Building Your Life On A Solid Foundation
A tragedy struck Singapore on 15 March 1986. A six-storey building known as the Hotel New World collapsed unexpectedly, killing 33 people and injuring many others. After 17 people were rescued, and the dust settled, an enquiry was conducted on the cause of the collapse. Possible causes, such as inferior building material, inadequate foundations, live weight, which has to do with additional heavy fixtures in the building, were all investigated and excluded.
Finally, they discovered the cause. It was actually an inexcusable human mistake. The architect and engineers had failed to take into consideration the dead weight, or the actual weight of the building. They had therefore built pillars that were too weak to carry the building’s own weight. For 15 years, the pillars suffered invisible cracks that went unnoticed. Finally, on that fateful day, three columns cracked up, and everything came down. What a tragedy!
The direction and outcome of our lives depend on the right foundation of which our lives must be built. What kind of foundation are we building?
After Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, He brought it to an end with a parable (Matt. 7:24–27). There are two men: one wise and the other foolish. They each build a house, one on the rock, and the other on sand. Both houses look similar to the untrained eye, but their profound difference is seen when the storms and floods come. The house on the sand collapses while the other house continues to stand.
In the previous sections of the sermon, Jesus appealed to His listeners to choose between two roads, two kinds of fruits, and two destinies. That the blatantly ungodly would not be able to enter the kingdom may not be surprising, but what may be quite surprising, and shocking to those who are turned away, is that many religious people may also not make it. It would be shown that they may have been religious but not saved.
Jesus not only tells the parable but also explains it. The wise man who builds his house on the rock is the man who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matt. 7:24). The foolish man who builds the house on the sand is the man “who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice” (Matt. 7:26). Both men hear the words of Jesus; the difference is that one puts them into practice and the other does not.
Hearing God’s voice
It seems that with the modern lifestyle in our homes or workplace, we have problems hearing His words. Are we hearing the words of Christ clearly, regularly, and with a view of putting them into practice?
Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford University professor, wrote an influential book titled, Dying for a Paycheck. In this book, he described the modern workplace as toxic and how it can actually kill people slowly with some committing suicide. Some people die young because of workplace stressors, like long working hours, that make it a challenge to balance work and family life. As businesses are profit-driven, the demand on employees increases, and there is also this fear of being replaced by a foreigner. Amid all this busyness and stress, it is all the more difficult to hear the words of Christ.
As a rule, the way to hear God’s voice is to slow down. So how can our hearts nurture quietness, stillness, silence and solitude?
John Wesley, once said, “I may be in haste since I usually am in haste, but I am always not in a hurry.” What is the difference between ‘haste’ and ‘hurry’? Is it just semantic? There are two perspectives to this:
- Inward Nurtured Life
Wesley was a busy man who travelled all over Britain and preached over 40,000 sermons. He was also a prolific writer. Outwardly he seemed to be very busy, but inwardly, his life was nurtured in an unhurried devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. He would wake up in the morning at 4.30 am, and he would inevitably spend a few hours in the morning, praying and reading God’s Word. To me that is the secret. That is why he was able to say, “I’m in haste, but never in a hurry”.
- “I only do what God wants me to do”
When Wesley mentioned “because I choose not to do anything that God does not want to” it can be paraphrased as, ‘I only do what God wants me to do’. We see that Wesley was very clear on how to spend his life. He maintained a vibrant inner life that helped him to cope with the very busy outward life.
How do we hear?
How do we hear the words of Christ? If we do not hear, do not understand, and do not obey, we cannot expect to live as disciples. Many Christians would say “I hear the words of Christ. Every Sunday I hear sermons by pastors and preachers”. But are we so used to the hearing of sermons, that we actually become numb to God’s voice telling us something fresh? We need the Lord to engage our mind and heart, to say something that really comes from His heart to our hearts, so that after hearing Him, we can apply what He has been saying to us. In this noisy, troubled and pre-occupied world, hearing is very important; otherwise, our lives will not be transformed or changed.
How do we put into practice what we hear?
Practising what we hear at home, in the marketplace, in church, our own devotional lives is another big challenge. How do we put into practice what God wants us to hear? One of the warnings in this text is against the notion that discipleship is essentially about knowing something rather than Someone – this false sense of ‘I know it; I have been well-informed’. We live in a society which thrives on information; but unfortunately, there is a lot of mis-information too. We can read our Bible and be well-informed on contextual issues, but that does not guarantee our spiritual transformation. Or we can attend all kinds of seminars by wonderful speakers, but if that information is not processed to produce transformation, we remain ‘well-informed’ but not ‘well-formed’.
Before this parable, Jesus said many would say to Him on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and, in your name, perform many miracles?’ (Matt. 7:22) And what the Lord Jesus Christ said was “I never knew you”, basically rejecting this false understanding. Jesus said not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. That seems to be a direct contrast with what we read in Joel’s prophesy where he said, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32). What was Jesus doing here? He was basically challenging their presumptuous view of Scripture by turning it into a mantra. Sometimes Christians quote a Bible verse and turn it into a mantra; that is not real Bible knowledge. Jesus shocked them by saying not everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will enter the kingdom.
It is interesting that Jesus also dispels this idea that ‘activism’ equals ‘faithfulness’. So here, He called the people whom we consider were doing ‘good works, wonderful works’ as ‘evil-doers’ (Matt. 7:23). He was in a sense, saying “even though you may do a lot of good, you may be active in doing good, but if it is not based on your relationship with me and my will for your life, then it becomes evil works”. If we examine what Jesus said, it is actually very shocking. It is meant to stir people into action, to wake people up, because they were heading towards a cliff which will end in disaster. Jesus was in effect saying, “Wake up, you have a destiny to think about. Set things right in your lives.”
