College Students: You’re not going to HELL if you choose the “wrong” major

What major or career path should I chose? How can I know GOD’S WILL for my future?  Sometimes we assume college and choosing a major or a career path is like a game of “Let’s Make a Deal” with God – and we struggle to know which door, or which major/career path to choose.  In an article I read published by Penn State University, the author writes, “There is, perhaps, no college decision that is more thought-provoking, gut wrenching and rest-of-your-life oriented—or disoriented—than the choice of a major.” 

There are SO MANY major or career paths to choose from. Do we want to be a teacher, or a nurse, or an engineer,  or go into psychology, or go into business, or accounting, or maybe the non-profit field. Ladies, for a few of you, maybe you’re thinking I’m just taking classes because my parents want me to, but my end goal is to be a stay-at-home mom (which may be a great option for many of you).

But we’ve got all of these options: how do we know which one to choose, and maybe more importantly, how do we know which one GOD wants us to choose?

Let’s say there are 3 majors in particular that stick out to you: Major #1, Major #2, or Major #3.  And the thought of making that decision is PARALYZING to many of us (I know it was for me when I started off at Murray State University back in 2001). And we struggle greatly with this decision for both spiritual and developmental reasons.

According to an article in 2008 by Perry in the College Student Journal, based upon human development stages, students in their first year of college experience dualism, in which the world around them is made up of dichotomies (good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, yes vs. no, etc.).  Everything is black or white.  Students in this stage believe there is ONLY one right answer for everything, including the choice of major.  And students feel all this pressure to choose this “one right” major or career path.  So, in fear and insecurity, students rely almost exclusively on the counsel of advisers, parents, peers, and faculty (because they don’t trust themselves to make the right decision). Or, maybe the really “spiritual” student tries to determine which major or career path is God’s will for their life? And sometimes Christian students will look for a “sign from God” as to His perfect will for their major or career.  So maybe we have a dream one night that we own our own business, so it must be a sign from God we’re supposed to go into business.  Or maybe we say a prayer while we’re driving into the college parking lot one morning, and as we park our car, a professor in the Biology department pulls up right beside us so it must be a “sign” from God that we should major in Biology.

But there are 2 problems with this mindset that I want to address:

First, sometimes we WRONGLY ASSUME that there is a RIGHT DOOR for us to choose (which would be “God’s will”), and then there is a WRONG door for us to choose (“not God’s will”).  We wrongly tend to think that if we choose the RIGHT DOOR, or the right major that is God’s “perfect will” for our lives, that our life will be great (and we’ll have peace and happiness and a pretty house with a white picket-fence and Dish Network).  So we feel all this pressure to choose the right major or career – the career that is GOD’S WILL FOR US.  Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3?

But then we live in this fear, what if we choose the WRONG DOOR – what if we choose the wrong major? What if God’s will is for me to be a teacher, but I don’t figure that out and I choose to go into the medical field?  And if the medical field is not God’s will for me, then my life will be horrible and God will not bless me and my whole life ends up being a disaster (and there will be no nice house, no white picket fence, no Dish Network, but I’ll have an antennae and only get 2 channels – all because I chose the wrong door, and I didn’t choose God’s will.

If that scenario is going through your mind, and you’re that anxious person so worried you’re going to choose the wrong major: I want the next few paragraphs to EASE YOUR MIND.

So the first problem is that we wrongly assume that if we choose the “right” major or career, our life will be great, but if we “miss God’s will” and choose the wrong major or career, our life will never be what it’s supposed to be.

2) But here’s the 2nd problem with our typical way of thinking about God’s will:  Some of us are so afraid of making the “wrong decision,” that we end up not making a decision at all (and we end up UNDECLARED in life, for way too long).  This is one of the reasons why studies indicate that an estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as “undecided.”  And if you’re “undecided” or “undeclared,” that’s okay: that may be best for you right now.

