Loving God with Heart, Mind, and Hand

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". . . aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands." (I Thess. 4:11)

"In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands" (Heb. 1:10, quoting Ps. 102:25, NRSV).

"You laid earth's foundations a long time ago, and handcrafted the very heavens." (Heb. 1:10, MSG)

Magnificent, skillfully worked wooden carvings are scattered throughout my home. They are fresh works of art, a personalized adaptation of folk art, untrained, yet masterful. They are mostly owls, eagles, and various iconic human figures, lovingly, freely, skillfully carved out of basswood, mostly. They are the product of my father's hand work.

Loving and Serving God with Head and Heart

My father was a manager of people and machines and manufacturing processes all of his "working" life. He was a metallurgist in charge of grey iron at a steel foundry, an important division because it was the first step in the manufacturing of farm machinery. It was a complicated job too. He had to understand and apply the science and mechanics of melting, molding, and fabricating steel into parts for the particular products. He knew the process of melting grey iron, building, and using molds to form precision pieces to be assembled. And he knew the company goals, procedures, and policies that he was expected to achieve and follow. He even developed some of them himself. And he knew people—who to hire, how to manage, motivate, reward in order to maximize productivity and minimize costs while producing the highest quality product with microscopic precision. And he knew labor policies, union objectives and strategies, and how to engage and influence them as allies and friends, not antagonists. He knew that effective leadership was built on strong relationships.

My father, the metallurgist, manufacturer, people manager, was a respected leader, friend both to senior management and to the workers in the shop. He used his head, effectively producing highest quality products while building cordial, productive, and meaningful personal relationships. He had a heart and head for people along with the skills for running a manufacturing plant.

Jesus calls his disciples to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength" (Mark 12:30). One of the ways we love and honor God is by doing our work faithfully, using our skills to God's glory and for the common good—and doing that with an excellence that indeed honors the excellence of Jesus. My dad embraced and expressed a balance of the Protestant work ethic and Christian social justice.

Loving and Serving God with Your Hands

After several extensions, dad finally retired, and gradually began to work with his hands. Beginning with an old pocket knife and a small piece of scrap wood, and perhaps out of some boredom or restlessness over newly acquired but unwanted idleness, he started to whittle and quickly developed skills for wood carving. They were simple objects to begin with and then masterful works of art. The Scandinavian "flat-plane" is a long cherished wood carving tradition. Perhaps my dad knew that, and perhaps he had a bit of that genetic heritage, but he soon took his carving into his own distinctive style.

He used his hands in new ways; from writing out reports, calculating costs longhand, shaking hands with the union boss or the new employee, or helping someone move a machine. But he could also feel the texture of a beautiful piece of raw wood (usually basswood) and skillfully work a knife to shape that piece into a new form of beauty. His pieces became blue ribbon winners at the state fair and prized possessions by all who received one of his finished carvings.

He never sold his carvings. All (200-300?) were gifts, first to immediate family, then to neighbors, friends, and extended family. Our home proudly displays 25 or 30. As I write this from my office, I look up to a large bald eagle, a regal-looking horned owl, a blacksmith, a St. Francis, a golfer (me), a pair of praying hands, and perhaps my favorite, a man on his knees by a bed, praying. Each is a loving memory of my father, but also, a profound reminder of the value of the work of our hands. Hand work as well as head work is ordained and blessed by God, an important expression of what it is to be made in the image of God.

In the Image of a Relational, Thinking, Hand Working God

God is presented in Scripture as one who thinks the logos, God's great idea, thought the grand story and makes it happen by the sound of his voice, by an act of his will. In Jesus, the thinking, speaking, creating-out-of-nothing God calls us to love God with all our minds. Faithfulness to this God made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth (the woodworker, carpenter) involves the active use of our mental capacities.

Hand work, even the most basic, is honorable work for humans made in the image of a creative God. In the beginning God created the earth. Then he created humans to work the earth with their hands (Gen. 2:8-9, 15). Creation is the product both of the grand idea and the "hands-on" shaping. The Psalmist says, "Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands" (Ps. 102:25). The writer of Hebrews quotes this referring to the activity of Jesus, Incarnate Son of God, agent of creation, through whom God shaped the heavens with his hands. In Scripture, God is also described as metallurgist (Isa. 48:10), tentmaker (2 Cor. 5.1-5) and as potter (Isa. 64.8). God works with his hands, so we reflect the divine image when we work with our hands—to create, form, shape, lift, carry, hold, touch, sign, carve. The work of our hands is good because it reflects the image of God.

When Paul challenges the young Christians in Thessalonica to live a lifestyle of love for each other, he directs them to "aspire to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your hands." Perhaps the most direct understanding of "work with your hands" is the call to be gainfully employed, taking care of your own living expenses rather than living off the generosity of others. But it can easily be applied to all physical labor. This work of our hands is joined to God's work. So too is the work of our hands for art and creative expression, including wood carving.

So, work is good. It is designed by God, physical work as well as mental work, hand work as well as head. All work can reflect the image of God and fulfill the directive to love God with our whole being—heart, head, and yes, hand.

My hands are not the skillful, artistic hands of my father the wood carver, but they are hands designed to work, to produce, carry, lift, form, shape, hold, feel, touch, manipulate tools, write, and accomplish tasks. My hands—and yours—were designed by God. They are intended for God's purposes. My dad has been gone for over 30 years. His hand work remains, in our home, in the rooms of my grandchildren, and the homes of scores of strangers.

So, love God with all your heart, soul, body—and hands. And may the work of your hands bless those you love.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • Think about the mental and emotional requirements of your work. How do you love God with your head and heart in your work?
  • Christians often talk about the ideas of God, but God is also a "hands-on worker." How do you work with your hands? What tools do you use—either physical or electronic?
  • For more about the ordinary handiwork of God, read Howard Butt's article God Did Ordinary Hands-On Work.