My wife’s and my first home was a trilevel, with only two of the floors completed. We decided to finish the third floor ourselves, creating a family room, office, and second bathroom. I had done lots of carpentry, wiring, and plumbing before. But I had never mudded drywall.
I figured the drywall mud would sand down easily, so after hanging the drywall, I caked on mud like a teenage boy piles his plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet. And then I went back for seconds.
Alas. It took us more time to sand off that surplus mud than it took me to frame in and wire three rooms and to plumb the bathroom. Carla and I spent scores of hours of bored agony, sanding, wet-sponging, power-sanding, and bathing off our layers of dust:
I had thought mudding was the easy part.
The history of the world is the long story of bad answers.
Wrong Answers Create Greater Difficulties
Every culture offers answers. Epicureans used to say, “Live for the moment. Eat drink and be merry, and then you’ll have fun.” But today we know that too much food bloats our bellies and skyrockets our cholesterol. Eating too freely undermines our fun.
Bogus answers create bigger problems than the difficulties they hoped to solve. The problem with most bad answers is they initially seem smart: What’s so bad about a little extra mud?
C.S. Lewis said it this way, “Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things – ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity.”
Helping God Out
Christian movements that start in the Spirit predictably end in the flesh. The change is insidious because the bad answers initially look smart. I’ve been wondering what our 21st century “fleshly answers” are, and I think I stumbled on a hint this morning when I read Oswald Chambers.
Chambers helped lead the Holiness Movement one hundred years ago, yet he also criticized it for birthing an idolatrous, false-spiritual answer. He said,
Christians fail [when] they place their desire for their own holiness above their desire to know God.
Today we are not tempted to make holiness an idol. Instead, we place mission above our desire to know God. We say to ourselves, “I want to make a big impact for God’s kingdom,” or, “I want to raise up kids who will follow the Lord.”
It is good to want to serve God or to raise believing children (and also, by the way, to desire personal holiness). But these desires often mask “answers” designed to prop up our egos. Like the builders of the Tower of Babel, we are making a name for ourselves by helping God out.
Whenever we think we know what God needs, and then help him out, it backfires. Just as it did for Abraham when he fathered Ishmael and Moses when he murdered the Egyptian.
Let’s let God be the Lord of our kids and our missions.
It’s Spiritual Calculus
Our problem is we seize responsibility for something that belongs to God. Whenever we despair, it is because we’ve seized ownership of a thing that was never God’s will for us to take.
The greatest fruit in our lives is born solely out of our connection with God. It is his life in us that changes the world we walk in. It is never our heroics. Let’s nurture the life of God in us, not our visions of our missions.
Everything else is just caked on drywall mud.
[reminder]What are past false answers you’ve previously adopted? How is intimacy with God the real answer?[/reminder]
PS: To grow in intimacy with God, learn to hear his voice:
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I remember doing my own drywall job (or should I say attempt). I was on my own, but God was with me all the way. At least I thought he was because every 5 minutes I would think or mutter to myself “Oh God, why did I do this to myself?” I can honestly say that he never answered that question.
So, I leave the questions I ask God with him and wait for the answers. It may come in 2 minutes, weeks, months or years.
He did tell me though, to spend 6 hours a day on sanding because when your done for the day you need to get ready for work.
Maybe this comment doesn’t exactly fit the message here, but I needed to share it.
I burst out laughing when I read this: “Oh God, why did I do this to myself?”
What a great post, Sam! I’ve spent a large part of my life slapping on drywall mud and the rest of my life trying to remove it. And sometimes it still seems like I’ve got a sander in one hand and a trowel in the other. During my early years as a Christian, I dropped out of the jazz scene at exactly the time when I needed to be learning the tunes and forging lifelong connections. Why? Because I thought God didn’t want me to play secular music. That’s what older Christians told me, and surely “vox populi, vox Dei,” right? So for fourteen years I stuck grimly with my vow to never play in clubs but to play only Christian music in Christian settings. Fourteen years of mudding the drywall. I suffered financially and lagged in my growth as a saxophonist, and vocationally, I hadn’t a clue what to do with myself. Finally God broke through my stubborn, well-intended but misguided commitment. He said, “As long as you’re guided by your vow to me, I can’t guide you by my Spirit.” That was the beginning of my deliverance from a whole lot of religious baggage and my first step of discovering the freedom to be who my Father made me to be, not what a church thought I should be.
“As long as you’re guided by your vow to me, I can’t guide you by my Spirit.” I’m knocked off my horse! Thank you.
I agree with Martha. WONDERFUL insight: “As long as you’re guided by your vow to me, I can’t guide you by my Spirit.”
I’m late to this posting (got behind in my reading), but had to add my own “Wow.” That one line answer you got from the Lord has to be the most profound thing I have heard in a very long time. And that’s saying something cuz I follow some pretty profound Christian thinkers and writers! Thanks for sharing the whole story.
Timely message for our session, I think. It’s easy to spend so much time and energy on the doing–mission, programs, community-outreach/participation–that we disregard the relationship.
Why do you think this is our temptation? It’s obviously been a temptation for … oh, about two thousand years.
I still wonder if it’s a pride or ego issue. We want to give to God more than receive. And yet … “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Relationship is such a messy business, especially with humans. Which means pretty much all of them. Culturally we have been reducing that messiness by reducing actual relationship, substituting look-alikes (social media). It’s easier to protect yourself from hurt when Facebook is as close to my face as you get. (Ironically, it’s a lot easier to hurt others as well.) But I really think this is only part of it, that the fallen nature of man couples with the fact that we live within time, and lack the eternal view. I don’t know whether it’s cultural for us to prefer a check-list rather than a living relationship, but most of us do. It’s easier to check off items than it is to risk rejection or a stern reprimand or a leading in the direction that you perceive to be “not where I want to go.” And one day we realize we’re empty and lonely, and we don’t know how to fix that.
Your comment is wonderfully deep and challenging. Especially your critique of shallow, modern relationships.
And then, of course, how do we apply this to God?
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Nothing to add or take away.
I’ve been caught up in the serving thing. When have you ever heard a pastor suggest you serve LESS? Mine did. Wise man. I can say though, that through serving, I slowly became closer to God, which led to less activity, and more relationship with Him & others. Lately, a priority has been KNOWING God, studying Him & His truths, which allows our relationship to flourish.
That is a wise pastor, to ask us to serve less. Isn’t that what Jesus asked of Martha when he commended Mary? “One thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better portion.”