A sabbatical is supposed to be a time to acquire new skills. So this week I’ve been learning to paint. Not pictures, I have too many painful memories of art lessons at school. But the wooden windows of the garage that desperately needed attention. I think one reason why I’m not hot on DIY is that I don’t have a lot of patience when it comes to preparation. Training myself to spend a couple of afternoons scraping off the old paint was a real discipline. But I think in the end it was worth it. At least the end result looks better than what was there before.
I was reading the story this morning of the man who built his house on the rock. Not the version of the story we are familiar with, but the one from Luke’s gospel:
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice,
I will show you what they are like.
48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.
When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.
49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice
is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.
The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”
Do you see any differences from Matthew’s account?
I’ll put a pretty picture of a rock by the seashore here, so you don’t read on automatically…
The one thing that struck me was the fact the man dug down deep. In fact if we want to translate it literally, we would have to use two verbs, “he dug and he went down deep”. Now going down deep into rock is hard work. Rather liking spending time scraping paint off windows, it requires desire and discipline and determination. (Three points beginning with D!). He wanted to do it, because he knew he was doing something vitally important. He planned how he was going to do it, so that there would be no mistakes. And he made sure he finished doing it, even if half way through he might have wondered why he ever started on this project.
So what is the point of this story about a man digging down deep? We often talk about the foundations of the Christian life as prayer, and reading the Bible, and public worship, and indeed all these are essential. But these aren’t what Jesus is talking about here. He is talking about obedience. The basis of a Christian life which will overcome every trial is the desire, and the discipline, and the determination, to put Jesus’ teaching into practice. Of course this assumes that we first of all know the words of Jesus, and we are in a regular habit of listening to what he says. But merely knowing what the Bible says or just turning up at church from Sunday to Sunday isn’t enough.
This is very simple and yet so very challenging. Because I don’t know about you, but so often what I find in my Christian life instead is drift and deadness and disobedience. Drift as I decide it’s all a bit too much effort putting in the time to maintain my walk with Jesus; deadness as the reality of a living relationship fades, and then finally disobedience as I persuade myself there are all kinds of reasons why God’s word couldn’t apply to me in this particular situation.
It’s easy to criticise the man who built without foundations. But if I’m honest, I too like taking spiritual short-cuts. I like a faith that costs me nothing and makes no demands on my time, my money, my resources. And the awful danger is that for a short or long time I can get away with this kind of faith. It isn’t as if the moment the house is finished, the river sweeps it away. But when I’m not looking the torrent comes and then it’s too late to do anything about it.
Is this the reason why sometimes folk appear to be interested in the Christian faith and maybe join us for a few months or maybe even a couple of years before disappearing again? If so, what can we do to inspire them to build deep foundations that will last?