My favorite Jewish carpenter other than Jesus is Norm Abram. I’m a weekend woodworker, and the hobby has done more than just save me money and provide a healthy diversion for my mind.
It’s more than sawdust and saw blades. For me, it’s also spiritual.
During the many hours I’ve spent woodworking, I’ve come to realize how much of the craft relates to our walk with God. I’m not alone. The Shakers of the 19th-century viewed the craftsmanship of their unique furniture as an extension of their worship of God.
I want to share with you 10 ways I’ve discovered that woodworking affirms the spiritual life. I’ll do this in two posts.
For fun, I’ll also show you some pictures of stuff I’ve built.
1. You will have to cut cross grain, so stay sharp.
Cutting wood in the same direction as its grain grows is easy and makes clean cuts. But cutting cross grain is tough. You need a sharp blade, or it’s messy.
In a culture that’s cross grain to Christianity, we have to stay sharp in order to stay effective. I love the metaphor Solomon gives:
If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success. —Ecclesiastes 10:10
Taking time to sharpen your “tools” in the spiritual life makes work more efficient. That includes your daily relationship with God, and it may even include additional training in areas of theology, apologetics, or Bible knowledge.
2. Good tools save you time and give you better results.
I never knew I was a carpenter until my wife gave me a table saw for Christmas. (What do you know? I can cut a straight board!) Good tools save you time, keep you accurate, and make the experience more fun. For the workshop, I recommend beginning with a good table saw, a router, and an orbital sander (there’s no end to this list, by the way).
In the same way, you need good tools in the spiritual life. Good Bible study tools are a worthy investment that will help you understand the Bible better and pave the way for proper application. As far as priority, I recommend:
- A good study Bible. Be sure you study a translation, not a paraphrase. Some great examples are the New American Standard Version, the New Living Translation, the English Standard Version (the Kindle Version is currently free), and the New International Version (the 1984 edition).
- An exhaustive concordance. This tool allows you to look up and study any word in the Bible. These days, it’s easy to use a good computer program like Accordance (Mac) or Logos (PC), because these allow more complex searches. If you want a physical concordance, I recommend the NASB Exhaustive Concordance or NIV Exhaustive Concordance.
- A good atlas. One of the reasons I’m so passionate about Bible lands is that it has given me more understanding of Scripture than even Greek or Hebrew. I have listed my recommended atlases in another post.
I also highly recommend you journey to Israel. There is no greater investment in your spiritual life and understanding of the Bible.
3. You can do a lot more than you think with the little you have.
My subscription to Fine Woodworking sometimes frustrates me when I read these professionals with what seems like everything I don’t have. (Including lots of time.) Every woodworker has his or her eye on the next tool.
But I’ve discovered that with patience and ingenuity, you can do a whole lot with a good table saw and a router. There is almost always more than one way to do something.
Jesus’ point when He multiplied the fish and loaves—and when He sent out the disciples with nothing for their journey—was to teach them that He provides for their lack (Matt. 14:17-19; Luke 9:3).
The spiritual life is full of lack (that’s on purpose). You will always have less than it seems you need. But you can do a lot with a little if you take it to Jesus and trust Him to multiply it.
4. Following a plan gets you where you want to go with greater success.
Some woodworkers like to wing it. No plans—just turn on the saw and let her rip. That’s great if your goal is sawdust.
But for me, I’ve found it’s best to follow a plan. If it’s a custom piece, I’ll draw my own plan. At other times, I’ll follow a plan I’ve bought or borrowed. (I enjoy using Norm Abram’s books.) When I fail to follow a plan, it doesn’t turn out as well, it takes longer, it costs more, I waste wood, and I make more mistakes. If you’re on a budget, trial and error isn’t the ideal way to do woodworking.
The plan for the spiritual life is laid out in the Bible. When we wing it, follow no plan, we usually end up with sawdust to show for our lives. God’s will for your life is clearly laid out in Scripture. It’s best to stick with the plan.
5. Mistakes always teach you, and they rarely ruin the piece.
“Measure twice and cut once,” the old adage goes. I have a carpenter friend who likes to joke, “I cut it three times and it’s still too short!” Mistakes cost time and money. They can also change your language in the workshop. (Yes, I’ve been bilingual on occasion.)
But mistakes are only wasted if you don’t learn from them. This principle is true in life as well. Some of the best lessons have come through failure.
I know every flaw in every project I’ve made. If I choose to, I can focus in on those blemishes and miss the fact that the finished product is still a functional and attractive piece of furniture. Imperfections up close don’t keep the piece from being effectively used or from looking beautiful.
We are flawed individuals. Yet God still powerfully uses us in spite of our imperfections. What’s more, He thinks we’re beautiful because when He sees us He sees the holiness of His Son, Jesus.
In Part 2, I finish the list of “10 Ways Woodworking Affirms Your Spiritual Life.” See it here.
In the mean time, here are some of the projects I’ve completed through the years—both for family as well as for our home.
Tell me what you think: What other ways can you think of in which woodworking relates to the spiritual life? To leave a comment, just click here.