Determining Your Path
Consider Your Destination Before You Begin Your Journey
All parents reach a stage when they realize that their sons or daughters are maturing quickly and will soon be taking on the responsibilities of adult life. All young people come to the point when they realize, “I am soon going to be finished with my high school studies, and someday I may be responsible for a family of my own. What do I do now?”
The article below walks you through an honest evaluation of God’s call on your life and whether or not college may be a part of your preparation. Use the worksheet (left) to record your discoveries and develop your Personal Mission Statement as you work through the questions posed.
The Typical Questions
Many Christians on the brink of adulthood instinctively ask the same questions that secular society asks:
- Where can I go to college?
- When I finish college, what job can I get?
The Typical Christian Question
However, since Christians are committed to a relationship with the Lord, they add one extra question:
- How can I maintain a solid Christian life while I go through college?
Searching for the answers can be an intimidating process. Sometimes it seems there are too many choices, not enough money, and a nagging awareness that many young people get in trouble when they go off to college. People are tempted to throw up their hands in despair, go to the same college Dad attended, or go through the decision-making process only asking the typical questions.
Those who ask only traditional questions often miss great opportunities, because they think too narrowly.
The “Big Picture” Questions
You can ask a different set of questions—and if you do, you will be able to see a bigger picture. This broader perspective will free you to be much more creative in planning for the future, and it will enable you to keep God at the center of the process.
Question One: What Is God Calling Me to Do?
Nothing is more important than knowing where to start. And for a follower of Christ, the first step is to think carefully about the question, What is God calling me to do? You can use the worksheet at the beginning of this article to write your conclusions in the form of a three-part Personal Mission Statement.
A. Focus on His Kingdom
Where do I start the process of choosing a path for my future? Nothing is as crucial as laying the right foundation, and the Bible gives clear instructions on where to begin. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” The verse is familiar, yet it is easy to disregard it when approaching a practical problem like planning your education. Stop and read it again. Really see what it says. Allow it to trigger a shift in your view of the critical task ahead.
According to Jesus, what should we seek first? What should we aim for?
- God’s kingdom—what He wants to do through us to accomplish His purposes.
- God’s righteousness—what He wants to do in us to make us like His Son.
What alternatives to His kingdom and righteousness could we choose as the goal? “All these things.” In the context of Matthew 6, Jesus was discussing physical needs and financial security. He has warned that these legitimate concerns must never be our top priority. Instead, He calls us to put God first and trust our Father to provide for the practical details of these lesser needs.
How does this verse apply to the search for the correct path of education? God asks us to aim for His will, to make it the bull’s-eye, and to treat everything else—including education—as simply a means to that end. In practical terms, you can apply this verse by choosing to begin with the right question: not How can I get a degree? but What is God calling me to do?
- Focus on your calling, not your career.
- Focus on ministry, not money.
- Focus on growth, not on the degree.
When you do these things, focusing on God’s kingdom, God promises to supply all that you really need.
Once you make this choice, you will be free to see a bigger picture. God has infinite creativity, and He may lead you down a path that has totally unexpected turns. The believer who appreciates this truth will be open to the whole range of exciting possibilities.
B. Understand His Calling for Every Christian
The Bible teaches clearly that God calls every Christian to certain universal responsibilities. We can know that these things are God’s will for us.
Our highest purpose is to glorify God.
- The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each played His part in providing salvation, and Ephesians 1:3–14 declares that all three united in that great work for the “praise of his glory.” So, our proper response is to bring glory to God in every part of our lives. (See I Corinthians 10:31.)
- We glorify God by making disciples, as Jesus commanded in the Great Commission. (See Matthew 28:18–20.) We make disciples by helping people come to trust in Christ and teaching them to live by His commands.
- God intends to glorify Himself by transforming our character so that we become more and more like Christ. (See Romans 8:29.) When the New Testament speaks of God “calling” people, it often refers to the way He calls people to place their faith in Jesus Christ for eternal life. (See Romans 8:30 and I Peter 2:9.) God’s “calling” can also refer to His call to service. (See Romans 1:1.)
Worksheet, Section One
You may use the first section of the worksheet to write your understanding of God’s general purposes for you, the ones that you have in common with all other believers.
C. Investigate His Specific Calling for You
Most Christians readily agree that we should be concerned about the general commands of God. We also recognize that God has specific plans for each of His children—plans that vary widely from one person to the next. One person may spend a lifetime working with young people in public high schools. Another may spend his days designing electronic circuitry, sharing his faith with the engineers on his team. You might be called to minister to a primitive tribe on the Amazon or to a houseful of growing children.
