You do not have to study this picture for long to notice that one of these hats is not like the other ones. I couldn’t resist showing up for the tour of our school’s progressing construction in my very own hard hat. This burgundy feature, with “Winner” handwritten above the brim, many-a-scratch across its hemisphere, and dare I say even a faint odor, has hung above my board since my first day as a teacher to stir my memory. It reminds me that I once was a college dropout. It reminds me that I have skills beyond the classroom. It reminds me that I am fulfilled as a teacher. But most of all, it serves as a reminder that no matter the task, I must do my best.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 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
Twenty years old. Freshly married. I simply needed a job. Lacking skills, I also lacked options, so I found work as grunt labor for a contractor inside of a Louisiana refinery. All the day long my role was to unload racks of metal and wood, sorting them by size and shape. While this task didn’t use much of the matter in between my ears, it was some of the hardest labor of my life. It would have been easy to slow down, lay out, or take it easy (as advised by my many coworkers), but my limited potential allowed me to clearly see the will of God in my work: His glory. My daily toil became my deliberate testimony. Others noticed the effort, and in turn God blessed me for seeking Him. I was promoted over and over again, in each place sharing my testimony with a different group of people. I did my best to serve Him (albeit imperfectly at times), although it was far from the place I dreamed I’d be doing this.
As I have sought God’s will through prayer and scripture, I have noticed He isn’t necessarily caught up as much as I am in the what, when, and where. Is being a teacher a calling on my life? Possibly. Is it important that I am at a certain school? Maybe. Does it matter what subject I teach? Probably not. Most importantly, would God still use me if my circumstances were drastically different and I was still seeking Him? He has, He is, and He will. Doing your best has little to do with meeting the benchmarks and more to do with making out the big picture. How and why are the questions God challenges our heart with first. His word separates bone from marrow as it judges the intentions of our heart to see what really lies beneath the surface of your choices (Heb 4:12).
This year marks the fifth anniversary of one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made in my life. As a soon-to-be graduate, two schools had offered me a position, and I was torn. Both school choices presented equally compelling cases to why I should teach there, each offering their unique set of pros and cons. Ultimately, I wanted God’s will in my decision, so I prayed. And I prayed again. And again. Over and over I invited God in to help me make a choice, yet God was seemingly silent. Needless to say, I was confused. As I talked about my frustrations with my wife, family, and friends, the question they each countered with was, “Is there a wrong choice?” Hmm.
In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. - Proverbs 3:6
I came to the conclusion there was and is a right choice. The right choice will always be to submit to Him first, to walk in faith and deliberately live out our testimony. When we are attune to this, we can be confident in our decision to take the next step forward without a sign, a lot, or a fleece because submission to His will means He has led me to this fork, crossroad, or intersection, so He will continue make the path straight no matter where I turn.
One final factor to consider, as we often compare ourselves to others, is the uniqueness in which we are designed. According to the parable in Matthew 25, On a 1-10 scale of (literal) talents there were vast differences. Each servant is charged with the same task, no matter the number, and each one invests their money differently. The one with the least, a single talent, is reprimanded not because he has the least, but because he has done nothing with it. There are so many classroom implications about how I challenge my students, the measure of success, and what trying hard looks like, but ultimately, for each one of us, if we make the investments, God provides the increase. If we keep moving forward, He will make the path straight. If we do our best, choose and seek Him in all we do, He has the best things awaiting us.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” - 1 Timothy 4:7-8