I had lunch with a friend and he lamented
the fact that his soon-to-be teenage boy was growing restless for a
serious activity to do. Gone were the days when his son could be sent
outside to “play” in order to work off excess energy. His son craved
tasks that had real value and was beginning to discern the difference
between real and invented work. He was fast approaching the stage
where he wanted to be “useful” in a significant way. God has placed
this desire in all boys for they are, as one writer has put it, future
men. If God has given young men a desire to be involved in substantial
work, I believe that parents are to channel that desire to a godly
Many in the homeschool community are waking up to the fact that we are
sending our sons into the world with very few “hands-on” skills.
Unless our dad was a carpenter, plumber or auto mechanic (and he took
the time to teach us that skill), there is a good chance that we have
no knowledge of even the basic skills that people a generation ago
took for granted. Far from encouraging the passing down of “hands-on”
skills and the value of hard work, our society has lampooned
“hands-on” skills as something unnecessary and even demeaning in
today’s highly technical world. After all, it has only been in the
last fifty years that a man who can work with his hands has been
considered inferior socially.
The Word of God, however, takes a very different view of practical
skills. In Acts 20: 32-35, Paul reminded the Ephesians that he had
used his own hands to provide for his necessities and those with him.
He also added that by laboring with his hands, he had shown them an
example of how to provide for themselves and those in need around
them. Paul, of course, was a mental giant in his time. If anyone could
have made a living on sheer brain power alone, it would have been him.
Refuting the best theologians and philosophers of his day, he still
used his own hands to provide for his necessities. Why? According to 2
Thessalonians 3:6-12, the reason was for an example to the flock and
to not burden the fledgling churches of the day.
But surely working with his hands took Paul away from the more
important duties of teaching, administering and writing most of the
New Testament! The Corinthians took a very dim view of those who
worked with their hands, especially if they were a teacher of the
Word. They mocked Paul and similar to today, found an odd satisfaction
in being lorded over by their religious teachers who not would lift a
finger if it meant getting their hands dirty. Paul attacks this
attitude with biting satire and proudly claims that he indeed works
with his own hands and counts it an honor to be mocked by the world!
You are already full! You are already
rich! You have reigned as kings without us -- and indeed I could wish
you did reign, that we also might reign with you! For I think that God
has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for
we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.
We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are
weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are
dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are
poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working
with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we
endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of
the world, the offscouring of all things until now. (1 Corinthians
Now I am not saying that we should all
move to the country and require our sons to only work with their
hands. I am saying that, whether your son chooses work with his
hands for a living or not, practical life skills are essential for a
well-balanced Christian life. Let me list a few reasons why:
1. Practical skills give us freedom from man.
Notice in 1 Corinthians, Paul did not have to rely on the haughty
Corinthians for his livelihood. He had his own source of bread and the
Corinthians had no power over him. He was free from their corrupting
influence. He could minister to a group of people without being
beholden to them financially. How many pastors are afraid to say
things that need to be said because some influential person in the
church might pull the financial plug on them? Or how many Christian
public school teachers are afraid to call evolution a lie because they
might lose their livelihood? Knowing some practical skills can give us
freedom from undue influence by other men.
2. Practical skills provide an example for those we disciple.
One of the key reasons Paul worked with his hands was to provide an
example to those to whom he was ministering. If the one who discipled
is willing to do manual labor to get the gospel out, how much more the
one being discipled? And hopefully our children are our number one
disciples. They need to see the value of practical skills and the
character that these skills produce. I have been amazed at some of the
softness and downright laziness of the boys that enter my Life Skills
Camps. But then what should you expect from boys who are not required
to do any physical labor around the house and whose chief
entertainment are video games and television? And those boys who shun
the television only to spend all of their time in books are no better!
