Perhaps the greatest of rabbinic sages, Hillel the elder (110BCE – 10 CE), worked, not as a professor or head of state, but as a woodcutter. Seems a rather humble occupation, actually one of two occupations considered the most lowly according to the Torah (Deut. 29:10).
Another rabbinic sage Moses ben Maimon, or Maimonides, (1138 CE –1204 CE ) was a medical doctor, as well as being a much sought after rabbinic leader, teacher and philosopher.
In the Apostolic Scriptures, Paul, famously, was a tentmaker; being from Tarsus, not a surprising family trade to learn. Luke, the beloved Gospel author, and careful historian, was also a medical doctor.
Then, there is Yeshua/Jesus. In Mark 6:3 we read, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Miriam, and the brother of Jacob and Joseph and Judah and Simon? Aren’t His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.”
The Greek word translated “carpenter,” τέκτων/tektōn, identifies someone who works with wood, a builder, or even what we would call a stone mason. Today we might identify someone like Yeshua as a tradesmen: someone skilled in a trade – and thank God for tradesmen!
I love that the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14), Yeshua, had a trade, an occupation while on earth. He wasn’t born in a palace, but in a manger. He wasn’t rich, but poor. He was hunted, but protected. He is the King of kings, but He knows what it is to labor, and work hard, by the sweat of His brow.
On paper I am not qualified for much, theology is not a very marketable profession or trade on its own. Yet I am, by vocation, a shepherd. Most people do not know that I also labor. I can cut timber, then split and stack firewood. I can build a house, from foundation to chimney cap, and do most repairs. I can farm, raising animals. I can garden, growing food. As some might say, I know how to live off the fat of the land.
Today there is an overemphasis on discovering what we want to do with our lives by age 18. As an educator and counselor, I am not a fan of this pressure. Using my own example, by 18 I had narrowed my professional selection to: 1) rockstar, or 2) historian/archeologist. Rockstar didn’t work out, and archeology isn’t as exciting as Indiana Jones makes it out to be … although it rocks!
For those who know what they want to do by age 18, amen, you are one of the few. Most will not discover their “calling” or vocation, for a few years after starting down the road in adulthood; and that is: OK! Just keep doing, something, anything, experience the joys and pain of adult life, and then, if need be, chart a way to a more “secure” or more meaningful tomorrow … my pragmatist readers will disagree, and that is just fine.
Then there are the many who love God, working in a profession or job that they are tired of or not entire fulfilled in, who desire to do more for Him. To them, I say, look back a few lines. Hillel could never have guessed that he would be perhaps the most important voice in Judaism for the past 2,000 years when he was cutting and delivering firewood! Maimonides, while treating all manner of disease, perhaps did not think much beyond meeting the immediate. Peter a fisherman. Paul a tentmaker. Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy businessman. Each of these individuals carried water
and chopped wood – in their own way – while the Lord used them, or prepared them. When the Lord finally opened my ears to hear Him, I was standing in sheep filth wondering if this was it.
Your work, your study, your retirement, your uncertainty, your change in life, whatever it is, is not wasted … provided you remain, first and foremost, faithful to Him. It was the Lord who opened the way for those mentioned above; and as He says: “I do not change” (Mal. 3:6) … read that again, then find it in your Bible and underline it.
Some go out to the mission field. Others supply the needs for the mission field. While still others move between the two, and countless other variations of meaningful, faithful, and helpful service to His Kingdom.
As a minister who has served in many capacities, I can tell you I am thankful for those who faithfully work in their respective fields and support the ministry; as well as those who quietly come alongside me to do the countless number of things that need to be done for me to do what I do. Also those who fix the coffee, clean, prepare food, drive others, pray, do the accounting, or, those who are just present as a ready hand or provider of encouragement.
I am not exactly sure who I am writing this for, but I am discerning that some of the above is heavy on peoples hearts. It is a painful thing to believe that you have wasted your life. But let me tell you something, now hear me, that is a lie of the enemy. Give it all to Him (Ro. 8:28-29), especially what you believe you have wasted.
Right now you are carrying water. Right now you are chopping wood. But tomorrow is His, and the day after, and the one after that.
The Savior of the world, Yeshua, worked, built, did, until He was called to rebuild and renew the fallen Tent of David, shorthand for His mission. I hope you receive that. Even Yeshua waited until His Father’s time was at hand.
And you are His. Be encouraged. The water satisfies, the wood warms, and these are blessings that are all too scarce in many parts of this world. You are needed, and just as important.
Be well. Shalom.