by Mike Bennett
Imagine that you’ve just started construction on a new house for yourself. This isn’t just any house though – you’re building your Dream Home™! Your fervor for your new abode knows no bounds. You eagerly hire designers, contractors, builders, and even an interior designer to get those harvest hues in the kitchen just right – the works! You’re sure this is going to be the best house ever and eagerly set off on your new architectural adventure.
Now, fast forward a few months: you’ve cleared off and prepped the land, you’ve poured a foundation, and you’ve got a few walls and beams up. Unfortunately, things aren’t going quite as quickly as you’d like. You’ve had to wait for various shipments of parts. Your workers don’t always act as efficiently as you’d like. Maybe you’ve even had particularly nasty weather wreak havoc on the exposed parts of your house-to-be.
In fact, you’ve had so much trouble that one day you look at that unfinished house and think to yourself, this is good enough. Despite the lack of a roof, electrical circuits, windows, or really anything that would provide shelter, you decide that the hassle of completing the project just doesn’t outweigh your desire to live there. So you bring all your things and set up shop in your new house without giving a second thought to its very pronounced lack of completion.
Anyone watching this would think: Um… idiot alert. Right? Nobody in her right mind would look at a half-finished house and say, “This is ready to be lived in.”
So why do we do this with our faith?
Sometimes as Christians we look at our lives and think, “Eh, this is good enough.” We say things like “I just want to take it easy this year,” or “Isn’t it good enough that I go to a Christian college?” or “Look at how much I’ve grown already by coming to church!” We talk about these things as though they themselves were the goals; as though resting in God’s creation or being in a Christian community or developing virtues were ends in of themselves, instead of simply the means of bringing more glory to God. We build a few walls and pour some concrete, and call the temples that are our bodies finished.
The further along you get with building, the more tempting it can be to say, “Done!” You’ve got a roof; you’ve developed persistence in life’s storms. You’ve got windows; you’re getting better at being transparent in your community. You’ve even got plumbing … and whatever spiritual boon that equates to. In both cases, however, the goal isn’t simply function, it’s excellence in form. An excellent house will provide shelter, yes, but will also be inviting to guests, environmentally efficient, and so on. An excellent Christian will hopefully not be simply a morally justified automaton, but will live well in community, be a great steward of God’s creation, and many other things. The point here is that there is almost certainly something we can be doing at any moment to bring our lives more in line with Jesus’ teachings, regardless of how far along any one of us might be along that track.
Before we get carried away with all this action! action! action!, let me say that just like with building a house, it’s important to realize that always pursuing spiritual growth doesn’t necessarily mean always doing heavy lifting. There are spans of time while building a house that are characterized primarily by planning, or by thinking, or simply by waiting or even resting. But, no house is built on these things alone; all building projects require a mixture of reflection and action. And if in my reflection I discover an error in my construction, my best action is to work toward the removal or transformation of that impropriety, so that proper building may commence as soon as possible.
Pursuing growth, whether the growth of a house or a life worthy of Christ, emphatically does not mean a constant, frenzied stream of not-good-enoughs. What it does mean, however, is a setting of one’s will toward the completion of a task, and for Christians, we have to realize that task is not complete until we are with God in his perfection. We have the opportunity right now to build, by the grace of God, temples that will endure for all time. I would love my temple to be a place worth living in – wouldn’t you?