‘Activism’ is not equal to ‘spiritual health’. We are not called to be busy; we are called to be faithful. And that is an important lesson.
What saves an active life is ‘obedience’. We need to hear the Lord Jesus Christ speak to us and turn it into obedience. That is really the rhythm of spiritual life. Contemplation and action are the spiritual rhythm that has been described by spiritual writers. If we really want to do something meaningful that brings glory to God, we must have a contemplative life.
In contemplation we hear God and in response, we plunge into the world and do His work. This rhythm was practised by Jesus Himself. He often went to a lonely place to pray, to spend quality time with His Father. He does not stay on the mountain top. He will come down to a place, mingle with the crowd and minister to them. And after a while, He will move away from the crowd, refusing to let the crowd set His agenda. And again, He returns to the Father to get His balance before going back to the crowd. So, this rhythm of contemplation and action is necessary, and it is the very heart of Christian obedience.
The word in the centre of ‘obedience’ is ‘die’. And the word in the centre of ‘die’ is ‘I’. It is a good way to remember a spiritual lesson. Now ‘obedience’ is connected with ‘self-denial’. Our flesh tells us to do this, pursue that, our ambition tells us to try this and that. But Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Matt. 16:24). So, we have to die, and when we die to ourselves, then it becomes obedience. This will motivate us to obey the Lord.
Dallas Willard states there are four motives for obedience:
- Fear of God
Many people begin to obey God because they fear God. In Acts 5 we read of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira when they disobeyed God. After seeing how the Lord struck them dead, the Christians would have been very scared. So, in this sense, fear is a good place to start.
We realise over time that God can be trusted. When we obey God, God does not disappoint us, He keeps His promises. So, the next time He says, “I want you to go there”, you obey, because you are able to say, “I can trust God. He has been guiding my life. I trust Him”.
Going beyond fear and trust, we obey God because of the joy He gives us. It can be a painful experience, but it gives a lot of joy. If it is a pleasant experience, we would feel even more joyful. And it is joy that makes us want to obey God.
At the deepest level of motivation is love for God. We are able to say, “Because You have first loved me, I want to respond with gratitude. I want to obey You.” It is good to think about the different motives because the deepest level is something Jesus explained in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commands”.
This connection between love and obedience is taught to us in another way by Jesus when He was asked which the greatest commandment in the Law was. In response Jesus summarised the entire Law by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt. 22:34–40). Obedience to God’s Law has to do with love – love for God and neighbour.
We apply what we hear in our daily lives because we love Him. Imagine how it would be if we were to apply obedience from the motive of Christian love in the workplace, in the family, in churches? We would be living out the truly radical form of the Christian faith.
Are you still in the house on the rock?
John Duckworth’s Joan ‘n’ the Whale: And Other Stories You Never Heard in Sunday School has a story, “The Man Who Built His House Upon the Rock”.
A man built his house upon a rock and congratulated himself for being wise. He waited for the rain, knowing that his neighbour’s house that was built on sand would collapse. He waited for the storm warnings, but they never came. He was puzzled but nevertheless he still waited for the storm. He could hardly wait to see the neighbour’s house fall, and for his neighbour to beg for shelter in his house. With such smug thoughts he waited for the storm. He heard sounds of yelling and pounding one day and told himself excitedly that the day had come, only to be disappointed when he looked out of the window. His neighbour was upgrading; he was converting his house to a beach front resort.
The rains did come one day, but it fell only on the house that was built on the rock. The man moaned with dismay and busied himself patching the roof, cleaning the gutters, and bailing out the basement. This went on for quite a while. The neighbour who built his house on the sand got wealthier, more successful and happier. But the man whose house was on the rock was kept busy coping with a record rainfall that fell only on his house!
Finally, the man gave up, saying “Any fool can see that there’s not going to be any storm.” He packed up his belongings, moved out of his house, and went next door to the luxury beachfront resort. He said, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
“That night, of course, the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon both those houses. The one that was built upon the sand fell, and great was the fall of it.
The other fell not; for it was founded upon a rock.
Too bad nobody was home.”
Indeed, the question is not only whether your house is built on the rock, but are you still living in that house?
It is possible that we may start wisely and end foolishly. It is possible we may know wise people who build their houses upon the rock. They build their lives on Jesus the Rock, by obeying Him with an obedience that is based on love. It is possible that we may have found this house built upon the rock.
But it is also possible we may become tempted by the success and happiness of people around us who do not follow Jesus, who follow the rampant worldliness and live their lives as ardent consumers in a materialistic marketplace. It is possible we may pack our bags and leave the house built on the rock and check in to the vast variety of houses on the sand being built every day. And it is possible we may do this while still telling ourselves we are following Jesus. But if we do this, we would be deceiving ourselves, and great would be our disappointment one day. If we do this, we would have forsaken our first love (Rev. 2:4).
Have you abandoned your love for God? Are you still connected to Him in love? Are you obeying Jesus every moment, every day, not simply because it is your duty, but because you love Him with all your heart? And if you love and obey Him, you will also love your neighbours and care for them with God’s love. All this has to do with living in the house that is built on the rock.
And so, I ask you. Is your house built on the rock?
And are you still in that house?
Jeffrey Pfeffer, Dying for a Paycheck(New York: HarperCollins, 2018).
John Duckworth, Joan n the Whale and Other Stories You Never Heard in Sunday School (Eastbourne, England: Monarch, 1987), 100–103.
Written by Robert M. Solomon
Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon served as Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore from 2000–2012. He was also one of the vice-presidents of FES from 2001–2014. Bishop Solomon has authored many books and contributed numerous articles to theological dictionaries and journals. He has degrees in medicine, theology, intercultural studies, and pastoral theology. Today, he has an active itinerant ministry of preaching and teaching in Singapore and abroad.