In the third of three posts in our series Heart, Work & World? Telling First-Hand Accounts of the Gospel in our Work. Find other posts here on how our humanity and God's adoption play out in stories of work today.
In this story, a small business entrepreneur takes the leap from being a shop class teacher to a self-employed craftsman. This story reveals God’s sovereignty. When we don’t know where to turn, God’s sovereign hand of guidance is still there. The I Am overshadows me and comforts me, even when facing our deepest fears.
I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands. After college, I taught shop class for 11 years at a public school. A retiring coworker would often leave scraps behind the school. Old railroad carts, deserted barn doors, discarded flooring from 19th century homes — what other people would consider “ugly wood.” Though he wanted to toss it, I couldn’t. Too much character and beauty in the knots and scars. So I took some if it home and built a table for my wife. Initially nothing came of it.
Though I was well-liked by the students, I was dying on the vine as a teacher. It supported my wife and kids, but it didn’t feel right. So, for financial reasons, I took a job selling insurance. It made sense. Less risk than starting your own business.
But for the next three months, God chiseled away at my heart. He whispered to me, “I have not created you to do this either. I have not created you to take a safe job. I've created you to work with your hands.”
One day after getting home from the office, I remember my wife and I pulled into our driveway. I said to her, “I don’t think I’m supposed to go to work tomorrow.” Not easy to say with kids to feed. We prayed about it, and that night I distinctly remember God telling me, “Go, make tables. And in two weeks I’ll bring you orders.”
There was a whole gamut of emotions I felt deep down. One of them was complete excitement. “I'm a risk-taker,” I said to myself. But I also I felt scared. I had never been trained to run a business. Sales and marketing, finances, administration and handling customers were all foreign to me. Plus we even had some good friends advise against it.
But I had to put aside some of their advice. I knew what God said to me. Like Daniel before King Nebuchadnezzar, I felt in my heart, “Come what may, I have to take the risk. God has spoken.” I had to trust God’s sovereign lead in this, even if I felt unprepared or if I completely failed.
That next Monday, I went to my shop and began to build. In two weeks we had two orders - no more. (God said, “I'll bring you orders” - not singular but plural.) And that was just for friends who knew me. But word began to spread and my new business was born.
It’s not like this was a smooth transition. Two years later my business partner quit on me. I had to renegotiate my dream. My wife went back to work full-time, and I drive the kids to and from school each day.
But I have a peace. I’ve learned to trust that God is sovereign over my life and business. He won’t leave me. I believe that, like the knotted, discarded lumber I work with each day in my shop, God can make something beautiful out of my work.
Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.