Sometimes you have to be careful about what you ask for.
It was a cold November morning in 1977 and I was working for the City of Lansing on their street patch crew. Our job that day was burning high spots off the asphalt pavement. To do this, we used a hand-held burner attached to a kerosene tank strapped to the rear-end of a dump truck. The four-foot high tank had a bicycle-style hand pump on the top; it was my job to keep the tank pressurized to run the burner.
During that time I was looking to transfer to another department, and since I had an interview scheduled, was praying about it. In fact, as I was standing in the bed of the truck pumping up the tank, I was asking to be led in the situation.
That’s when I got my answer.
At the precise moment I was praying, the welds on the bottom of the tank gave way and the tank shot up like a missile, bursting into flames. I was blown upward and backward to the front of the truck bed and, being surrounded by flames, dove over the side of the truck to avoid being burned alive.
Miraculously, though my eyelashes and eyebrows were singed from the flames and my hat and three layers of clothing soaked with kerosene, I did not catch fire. My only injury was a broken wrist and a few minor lacerations.
It took surgery and six months for my wrist to heal, and during that time off I did considerable thinking and praying. One day it became clear to me that I was to start a painting business.
Thus began my career as a painting contractor.
Thankfully, prayer is not always answered in such a dramatic way. With me however, God probably knew there was no other way I would accept the ‘call.’
What I learned then is that everyone has a work to do, a specific purpose unique to him, one that fits the universal plan of God. Someone has to paint buildings; that’s what I was chosen to do. Many reject this view, that God is concerned about our jobs. They have bought into a form of dualism, one which separates the ‘sacred’ from the secular, the latter being the lesser important of the two.
This is not the Judeo-Christian ethic though, which teaches that God put man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it. In other words, man was made to work. It is this belief – that work is sanctified, that gives meaning even to the most menial task.
Martin Luther put it this way: “The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.”
And so all life is sacred, including its work. There is no dichotomy of callings; all are called by God to God, and to each is given his or her assignment in life.
And so Jesus was a carpenter. Peter, his right-hand man, a fisherman. Luke, who wrote The Gospel of Luke, was a doctor. The Apostle Paul, a tent-maker.
Me, I am a painting contractor. Blasted, as it were, into business.