I was recently reading an advice column in a Christian magazine where a young woman, who was at that point in life that she needed to decide on a career, was having second thoughts about her preferred path. She loved to cook and had dreams of being a world-class chef. For that reason she was studying culinary arts and restaurant management.
Her problem? She was wondering how she could serve God in this career. The advice columnist told the young woman that she could still serve God as a cook. “Who knows? God may use you to treat traveling missionaries when they pass through your church, or He may use your cooking as a way to open the door to sharing your faith with someone in a restaurant who’s blown away by what you’ve prepared.”
And while that advice is certainly correct, it’s also incomplete. Why must her passion have only a utilitarian value, good only insofar as it helps advance something else? Why can’t she pursue cooking simply for the love of cooking?
Both the young woman and the advice columnist are operating under the false premise that we serve God only by being evangelists or, perhaps, by serving those who evangelize. It’s the myth of the so-called full-time Christian worker. This myth creates second-class citizens of all those who love the Lord but, apparently, don’t serve Him through their workaday lives. I wonder how many people are miserable in their careers as “full-time Christian workers” because they’ve fallen for the same fiction.
When I first became a Christian 27 years ago, I was eager to serve God, but I faced a similar “dilemma” as this young lady. As far back as I could remember, I’d wanted to be a writer. But I thought the only way I could serve God was as a minister or maybe as a missionary to Africa. (I’d already lived in Africa for several years at that point, so I had no romantic illusions about the continent.) I was genuinely torn between my desire to serve God and my desire to tell stories.
A wise woman at my church showed me the work of Dorothy Sayers, Flannery O’Connor and George MacDonald and told me all were great writers and devout Christians. It was a revelation. She told me that my passion to write stories was put there by God, and while I could use my love of writing to serve God directly through teaching, I could also write stories for the sheer pleasure of it — and for His pleasure.
Unfortunately, there are some who, despite great talent, believe that the only way to serve God is directly through evangelism. Again, it’s not wrong — just incomplete. In his book Eyes Wide Open, William Romanowski writes of several Christian musicians:
The late Keith Green reportedly said, “As for me, I repent of ever having made a record or ever having sung a song unless it’s provoked people to follow Jesus, to lay down their whole life before him, to give him everything.” Can a song really do that, “provoke people to follow Jesus,” or is that the work of the Holy Spirit? Likewise, [Christian musician] Carman explains, “I don’t just want to spend my time on social commentary because there’s too much of it going on and it doesn’t deliver anyone from sin.” And the members of a Christian rock group said, “Issues are great, but there’s no transforming or cleansing power in them.”
These sentiments are admirable, but I believe they’re mistaken. Why can’t one of these artists write a beautiful love song to his wife or a soothing lullaby for a child? Why can’t he write a beautiful song whose primary purpose is to praise God, not to convert unbelievers? Why can’t he write an instrumental piece for the sheer sake of writing something beautiful? I believe using your God-given talents in this way is honoring God just as much, if not more, than producing mediocre work with no heart in it. To be sure, you must “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15), but you also serve God by doing whatever you do with passion and to the best of your ability.
One of my favorite movie scenes is from Chariots of Fire, where the sister of Olympic runner Eric Liddell questions why his passion for running seems stronger than his passion to become a missionary. Liddell answered, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
God made me — and you — for a purpose. What do you love to do? What gives that little tickle in the belly when you think about it? Sure, it might be as a missionary or preacher. But it might be as a butcher, baker or candlestick maker. No matter what it is, “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).