Do you have a strong spiritual foundation in your life?
The following story is a metaphor for why it’s important to build your life on a spiritual foundation. Before my wife, Polly, and I got married, she was living in New York City and I was in Texas. Once, when I went to visit her, some friends from her church, who had a home on Long Island in Southampton, invited us to visit them for the weekend.
They had a beautiful home about a 10 or 15 minute walk from the beach. And to the beach we went, several times while we were there.
One afternoon, when it was really too cold to go in the water, we were walking up and down picking up sea shells and stones tumbled smooth by the surf. All of a sudden Polly stopped and pointed to a spot about 50 feet out into the water. All I saw was water. But then she shared one of those sad, but true stories.
The first time she had visited that same spot several years before, you could see part of a house sticking up through the waves. Apparently, the shoreline had shifted over the years, and this house, which had been an old family home, built a long time ago, had basically been swallowed up by the ocean, because the land it had been built on was slowly eroded by the waves.
The house was gone
There was nothing left of it to see. Think what it would have been like to have grown up in that house, or maybe coming to visit grandparents, or your aunt and uncle, for years, and then that wonderful place of refuge and happy memories was slowly destroyed by the water and shifting sands.
I can only imagine how they must have felt totally helpless to do anything to stop what was going on.
I think about this once in a while, and every time I do, it reminds me of what Jesus said about building your house on the rock or on the sand.
He had just delivered his powerful Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew, Chapters 5, 6, and 7) And right at the end, he said,
Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. Matthew 7:24-27 NLT
A spiritual foundation of obedience
Jesus was using the image of a house built on a rock instead of the sand as a metaphor for building your life on the strong foundation of obeying the basic moral and spiritual precepts he had just talked about in his sermon.
It was a pretty clear picture his listeners could relate to. They knew that sand was not a good foundation to build a house on. And he made it clear that failing to obey his simple and straightforward teachings was a poor foundation to build your life on.
If you had been in the crowd that day when Jesus was preaching, wouldn’t it make you want to think a little more carefully about what he had just said and how you could put into practice the things he was talking about?
A spiritual foundation protects you from the storms of life
One of the obvious points Jesus makes is that whether your house (your life), is built on the sand or the rock (obedience or disobedience), there will be storms. The winds and waves of life will beat against your house, your sense of purpose and self-worth, your faith, and even your life.
But when you are obedient to Christ, you will not be swallowed up by these storms of life, but made stronger.
I can’t help but wonder if Jesus was thinking about
When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away,
but the godly have a lasting foundation. Proverbs 10:25 NLT
Now, you may have built your house on the Rock of Christ with no sand in sight. I totally honor you.
A poor spiritual foundation
And for many years I thought I had done just that. I had built a pretty good “house” but at some point more recently it became obvious I had built part of my life on the Rock and part on the sand. I’ve had to unbuild, so to speak, parts of my life and my belief systems and rebuild them on Christ instead of what the world insisted was the right thing, or just the okay thing, to do.
It’s not necessarily easy to deconstruct something you’ve spent years putting together. But in retrospect, it has really been a productive process. And I’ve grown so much spiritually.
Here’s just one example: what foundation did I build my sense of identity on years ago compared to now? I used to think of myself defined by what I saw in the mirror, by heredity, education, occupation, family history and heritage, ethnicity, how much money was in the bank, and a whole lot of other external influences, not to mention comparing myself to the world’s material standards and expectations of what I could or should, be and do.
More and more though, especially over the last few years, I’ve come to find my true identity is in Christ, not all these ways of the world.
Not only did I have to tear down a lot of what I had built up as my sense of identity, and other parts of my life as well, but I had to rebuild a more spiritual concept of who I am as a child of God on the spiritual foundation of Christ.
I did an episode a couple of years ago about this. It’s called Finding Your Identity in Christ, Episode 85.
How to build a spiritual foundation
So how do we build our lives on the Rock of Christ instead of on the sands of human opinions and attitudes, man-made theological doctrines, and worldly, material ways of doing things?
Well, based on what Jesus says about obeying his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, the obvious first step is to take seriously everything he tells us in that sermon, and then put these ideas into practice in our daily lives.
But there are so many things to remember in that sermon. How do we do it all?