God is a God of infinite variety, and His plans have room for both Mary and Martha, both Ezra and Nehemiah, both Peter and John. Paul served Gentiles; James served Jews. Daniel represented God in a palace, while Ezekiel preached in a refugee camp.
God has a future in mind for you, one in which you can know Him and make Him known, one in which you will find the greatest possible fulfillment. Your goal is to follow His leading as He takes you forward. As you move through the different stages of life, you may find that His will involves more than one “career” in various settings. You cannot possibly predict or prepare for all the bends in the road. However, you can expect Him to guide you in taking one step at a time.
How Can You Know Where God Wants You?
There is no magic formula for discovering God’s direction. God is as creative in providing direction as He is in all the rest of His works. No two people will discover His plans for their lives in exactly the same way.
However, several consistent ingredients appear in the life stories of men and women who have walked closely with God.
- Consider the unchangeable characteristics God has chosen to give you. This may include your physical strengths and weaknesses, your mental abilities, your family situation, your gender, your racial or ethnic background, or your nationality.
- Consider the spiritual gifting God has given you. Study passages such as Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, recognizing that God has given each believer the motivation and ability to perceive needs and serve other Christians in distinctive ways. When God has equipped you with particular motivations and gifts, it seems likely that He will use those in some particular way.
- Consider the burdens and desires that consistently come to your heart. Do you have a long-standing desire to serve God in some way? Psalm 37:4 promises that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart. Do you feel a persistent concern for some person or group of people? This could be an indication that the Lord is preparing you for ministry to them.
- Consider the message of Scripture. Build the deep foundation of a thorough knowledge of the Word of God, meditating on it until it shapes your attitudes and your perception of life. Meditation on Scripture will help you see every part of life as your Father sees it, and it will renew your mind so that you think through the issues of God’s calling from a divine perspective.
- Consider the counsel of others. Listen to the counsel of mature, Godly men and women, particularly those whom God has placed in a position of authority over you. Parents and pastors can provide a balanced perspective on the issues you face.
You may find direction in many other ways. According to Acts 16:6–7, as Paul did, you may find that circumstances have “closed a door,” or you may find that a particular passage of Scripture speaks powerfully to your situation, as in Daniel 9:2. The most important thing you can do is deepen your relationship with God so that you will learn to recognize His voice and trust Him to direct you.
Worksheet, Section Two
You may use the worksheet to record any factors that seem significant to you in discerning the direction God might want you to take. Then write a summary statement describing all that you now know about God’s direction for your future.
D. Determine the Criteria for How You Will Proceed
For the Christian, the journey is as important as the destination. You have many pathways from which to choose, and perhaps the choice seems easy—just pick the cheapest, fastest way! Pick the way that promises the most fun or the highest income! Right?
No. For a believer, it’s not that simple. We recognize that how we live is as important as what we do. A college degree or a training certificate is an empty achievement if we gain it at the cost of personal holiness. A lucrative career is hardly worth the loss of a rich relationship with God or the people we love.
Ask yourself this question: How do the principles of Scripture and the demands of discipleship affect my thinking about higher education? Am I simply following the patterns of my peers, or is there something distinctive about the way I am approaching this issue?
When deciding which road to take, consider the following reminders from the book of Proverbs:
- Feed your mind with wisdom, not folly. (See Proverbs 15:14.) Think about the content of the training program and the philosophies you would study. Will they provide genuine wisdom or the distorted ideas of those who start from the premise that there is no God?
- Spend time with the wise, not with fools. (See Proverbs 13:20.) Think about the companionships you will form. Time spent on a college campus may give you opportunities to influence others for Christ, but many choose college friends who influence them in harmful ways.
- Beware of shortcuts to success. (See Proverbs 20:21 and 28:20, 22.) It may take longer to achieve your goals through diligence and thoroughness, but cutting corners can lead to grave consequences (See Proverbs 14:23, 21:5, and 22:29.) Make the most of the resources you have, rather than pursuing schemes that promise to enable you to avoid the work required for success. (See Proverbs 28:19.)
- Don’t waste resources through poor judgment. (See Proverbs 13:23.) This truth balances the warning against shortcuts. Be sure you exercise good stewardship by avoiding unnecessary expenses. There is no virtue in spending more than necessary for your training.
