The renowned British novelist Dorothy Sayers once said that, “Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”
It’s hard to take issue with Sayers’s assertion that we should do work that fully expresses our gifts and brings us “spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction.” But to view work as the means in which we offer ourselves up to God? That sacrificial view of work is almost totally foreign to us today. When discerning our career paths, almost all of our questions are aimed at serving ourselves, rather than God and others. We ask, “Which career will earn me the most respect and adoration from others? Which career will help me accumulate the most wealth in the shortest amount of time? Which career will give me the most freedom and flexibility?”
With questions like these, it’s no wonder that a record number of us are choosing the path of entrepreneurship, which holds the promise of coolness, the prospect of riches, and the potential for relative freedom. The fact that all three of these things ultimately come down to our identity is no surprise. Almost nothing shapes our identity more than our chosen work. It’s why “What do you do?” is the first question you are asked when you meet someone for the first time. Our identities are so wrapped up in our answers to that question that it is almost irresistible not to choose a career based solely on which job will help us best cultivate the image we want to portray to the world. But as Christians, our identity is already defined. We are children of God! Because of the gospel, our work can become the expression of our identity rather than the source of it.
It’s never been cooler to be an entrepreneur or culture-creator. But cool doesn’t equal calling. If our work is going to be more than a job—if it’s going to be a true calling on our lives—then we must ask questions not about which career will best boost our self-image, but about how we might best serve God and others. After all, our work can only be a calling if Someone calls us to it and we work for their sake and not our own.
In my book, Called to Create, I paint a picture of what it looks like to live out the call to create by telling the stories of 40+ Christian entrepreneurs and creatives including the founders of TOMS Shoes, Charity: Water, Guinness, Chick-fil-A, and In-N-Out Burger. The entrepreneurs and creatives I interviewed for the book tended to ask three excellent questions when discerning God’s calling on their lives:
- What am I passionate about?
- What gifts has God given me?
- Where do I have the greatest opportunity to love others?
It’s these three questions which will help you discern where God has called you to expend your energies on His behalf.
What am I passionate about?
In Genesis, it’s clear that God created for the pure joy of creating. He created because He wanted to, not because He needed to. Isaiah 64:8 reminds us that “We are the clay, and [God] our potter.” One of the ways God molds us and helps us discern our calling is by giving us our passions, the things that bring us pure joy. Have you always wanted to start a business, launch a nonprofit, release an album, write a book, or set-up a store on Etsy? Great! Identifying passions like these are key to discerning your calling; but passion without competence is worthless.
What gifts has God given me?
Writing to the early Church in Rome, the Apostle Paul says, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly” (Rom. 12:6a). We have largely ignored this verse in the Church today, choosing to define calling as simply what we are really passionate about, rather than the intersection of our passions and giftings. We see this in the church all the time. A woman “feels called” to sing on the praise team, and the worship leader lets her, even though he knows she can’t carry a tune. So she hops up on stage and the worship leader turns her microphone off so nobody can hear her. Rather than lovingly being redirected to an activity in the church where she can actually be of service to others, the woman spends years singing her heart out, serving only herself and her “passion.”
In order to best glorify our Creator and love others, Christians should do the work they are best at, work that God has equipped them to do exceptionally well. As Sayers points out in her classic essay, Why Work?, “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.” Sayers is calling Christians to exercise what Pastor Timothy Keller calls the “ministry of competence.” If we choose work we can’t do well, that’s a poor reflection on God, whose character we are to called to image to the world. Likewise, in order to love our neighbor through our work, we must be competent in our chosen field.
We don’t enter our careers knowing what we will be exceptionally good at. It takes trial and error to discover the gifts God has given us. And individual failures don’t necessarily mean that we aren’t gifted in a particular field. But we should be in a continual process of discernment, on the lookout for patterns and listening to the counsel of others to identify the gifts God has given us.
Where do I have the greatest opportunity to love others?
Have you identified something that you are passionate and gifted at? Praise the Lord for that revelation and be on the lookout for where God is moving around you, inviting you to put those passions and giftings to work for His glory and the good of others. Commenting on Jesus’s words in the Parable of the Talents, Reverend Robert Sirico points out that, “There seems to be a natural connection between the discovery of entrepreneurial opportunities and the master’s admonition in Matthew 25 to be watchful of his return and to be caretakers of his property.” If you are passionate about entrepreneurship and creating new things, gifted at your craft, and have been given opportunities to use those passions and gifts to love and serve others, you are called to create. Now it’s up to you to steward those God-given gifts well, so that one day, the Master might also say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Editor’s note: This piece has been excerpted from Jordan Raynor’s book, Called to Create. Used with permission.