But I want us to see the ROOT and practical implications of this:  As Kevin DeYoung points out in his very helpful book, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will, our generation (Millennials) tends to be characterized by indecisiveness and instability – and this can be especially true for Christians, because we’re so worried about “finding God’s perfect will” for our life.

Consider this statistic: in 1960, 77% of women and 65% of men completed all the major transitions into adulthood by age 30. These transitions include leaving home, finishing school, becoming financially independent, getting married and having a child. So in 1960, 77% of women and 65% of men did all these things by age 30.

By 2000 however, only 46% of women and 31% of men completed these transitions by age 30. I’m 32, so that means that less than 1/3 of men my age are done with school, out of mom’s basement, married with kids, and have a job that pays the bills.  So prolonged adolescence is the new normal.  Now, I know there can be good reasons for it taking a while to complete these transitions (some degrees can take a long time to finish; maybe you’re called to be single; some people can’t have children; maybe you need to live with your parents because they have an illness or something like that).

But I fear that in many cases, in the words of Kevin DeYoung, we need to stop looking so hard for “God’s will” for our life, and we need to JUST DO SOMETHING. And I believe that as Christians in particular, we have made discovering God’s will for our life far too difficult and mysterious.  God’s will for our life is not nearly as secretive and mysterious as we have made it out to be.  We should not try to think about God’s will for our major or career as though it’s either Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3. I want us to get that way of thinking out of our head.

So you’re trying to choose a major or a career path; here is the question DeYoung raises: “Does God have a SECRET will of direction that He expects us to figure out before we do anything?” And the answer is NO.  Now, YES, God has a specific plan for our lives. Psalm 139:16, Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  So the Psalmist says God has already written the story of our lives.  God isn’t worried about what we might do tomorrow; God is outside of time.  Our tomorrow is God’s yesterday. God has mapped out a PLAN for our lives that cannot be changed. So yes, God has a specific plan for our life that He will bring to pass, and yes, often times we can look back years later, and see God’s hand in bringing us to where we are.

However, while we can and should ask God for wisdom in our life (like what major to choose), God does not BURDEN us with the task of FIGURING out His PERFECT will for our lives ahead of time.  To quote Kevin DeYoung, “God does have a specific plan for our lives, but it is not one that He expects us to figure out before we make a decision . . . we should stop thinking about God’s will like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s-eye.”  So God is not a magic 8-ball that we shake up and gaze into every time we have a decision to make.  This way of thinking leads to disappointment, indecision, and potentially a lot of wasted years in our life.

As Christians, we tend to OVER-SPIRITUALIZE the will of God for our life.  It’s the idea of dualism – that God is either FOR or AGAINST whatever major or career we’re thinking about. But choosing between an English major and a Business major is not a moral or spiritual decision. God isn’t loosing sleep over which major you choose.  We spend way too much time fretting over non-moral decisions. Now if you’re praying about whether or not you should rob the liquor store on Frederica Street, or whether or not you should hire a prostitute this weekend, yes, these are MORAL DECISIONS that God has already revealed to you His will in His Word. But most of the decisions we make in life are not that way. God created English and God created business. You can glorify God as an English major, and you can glorify God as a business major.

So, pick which one you want to do. It’s not like English may be GOD’S SECRET will for you and Business is “of the devil,” and your life is over if that’s “not what you’re supposed to do.” If you are following Jesus Christ, and there is no obvious sin in your life that you are not repenting of, then you should assume that God wants to give you the desires of your heart. So just do what you want to do.  Which major excites you more? Which one are you most passionate about? Which one do you WANT to do? Then choose that one.

And guess what, if you find out later on that doesn’t seem to be right, it’s okay. God is still sovereign over your life.  He will redirect you along the way.  You may change your major (which by the way, 75% of college students change their major at least one time before they graduate. I changed mine twice. That’s normal. It’s okay).

But either way, God will get you where you need to be.  There’s a decent chance that you may not even end up having a career that directly falls under your major anyway.  One study indicated that only 27% of college graduates had a career that was closely related to their degree. That means 73% of college grads have a career that is NOT closely related to their major.