Summing up the Sermon on the Mount
A British friend of mine, Brian, said to me years ago that if you summed up the Sermon on the Mount, it would be about living your life by a moral and spiritual compass of absolute honesty, unselfishness, purity, and love. If you did those four things, you’d be pretty faithful to Jesus’s teachings.
Think about that for a minute. What if everything you thought, said, and did in your relationship with God, your neighbor, and yourself, was based on – had a foundation of – absolute honesty, unselfishness, purity, and love?
When Brian first was trying to turn his life around and actually follow Christ on a daily basis, he wrote these four precepts of honesty, unselfishness, purity, and love in four columns on a piece of paper. Then he took an honest look at his life and wrote down everything he could think of in each of these categories where he didn’t measure up. And he also thought about how to make restitution in any situation where it was appropriate or possible.
It was a humbling experience. And he realized he wasn’t such a fine fellow as he had thought he was. During this process he remembered that years ago he had stolen a street sign as a prank. He no longer had the sign and couldn’t return it, but he felt the need to make some kind of restitution. So he wrote a letter to the town explaining what had happened all those years ago and sent some money to help cover the cost of the stolen sign.
He suddenly felt a sense of freedom he had never known.
What I learned from my friend is that it’s not enough just to have a good moral and spiritual foundation, but you need to use good materials to build with, the honesty, unselfishness, purity and love.
To the degree you are living the Sermon on the Mount in your daily life, you will not just be building on the Rock of Christ, but you will be using good building materials, so to speak.
Commitment to Christ
Another aspect of building your life on a strong spiritual foundation is making a full commitment to follow Christ.
Jesus said something important along these lines.
“And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’ So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” Luke 14:27-30, 33 NLT
I used to think Jesus was asking us to literally sell everything we have or give it away and go live in a cave somewhere. But that’s not what he’s really getting at. Although some people have taken this pretty literally at times.
I think Jesus is saying we need to be fully committed to following him. “Giving up everything you own” could mean perhaps getting rid of all your negative and sinful beliefs and actions. It can also mean realizing that everything you have is a gift from God and belongs to Him. It means relinquishing any personal power, authority, or ownership of what you have and even yourself. It means living for God and not yourself. You and all you have belong to God. The more clearly we see that, the freer we are to follow Christ.
This is not a new idea in the New Testament.
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. Psalm 24:1 NLT
Seeing this and living it may come by degrees. And that’s okay. We just need to keep walking in the right direction.
Giving children a strong spiritual foundation
When you have a strong spiritual foundation it affects every area of your life. I’m thinking right now of that verse from
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 KJV
When I was a kid, my family had a daily devotional or Bible reading every day. either at breakfast or dinner. My parents would often read Bible stories when they put me to bed. I can remember getting my first full Bible when I was about eight years old. I loved to read my favorite story of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego in Chapter 3 of Daniel.
My parents instilled in me a love for the Bible. This has been a strong foundation, which I have continued to build on my whole life, most recently by producing The Bible Speaks to You Podcast.
What if we have a weak foundation
So what do we do if we’ve built our “house” – our lives, our careers, or even our churches – on a bad foundation of a self-centered approach to life, the world’s definition of success, or needing the approval of others?
Well, the first step is to realize we’ve made a poor choice in how to live our lives. Sometimes a person might be completely off track from following Jesus’s guidance, and decide to give it a try. And sometimes, we think we’ve been building on the Rock of Christ, I mentioned this happened to me, but we’ve really built our lives on a mixture of sand and rock.
It may take a big piece of humble pie for us to realize the mistakes we’ve made are actually mistakes and that we need to do something different.
And that’s the next step I would suggest, being honest with yourself about what needs to change in your life, in your thinking, and your actions.
Take an honest look at your spiritual foundation
This is where I’m going to encourage you to try the exercise my friend Brian did.
On a piece of paper, in a notebook, or your journal and write down these four categories: absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, absolute purity, and absolute love. Under each heading, write down the things in your life and your attitudes that don’t measure up to these high moral and spiritual standards. And if you’re like me, you might eventually need a whole page for each of them to get all this stuff written down.
Now I realize this can be a “dangerous” exercise, because sometimes we have the tendency to nitpick ourselves to pieces over the tiniest little mistake. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Just focus on the ways your life, in general, has not measured up to honesty, unselfishness, purity, and love.
Do you have a tendency not to tell the truth in certain situations or with certain people? Write it down.
