The Bible is not a “how to” book for career advice if you are thinking of “career” as an orchestrated, planned road map to success in terms of professional responsibility, expertise, and pay. In that sense, “career” is not really a biblical concept at all, and there aren’t any examples of that sort of “career path” in the Bible. Instead of career advice, we find stories of people who are called to perform challenging tasks through many hardships. Their examples illustrate faith and God’s providence. Some of them saw great worldly success; many of them didn’t. But their lives are never presented as examples of a career path or resume building.
Perhaps Joseph is the one biblical figure whose story comes the closest to what we might think of as a “career path.” His story fills roughly nine chapters (Genesis 37 – 45, a very large portion of the history of the patriarchs).
And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. (Genesis 39:20-23)
Joseph’s “career” (if we may call it that) begins with his brothers throwing him in a pit to die, then changing their minds and selling him to foreign traders as a slave instead. He eventually becomes the overseer of a wealthy Egyptian’s household, then is thrown into Pharaoh’s prison on a false accusation of adultery. After receiving a miraculous pardon from prison, Joseph enters Pharaoh’s service at the age of thirty. He rises to become the prime minister of Egypt, the most powerful nation on earth, and saves the nation from a crushing drought and ensuing famine.
Joseph’s path is an epic story of rising from the bottom to the top. In terms of vision, management, and public service, he must be considered a standout success. But is his story an example of a career path? Not really. He never planned a single career move, wrote a resume, cultivated references, or applied for a job. The one thing he did over and over again was respond faithfully to whatever came his way, and that appears to be his key to success—“the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed” [v. 23].
Joseph’s "career" teaches us to respond faithfully, trusting that God is at work, and that he will bring whatever success he will.
However, this is not an excuse to “sit around and hope for the best.” Sure, we trust God to be at work. But he trusts us to be at work, too! He expects us to show up and do the task set before us. In this sense, we can indeed gain some practical career advice from Joseph. We can do what he did: he started at the bottom, looked around to see what needed to be done, and did it. He made himself useful. Joseph made himself useful to the slave traders, to the Egyptian who acquired him, to the prisoners and prison guard, and ultimately to Pharaoh and the entire nation. At each step of the way he looked to see what needed to be done and made himself useful to the people around him.
That’s pretty good advice after all. The best careers grow out of a heart to serve the people we meet along the journey, and trusting God with the outcome.
© 2014 Bruce D. Baker. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. Article by Bruce D. Baker.