glimpses of ideal workplaces marked by meaningful work and mutually supportive relationships. These visions are quickly clouded by the workings of our minds, our selfish desires, and greed. And all of this collides with the realities of a broken world: long delays, ignored emails, and tedious interviews. During a job search, our minds are swirling with these competing ideas – a desire for the perfect workplace, the corrupt desires of our own hearts, and the morass of the broken world.
The first step in re-thinking the job search therefore involves revisiting our relationship with God. As the Creator, he has given us an abundance of gifts. He has given us his Son and his Sprit. He loves us and embraces us as his children. He promises us a future inheritance. In spite of our sin, he invites us into a relationship with him and does not condemn us (Romans 8). What’s more, he did not make us to be inanimate objects. He gave us life, the ability to think, to love, and to enjoy the creation he made. He gave us a beautifully diverse world filled with many tribes and tongues. He gave us many flavors and colors, weather patterns, and sounds. The list goes on and on. If the number and range of things he has given is any indication, God loves us beyond measure.
And yet, he did not give us everything. Particularly, he did not give us the ability to know the future. Since we know that God is love (I John 4:8, 16) and that he works all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), we can be assured that God did not forego this gift because he does not love us. On the contrary, he loves us so much that he did not give us the gift of future-sight! This important truth is the first part of our work to re-think the job search.
I have the opportunity to work with many young adults who are just beginning their postgraduate careers. There are many kinds of job search fears. We might be concerned that we won’t find a job at all. We might be afraid that if we do find a job, it won’t be important or bragworthy. Our fears might be comparative – that our job doesn’t pay as much as our friends’ jobs or have an impressive title. Our fears might be performance oriented–that we will fail or, worse, become unrecoverably stuck in a boring, mindless career.
Scripture has quite a lot to say about fear of the future:
- For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (II Timothy 1:7)
- It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
- Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
- Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
As we consider the typical sources of fear in the job search, we will almost certainly find selfishness at their center. In her book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, Dr. Amy Sherman reminds us, “…for Christ-followers, the primary motivation for work is not self-fulfillment, self-enrichment, or self-promotion. That cuts directly across our secular culture’s claims. Christianity insists that our lives – including our work – are all about God and his work, his mission.”
What would it take to embrace these promises in the job search? When we are stuck in fear, embracing these promises requires a renewed mind (Romans 12:2). Instead of showing us the future, God calls us to trust him with the future (Romans 8:28; Philippians 1:6). Imagine trading the fear and anxiety associated with the future and its many unknowns with the knowledge that God has gone before us. Imagine knowing with confidence that we cannot see the future so that we will instead have the greater blessing of trusting him with the future. A mind renewed by the Gospel allows us to put away the fear and anxiety of the job search and, instead, embrace the very real truth that Jesus is enough now and in the future.
The necessary start to rethinking the job search is this: remember who we are. In the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1, we were given the responsibility of working with God in filling and subduing the earth. In a sense, co-creating with God is our job description. Not thwarted by our sin nor the damage it has caused, Jesus has continued his work and is actively working to make all things new (Revelation 21:5). As his coworkers, we are called to co-labor with him in this mission. We might say that with new life in him, we are back on the job. With a clear mind, we can understand that in dying on the cross and defeating death, Jesus has already done the hardest part of the job. He is now going about the last steps of putting things right. With clear eyes, we can see that we are called to co-labor, co-create, and co-recreate with him. To this point, James K.A. Smith writes, “Jesus’ command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his – to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all – a vision encapsulated by the shorthand ‘the kingdom of God.’”
When we lose sight of this calling, we also lose sight of our sense of purpose. Rather than looking for our worth in Christ alone, we try to find it in other things – the “importance” of our work, our status, our control of people and circumstances, our wealth and the security it brings. Correspondingly, these things easily become our focus in a job search. Rather than trusting that God is working out his plan by working through our diligent efforts, we might procrastinate out of fear that that the perfect job is not attainable. Rather than being imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), who is truth, we might try to get a job by stretching the truth about our experience or abilities. We might cling to a health and wealth Gospel by convincing ourselves that if we play our cards right and have enough faith, God will give us the job of our dreams. When we lose sight of our calling in Christ as co-recreators, the job search goes haywire because we lose our reference point of truth and goodness.
What would it take to embrace the truth of who we are in the job search? As we have already stated, it would take a renewed mind (Romans 12:2). It would require us to remember who God is, who he has made us to be, and the promises he has made to us. It would require remembering that Jesus is alive and well, right now, seated at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19), ruling and reigning with power. He is doing his part and is calling us to do ours as co-recreators and as heirs of the promise (Romans 8:17).
It is well worth noting that this is not just another way of saying, “let go and let God.” To “let go and let God” is often an excuse to foist our junk onto God and to wash our hands of our responsibility in co-creation and co-recreation. Of course, there is an element of truth in the saying, namely that we are called to submit to God’s sovereign authority over us. This sort of submission can be very difficult for those that struggle with control and perfectionism. The main point here, though, is that “let go and let God” is ultimately an abandonment of the good responsibilities God has given us. God desires an active, co-creative relationship with us. In fact, he made us to be in just such a relationship. In his book, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Dr. Steve Garber writes, “To see oneself as engaged by the world, as responsible for the world, is right; to see oneself as unbound by ordinary relationships and responsibilities for a people and a place is a problem. In that view, one never has to commit to the common good, full of complexity as it is, as one can always stand outside, because it is possible to stand apart from the underbelly of history and not be implicated by its mess.”
The promises of the Gospel are ours. Standing on them, we can not only rethink the job search, but every other aspect of life as well: relationships, health, power, justice, mercy. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is: What is the chief end of man? The answer: To glorify God and enjoy him forever. Even in a terribly broken world, corrupted by sin and rebellion, we can enjoy God and his good design and desires for us. And yes, we can even rethink the job search, laying the usual fear and anxiety aside as we learn to see the unknowns of the future as a blessing and as we embrace the truth of who we are made to be.