"Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6 NIV).
Friend to Friend
It was the incompetent and the inexperienced being led by the inept -- the day our Sunday School Class worked on the Habitat for Humanity house for an unsuspecting, extremely grateful Vietnamese family. Among the crew were two dentists, an investment banker, a lawyer, an engineer, two pastors, a receptionist, several homemakers and a marriage counselor. It's always good to have a marriage counselor on hand when a home improvement project is taking place.
The one-thousand square foot, vinyl siding house had already been framed by a team the week before. Today was sheetrock, or drywall day. The site supervisor's name was TA. That's all the information he gave -- just TA. TA became a Christian one Easter when he reluctantly agreed to go to church with his praying wife.
"I never went to church," he told my husband. "I was a mean man who worked seven days a week. But one Sunday I put on a suit and told my wife, 'I'm going to church with you today, but don't ask me to do it again. This is a onetime deal.' But Jesus saved my soul that day and I've been livin' for Him ever since."
That was TA. A country carpenter who had hammered more nails for Jesus than Noah and his son's put together. He grabbed his clipboard and began.
"Does anyone here know anything about dry wall?" he asked.
Jeff reluctantly raised his hand.
"OK, you'll be a team leader." TA checked the list and moved right along.
"But that was thirty years ago when I was in college," Jeff clarified.
"You'll be fine," TA said as he waved his hand. "Like riding a bike."
I could tell you many stories of the day filled with wacky work and lively laughter laced with caring community, but let me share just one.
Palmer was part of the sheetrock team. Like Rambo, he wielded his screw gun and popped those babies in the sheetrock like a hot knife through butter. Piece of cake. After several hours of neck craning, screw popping, dust in your eyes labor, Palmer took a fifteen minute break.
Re-energized, Rambo picked up his machine gun and once again attacked the ceiling. A lot of forgetting can go on in a fifteen minute break and for some reason the screws forgot how they were supposed to spin out of the gun and magically implant flush with the ceiling.
"That's strange," Palmer thought as he examined the screw protruding one inch from the ceiling.
He moved the gun over a couple of inches and tried again. "Maybe I just need to push harder" he mused. With all the force of a trained counselor, Palmer pressed the gun into the ceiling and pulled the trigger. Once again, the screw hung down one inch from the ceiling.
Like a tennis player who examines his racket after missing an easy lob, or an outfielder who stares at his glove after missing a simple fly ball, Palmer looked at the gun in frustration. "Something is definitely wrong with this gun," the mumbled. "I guess I need to push even harder." Palmer set his jaw, clinched the gun, and firmly pressed the screw gun into the ceiling. "I'm a man. I can do this. I'm going to make this work."
After a third attempt, a frustrated Palmer stared at a neatly placed row of three taunting stalactite screws protruding from the ceiling.
About that time, TA bounced through the room and casually commented to Rambo still holding his gun. "Hey Buddy, you might want to take that gun out of reverse."
A flush of embarrassment rose from the tip of Palmer's dusty shoes to the top of his sandy- blond head. He nonchalantly flipped the switch to forward and proceeded to shoot flush screws efficiently and effectively like nothing had ever happened.
Later, Palmer laughingly said, "Sometimes I'm not the brightest person in the world, but I wonder how many rows of protruding screws I would have shot into that ceiling before I stopped and even considered that the problem might be me?"
OK sisters, stop the cameras. Suddenly I saw myself staring up at those protruding screws with my baffled friend. "What's wrong with her," I complain about a friend who's let me down. "What's wrong with him," I complain about my husband who's not acting according to my plan. "What's wrong with them," I mumble about family members who are not living up to my expectations." In frustration, I continue repeating the same ineffective behavior, never stopping to consider the problem might be me.
Whether it's a string of jobs where you're always treated unfairly, a pileup of relationships that seem to repeatedly end poorly, or a series of marriages with spouses who've let you down...could the problem be...dare I say... you? We push harder. Press more firmly. Repeat the same ineffective behavior again and again.
May I quote TA? "Hey Buddy. It might help if you take it out of reverse."
May I translate TA the way I heard it? "Hey Buddy. You are the problem. You've got life in reverse. Turn and go in the opposite direction."
And you know what? That is the definition of repentance. To turn around and go in the opposite direction.
Palmer could have pushed that screw gun into the ceiling until its nose broke through the sheetrock. He could have forced those babies in -- even hammered them flush. Then he could have slathered a coat of sheetrock mud over the holes and applied a nice coat of paint. On the outside, it might have looked like the screws were properly installed. But the truth would come out eventually. The screw threads would have simply cut a hole in the material and the purpose for which they were created lost. There would be no grip of the screw threads into the drywall. No security in the construction. Just a nicely painted ceiling on the verge of collapse.
Oh friend, when it comes to a life that is not working, we can try harder, push harder, and even pound with emotional hammers to try and make it work. With a fresh coat of pretend-- a smiling face, spit-shined kids, and a well marked Bible, we might look OK -- even downright good. But underneath, the construction remains shaky at best.
But when trying harder is replaced with repentance, shaky is replaced by secure. If life isn't working for you, consult with the project manager -- Jesus Christ. Trying harder is not the answer. Pushing with more force won't get the job done well. Repeating the same ineffective behavior will only leave you frustrated. But relying on the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, God's love flowing through us, and Jesus Christ's redeeming grace surrounding us, well, that is the key to building God's ultimate habitat for all humanity.
Dear Heavenly Father, sometimes I just don't get it. I try harder, but with the same results. I repeat the same ineffective behavior and then wonder why I don't have more victory in my life. Help me to stop trying harder in my own strength, but start depending more on Your power. Show me when I need to turn and go in the opposite direction, and give me the courage to do so.
In Jesus' Name,
Now It's Your Turn
Today's assignment is to read Romans 7 and answer the following questions:
What was Paul's struggle?
Have you ever felt like Paul?
What was Paul's answer to the struggle?
What does "walking in the Spirit" look like to you?