Sometimes I get envious of painters, plumbers, landscapers, carpenters and others who get to work with their hands and have something to show for it at the end of every day, or at least every week.

What do I and other “knowledge workers” have to show for it every seven days?

Virtually nothing.

Or most of it is “virtual” – words that are hidden inside our computers and servers: in files, documents, reports, spreadsheets, and so on. But there’s not a lot of physicality to this.

Some of these words may get posted on the Internet – but effectively disappear off the bottom of the page every few days

Some of the words become sermons which also largely evaporate into the air as they are spoken.

For knowledge workers in general, and for pastors in particular, there often just isn’t anything to show for weeks and weeks, months and months, years and years of mental sweat, blood, and tears.

One answer to this frustrating sense of futility is more faith, to believe that God will bless His Word written and spoken. We sow the seed, another waters, but God gives the increase. Yes, we believe all that – most of the time.

But we’re still human, we still have a basic human need to see some fruit, some result, something to show for all the hours and hours in the study and on our knees.

Another answer is to mow the lawn (or, in Michigan, to shovel the snow in the winter).

I admit it, cutting the grass has become one of the most satisfying things I do all week. It meets that basic human need to have something physical, something visible, something to point to, something beautiful to see and admire.

Apart from that weekly satisfaction infusion, I also try to do one major physical project every year. One year, I laid a patio. This year I built a deck in our yard. It’s something tangible I can point to and say, “I did that!” (with God’s help, of course).

I hope this isn’t too unspiritual, but when I feel I’ve got little or nothing to show for a semester’s work – how do you measure whether Hebrew exegesis lectures really worked? – I cut the grass, paint a room, or go and work on my new deck. I get my muscles sore and hands dirty, basically.

Another pastor I know spends his regular day off doing carpentry. Maybe, some days, the Apostle Paul got a greater sense of accomplishment gluing and stitching tents together than gluing and stitching ripped churches together.

Yes, I also pray for more faith that God will bless my lectures, even though I’m unlikely to see or hear of the results in my students’ future ministries. I pray for fruit from my sermons and pastoral visits in my congregation.

But like many knowledge workers there’s still a little bit of me – maybe it’s a really weak and carnal bit – that I feel just needs the regular wee encouragement of something that I can see and touch. Grass, paving stone, and wood have worked for me. The dirtier and harder the work, the better.

But, strangely, that physical yard work has also motivated, inspired, and energized me to do more spiritual Word work too.

Hope that’s OK.

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  • Eric Mason

    Absolutely! This was one of the hardest transitions for me going from farming to pastoral ministry. You pull up to a field and know what needs to be done. You finish and you can clearly see what you’ve accomplished. Ministry is very different. Labor, often without visible results.

  • wilma

    It’s more than okay. It’s necessary and wonderful. God wove us together, body and soul. Being made in the image of God, we desire to create as he did. We need to remind our spiritual selves of the physical self that relishes tangible creativity. Projects are as needful to the body and mind, as pursuit of the spiritual is to the soul. The lessons of life and the satisfaction generated by creativity, surely need not be confined to the study.

  • a.

    be blessed today :)

    I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the
    work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God. Eccl 3: 9 -13

    O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Let Your work (including even Your work in/thru us) appear to Your servants and Your majesty to their
    children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hands;Yes,
    confirm the work of our hands. Psalm 90: 14,16-17

  • Ryan Higginbottom

    Dr. Murray: I love this! One of my favorite activities during graduate school (mathematics) was vacuuming the carpet in our apartment. There was something very satisfying about seeing the newly-cleaned strips on the floor when I wasn’t exactly sure if the day had been otherwise productive. Thanks!

  • William McQuade

    Dr Murray, when my wife and I visited the seminary earlier this year it was a high point in our lives to sit in your class . It was an especial blessing to me to hear my mother tongue too! As a prospective student I am thoroughly looking forward to sitting under your tutelage.

    I clean windows for a living. I get to experience peoples amazement that glass can get so clean. There is job satisfaction in that but it is temporal. Your job satisfaction will come at the end of this vale of tears. You just have to wait a little longer than the rest of us!

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  • Michael Brad

    Dr. Murray, this post has been a great encouragement to me! It’s funny, my pastor and I had a conversation a few weeks ago about this exact thing. He told me that one of the most helpful things he has done over the past few years of ministry is take time throughout the week to work in his garden. It gives him the opportunity to work and see the fruit of his labor. For me, I write music. It gives me the opportunity to create and work, finding joy in how every measure I write points (I hope and pray) to the beauty of God.

    Thank you again for the post!

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