- Don’t make wealth your goal. (See Proverbs 22:9.) Remember that God provides without hurtful side effects. (See Proverbs 10:22.)
Worksheet, Section Three
Use the final section of the worksheet to list the principles you consider most important to guide you in pursuing your goals in the right way. Personalize these principles by stating them in your own words and backing them up with Scripture.
Question Two: Where Am I Now?
Once you have made some progress in determining God’s calling for you, you will want to know how to equip yourself to fulfill that calling. Begin by taking inventory of what you have already achieved.
Romans 12:3 instructs us to think soberly, or accurately, about ourselves. Although Paul goes on in the following verses to speak about spiritual gifts, his words surely apply to other areas as well. Careful self-evaluation reveals the areas where we still lack so that we can find out where we need to grow.
Regardless of what you think God wants you to do in the future, you should evaluate three main areas:
- Knowledge, general and specific—what you know
- Personal character and maturity—what you are
- Practical skills and experience—what you can do
Take an honest inventory of your personal character. Success in a career or ministry hinges far more on who you are than on what you know. Your ability to build good relationships with other people matters more than what you can do. Then take an inventory of what you have already learned through personal study and practical experience.
Question Three: What Preparation Do I Need?
You have now reached a very important point in the process of choosing a path for the future. You have written a statement expressing your understanding of what God is calling you to do in the future, and you have compiled a summary of what you have learned up to this point in your life. Now it is time to ask, What do I still need to learn in order to move from where I am now to where God is calling me?
When you wrote your Personal Mission Statement, you may have mentioned a career or vocation, at least in general terms. You may have been thinking in broader terms of a ministry or activity or of service to a particular kind of person—without linking it to a job category. Regardless of the approach you took, now is the time to list qualifications necessary to move into that ministry or occupation.
What are the entry requirements for your chosen field? Are there professional or legal requirements to meet? Does it demand certain educational credentials? What skills must you develop in order to enter the field and succeed? What character qualities are necessary?
Question Four: Do I Need a College Degree? If So, What Kind?
Once you have answered the first three questions, it is time to work toward specific decisions. Take the time to write down answers to the following questions. This project will help you think prayerfully about the steps you must take in the next few years.
- Do I need to earn a college or university degree to carry out my goals? Why, or why not?
- If so, what level of degree do I need: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral? Why?
- In what area(s) should I major? Why?
- Must my degree be from a particular type of school? Why?
- Is it important that my degree be from an accredited college? Why? (Read an article on understanding accreditation.)
- What non-college training or experience do I need? Would this training take the place of a college degree, or would it be in addition to a college degree?
- In what time sequence should I pursue the different elements of my training? Why?
As you work through these questions, remember that this is a preliminary plan. You may change your mind at any time.
This plan should be built on prayer, because only God knows the future. Only He can lead you reliably, and you can ask Him to lead you right now.
Maintain an attitude of almost playful creativity; consider even the most unlikely options. Could you serve as a missionary for a year? Could you earn a degree part-time while maintaining the ministries you have begun?
Constantly relate your ideas to Biblical principles. For instance, Proverbs 24:27 instructs the reader to prepare his field (his source of income) first, and then build his house (his source of personal comfort). A young man who wishes to start a family would be wise to take the steps necessary to ensure that he can support that family.
Question Five: What Program Should I Choose, and When Should I Enter?
You are now ready to complete the planning stage of your personal education strategy and move into the action stage! You have solidified your priorities and absorbed much foundational information to help you make good choices about higher education. Now it is time to make decisions.
Once you have determined your basic strategy, it is time to look for the right training sources. If you need a college degree, you must investigate various college programs until you find one that fits your needs. If you are choosing a direction that does not involve college degrees, you will still need to select the specific apprenticeship or professional certification program that will equip you for your future.
Prayerfully seek counsel from your parents and other Godly people, make a list of possibilities, and investigate them one by one. You are now in a much better position to make a good choice, as you are seeking God’s wisdom and blessing.
Need More Guidance?
The Telos Institute International now offers a distance-learning course to help you discern God’s calling for your life and develop a strategy to gain the preparation that you need. BLP 080, Educational Planning Strategy, partners you with an advisor who will help you work through the process described in the article above. This will provide you with extra resources for research, a structure with accountability to help you finish the process in only five assignments, and the support of an experienced mentor who will provide helpful feedback. For more information, contact Telos.