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Monthly Archives: February 2015

More, But Not Less, Than a Carpenter

I don’t know why I didn’t see it for so long, but one day as I was reading through the Gospel of Mark, I stumbled across a verse that stopped me dead in my tracks. In Mark 6, we are told that Jesus, who was spending his time as an itinerant rabbi, came back to Nazareth. The hometown crowd listened to Jesus teach in the synagogue, and they were stunned by their native son who was displaying such extraordinary wisdom and power. In their eyes Jesus was first and foremost a carpenter from Nazareth. Mark records the crowd exclaiming with a tone of incredulity, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him” (Mark 6:3).

As I slowly pondered these words, I began to reflect on the significance of Jesus spending so much of his time on earth working with his hands in a carpentry shop. Here was the Son of God sent to earth on a redemptive mission of seeking and saving the lost, of proclaiming the gospel, yet he spent the vast majority of his years on earth making things in an obscure carpentry shop. We know from Luke’s Gospel that even at the age of 12, Jesus was demonstrating his amazing rabbinical brilliance to the brightest and best in Jerusalem (Luke 2:47). How did Jesus’s brilliance fit in with a carpentry career? At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be a strategic use of the Son of God’s extraordinary gifts or his important messianic mission.

Why was it the Father’s will for Jesus to spend so much time in the carpentry shop instead of gracing the Palestinian countryside, proclaiming the gospel and healing the multitudes?

He Could Have Had Your Job

The New Testament records Jesus spending only about three years in itinerant ministry, what we might refer to as full-time vocational ministry. But for the many years before that, Jesus worked as a carpenter. Speaking of Jesus as a carpenter, Dallas Willard brings a refreshing perspective:

If he were to come today as he did then, he could carry out his mission through most any decent and useful occupation. He could be a clerk or accountant in a hardware store, a computer repairman, a banker, an editor, doctor, waiter, teacher, farmhand, lab technician, or construction worker. He could run a housecleaning service or repair automobiles. In other words, if he were to come today he could very well do what you do. He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family surroundings and time. None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his by nature and becomes available to us through him.

Several years ago I remember reading a fine book that was winsomely titled More Than a Carpenter. In this book, the author points out a great deal of convincing evidence that supports the deity of Jesus. This is essential to understanding the person and work of Jesus. Yet in no way should we conclude that because Jesus was more than a carpenter, his vocational calling to work as a carpenter was somehow less than important. Clearly the Son of God was much more, but not less, than a carpenter. This incarnational pattern of Jesus’s earthly life speaks volumes about the importance of our day-to-day vocational work.

Incarnation and Work

When we contemplate who Jesus really is, his joyful contentment to work with his hands day after day constructing things, making useful farm implements and household furniture in an obscure Nazareth carpentry shop, we find him truly stunning. Jesus’s work life tells us that he did not think being a carpenter was somehow below him or a poor use of his many gifts. Here is the very One whose hands not only created the world but also the very wood he was crafting in a carpentry shop. The apostle Paul gives us a glorious description of this carpenter from Nazareth:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:15–17).

Think about it for a moment. The very One who was the master craftsman of the universe spent a great deal of time during his 33 years on earth crafting things with his hands. The One who had masterfully fashioned humans from the dust of the earth was making chairs for people to sit on in their houses. No doubt Jesus had strong, well-worn, callused hands. It is all too easy for us to overlook the fact that Jesus knew what it meant to get up and go to work every day. Jesus experienced both the exhilaration and exhaustion of putting in a hard day’s work. Jesus faced work and a workplace profoundly affected by sin. I am sure Jesus dealt with difficult and demanding people in the workplace who complained about this and that. I am also confident that the sinless Son of Man not only modeled humility in the workplace, but also maintained a teachable spirit as he served under the tutelage of Joseph, his human guardian father. I doubt if Joseph was the perfect boss. I have yet to meet a perfect boss, and when I look into my mirror each morning, I see anything but a perfect boss.

Basin-and-Towel Kind of Servanthood

We are rightly in awe of Jesus, who shockingly ignores cultural convention by picking up a basin and towel and washing his disciples’ dirty, stinky feet. Yet we tend to forget that Jesus had been modeling a basin-and-towel kind of servanthood in a carpentry shop for years. Jesus’s humble service in the workplace was the training ground for that glorious display of servanthood in an upper room in Jerusalem.

Working with his hands day in and day out in a carpentry shop was not below Jesus. Jesus did not see his carpentry work as mundane or meaningless, for it was the work his Father had called him to do. I have a good hunch that Jesus was a top-notch carpenter and did top-notch work. Even before Jesus entered his itinerant rabbinical ministry, Matthew reminds his readers of the Father’s good pleasure in his Son. Following Jesus’s baptism, the Spirit of God descended as a dove, and a voice out of heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). I am sure there were many things that made the Father well pleased, but one important aspect of Jesus’s well-pleasing life that we must not overlook was his work as a carpenter.


This excerpt is adapted from Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson. Copyright © 2011. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,http://www.crossway.org.


Editors’ note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have yet discovered and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.

Tom Nelson is the senior pastor of Christ Community Church (EFCA) in Leawood, Kansas, and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. He Is the author of Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work.

