Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
When I was in junior high, various clubs in our area sponsored “after-dinner speaking” competitions. They were a godsend for someone like me, whose athletic skills couldn’t fill a thimble. Our English teacher coached us about what makes a good speech. “Choose a topic your audience will find relevant and make your key points in interesting ways. Most of all,” she said, “be sure to end with a quick story they won’t forget.” Not long ago, reading the Sermon on the Mount in one sitting, I realized Jesus follows her direction to the tee. His subject is basic theology, which He explains with intriguing analogies: light and salt and vision, etc. Finally, He caps it off with a story about site planning. He keeps it brief—four verses—yet He gives us just enough to fill in the blanks.
Two very different men build very different houses in very different locations. One constructs his home on a rocky plateau. The work is arduous and time-consuming. The house sits off the beaten path, out of sight for pedestrians to admire its solid architecture and the labor required to build it. For the other guy, location is everything. He selects a riverfront site, where it’s easier and faster to raise his showplace on a sandy foundation. Then, the seasons change. Rain and wind pound their houses; the river rises. The house on the rock stands firm. The house on the sand crashes into a pile of rubble. “If you hear My words and do as I say, you’ll be like the wise man who built on the rock,” Jesus says. “If you ignore what I say, you’re like the fool who built on the sand.”
Jesus’s point is well taken. In constructing our lives, what’s underneath—the principles we build upon—matters more than how quickly we rise or what others see. Plans to make our work easier invite engineering disasters when times get hard. Carving a life out of the bedrock of Christ’s teaching demands rigor and fortitude. Fundamental though His message is, it’s difficult to practice, constantly asking more of us than we expect. “Sure,” we say, “I want to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.” What sounds so simple, however, proves surprisingly complicated when we discover it means choosing what pleases our Maker over what pleases us. “Of course,” we say, “I want to love my neighbor as myself,” until we’re staring into eyes of deceit and hatred.
Building on the solid foundation of Jesus’s words is hard work. Furthermore, it’s far from glamorous. We don’t build showcase lives to win attention. We construct sturdy structures to house God’s presence, withstand storms, and offer shelter to others. This leads us off the beaten path, out of the sight of everyday passers-by. So it can also turn into a lonely task—just us, forging a foundation out of hard rock, wrestling with the material we’ve been given. Friends and family may not understand why we work so hard or why our work calls us away from unsound activities and aspirations. When the rains and wind come and the rivers flood, though, many of the same people who told us to take it easy are the first to knock on our doors. Underneath it all, they know our house stands secure.
What Did Jesus Say?
Not long ago, a marketing craze seized Christian consumers, particularly the Fundie crowd. Some well-intentioned soul came up with the tag line, “What Would Jesus Do?” Almost immediately it was condensed to “WWJD” and slapped on t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, and every other imaginable trinket. But the question makes no sense, as Jesus was the most perplexing, unpredictable person of all time. If everything pointed right, He went left. When signs led forward, He backed up. Two quick examples: He and the disciples set sail one day. The weather turns bad, the men panic, but Jesus sleeps. And when they wake Him up, begging Him to do something, He’s clearly annoyed. “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” He scolds them. (Matthew 8.26) Much later—during the week of His crucifixion, when He should lay low and avoid further upsetting His enemies—He walks into the temple court, sees it buzzing with commerce, and flies into a rage. “’My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’” He says, quoting Isaiah 56.7, “But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’,” citing Jeremiah 7.11, a highly inflammatory condemnation.
If we really want to construct solid lives, we’d be smart to replace WWJD with a new slogan: What did Jesus say? While His actions often puzzle, His words remain transparent. To the end, He stresses practicing His principles—not His behavior. He tells us in John 13.17: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” In a dust-up with religious thinkers, He says, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matthew 22.29) And during The Last Supper, He assures His disciples: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15.7) We’ve all witnessed foolishly constructed lives leveled by stormy seasons. We can escape similar engineering disasters by hearing what Jesus says and practicing what He preaches. It’s the only wise thing to do.
Wise builder/Foolish builder
(Tomorrow: Rock Candy)