Saturday, August 27, 2016

Under Construction

Twice each day for the past two weeks, my morning constitutional has taken me past an older house in the middle of major renovations. Each day, any remotely attentive passer-by could observe two to three men on the job along with all the requisite heavy equipment, trucks and supplies. A radio blasted encouragement as the construction crew scurried back and forth.

And ... nothing happened. Not a thing. From the street, there was no observable progress whatsoever.

In a way, it reminds me of many of us.

Ready to Roll

Some Christians come into the kingdom fully functional and ready to roll in the service of Christ. The apostle Paul was like that. On his face on the Damascus Road before the resurrected Christ one day, and less than a week later, up and running. “Immediately,” we are told, “he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues”. Wonderful stuff. If Paul had been a house, he would have come to faith (at least intellectually) already in good shape, fully furnished and ready for immediate occupancy. That is not, of course, to his credit: the one who called Paul to his service had done much of the preparatory work on his then-future servant up front. Paul could say, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers”. As such, he was fully versed in the Old Testament and required only one vital piece of information — the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of everything Judaism anticipated in the plans and purposes of God — and he was ready to be out witnessing to the risen Christ. And not in the clumsy, fumbling way of many new converts, but with great effectiveness and convicting power.

Pizza and a Siesta

Needless to say, most of us have a different path to effective service in Christ, one much more like what I observed as I walked past that house under construction day after day. From the outside, it looked exactly the same. This morning, however, out of nowhere there was a front porch framed in. The roofing was almost complete. A new front door had been hung. Progress at last!

To a passer-by, the reno work appeared fitful and irregular. From all external evidence, one might think that for two weeks the crew had arrived daily for work, put in eight hours eating pizza and having a siesta in the backyard with Bon Jovi howling away in the background, and punched out and gone home at five, only to come back and do the same thing the next day.

Not so. If I bothered to ask the foreman, he would tell me that when his crew got to work, it was discovered that all the plumbing and electrical in the old house was useless and needed complete replacement, or that there was a crack that required the pouring of a new foundation, or that the basement leaked and the whole back yard had been dug up to fix the problem. All this was invisible to passing observers like me, who thought the construction crew was failing in its mandate. Actually, they were busying themselves doing the necessary prep work for all the visible improvements that were soon to occur.

The Hands of a New Owner

When I become frustrated with my believing children or my fellow Christians, the problem is often similar: the work the Lord is doing on them is largely opaque to me. Perhaps it is work that in my own life was never required, because I was given the gift of a pair of godly parents and much groundwork in the things of God that was absorbed almost unconsciously while growing up. Like Paul, I was in many ways ready to roll the moment title passed from the kingdom of darkness into the hands of my new Owner. I was basically familiar with the scriptures and what they taught, to the point that I could begin the life-long process of passing on what I knew almost as soon as I was ready to live it out. Lots of adjustments to my attitude and outlook remained, of course, but from an onlooker’s perspective, I was up and running.

Others have not had the same experience or benefits growing up. They come to Christ knowing next to nothing about what the Bible says, having lived lives that have saddled them with all kinds of experiential, intellectual, emotional and spiritual hindrances to growth. Often these are through choices they did not make consciously, or choices that were made for them. The “construction crew” has been working tirelessly ever since, ripping out the old false assumptions and replacing them with truth, sanding down the abrasiveness caused by years of neglect or abuse, shoring up emotions that don’t currently respond the way they were designed to, opening up living spaces in the heart that had been nailed shut for lack of anyone worth trusting, and so on.

A Good Work Completed

All this work is effectively invisible to me, and to anyone else inclined to pass judgment on the progress of his brothers and sisters in Christ. We may be absolutely confident that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”.

But he does not require my approval of his work plan to do it, and he is under no obligation to do it on my schedule.

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