Let me give a few examples. I have a friend that got a degree from Georgia Tech in Chemical Engineering.  You know what he does? He’s a college minister at a college campus.  I have another buddy who got a degree from Central Florida University in Education; you know what he does? He runs a museum.  I have another friend who got a degree in Engineering from Tennessee Tech University; you know what he does? He runs a business that has nothing to do with engineering.   I had another friend that had a degree in Recreation from Murray State, and he ran a non-profit that had nothing to do with Recreation.

Now this doesn’t mean that your major doesn’t matter, it does.  If you really want to be a nurse and you get a nursing degree, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up being a nurse. But the point is, only God knows what the future holds and it’s not your job to figure it out right now.  When I was a freshman at Murray State University in 2001, and if you would have asked me where I would be in 2015, I may have given you 100 different answers, but I assure you that not one of them was that I would be pastoring Pleasant Valley Community Church in Owensboro, Kentucky.

The Scripture says, Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but zthe Lord establishes his steps.” So let me just say this: You’re not going to hell because you choose the wrong major.  Your life isn’t going to be RUINED based upon which major or career you do or don’t choose.

Let me conclude with this:  How do we know God’s will for our major? We DON’T, but maybe we’re not supposed to. There’s not a Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt major in Economics.”  So while we don’t know God’s will for our major, generally speaking, we can know God’s will for our LIFE.  The will of God is the Word of God. If you want to know what to do with your life, God has told us in His Word.  And every other decision in life that we’re NOT sure what God wants us to do, should be based upon what we know for SURE God wants us to do in His Word.

So here is what we know for SURE the will of God is for your life.

1)    We know it is God’s will that we love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind.  Jesus said this is the greatest commandment. So whatever major you choose, what is more important, is are you loving God with everything that you have? And the only way we can truly LOVE God, is to know God. Because how can you love Him, whom you don’t know? And the bible says the only way we can truly KNOW GOD is through His Son, Jesus Christ.  So pursue Jesus Christ. Read His Word every day. Spend time with Christ. Talk to Christ. Your relationship with Christ is far more important than your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend, child, or even spouse. So in choosing a major or career: ask yourself this question  – how can this major or career better help me love and know God?

2) We know it is the will of God that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said this is the 2nd greatest commandment. God is far more interesting in whether or not you love other people, and serve other people, than what major you choose.  Jesus is the best example of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves, because He came to earth and He died for US (his neighbors’ sins) on the cross.  So as you’re thinking about a career or major – ask yourself – how can this career or major help me love and serve other people?

3) We know it is God’s will that you live a holy, set-apart life.  1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God – your sanctification.”  Sanctification is the process whereby we become more like Jesus. That is God’s will for your life. He wants you to know and look more and more like His Son.  Whatever career you choose, God wants to use that career or major to make you look more like Christ. Whoever you date or marry, God wants to use that person to help you look more like Christ.

4) We know it is God’s will that you rejoice and give God thanks in all things. 1 Thess. 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Whatever major or career you choose, God wants you to give THANKS to Him.  When was the last time you thanked God that He’s provided the money for you to study at the college level? When was the last time we thanked God that he gave us the mind to think and to learn? Whether you have a job making 100K or a job making 20K, God wants you to be GIVE THANKS to Him.

5) We know it is the will of God that you live your life for the purpose of leading and pointing other people to Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers to all. You know one of the last things Jesus said before he went back to heaven? Matthew 28:19-20, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Whatever major or career you choose, God created you to know him, and to make him known to others.  So whether you’re a teacher, or a doctor, or a nurse, or a mechanic, or in sales, or a stay-at-home mom: God will have you there to introduce other people to Him. We know that’s His will for your life.

So my encouragement to you today is not to worry so much about what you DON’T KNOW about God’s plan for your life, but to focus more on what we DO KNOW about God’s plan for your life – and what we DO KNOW is found in God’s Word.

Take a deep breath, and enjoy your college experience. You’re not going to hell if you choose the “wrong” major.

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