When I imagine Jesus working alongside Joseph, learning his father’s trade as a carpenter, I wonder how much they talked. Woodworking has always been a noisy business, and that makes conversation hard. Imagine, though, how important those times of working and talking together must have been as Jesus was growing up.
My father is a carpenter with a lifetime of experience. A lot of my early woodworking lessons happened in his cabinet shop when I was a teenager. He also taught me to pray, and he and my mother gave me my first glimpses into the Bible. My father helped to shape my faith and he taught me a lot about work, but learning how to bring these things together is something that did not come naturally.
In my mid-twenties, I took a job in a cabinet shop. My work mostly involved repetitive tasks without much interaction with employees in the other departments of the shop. One of the hardest parts of the work was just staying focused; when the work got boring, my mind started to wander. Spend a few hours a day drilling holes for screws and then threading drawer handles onto screws, and your mind will be hungry for something else, anything else, to do.
As I labored away in the noise and dust of the shop, I found myself longing for the complex and thrilling engagement of my heart and mind and spirit that comes with reading the Bible. I began to experience a new and profound tension. I wanted to be like the happy people described in Psalm 1 who think about God’s Word “day and night” and who…
... are like trees
growing beside a stream,
trees that produce
fruit in season
and always have leaves.
Those people succeed
in everything they do. (Psalm 1:3, CEV)
But I was having a very hard time meditating while I was working, even when the work was nearly mindless and boring. I was frustrated and worried about the divide I felt between the time I spent reading the Bible and engaging with Scripture and all the other parts of my daily life. This seemed like a good thing to pray about, and I soon began to experience something remarkable.
After some experimentation, I discovered that trying to memorize short passages of Scripture, while I was working, was both possible and a beautiful way to bring part of what I studied at home with me to work. In the morning, I would write a verse or short passage on an index card and carry it in my pocket. During my scheduled breaks or a moment in between tasks, whenever I remembered it, I would take the card out and try to memorize a phrase of the passage, building on what I had already been able to recall.
The process of memorizing these passages helped me savor the words. Oftentimes a new thought or implication about the passage would emerge as I recited the text. More than once, I found that the words of the passage seemed to have an immediate connection or application to the details of my day, or some aspect of my work. I memorized hymns I had heard during worship services, and later, passages from a prayer book I came to love. Through the memorization exercise, I found one way of making a meaningful connection between my Bible reading and my hours at work.
Bridging the Gap
Do you sense a division between your Bible reading or prayer and other parts of your life? I think most believers sometimes do, but there are many ways to integrate time engaging with Scripture into other parts of our lives.
Spaces in your workday. Are there spaces in your workday that you could use to memorize what you are studying? What activity might be a good complement to or extension of your regular time spent reading the Bible? This could be prayer, further reading, meditation, and conversation about what you’ve read or your faith journey.
Nature of your work. What about the nature of your work? If your work requires you to spend most of your time actively thinking through complex issues or problems, then simple and focused repetition or meditation on Scripture might be helpful. If you spend big stretches of your day in conversation with co-workers or clients, quiet contemplative prayer that engages your imagination could be fruitful for you.
Pay attention to the rhythms of your day. Notice the ways it is easy and the ways it may be hard for you to remember or reflect on your Bible reading. As we open to the desire to let Bible reading and meditation flow into all the spheres of our lives, we may discover that the dividing lines gradually fade.
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