Do you ever catch yourself being selfish? And I don’t mean taking care of yourself and doing what’s right for you. You know what it feels like when someone is selfish in their dealings with you. Have you ever treated someone else that way? Write it down.
And what about purity? Is there anything impure in your life? A lot of churches think this just has to do with sexual morality. But purity is much more than that. Are your thoughts pure? Are your motives mixed? Are your loyalties divided between trying to please people and honor God? Do anger and resentment take over sometimes? What about greed, or self-depreciation? What about substance abuse, drugs and alcohol, or an addiction to anything, even sugar. Don’t laugh. Some folks struggle with that. Whatever it is, write it down.
And finally love. Is there any attitude or action in your life that isn’t completely in line with absolute love? Again, you don’t have to write down every tiny example at first. Just start with the general tendencies of areas in your life where you could be more loving.
Once you have a few things written down in each category, and you can keep adding to them, you can go on to the next step.
Pick just one item and ask yourself: How can I improve in this area of my life? Let’s say you have a tendency to be critical of people in other churches, or even at your own church, who don’t agree with you. Hold those thoughts up to the standard of absolute love. How can you love those people, not what they’re doing, but the people themselves? How can you love with the absolute love of Christ?
Now you may be thinking right now: Hey James, this sounds good on paper, but you have no idea of the way some people, who call themselves Christians, are behaving. It is so wrong. And they get away with it. Of course I’m critical of that.
You can do it
Oh, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve struggled with that over the years too. But being critical and judgmental is the opposite of absolute love. I’m not saying to love the things you think are wrong. I’m saying to just love that person, regardless of the fact they’re doing something you disagree with. Just love them. Keep loving them. It doesn’t necessarily mean you say anything to them. At least not until you feel genuine love for them.
I know. This is not always easy. And you can’t do it all by yourself. Ask God for help. Ask God to show you how He loves them. Love them the way God loves them. And keep at it until you feel an absolute, all-encompassing love for them. It’s not just the human emotion of love I’m talking about. It’s feeling God’s unfailing and constant love for them.
Pray about that for a little while until you feel like you’re making some spiritual progress, then pick out something else on one of your four lists. Pray about that and see what you can find in the Sermon on the Mount, something else Jesus said, or anything in the Bible that’s helpful, which will strengthen you.
How you do this, whether one thing or several at a time, or all of them at once, is up to you. But I think you’ll find this exercise really helpful.
It’s easy to think, Oh well, I don’t really need to do this little exercise. I know what I need to pray about. And that’s fine.
Your spiritual foundation blesses others
But I can guarantee that when you actually write out your lists and make a sincere, consistent effort to bring your life into full alignment with absolute honesty, unselfishness, purity, and love, you’ll see things about yourself you hadn’t seen before – both the things you need to work on and the good you’re already doing – and you’ll gain a spiritual victory in those areas more than you have in the past.
And people will see a difference in you. When you build on the foundation of Christ, it has an influence on everyone around you. When you are living Jesus’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, people notice. They feel valued by you. They feel your love. They see the way you treat others. And it has an effect on them.
When you build your house, your life, on the rock of Christ – and I don’t mean by this going around and just quoting Jesus, telling others how they should be living – I mean actually living the precepts Jesus taught because you love Christ, when people see that, they often want what you have, the inner peace of mind and a strong faith.
You may never know what an impact you have on someone else, when you build your life on a spiritual foundation of obedience to Christ.
If you need to unbuild part of your house, your life, because part of it’s on shaky ground, or abandon it altogether and start completely over on solid ground, the foundation of following Christ, that’s a really good place to be, I mean, the fact that you recognize you need to make a change. And if your life is already built on the Rock of Christ, that is a beautiful thing. You can inspire and help others to do the same.
God has given you a strong foundation to build on. Jesus has given you the tools and the building materials. There is no limit to the good you can do when you build your life on obedience to Christ.
Photo credit: Gregory Smirnov
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
Matthew 7:24-27 NLT
24 Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.
25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.
26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.
27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.
Proverbs 10:25 NLT
25 When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away,
but the godly have a lasting foundation.
Luke 14:27-30, 33 NLT
27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
28 “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?
29 Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you.
30 They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’
33 So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.
Psalm 24:1 NLT
1 The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.
Proverbs 22:6 KJV
6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.