January 23, 2016
Years ago I had a book entitled, "Through History with J. Wesley Smith," a little cartoon anthology of commentary on different historical events. One of them had two Renaissance-era men talking against the backdrop of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. "Too bad about that," comments the one. "A tower like that could have made Pisa famous." The reason it leans is because the soft ground beneath was never capable of supporting the weight of the structure. That it's still standing is testament to modern ingenuity and engineering, as much effort and money has been invested pumping concrete into the ground to keep it from leaning any further, thus endangering beyond repair its structural integrity.
The problem with foundations is that a lot of money is spent on a part of the building that never gets seen. Foundations aren't glamorous; they are usually pretty Plain Jane. But proper foundations are essential for the support of the structure itself. The foundation determines what can be built upon it. If you want a skyscraper, you have to dig deep. If you only want a shed, you can build it on skids.
It's also true for life. Most people I know want to have a good life. I don't know anyone who wakes up in the morning wondering how they can manage to screw up the day, but by day's end, plenty of them wind up doing just that. A good life however, isn't just a matter of having enough money, friends, health, or power. Those are the part of the building that everyone sees, but if these things aren't built on a foundation of thoughtful character, self-denial, integrity, and courage, the things people see sooner or later will begin to wobble and lean, and eventually collapse.
Our spiritual life operates much the same. There is nothing glamorous about prayer, fasting, meditation, reading the Bible, repentance, and forgiveness. But trying to build a godly life without taking the time to invest in these disciplines that no one else sees is ultimately a fruitless and frustrating effort. We live in an instant world. We eat fast food, microwave our meals, get irritated when our internet connection bogs down. But we have lost something of our humanity in our quest for instant gratification. We even want to be holy in a hurry, but God is not so constrained, and will slowly, painstakingly take his time developing in us that which he wants to create. Our trying to rush the process only messes it up. I can't say I always like his slow, deliberate ways. I'd prefer to get to the end product without all the foundation work. But I am grateful that God doesn't take shortcuts. When I see those who have chosen the instant, shortcut road to success, I take mental note to be gracious when I finally catch up to them as they lay spent by the side of the road. Sooner or later, our paths will cross again, and what looked easily inviting before will have revealed itself as the sandy foundation it was all the time.
In the meantime, there is no room for smugness. My human tendency is to skip the hidden foundation work, so I need grace to keep at it, and friends who will hold me accountable so I won't be quite so tempted to cut corners. Thank God, there is grace aplenty, and faithful friends.