Jesus spent 18 years as a builder.
Traditionally we know him to have specialised in woodwork, but the word we translate as ‘carpenter’, tekton, also encompasses masonry and building in general. Whatever his trade, he spent 18 years on it; that’s more than he spent as a wandering rabbi. That’s more than he spent at school. The majority of his life was spent in workshops and on building sites.
(And that makes me wonder what 1st century building sites were like, and how the labourers acted, and how Jesus navigated that.)
All of this resonates with me, because I’ve always struggled with the idea of calling – what does God want me to do with my life? Now, I know that part of that is something of a distraction – ultimately, I think God’s more interested in how I live rather than what’s on my CV – but still, I can’t shake the idea that God has different roles he wants us all to play, based on our individual personalities and talents and circumstances. And it’s not always easy to find out what that is, and it’s not always the time for these roles to kick in. So what do you do in the down time?
I’ve prayed about this, and the answer that seemed to jump out was ‘learn’. And that’s inspired me, because I’m not someone who tends to say that answers jump out at me about anything.
‘Learn’ is interesting, because it covers a range of things. The word ‘disciple’ means ‘learner’, and that’s key to remember, because even when you don’t have a specific calling in mind to work towards, we’re still called to be more like Jesus, to learn his teachings and live them out. That’s standard, that’s the baseline, that’s the stuff you need to do before you can even think about some fancy, high-powered calling. And that’s a challenge in many ways, an ego-leveling reality check. Jesus doesn’t need people with excellent resumes or experience as long as their leg, he needs disciples.
But there are specific things we need to learn, there are things that need to be done. Jesus knew he was the messiah, but he still learned how to be a builder. And there are things that each one of us can start to learn, because we know what our communities look like, we know where our jobs might be heading, we know where our churches might be heading. I struggle with the idea of calling, but there are things I know I need to learn, skills I know I need to develop: sign language, preaching, the impact of megacities on training, autism acceptance, a whole bunch of things. And I can sit on my butt moaning about my calling and my destiny, or I can get on with learning what I need to learn.
And that’s wider than what we might consider ‘spiritual’, because, in the words of Wendell Berry, “There are no un-sacred spaces, there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Read theology but read history and science and literature, because they’ll dance with your theology and expand it and help you to see God as greater than our doctrines. The hands that rose Lazarus from the dead also knew how to build a table, and there’s no contradiction in that.
So read more books. Read more blogs. Make connections between the stuff you’ve already learned. Expand your horizons. Talk to people. Listen to some TED Talks. Listen to people who think that TED Talks are ADHD utopianism. Read your Bible. Pray more.
Be a disciple.