By Meryl Herr, reprinted from Made to Flourish.
Ten years ago, I was the woman who neurotically hummed “Great is Thy Faithfulness” wherever she went. My husband and I had completed a two-year pastoral residency in the middle of the Recession, and we struggled to find full-time work in our fields. I worked retail while my husband worked odd jobs. With each passing day, my hope dwindled and I struggled to hold onto God’s faithfulness in that season of waiting.
Fast forward to today, another season of job hunting. For several months, my husband applied and interviewed for different positions. He completed a handful of interviews, but nothing resulted in a job. After a series of closed doors, I dusted off my resume and began looking for full-time employment.
I updated my LinkedIn profile, posted my resume on ZipRecruiter, and regularly scoured job sites. In the span of about four weeks, I applied for eight jobs. I wrote awkward “I’m looking for work” emails to people in my network and had informal conversations about work with a handful of organizations. As I write this article, I have been waiting four weeks to learn whether or not I will get a job with the one place that interviewed me. Some moments the waiting is insufferable. Will they call? Should I muster the energy for another spurt of applications?
In this season of waiting I have been more hopeful, but to say that this season has been stress-free would be a lie. Instead of wandering around humming classic hymns to myself, I am approaching this season of waiting differently thanks to a few lessons I have been learning in God’s Word. Lessons about prayer, purpose, and pauses.
Prayer: Spread it out before the Lord
“Dear Lord, I need a job. Thank you. Amen.” “Please let the hiring manager look favorably upon my resume.” “Help me not be nervous during my interview.”
These prayers remind us of our dependence on God, but in my experience, they do little to cultivate us as disciples. These are surface prayers, not really addressing the inner workings of our hearts and minds. One of Hezekiah’s prayers taught me how to go deeper in my conversations with God.
Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was a menace. He taunted the people Judah and tried to convince them that their king and their God were powerless to deliver them from almighty Assyria. Isaiah spoke words of hope to Judah’s king, Hezekiah. But Sennacherib did not give up his plot to intimidate Hezekiah. He wrote Hezekiah a letter listing all of the peoples and kings his empire had conquered.
After he read the letter, Hezekiah did not run around screaming, “We’re all going to die!” He didn’t gather up his advisers to ask their opinions on the matter. “Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD…” (Isaiah 37:14-15).
Hezekiah spread out the letter before God as if to say, “See, Lord?” He wanted God to see all the taunts, all the intimidation, all of his legitimate reasons to fear. And Hezekiah prayed words of exaltation that likely reinforced his trust in the one true God, sovereign “over all the kingdoms of the earth” (Isaiah 37:16).
We may not have an intimidating letter from a menacing king, but we can face intimidating circumstances and menacing thoughts that we can spread out before the Lord. I grabbed a notebook, hand-lettered the phrase, “spread it out before the Lord” on the first page, and started a prayer journal.
Writing my prayers, spreading out my hopes, ambitions, and fears before the Lord has been a tangible way for me to invite the Spirit of God to shape my heart and mind during the job search. God has used this way of praying to give me both hope and clarity in this season of waiting.
Purpose: Reframe the waiting
During a job search, rejection can be debilitating. Sometimes rejection comes through a letter, email, or, most impersonal of all, an HR portal. Sometimes rejection comes through silence — the employer never calls or writes. And sometimes we heap rejection on ourselves through negative self-talk.
As this rejection piles on — whether from without or within — we suffer. The uncertainty seems intolerable.
Yet, Scripture invites us to reframe our suffering to help us endure it. Hebrews 4:7 reminds us, “Endure hardship as discipline.” The writer does not necessarily equate all hardships as the Lord’s discipline but instead reminds us that hardship can have a purpose — to train us for godliness. So, in the midst of this long season of waiting, I recall that God can use my situation — every cover letter, every email, every rejection letter — to shape my character, to form my heart.
Around the time my husband resigned from his job, I experienced a moment of vocational clarity. I recall my heart burning inside me as I read about a particular vision for theological education. I wanted to be a part of it — teaching and researching for the glory of God and the equipping of his church.
I assumed that such vocational clarity might come with a job offer. But no full-time offers came, only more part-time contract work. Doesn’t the Psalmist tell us, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4)?
Ironically, the same David who penned Psalm 37 learned God does not always give us the desires of our heart; sometimes he puts a pause in our plans. After returning to his palace in Jerusalem after defeating the Philistines and recapturing the ark, David desired to build a temple for the Lord, a place for the ark to dwell. While the prophet Nathan counseled David, “Whatever you have in mind, do it, for the Lord is with you,” God said, “no” to David’s plans (II Samuel 7:3; cf. I Chronicles 14).
What about that promise in Psalm 37:4? What about other promises like it? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…and he will make your path straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). I have to recall that these promises are wisdom — the product of God’s people attempting to live faithfully in the world; therefore, they may not be true for all people in all times in all circumstances. Exceptions happen.
But exceptions should not dissuade us from taking delight in the Lord and trusting in him. When the exceptions happen, when God puts a pause in our plans, we fix our eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith,” and await his direction (Hebrews 12:2).