Our family is in the middle of a house renovation. By “our family” what I really mean is, I have personally taken on an entire building project that is both exhilarating and 100% overwhelming. I’ve never built anything. I’m not particularly handy. I don’t love measuring things, nor am I especially crafty. But the idea of taking something not-livable and making it beautiful is something I love. And so, I’m renovating a house I had no business getting my hands into.
The opportunity to bring something condemned back to life is, in many ways, likewise renewing me. While my divinity degree and years of ministry experience haven’t helped me with the house, I’m constantly making nerdy, theological parallels between my broken house and my sinful heart. I’m midway into ripping this house apart just to put it back together again and I have to say, I’ve learned way more than what I bargained for.
One thing’s for sure, renovating this house is much like God’s renovation of my heart.
Making something new is hard work.
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if I’m trying to get on HGTV. Although the petrified squirrel popping out of the air vent during demo makes for great drama, modern entertainment has developed an all-around laziness. Actual labor is tough and rarely comes with a rise to fame. In reality, my muscles constantly ache. My mind hurts from crunching numbers and learning new skills. My hands look like they’ve been through a World War. I find myself questioning if this will go down as one of my greatest blunders. I long to make this house beautiful and yet, the work it’s taking to get there often makes me stop and second guess myself. I wonder if all this sweat and investment will be for nothing.
How many times have I doubted God’s work in my own heart too?
It’s worse than it looks.
I mentioned the petrified squirrels. There are also live ones sneaking in during early morning hours. Scurrying around inside an open ceiling. I’m certain they mock me. Cue also the cockroaches that’ve gone deep diving into my coffee and termites that’ve moved through the place. The kitchen was unsalvageable, floors destroyed, roof caving in at spots. Everyone says, “you don’t know what you’ll find!” As annoying as that is, they’re not wrong. My heart is no different; so often we look decent on the surface. It’s when the Spirit of God starts digging around and ripping things out that reveal the long dead varmints hiding inside the walls of our hearts.
How often do I look better on the outside than I truly am on the inside?
You can’t get it perfect.
I’m not a professional. I’m not a designer. I’m not an architect. I don’t understand why I have to have structural headers here and not there. I don’t even understand why when someone explains it to me, but I’m learning. I’m figuring out how to lay tile and use a saw. I’m heaving the sledge hammer and carrying out loads of trash. My finished house won’t be perfect, but it’ll still have value. My heart is the same; I can’t understand everything and I fear not getting things right. But God—he isn’t looking for my perfection, he wants my loving participation. Only God is perfect, this makes my participation with him a total joy because he creates what has value.
How often do I spiritually retreat because I fear not getting it right before God?
It takes longer than you project.
I can tell a huge difference when a wall goes up in a single hour, but the next three weeks might be as slow as molasses. I can be super motivated, only to struggle to do the next thing. While renovating a house takes longer than I think it should, motivation comes from remembering where I started and what it could be like at the finish line. I so often think I should be a better Christian than I am. That’s just arrogance. To expect much of myself is to think little of God and to forget his Word. To expect much of God is to think rightly of myself and remember the true gospel. Transformation of my heart, while God gives us the gift of participation, isn’t finished on my timeline—it’s done on God’s. It’s his work to begin with.
How often do I project my ideals of sanctification on myself and others?
No-one but Jesus will understand the sweat that goes into it.
It’d be weird for me to have you rub the callouses on my hands. How boring would it be to sit and listen to my rendition of the long-awaited sheetrock guy to show up? Or the tyranny of popcorn on the stupid ceiling? The bushes aren’t pulled out and the brick walls still need to be torn down because I’m paralyzed by the amount of work that’s yet to come. I can tell you about this, but you’re not here. You’re not me and it’s not your house. It’s mine. And just like it’s my house, our hearts belong to us and our Lord. Nobody knows the effort put into changing my heart or desires to please only Jesus. Nobody is with me in the sleepless nights of prayer or the quiet moments of reading his Word. But he knows. He sees it. He’s in charge of it.
Am I focused on what others see or what God knows?
I’ve probably quoted Hebrews 10:23 more in the last several years than any other verse. “Let us hold fast our confession without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” In other words, remember what is true because of the gospel. Christ has done and is doing what we cannot do for ourselves. When we force change on others, we forget that renovation of the human heart belongs to God. When we expect our own sin to disappear quickly, we forget that renewing our heart comes only from the power of God’s Spirit.
There is one major difference between my house and my heart. God promises to finish the renovation of my heart once and for all. This truth isn’t malleable like the timeline of my housing renovation. It’s a certain and sure truth that relies on one person: Jesus.