I married young – actually, we eloped, much to everyone’s surprise. Once we were a little more established and had the money to do so, we had a real wedding and invited everyone to be witnesses of our covenant. Afterward, we took our honeymoon, and there I saw a living illustration of the parable in Matthew 7 about the wise and the foolish man. Directly in front of my hotel room was a house on the shore of the water which had, with time and the effects of coastal weather, almost completely collapsed.
We honeymooned in a small fishing town which didn’t offer much to boast about. Still, I wondered why someone would build a house on the beach. It was more like a shack than a house, but it was still something that was, at one time, occupied by someone with intentions to stay a while…until life happened.
The story in Matthew goes like this, in the Message Translation (verses 24-27):
“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”
I was staring, newly re-covenanted in marriage, at that house of cards – built by a stupid carpenter – and it left a warning in my heart which I have never forgotten. I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that if Jesus wasn’t at the center of my marriage, and that if I didn’t trust Him enough to obey His leading, my marriage and my life would most certainly crumble.
Maybe part of the reason why that was such a startlingly clear message had to do with the fact that no one, not even my Pastor at the time, thought we should be renewing our vows. In all honesty, it looked more like we should have been filing for divorce. Our marriage was a mess, and there didn’t appear to be much hope of saving it.
That has been the tagline of my life in Christ. When it seems like there is absolutely no way for something to work, and I am near to giving up, He comes swooping in with a Word that completely defies logic and gravity. A Word like, “I know your house is falling, but if you’ll trust Me, and follow Me, I’ll establish it on a firm foundation and it will never fall.”
So my journey with Him has been quite an adventure…to say the least. All I know for certain is that nothing is over until He says it is, and that – whatever He says – I need to listen and obey, because I don’t want to live in a house (or a life) that’s falling down around me.
Recently, as I’ve been catapulted into a season of utter madness, I’ve heard many words from many well-meaning people. Advice about how to navigate my way through. I can tell that much of it has been hard-earned, and it is generous of them to share the treasures they’ve mined from their own difficult seasons. Some of these lovely people I’ve turned to for support, and some of them are just looking on from the sidelines as I am being thrashed about by ferocious, life-altering waves. Most of them have uttered words of caution, in an effort to preserve the near ruins I am holding in my hands. “Slow down. Don’t do too much. Learn to say no.” All of these words can be categorized as true and appropriate wisdom, in some seasons.
But not this one. The right word in the wrong season is dangerous, and can crumble a house in no time.
I like the words I have received. They are comforting. They come from people I love. They invite me to sit down and rest awhile…but the scary reality happening in the background is that, while I sit, the house falls down.
Not because they are wrong. But simply because they are not God. And God has spoken something else over this season of my life. His Word is “stand.” His Word is “endure.” His Word is “press in.” His Word is, “I’m building strength and courage into you.”
So while the waves are crashing over me, plunging me to the ground and dragging me back up again…and while my bones are weary from the work of pressing on and determining to set my feet upon the rock of His Word…I must not entertain the voices which bid me to be cautious. I must focus on the One Voice which has bid me to venture out into the deep and let myself be overcome, if need be, in order that I may find that solid ground upon which to stake my life.
There have been other seasons in which these words from well-meaning friends would have been a perfect fit with what God was saying. And I don’t take offense at their attempts to comfort me. I am actually grateful for their love and support. But I am also careful not to so comforted by their care that I am lulled right out of the will of God.
Of course, in God’s faithfulness, there are also a few confirming voices which have echoed almost exactly His Word to me in this hour. Not all of them are even aware of the details of my circumstances. But God has chosen to place His Word in their mouths to reassure me that I am hearing Him correctly. For this I am also so very thankful.
I remember once attending a retreat out near Santa Cruz. Just beyond the retreat center was a wonderful trail that led to the beach, and to some overhanging cliffs. I was fairly young in the Lord, and so more bold and adventurous than I tend to be now (I’m not sure if being less adventurous is something I should be proud of…). So I followed the invitation of the Lord to go on a walk with Him. I really wanted to be inside the hotel, fellowshipping with the other women, where it was warm and dry and comfortable. But that wasn’t what God had for me that morning.
Instead, He led me to the top of one of those cliffs. It was higher than I felt comfortable being on, but I was desperate to be with the Lord, and to follow Him, wherever He chose to lead me. As I stood there, waves crashing on all sides of that jagged rock, He bid me closer and closer to the edge of it until I was almost certain I might slip and fall right into the ocean…which would have swept me right out to sea.
I’ll spare you the thoughts that went through my head, and the warnings about why you should not try this at home. Suffice it to say that, as I stood on the edge of that cliff, scared for my life, I felt God shake me to my core with a message that has marked me. He reminded me that He was the one who gave me my life, who put the breath in my lungs. If He wanted to take it back, He could, but He could also preserve my life in the fiercest of circumstances. He reassured me that I did not need to fear, that He was only drawing me closer to Him, and that I could trust Him.
So right there, atop that cliff, I surrendered. I gave Him my fearful, scarred heart. I gave Him the right I had been holding onto to protect myself (I still try to wrestle that back sometimes, but He always wins). And I gave Him my “yes.” My commitment to follow Him wherever He might choose to lead me, believing that if I stood upon the rock-solid foundation of His presence and His Word, He would preserve me….somehow.
I’ve been through hell and high water, as they say. I can almost say that is a literal description of what I have endured as He has led me along His chosen path for my life. It hasn’t looked at all like I thought it would. It still doesn’t.
But that house that was collapsing like a deck of cards – that life I had built for myself before He rescued me…that house has been rebuilt, and it’s still standing strong. Not because of who I am or what I have been able to do. But most definitely because, in my weak, leaning moments when everyone around me says, “Go this way,” but He says, “No, stay right where you are,” I have listened. And He has built His strength into me.
The moral of this story may be multi-faceted for you. For me, it can be narrowed down to a single, sharpened point: I can trust His leadership. And if I want to see the promises I am believing Him for, I must.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I don’t know what you’re facing today. Nor do I know what voices are in your ear, bidding you to do something other than what God is asking of you. But I do know that there is a testimony of God’s goodness attached to your willingness to forsake all and follow Him. I do know that, while God gives us community, that community can never overrule His leadership, even when their hearts are genuine and their motives sincere. And I do know that falling houses and crumbling lives can be avoided, if we will simply stand where He’s telling us to stand, and do what He’s telling us to do (or, in some cases, not do what He’s told us not to).
May you find the courage to do all that He says, to risk trusting what may not make sense and may even upset the people around you. And may you find, as you do, that God’s faithfulness will most certainly establish you.