Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash

On Clay, Sand, and Rock

When I was growing up, the brick foundation of our house began to split.  Our home was built on the edge of a swamp, on clay, and the contractor hadn’t realized that what looked like good ground just wasn’t stable.  Every so often, my Dad would assess the damage to another cracking wall then hire a company to dig down and shore up another side of the foundation.  One year he and my brother spent quite a lot of time down in the basement pouring concrete against one wall where the ground was crumbling away.  It was a house my Dad had designed, and we all loved it dearly, but in the end, my Dad says he was glad to sell it and not have to worry about it falling down anymore.
Sing with me now:
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.  The foolish man built his house upon the sand.  The foolish man built his house upon the sand.  And the rains came a tumbling down.
The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up. And the house on the sand went SPLAT!

I spent my childhood singing this Bible school song, oblivious to that same metaphor playing out around me.  I was never afraid my house would go splat, but it was truly in danger of doing so, especially when you add in the occasional hurricane that would blow into eastern North Carolina.  Jesus could have used my house in his warning:


“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?  As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.  They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”  Luke 6:46-49

Jesus speaks here to anyone who claims to be His.  It’s an easy claim to make, but the proof, it seems, lies in the foundation.  What is the foundation?  Obedience.  A life spent putting Jesus’ words into practice is a life that can stand up to storms.

But what obedience does He mean?  Go to church?  Be kind to the check out worker?  Give to the Lottie Moon Offering?  How do I know if I am like that contractor who only thought the ground was good?  Charles Spurgeon charges:
“Dig deep if you do dig a foundation. If it be repentance, let it be an intensely earnest repentance, including a vehement hatred of every form of sin. If you make confession before God, confess with your very soul, and not with your lips only: lay bare your spirit before the glance of Deity. If it be faith that you talk of, believe right up to the hilt…. Be downright in everything. The wise builder dug through the earth, and continued his digging till he reached the rock; and then he dug into the rock, and struck out a trench wherein he might lay his foundation; for he could not be content unless he made sure and thorough work of it…. When a man digs a deep foundation he has much earth to throw out. So he that builds for eternity has a great deal to get rid of. There is very much rubbish, and the rubbish must go. You cannot make sure work for eternity without clearing away much which flesh and blood would like to retain. See ye to this, and count the cost.”

In other words, obey in every way you can think of.  Do not stop the work.  Watch your life and your doctrine very closely.

Of course, this is the moment when some of us get even more worried.  If this complete obedience is my firm foundation, how will I ever do enough?  I know that just today I have judged my neighbor in my heart, complained out loud, neglected to pray for so many things, and left my responsibilities undone.  And it’s only 2:30pm.  I want to obey, but it’s so hard!  My foundation is looking slippery, indeed!  Spurgeon anticipates this fear.
“Will it stand should a tempest happen? The chimney-shaft is tall, but is it safe? Ay, there’s the rub. This is the question which makes an end of much of the boasting which is all around us. It is better to tremble at God’s word than boldly to presume. It is better to be fearful, lest after all we may be castaways, than to harden one’s forehead with vain confidence.”

Yes, Spurgeon says, we have good reason to be nervous and that fear should spur us on to more love and good deeds.  Still, complete obedience is impossible.  I call out, “Lord, Lord,” but my actions scream hypocrisy.  Well then, when our doubts and fears about our spiritual houses shake us, there is only one place of rest.  Scripture.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”  Romans 8:1-3

Thank God for His reassuring Word!  In the end, when the storm comes, Jesus, His sacrifice, and His resurrection—these make up my foundation.  All other ground is sinking sand. Confessing my sin, I will fall on the Rock and His grace.  He knows I am but dust that is easily washed away.  So He has done the hardest work.  When winds blow and my carpenter skills prove lacking, my Great Carpenter will wrap His arms around me and hold me fast. What a Savior! What relief to be free of my fear! Now, in confidence, we can sing with our children and finish the song:

The wise man built his house upon the rock.  The wise man built his house upon the rock.  The wise man built his house upon the rock.  And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  The rains came down and the floods came up.  And the house on the rock stood firm.