By Joel Ryan, Crosswalk.com
Growing up, I was always obsessed with my dad’s work as a carpenter. Many of his stories and life lessons were wood-related or shop-themed; and from his wisdom and example, I learned how to not only become a great craftsman but also a man of God.
Dads are known for their practical wisdom and often ridiculous sayings and maxims they insist on repeating to their children. They can create a metaphor out of just about anything and are some of the world’s most natural storytellers.
Sports, cars, movies, cooking—dads will use whatever they can to teach their sons about life, work, family, and faith in God. We may have rolled our eyes at their words of wisdom when we were younger.
But every story, saying, and metaphor somehow still managed to help us become the men we are today.
So in honor of dads, their sayings, and their stories, here are a few woodworking words of wisdom, shop sayings, and nine lessons of faith to help build your spiritual life:
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1. Measure Twice, Cut Once
This was the saying I heard a lot watching my dad work. We have both seen projects ruined and money wasted because of woodcuts made by inaccurate or impatient measurements. A measurement that is off by even the slightest margin could lead to a cut that is either too short or too long.
A wise carpenter makes sure his math and measurements are as accurate as possible prior to buying materials or turning to the saw. He trusts his tape measure or level, never his eye, and takes his time, measuring twice so he only has to cut once.
Spiritually, the same is true of our lives. Proverbs 3:5-6 says to, “trust in the Lord will all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”
Trying to live without God’s guidance is like trying to eyeball a precision cut without any previous measurement or support. No matter how skilled we think we are, we’re setting ourselves up for a costly failure. The only way to measure the success and outcome of our lives is to measure it against God’s word.
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2. Follow the Instructions
I’ve never seen my dad throw out an instruction manual—ever. Whenever he buys a new tool, he carefully reads every page of the manual so he understands how to maximize that tool’s potential and keep it in good working condition for as long as possible.
We too have been given a thorough instruction manual for spiritual living in God’s word.
“He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20).
“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” (Joshua 1:8)
Adhering to the instructions found in Scripture not only keeps us aligned with God’s will, but also helps us match the Creator’s design and specifications for our lives.
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3. Never Stop Learning
My dad loves shows like This Old House and the New Yankee Workshop because of the specialty tools Bob Vila and Norm Abram have in their shops.
When it comes to our lives, what kinds of tools have we assembled in our spiritual toolbox?
My dad still spends hours watching YouTube videos to learn how to build new things or develop new techniques. He spends even more time in the Word for the same reason. No matter how old or wise you are, there’s always more to learn.
“For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:3-6)
Are we consistently seeking wisdom from the Word and growing together with other men of God (Ephesians 2:19-22), or do we pridefully think we know it all?
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4. Take Care of Your Tools
I can’t tell you how many times I got in trouble growing up for borrowing Dad’s tools and forgetting to put them back. Tools that aren’t properly handled, maintained, or stored will eventually fall apart or fail. For a carpenter, it’s very disheartening to see a beautiful tool damaged or rusted over because of improper use or neglect.
Carpenters need their tools to do what they are designed to do. This means being diligent in keeping them in good working condition.
God provides His followers with spiritual tools to equip them for life, but it’s our job to maintain them. The fruit of the Spirit must be cultivated (Galatians 5:22-23). The armor of God must be polished (Ephesians 6:10-20).
As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you...Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4:14-15).
Spending time in the word, praying, tithing, worshiping, and having regular fellowship with other men is how we maintain the tools that shape the products of love, peace, faithfulness, etc. in our lives (Acts 2:42-46).
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5. Lift with Your Legs
Carpenters often have to carry cumbersome sheets of lumber and move heavy equipment. Using proper lifting techniques and muscles suited for heavy lifting prevents injury.
When we know where our power and strength come from, we know what we can lift. And, we know when a load is too much to bear on our own.
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6. Ask for Help
This is hard for some men to do, but at the end of the day, a smart carpenter knows that an extra hand can make a world of difference!
As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
No one is designed to endure the rigors of life alone (Galatians 6:2). Not only did Jesus provide the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), He gave us fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to help carry the load and pick us up when we fall (Romans 12:5).
A serious injury in the shop can turn deadly when no one is around to help. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Asking for help and having an extra hand nearby can save our lives.
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7. Protect Your Eyes
Nothing’s worse than having a fleck of sawdust caught in your eye or a splinter embedded in your hand or foot. Either can bring your work to a standstill, or worse, cause serious damage. Wearing goggles, ear plugs, gloves, good boots, or a respirator can protect your body from harm and keep you working longer.
Jesus reminded His followers that, “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22).
There’s also reason why Paul wrote that we are to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6). Having spiritual protection blocks the enemy’s attacks, keeps us strong, and helps us stay focused on the task at hand (Proverbs 4:23).
A carpenter who constantly exposes his eyes, ears, and lungs to sawdust and paint fumes may not be a carpenter for very long.
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8. Patience Pays Off
Very few projects are finished in a day. Sometimes you have to know when to call it a night and start again the next day.
Also, when you’re working with glues and stains, things take time to properly dry. You can’t rush the process. I have personally ruined many projects by getting impatient and trying to work before the glue had set or paint had dried. Patience pays off.
Our lives too are a work in progress. God is constantly measuring, cutting, sanding, priming, and polishing us to become more and more like Him every day (2 Corinthians 3:18).
As Paul wrote to the Philippians,“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
If I learned anything from watching my dad, it’s that the most beautiful pieces of craftmanship take time, persistence, and patience to create.
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9. Let me Show You
Unfortunately, many of my dad’s lessons sunk in only after I had ignored or failed to heed them, resulting in a fair amount of physical pain, damaged tools, and failed projects. But in every failure, as frustrated as he may have been, he always showed grace, gave me a second chance, and helped me fix even my worst mistakes. How much more patient and forgiving is our heavenly Father with us?
Fathers are our first teachers, and a good father will teach his son how to be a man through his words and example (Proverbs 22:6).
Being an imitator of my earthly father taught me to become an imitator of my spiritual father; and am I indescribably grateful for both.
Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s and young adult author who teaches writing at Life Pacific University. He has a heart for young adults and is passionate about engaging youth through storytelling and art. His blog, Perspectives Off the Page, discusses the spiritual and creative life through the lens of storytelling and narrative.
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