I can’t lift my arms today.
That’s because my wife and I, along with some hard-working and very meagerly compensated volunteer friends, spent the vast majority of the last three days building a patio in our backyard. So far, some measure of our building party has visited Home Depot 5 different times, we’ve unloaded over a hundred bags of various kinds of sand and gravel, and dug up more shovelfuls of dirt than I’d care to remember.
Without getting too much into the technical details of the build (which frankly I still don’t completely understand, but one of our friends is an engineer, so you trust and go), we had to build a retaining wall around the area where the patio would be in order to account for the changing elevation of the yard. In regular terms, we had to dig an enormous hole so we could refill that hole.
If you add up the time we spent on this project, you’d get roughly 27 hours. But here’s the crazy thing:
24 of those 27 hours were spent on the foundation. Only the last 3 hours were spent on the visible portion of the patio. Fascinating, right? To spend so much time on what’s beneath the surface compared to so little on what’s actually visible? Given that ratio of time, I’ve got a couple of reflections this morning that relate to our lives and the lives of those we are leading:
1. Strength and stability lie in the foundation.
You can have the most beautiful paving stone or the most eye-catching paint color, but in the end, they don’t really mean anything if you don’t put the right amount of time into the foundation. In our project, for example, we had to dig down approximately 18 inches in order to build the retaining wall so that not only the wall but the surface of the patio would have the right shape, definition, and strength when we were all done. I’d like to think I didn’t need this experience to know that Jesus’ words were true:
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!” (Matthew 7:24-27).
Still, seeing this principle lived out in front of me in a physical way made me think a lot about the amount of time we are tempted to allocate to what, in actuality, are the most inconsequential things. Like people who focus on the paint color while neglecting a crack in the foundation, we become those who choose to close our eyes to the greater issues inside of us. The battle and the work of the Christian is to be done at the heart level. And though it might not be as immediately gratifying as focusing on the surface, this deep soul work where the Holy Spirit molds and shapes you is where strength for the journey is made.
As Jesus’ words tell us, this foundation work might not be visible until the rains and storms truly come, but when they do, the private and quiet work of the soul will show forth. The structure will stand and endure.
Today, Christian, no one might know what internal fear, insecurity, or idolatry the Holy Spirit is convicting you of and walking you through. And because it’s internal, you might be tempted to put it to the side in favor of something seemingly more flashy and exciting. But don’t neglect His work. Embrace it. Because the storm is coming.
2. Most surface issues are really foundation issues if we are courageous enough to find the source.
We spent a lot of time on the foundation of this patio. A LOT. And hopefully, we got it right. But someday, there is going to be a crack. There will be some shifting. Sometimes when that happens, you can correct the issue by a surface level tweak. But if we really care about the stability of the structure we would do well to investigate the source, and that’s going to mean some hard work. It might even mean messing up the carefully crafted exterior and then putting it back together. But such is the way of building.
Similarly, think about this passage from the Book of James:
No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).
Do you see the progression? Long before sin has become fully grown, it has been conceived and birthed in our own evil desires. When we see sin manifesting itself, then, and we truly want to root it out, then we should be willing to retrace that progression back to the root. That will no doubt mean messing some of our own carefully crafted exterior. It will be hard. And it will be messy. But in the end, that’s the only way to truly move forward. Otherwise, we are deluding ourselves about the supposed victory we claim to live inside of.
You are building today, whether you know it or not. So are the people under your care. In that building, don’t neglect the foundation. And don’t be afraid to re-examine it from time to time.