Reading is a great and wonderful exercise, but it must not exclude the
learning of practical skills. In addition to intellectual skills,
practical skills are necessary for the godly character they produce in
3. Practical skills bring us down to earth.
Far from enticing boys not to go to college, I have found that
spending an entire summer framing houses encourages young men to
pursue college with a vigor. And a summer roofing houses in the hot
Texas sun will cause your son to enter post graduate studies! He may
not want to rely on that skill for a living, unless he parlay it into
a business where he does not have to be the one on the roof! I believe
that every person in the ministry should have to work in the business
world for a period of time. They would have a greater appreciation for
the pressures and temptations that their parishioners face in the
modern work environment. They would also be less apt to ask us to do
things (or programs) that make your family compete for your time and
energy. If more pastors came from the real world of work or had to
earn a part-time living while ministering, they would have more
respect from those inside and outside of the church. Practical skills
and hard work help to harness the intellect and bring it under
submission to God. They also teach us to evaluate priorities and
4. Practical skills were modeled by Paul and Christ.
We have already seen Paul’s example, but why do you think God chose to
be a carpenter? Surely, studying to be a teacher or rabbi would have
been more conducive to His future ministry! Or perhaps an attorney.
After all, He would spend a lot of time making arguments and
counter-arguments with the Pharisees and Sadducees. No, He chose a
skill that would exemplify strength, endurance, patience and worth. He
was giving an example to follow.
5. Practical skills produce godly character.
Again, I can not say this enough. I am not advocating that pursuing a
trade or working with your hands is the only “righteous” calling or
vocation a man can enter. Yet, I am saying that learning
practical skills will help your son in whatever calling he pursues.
These skills will generate godly character in him. James says that
trials produce endurance and endurance results in the complete man of
God, lacking in nothing. Boys who do not know how to work hard, or
grind through unpleasant experiences, will not have the emotional
stamina to do the right thing when it becomes very painful to do so.
6. Practical skills give us something to fall back on in hard
It is amazing how many of the patriarchs lived through severe economic
downturns in the form of droughts. We are not immune from economic
downturns in America today. I have had a variety of jobs and one was a
sales position for a head-hunting (career placement) company. I would
speak to many highly skilled, technical people every day who were
looking for a job and had no other skills on which to fall back. One
guy told me that he would not have any trouble finding a job because
he had twenty years experience running a call center. I replied,
“Maybe, but you are the fifth call center executive I have talked with
today!” Do not despise the day of small things. Teach your sons some
practical skills now, for there are seasons when God gives hard
economic times to test our faith and teach us humility. Or perhaps to
save a nation as Joseph did!
7. Last, but not least, God can use our practical skills to
minister to others around the world.
Carpentry has taken me on mission trips to Haiti, Nicaragua and
Mexico. My skill with a saw gave me the opportunity to share the good
news in a foreign country. Paul told the Thessalonians to remember his
labor and toil, “that we might not be a burden to any of you, we
preached to you the gospel of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9) He used his
skill as a tent maker to earn the right from his audience to preach
So, even if our sons are not going to pursue a trade-type career,
knowledge of these skills will make them more self-sufficient and less
vulnerable in economic downturns. Having knowledge of basic “hands-on”
skills will give them confidence in their ability to provide for a
family and help others in need, even if they do not use those skills
to make a living. Plus, most of these skills are just plain fun and
can be used on mission trips, helping our neighbors and as a tool to
share the gospel. I will conclude with one of my favorite verses.
Here is what I have seen: It is good and
fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his
labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which
God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom
God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to
receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor-- this is the gift of
God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because
God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes
How do we keep from unduly dwelling on the
days of our lives? How do we protect our sons from the stress,
depression and self-pity of the modern work environment? We are to
teach them (and ourselves!) to enjoy the good of all their labor.
Teach them to value good, honest hard work. Teach them to view work
not as the daily grind, but as a heritage - what they will be known
by. Above all, we must teach them that we serve a gracious and good
God and that the ability to work and to eat the fruit thereof, is a
gift from Him.
Stephen Beck owns and operates a small business in Bryan, Texas. He is
the author of A Father’s Stew: The Biblical Integration of Family,
Work and Ministry. His passions are discipling his three children
and leading younger believers to maturity in Christ, which he combines
with his other passion of duck hunting whenever he can!
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