When I was young, my father would say, “Ken, you are going to be an engineer!” The only thing I knew at that time about engineers was that they worked on trains. I never asked my father why he thought I should be an engineer, but it must have something to do with my organizational and logical thinking skills. I enjoyed mathematics, chemistry, and physics and was not as interested in the humanities. I knew that engineers studied the sciences and that energy companies paid well with a career progression. Although I still did not understand what engineering entailed, I decided on engineering and was accepted to a mineral engineering university.
In his book, Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2011, page 9-15), Dr. Ben Witherington III, Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote about choosing a life vocation.
“Certainly one of the most miserable things a human can experience is the feeling of not knowing what she ought to be doing with her life. To avoid this feeling, we must grasp that our God-given purpose has a goal, a telos, to use the Greek term, not merely a terminus, and it most certainly involves us working, indeed working hard, for the Kingdom. We work with one eye on the horizon, realizing that the clock is ticking. But if we are working for the Kingdom, this means we also have a theological vision of work, a vision of what is worth doing and what is not, a desire to please the Master who gave us these tasks, and a teleological perspective striving for excellence – for anything worth doing is worth doing well, as well as is humanly possible. In short, our vision of work must be both eschatological and ethical, both theological and teleological.” (p. 9)
I did not have a theological perspective when I evaluated vocations. I was an active Christian who went to church. Yet, my faith and work were disconnected when deciding on my vocation. Religion had nothing to do with the vocational evaluation process. I just felt that engineering was right for me. I wanted a professional career in energy and that was the end of the evaluation process. I worked summer jobs with energy companies during college and these practical experiences only cemented my vocational decision. I enjoyed problem solving, working with people, and the energy business. There were no internal existential crises nor moments of misery.
Looking back, I was naïve. I should have spent more time asking hard questions to worldly people I trusted. My telos was to have a rewarding professional career that included advancing up the corporate ladder: totally self-absorbed and unbalanced. Although the energy business did supply a needed commodity, I did not connect self-actualization with community. I did not have a theological vision of work. My early vision was focused on self-interest. At best, it was providing for my growing family. Competency was achieved to gain admiration and promotions. I was ethical and my faith guided my actions at work, but it was not until late in my career that I reflected theologically on faith and work.
“Work is not a secular activity; it is a sacred one originally ordained by God, and so it must be undertaken in holy ways.” (p. 15) God created humans for many tasks of which one is to work. We are sent into secular places to work sacredly. We please God by being faithful and obedient. We cannot earn our place in heaven, but we can work to bring the Kingdom to earth. The clock is ticking, and opportunities abound to integrate your faith into your work. The first step is realizing that faith and work are connected.