The Master’s Trade

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my truck waiting to go into class, contemplating what God wanted me to do when I stumbled across this quote:

“The young man who is seeking a preparation for usefulness needs to lay the foundation himself by acquiring through hard, diligent labor, the means for prosecuting his designs. If the young men around him have allowed their parents to carry the burden of their education, let him say, I will never do that. I will, by using my physical and mental powers combined, make of myself all that it is possible.”

After reading this and looking at my own situation, I began to realize that I had been laying the burden on my parents to pay my school bill. Though Ellen White was specifically writing about physicians and pastors, she says that:

“No man is properly prepared to enter upon a medical course until he has learned to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. When he can do this, he becomes self-reliant. If a youth has physical strength that he has not put to account in useful toil, it is a mistake for parents to give him money to use freely in taking a ministerial or a medical course.” 

I wondered “How could I implement this into my own life?” I’d been homeschooled most of my life, which allowed me to study in the morning and to work in the afternoon either with my dad in construction or in my own small side business. Now that I was in college studying religion, I thought that it was time for me to spend all my time in books–supposedly, I wasn’t going to work with my hands until after I graduated. I had the desire to continue running my small business, but I thought that God was calling me to give it up. At that time I didn’t know that it was still part of God’s plan to be involved in physical labor.

“No man is excusable for being without financial ability. Of many a man it may be said, he is kind, amiable, generous, a good man and a Christian, but he is not qualified to manage his own business. So far as the proper outlay of means is concerned, he is a mere child. He has not been educated by his parents to understand and practice the principles of self-support. Such a man is not fitted to become a minister or a physician.”

…Such a man is not fitted to become a minister or a physician.

I now realize that while I am called to study theology, I am also called to work with my hands during my time in college. Practical labor helps me pay for my school tuition while preparing me to live a self-supporting lifestyle. This is part of God’s method for training people to work in his service, and I believe this method applies not only to pastors and physicians, but also people from all careers, occupations, and walks of life. 

Jesus demonstrated this while He was on earth. You would think that if ministry was His most important goal, He would’ve spent most of his lifetime healing and teaching others. However, Jesus spent the majority of His life working in the carpenter’s shop, and during that time “He was just as verily fulfilling His commission when performing the duties of the home and working at the carpenter’s bench as when He engaged in His public work of ministry.” This manual labor must have played a critical role in preparing Jesus to be a minister or He would not have spent so much time engaged in it. 

Unfortunately, an education that includes manual labor is rare. Typically, in our educational culture, practical work is not included in the academic school system. Most time is spent in the classroom, with very little time spent learning things such as carpentry or house keeping. It can be tempting to feel that we must devote all our time to our studies to get good grades, but this is not what the life of Jesus represented. It was important for Jesus to grow in “wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man”; to be actively involved in developing Himself by working with His hands–again, a critical point of development given that most of His life was devoted to this work until about 30.

One historical example of a school that gave practical training is the Madison College, one of the early Adventist mission training schools established. Many of the students who left the college were trained not only in Biblical studies, but were all also able to successfully learn different trades. The lessons from the practical labor fueled their passion for mission and gave them the financial ability to start their own schools. It was no wonder you could find Madison students in almost every part of the country back in the 1900s. The practical training provided at Madison allowed its students to be fully ready to go wherever God called them to go once they graduated. It taught them to be effective missionaries around the world.

The question we now have to ask is, how do we do this in the 21st century? After reading the quote at the beginning of the article, I decided to make it a priority to take what I’d understood from inspired writing and put it into practice. During my college educational experience, I have put as much effort as I can into learning a trade while I continue to study religion. Although I have been somewhat successful in running my own car dealership and working cars while studying, popular methods of education have posed great difficulty. The biggest challenge has been the lack of time: Because all my time has to be spent in books, I have little time to work on anything else. 

Regardless, I truly believe God has a place for manual labor in our schools today. Just like Jesus, we might never need that trade in the future once we are placed in ministry, but the knowledge, critical thinking skills, physical strength, wisdom, and self-discipline will carry us throughout the rest of our lives. This will undoubtedly give us the practical trade training we need to better prepare us to live a life of service to others. If we are given the opportunity to work with our hands, it benefits us by not only strengthening our minds but allows us to fulfill God’s plan of True Education; an education that does not only benefit us here on earth but prepares us for a life in the world to come.

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