Major Decisions: Honoring God in Your Work and Studies
I've been to many Christian retreats and conferences. Whenever there's a workshop on "finding God's will for my life," it tends to be among the most popular. Invariably, "God's will" is defined in terms of career, and for college students, that means choosing a major.
Perhaps you're a freshman or sophomore who needs to declare a major soon. You're overwhelmed by the options and need guidance on where to start. Or you know what you want but seek reassurance.
Let me offer a few perspectives that may help:
1. All honest work has dignity before God.
Our society values certain professions over others. Our parents may pressure us to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Even our churches make distinctions between ministry and secular work.
But our God "sees not as man sees" (1 Samuel 16:7). He does not rely on the world's markers of success. Nor does he judge us by our titles or incomes, degrees or majors. God doesn't draw arbitrary lines.
After all, he created it all: logic and language, music and medicine, physics and philosophy. Everything belongs to Him. No square inch of the universe is beyond His dominion. What God has deemed good, let us not disparage. Therefore, you can use your time and talents for His glory in any profession.
When you study the sciences, you get a glimpse into the invisible qualities of God (Romans 1:20). When you compose a song, you exercise creativity, having been made in the image of the Creator. When you care for patients — in the words of a faith-based health system— you extend the healing ministry of Jesus.
To be clear, no job is perfect. No manager or company is infallible. In a fallen world, our work is tainted by thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18). Yet even then, as Martin Luther put it, "God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid." You can serve God and others in any honest line of work.
2. Not all college majors are equal in value.
While all good work honors God in heaven, we must also consider the practical realities on earth.
Many students today are questioning the value of higher education— rightfully so. College tuition has ballooned in recent years. Millions of people are still paying student loans from more than a decade ago. Because of the debt, they've postponed getting married, having kids, or buying a home. When the implications are this great, we want to make rational, well-informed decisions.
What does this have to do with choosing a major? Two things:
First, there's the question of necessity. Certain disciplines more closely align with a job than others. Study nursing if you want to be a nurse. Study accounting if you want to be an accountant. But most majors can lead to multiple career paths. My own undergrad degree was in psychology. Let me tell you, most psychology graduates do not work in what you'd consider a psychology-related role. Figure out whether your intended career requires a specific major. Be open to the possibility that your career aspirations can change over time as well.
Second, there's the issue of money. Some professions pay better than others, and employers may prefer candidates with certain backgrounds. That's not to say that lower-paying jobs, or the majors related to them, are less important to society. It's simply acknowledging that your earning potential depends on your career — and your major affects your job prospects, at least in the near term.
These are real factors to consider as you decide your path. Don't "follow your heart" without your head. Don't "chase your passions" unaware of practicalities. Make your decisions thoughtfully and prayerfully.
3. There is not ONE perfect path for you.
In Christian circles, choosing a career is often couched in the language of calling. People say they feel called into medicine or ministry. The wording has a noble, spiritual feel to it. But it also causes undue pressure and fears of making the wrong decision.
Some friends in college seemed so sure of their plans from day one. It took me a while to find my way. What is my calling? I wondered. If I'm not 100% confident or passionate about a career path, then is it not my calling?
If you're asking similar questions, there's good news. In "Business for the Common Good," Kenman Wong and Scott Rae point out that the Bible reserves the language of calling for universal purposes: We are called to salvation, to sanctification, to service. People in Scripture were not called into specific roles, except in rare circumstances (e.g., building the Tabernacle).
In this way, work is not "your calling" so much as it is one of your callings. We are called to serve others, and we are called to faithfully steward our time, talents, inclinations, and opportunities. What we mean by calling then is where these areas intersect. Choosing a major can be an exercise in discernment: How will you honor God with what He has given you? How will you bless others with your blessings?
4. You and I are called to be good stewards.
Stewardship starts with self-awareness and intentionality. Are you building the life you want or are you building the life others want for you? Is that major your choice or is it what your parents chose for you? Is that career goal your own or are you following the crowd?
Many people will offer unsolicited advice on what you should do. When you're clear on who you are — and how you are stewarding what God has given you — you can stand firm. Let me share an example.
Marshall Allen is an investigative journalist who used to be an overseas missionary. He recounts a story of an editor who judged him for being Christian. Meanwhile, there are conservative church leaders who scorn reporters like him. In response to both sides, he explains how his profession aligns with his beliefs and how his faith makes him a better journalist. He holds fast to the work God has set before him.
Lastly, stewardship is active. Faithful stewards and successful people have a bias for action. They are not held back by uncertainty. They do not make excuses or wait to be spoon-fed the answer.
If you need to choose a major, start by taking small actions. Discern where your skills and opportunities align. Speak to professionals and shadow them. Take an internship or a part-time job. Try different things. Experience will either validate your interests or point you in new directions.
Be faithful in the little things. Do it all for His glory. For that is the will of God.
Each fall brings a few million new students to campus in the U.S., and the transition to college is one of the great hallmarks of life in our culture. Or, to put it more colloquially, it’s freakin’ crazy. In fact, here's an ode written especially for that experience we all know as Freshman Move-In Day...
Inherently, we know that the act of breathing, blinking, existing isn’t enough. We were made for more. We want to feel alive. And whether we’re aware of it or not, the way we go about our lives shows what kinds of things we believe will give us life.