In one of his letters, Paul writes something I have always found “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3.16): “You should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4.11). Never quite taken to manual labour, I have personally struggled with this (somewhat obscure) bit of wisdom. My recent (albeit short-lived) experience in landscaping, however, brought some much-needed insight.
Landscaping, to get right to it, took quite a toll on my hands—chafing, cuts, callouses, peeling skin, dirt and blood. My hands quickly became rougher and less sensitive, almost seeming heavier. Yet with these same hands I was able to earn a living, making the turning of the earth into the tool of God’s providence—what might be, in a few years, the religious duty of “providing for … [one’s] own household” (1 Timothy 5.8).
Then, each Sunday, these same hands—now calloused and cut—turned back to the God who “stands beyond creation” in their most proper work (Marion, 327). In the New Testament, leitourgia is the Greek word used for the worship of the church, in other contexts meaning military or other forms of service, including the service of a labourer.
Worship, leitourgia, is our most proper work, the work of God. The high and difficult work of worship is the truest purpose of our created bodies. To (re)turn our hands to God in praise is to (re)direct creation to its proper end and goal, the Creator beyond creation. These hands, bloodied and dirtied, are returned to the very God who gives them life and breath. This is the intimate and beautiful connection between to “work with your hands” and “to lift up holy hands” (1 Timothy 2.8).
PS. I look forward to Rob Bell’s upcoming book, “Jesus Wants to Save Christians”, with great anticipation.