I walked down my long, gravel driveway one morning, deep in thought and prayer. I was despairing over how long it was taking...the “it” being all kinds of things in me that needed to be healed and changed. I was upset and overwhelmed and ashamed because I wasn’t making faster progress. Surely, God was frustrated too.
I lifted my eyes and saw my house in the distance…a barn that we are painstakingly slow in building next to it. And I heard the Holy Spirit say, “It‘s okay that it’s taking a while. You’re kinda like this property.” It was the only thing He could have said to me in that moment that would bring immediate comfort. Let me tell you why.
We bought this smallish, cute white cottage on seven sweet acres from a builder who flipped it. Originally, it was built in the 1970’s. The former owner ended up in jail (I learned this from the mailman), and before the renovations, the house was trashed…literally. The builder hired a designer and his crew to come in and give it a fresh, new look.
About a year into owning this house, we began to find that the “fresh, new look” was only surface deep. The guts of the house…what was behind the walls, under the floors, inside the foundation…had not been updated. Even some of the finishings were haphazardly installed. And we were constantly doing damage control.
We got to a point last year where we decided that we either needed to re-renovate or sell it, cut our losses, and move. I went in search of something new or somewhere we could build from the ground up, but there was nothing to be found like the unique haven that we already had. We decided fairly quickly to fix what is broken and in the process make it what we want it to be.
We are still smack dab in the middle of that process. There are contractors here almost every day, cutting into walls, replacing parts, fixing what was supposed to have already been fixed. Honestly, there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet, just a good bit of chaos and the hope that things are getting better.
It‘s exactly me. I came to Jesus with a trashed house. Not many could have seen any hope for it like He did.
But religion got ahold of me. It fixed me up on the outside and made me look much prettier than the original version. Everybody, including me, thought I was “bing bang” whole. After all, that’s what Jesus does. He makes us a new creation. But I was still trashed inside…still dangerous…still one inch away from disaster.
The guts have to be fixed first for the house to be livable. And the guts are the hard part. They are the part no one sees. But if you don’t get the guts right, the house won’t work right.
And the guts take time and hard work and some experience. You can’t let a day laborer do the electrical work or the plumbing work or the technological work. Things might get dangerous.
It can be tempting to skip right to the good part. Especially for us Christians. We want changed behavior because then we can walk by sight and not by faith. We want outward appearance because it makes us feel better about ourselves and others. We want the good without having to deal with the mess…with the dark…with the evil inside us.
But just because we cover it up and make it look pretty, doesn’t mean it won’t still be in there causing havoc whenever it can. It may not come up in big issues right away, but there are signs. Maybe it’s gossip. Maybe it’s overeating. Maybe it’s worry. Maybe it’s bitterness. Maybe it’s unkindness. Just like leaks sprung in our ceiling and foundation, lights flickering randomly, and the glue presses out from under our flooring, the mess inside us that isn’t dealt with is showing up. With religion, we are doing damage control on the daily.
What‘s the answer to a life renovated by religion? Re-renovate. It’s painful. It’s slow. And goodness, gracious, can it be expensive. It might cost you reputation. It might cost you friends. It might cost you belonging. But it’s the only way to life.
The project starts with a willingness to admit there is a problem. You’ve seen the signs. You just thought the answer was to keep fixing that one little thing…covering the wall back up and slapping on a pretty paint color...only to have to cut the wall open again in a different place. Take this honesty to the Holy Spirit. He’s waiting to get to work.
The Holy Spirit is the best contractor. He knows exactly where the problems are…exactly what needs to be knocked down…exactly what needs to be rewired. He knows what professionals need to be brought in and what knowledge needs to be gained. He knows that you can’t keep filling yourself with the same things, listening to the same people, and staying in the same relationships if a different result is to be expected.
It helps me to remember that I’m just like my property. Lots of potential. Lots of work to get there. Still in progress. Some days the work is slow and yields no visible results. Other days everything old in a spot looks brand new. Both days, the Spirit is doing His work in me, as I continue to ask and obey.
What about you? Is it time to renovate (please don’t make the mistake of starting with the finishings)? Is it time to re-renovate? Either way, it won’t happen overnight. The true work of the Spirit is intentional and authentic and deep. He wants to get into the guts before He ever paints the walls. And when we let Him, it might be a while before we see the redemptive results of His work deep inside us.
I have great hopes that this house will one day be a special place. A refuge from the world. A place of peace and rest. It is those hopes that get me through the daily grind of construction madness.
And it’s this analogy that keeps me from despair when my own transformation seems to be taking far too long.