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Keller on Quiet Times, Mysticism, and the Priceless Payoff of Prayer

Prayer. Is there anything in the world less glamorous and more important?

In his new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton) [20 quotes | review], Tim Keller distills decades of experience and biblical wisdom into a theologically informed, practically shaped guide for life on our knees. Blending sociological, theological, devotional, and methodological insights, he has produced a gift for anyone desiring to “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (Ps. 27:4), petition him with humble boldness, and watch him respond with infinitely wise love.

A vibrant prayer life is often grueling and rarely convenient. It’s hard-won. And it’s absolutely worth it. Nothing compares to the experience of knowing and revering and enjoying and receiving from the King of the universe—all of which, Keller demonstrates, is available to you through prayer.

I asked the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City about mysticism, the problem with quiet times, how he’s taught his congregation to pray, advice for the distracted, and more.


You argue for a “radically biblical mysticism” a la John Owen and Jonathan Edwards—or what John Murray called an “intelligent mysticism.” How should we view the intersection between theology and experience when we’re on our knees?

Biblical meditation means, first, to think out your theology. (That means having it clearly in your mind. Know what you believe.) Second, it means to work in your theology. (That means self-communion, talking to yourself. For example, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” It is asking yourself, “How would I be different if I took this theological truth seriously? How would it change my attitudes and actions if I really believed this from the bottom of my heart?”) Third, it means to pray up your theology. (That means turning your theology into prayer, letting it trigger adoration, confession, and supplication.) Do those things, and your theology will intersect with your experience.

In what ways is our evangelical concept of a “quiet time” lacking? 

Most conceptions of the evangelical “quiet time,” at least as I was instructed in them, tended to focus mostly on inductive Bible study. So it was more information-driven and less oriented toward communion with God. However, in reaction, we see lots of people talking about lectio divina—which can be defined in a lot of ways. But I’ve often heard it described as reading the Bible not for theological truth, but in order to “hear a personal word from God.” The trouble is that you hear what God is saying to you in any particular place by discerning the text’s theological meaning. You can’t be sure that anything that happens to hit you that day is God speaking to you in the Bible. Yet if you spend all your devotional time using commentaries and other texts to figure out a passage, it takes up all the time and energy, and your prayer time is often perfunctory.

I’ve concluded that most people should set aside regular time in which we are studying the Bible, seeking to understand its meaning. Then, out of this study, we should choose passages to meditate on during our times of prayer. Martin Luther and John Owen believed (rightly) that before prayer it was important to meditate on biblical truths until our affections and hearts were as deeply engaged as possible. I find that their instructions on communion with God fit in with neither the typical evangelical “quiet time” nor the new emphasis on lectio divina.

How have you taught your congregation to pray?

I have preached sermon series on prayer six or seven times, and I’ve had years in which I trained my leaders in prayer. We have also had seasons of congregational prayer. Finally, I hope my pastoral prayers—especially the ones that are not written out—would be instructive. Spontaneous public prayers can reveal a lot about a person’s private prayer life. In that way, I can be something of a model. Having said all this, I don’t believe I’ve been particularly good at teaching my church to pray.

You recall being convicted upon realizing that the apostle Peter “assumed an experience of sometimes overwhelming joy in prayer was normal” (1 Pet. 1:8). How do we rightly pursue such joy, especially when it feels far more elusive than normal?

You just have to be faithful and regular in prayer. Most of us pursue joy in prayer, don’t get it, and then don’t stick at it. But as the Puritans used to say, “Mind your work, not your wages.” Prayer is a duty—even if we don’t get much out of it emotionally, we nevertheless owe it to God. Christians necessarily believe we depend on God for everything—a prayerless Christian, then, is a contradiction in terms. But if there is a secret to this, it may be right here. When we seek God for himself, not for some emotional payoff, and we develop habits of regular prayer, the sense of joy and of his presence is more likely to come and come more often.

Why is it so crucial to pray in Jesus’s name? What are some ways we pray in our own names instead?

To pray in Jesus’s name means to acknowledge that we only have access to the Father’s attention and grace through the mediation and work of our Savior. So just using the words “in Jesus’s name” is not sufficient. We use the words to reinforce the required attitudes and motives. To pray “in Jesus’s name” is to come before God in both humility (knowing we don’t deserve God’s help) and confidence (knowing that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and worthiness), as well as grateful joy.

To pray in Jesus’s name, then, is to be aware of the grace of the gospel as the basis of prayer, and to have our attitude in prayer deeply enriched—both humbled and exalted. When we consciously or unconsciously expect God to hear our prayer because of our relative freedom from overt sin or because of our service and moral effort, we are praying in our own name.

What advice would you give to those who struggle with getting distracted and losing their train of thought while praying?

Martin Luther suggested meditation. For example, if you paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer, as Luther counsels, it forces you to concentrate. Almost any method of meditation can focus the mind and then engage the affections so that when you turn to prayer you won’t be distracted. It should go without saying—but I will say it—that what I mean by “meditation” is not any of the contemplative practices that aim at getting beyond words and rational thought into pure awareness of our oneness with God. Biblical meditation, rather, is filling the mind with Scripture and then “loading the heart” (to use John Owen’s phrase) with it until it affects not only the emotions but the entire life.

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