You have probably seen a bumper sticker, Facebook post or T-Shirt that read, “If God says yes, nobody can say no.” Or you heard a friend saying after they got a job, bought a new car or got a college scholarship, “When God opens a door, nobody can shut it.” And you shouted in agreement, “Amen!”
But is this the whole truth? Is God a yes-man who gives you everything you want when you want it? Or is God a divine doorman who miraculously open doors to your wildest dreams? Is this the full message of the gospel? Is this what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the 21st Century?
I wish the answer was yes. I wish God would say yes to everything I ask for. I would be a full professor today in Zimbabwe leading a vibrant research team. I wish God opened doors for me. I will be working today as a chief scientist in Origen earning $150,000 per annum.
But God said no to the first wish and closed the door for the second. It hurts. I felt abandoned. How could God do that to me? Why didn’t he say yes to me or even open a single door for me?
The more I think about it, the more I remember Christ’s words in Luke 11:34.
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
But I had questions. Why does the Father want to give me the Holy Spirit when all I need is a job?
Here’s the background.
How to search for a job and not find any
I have been looking for a job in the past nine months. A friend of mine advised me to start a job hunt in the second quarter before my degree completion date. I always want to be safe, so I started searching for visiting assistant professor and postdoctoral positions three quarters before my graduation.
I signed up for Premium LinkedIn, Chronicle Vitae, ZipRecruiter, Monster CV, Kelly Services and Indeed. Each morning, I went through the available jobs and submitted my resume and cover letter where necessary. I was on a roll.
I met with people from church who were helping me pray as I searched for a job. I told them how I was approaching the job hunt. And they all agreed, I was doing everything right.
My resumes and cover letters where tailored for each position. I used the keywords in the postings to populate my resume and cover letter. 1 in 4 times, when necessary or possible, I studied the company before writing my cover letter or teaching statement. I read articles on how to write a killer cover letter, teaching statement or resume.
In short, I did everything right. I prayed before and after submitting an application. My whole church prayed for me and my family. Sometimes we prayed together and sometimes someone would part me at the back and reminded me they were praying.
Since October 2015, I submitted at least 30 applications by email, 120 Monster CV, 170 LinkedIn, 200 Kelly Services and 250 ZipRecruiter. But I was never called for an interview. It’s either I had a bad resume, I applied for jobs I was unqualified or something was going on that I didn’t know.
At first I thought my resume was bad. So, I worked on it. And even paid for a service that makes resume. Here’s my resume for you to judge for yourself.
I used jobscan to see how my CV performed compared to the job description. LinkedIn consistently said my profile was in the top 10 to 20% of people who applied. ZipRecruiter sent me notifications saying my applications were viewed multiple times and that increased my chances of being recruited. Yet, I never heard from any employer.
I received a number of responses saying I was overqualified. Distraught, I streamlined my applications and focused on jobs that wanted someone with five years experience and a PhD in chemistry or environmental science. I have more than 5 years teaching experience and 7 years dealing with chemistry equipment. I was qualified to be a visiting assistant professor of either biology, chemistry or environmental science.
So, I thought.
How I quitted searching for a job
Doing that appeared to work. While waiting for the decision on my final defense, I saw a voicemail from Kelly Services. It was urgent. An environmental chemistry lab in Origen wanted a person with my qualifications and experience for a senior chemist position. Finally, it seemed God was opening doors for me. I was elated.
I talked to the agent. She had forwarded my resume to the employer and they were impressed. In their own words, “I was the best candidate for the job.” They promised to call me for a short interview the following day. Tomorrow came but I never received a call. I called a day later, “I’m sorry. The employer found a better candidate suitable for the position.”
How did that happen? One moment I’m the best candidate the next I’m not. One second it seems God was saying yes, when I got excited and praised his name with a loud voice, he turns and say no. I was officially devastated.
And I gave up.
I did not surrender to God. I gave up. It seems God was intentionally playing yo-yo with my emotions. I couldn’t stomach it.
And I sent my wife a long message that read something like this:
I’m tired of spending hours and hours writing resumes, cover letters and teaching statements that no one cares about. Maybe it’s because I have a long surname. Maybe if my name was Brad K. Miller I would have got a job by now. Maybe God is happy when I don’t have a job and we’re struggling to send our kids to school. I’m done with this job hunt. I quit.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t quit. I have only quit three things in my life. French in junior high because I realized no matter how hard I worked I would get a B. I only wanted As. Dating in high school. The girl I had a crush on said no when I asked her out, I think. And a Masters of Philosophy in Chemistry. I realized if I continued in the program I would not be able to fulfill my dream of becoming a professor by 35.
Otherwise I don’t quit even when it appears there’s no hope. But I quitted. My wife tried to encourage me. But my mind was set. I was done. There was nothing or noone who could make me change my mind.
Finding grace when hope is lost
At around that time things turned for the worst. Two weeks before my commencement my Fulbright advisor told me I was no longer eligible to work in the US. Reason? The deadline for submission of an application for academic training was past due.
But that wasn’t true. I still had time. The law says request for academic training are supposed to be made thirty days before date of completion. Mine was June 24 and my Fulbright advisor insisted it was May 31st. May 31st was the day I did my final defense.
I tried to explain to her but she didn’t understand. I felt stupid trying to explain something, even using supporting documents, to someone who clearly wasn’t interested in listening to me.
But her lack of understanding cost my family a lot. We were supposed to go to an Southern California InterVarsity Faculty meeting for a week at Catalina Island. And I was scheduled to give a TED-like talk. My wife had to reschedule her flight home and we lost $530 in the process. We had to abruptly cancel our housing lease, sell all our household goods and car in less than one month.
Thank God, Fulbright was paying for my flight home. I did the paperwork for requesting a flight home. My Fulbright advisor was the person responsible for approving the request. She wanted a letter from my major professor or graduate advisor that stated my date of completion.
Guess what the letter said? My date of completion was June 24. Not May 31st as she insisted the past two weeks. And I was now two weeks past the due date for submitting a request for academic training. Saying I was angry is an understatement. It seemed as if she just didn’t want me to stay in America for an additional 36 months as required by the immigration laws.
But after I received my air ticket something happened.
I looked at my resume. I looked at the number of book chapters and research articles I wrote. I looked at the number of awards I received in the past eight years. I looked at the achievements I made in the past ten years. It was impossible for me to fail to find a job. I looked at the email conversation I had with my Fulbright advisor. Something was going on.
Something supernatural. Something miraculous.
As looked at the jobs failed to get, I realized God was in control. For a long time, I had felt as if God was growing distant. I prayed, I read the Bible, I met every week with lovely and lively community of believers during the week. But God grew far.
When the reality that I had failed to find a job sunk, I pictured God going over all my applications, following them everywhere they went and insuring that the employers turn a blind eye on them. I picture a search committee at a Christian college going over my application. And when everyone is convinced I am the best candidate, one person, led by the Spirit, points out a minor flaw on my resume. I picture a God who cares for me enough to say no and close all the doors before me.
I didn’t find a job but I found grace. I found the grace to believe in the God who says no. I found grace to believe in the God who shuts doors. I found grace to believe in the God who is interested in everything that I do, who cares for where I work and where I live.