8.31.2010

Whose House Am I Building


When I talk with others at my station in life (married, young kids) and of my socio-economic status (middle to upper middle class), invariably the subject turns to things like what schools the kids are going to, what leisure pursuits were recently undertaken or are being sought after, and what employment decisions are being made to make it all happen. It is the aim of most people like me to find a job that pays well enough to take care of ourselves and provide us with the quality of life we seek for our families. Or, said another way, if one has to choose, giving up a little in work satisfaction and overall meaningfulness is easier than taking a huge plunge in salary. For what's a little discomfort, or what's the bother if what you do doesn't quite provide the fulfillment of making a positive contribution to society, so long as you are in a position to live in a nice neighborhood, send your kids to a good school, afford vacations and possessions that place you at a certain level of status, and retire early enough to enjoy leisure and grandkids?

There is nothing inherently wrong with being rich. Vacations and possessions need not steal your soul. It is good to do right by your kids. But the fundamental question that matters for eternity would seem to be: whose house are you building? When we choose where to live, what house to buy, what job to take, what to spend our money and leisure time on, how we will raise our kids, and what approach we will take with every other decision bigger and smaller: to what end and for whose advancement do we do it?

For the Christian, the answer is clear, even if the implementation is hard. By definition, becoming a true believer means renouncing lordship of our own lives and subsuming ourselves, our agendas, and our aims for that of our God. Even most of the most heathen of people can tell you that being a Christian means making Jesus Lord and Savior, and has some understanding of what those Christianese terms mean: "Savior" means salvation from the consequence of our sins, and "Lord" means the Big Man calls the shots and not us ourselves.

Sadly, most of us Christians don't fully put into application what is plainly evident to non-believers what is meant by being a believer. In a sense, we show ourselves to ourselves, to them, and to our God to be half-believers. We will allow Him to be Lord up to a point, but only if we are also able to take care of ourselves and hit all of life's milestones that make up the middle-class life. We can be radical in our obedience, but leave us alone to get ourselves set up first. We'll build Your house, O Lord, but from the comfort of our own houses, which take up the vast majority of our plans and thoughts and efforts.

It is no more or less incongruous to be a person of faith in the present than in Biblical times. Noah must have looked weird building a boat in the middle of a desert. Goliath laughed at David when David opposed him for mocking his God. Jesus' followers left their families and their nets in the water when called into His service, no doubt to the puzzlement of their family members and co-workers. All of these renounced the primacy of their own house-building to partake in something grander, more lasting, and more meaningful: participation in the great narrative of God glorifying Himself and saving and blessing others in the process.

The upshot of house-building, if the Bible and God are to be believed, is that the seemingly more self-interested approach of taking care of one's own house first is in fact not the most self-gaining outcome. For there is no real sacrifice in obedience. Even those who have suffered grievious losses - severe reductions in income, loss of reputation in broader society, separation from family, physical affliction, and, yes, even loss of life - have been given back more and then some, and have received divine comfort throughout.

So what will it be for us who are faced with the very natural impulse to build our own houses, taught as it was by our parents and practiced as it is by our peers and applauded as it is by our society? Will we give ourselves fully to this effort? Perhaps we will consider making token contributions of time and effort to God's house after we have satisfied ourselves? Or even consider the two pursuits things to be pursued in parallel?

God wants far more, and wants to offer us far more. Whose house are we building? Will we focus on our own, asking God to help us as He can, and helping Him as we can? Or will give ourselves fully, even to the puzzlement of those around us, to contributing to a far greater cause and name, being blessed and comforted throughout and preparing for ourselves a truly lasting house for eternity? Though even those far removed from knowing their Bibles understand that these are the choices and these are the consequences, yet I waffle, for I lack in faith and am often more influenced by my peers and by my attachment to present comforts than I am by the unshakable promises of my God. Shame on me, and shame on my generation, if we choose to build our own house instead of accepting the invitation to a far more glorious and rewarding pursuit.

"But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You. For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for Your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours. Since I know, O my God, that You try the heart and delight in uprightness, I, in the integrity of my heart, have willingly offered all these things; so now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here, make their offerings willingly to You. O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, our fathers, preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart to You." - 1 Chronicles 29:14-18


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