Our family is in the middle of a house renovation. By “our family” what I really mean is, I have personally taken on an entire building project that is both exhilarating and also 100 percent overwhelming. I’ve never built anything. I’m not particularly handy. I don’t love measuring things, nor am I especially crafty. But the idea of taking something not-livable and making it beautiful is something I love. And so, I’m renovating a house.
The opportunity to bring something condemned back to life is, in many ways, likewise renewing me. While my divinity degree and years of ministry experience haven’t helped me with the house, I’m constantly finding parallels between my broken house and my sinful heart. I’m midway into ripping this house apart just to put it back together again, and I have to say, I’ve learned way more than I bargained for.
1. Making something new is hard.
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if I’m trying to get on HGTV. Although the petrified squirrel popping out of the air vent during a prime-time demo makes for great drama, these shows rarely depict the humdrum of real life. Actual labor is tough and seldom comes with a rise to fame.
In reality, my muscles constantly ache. My mind hurts from crunching numbers and learning new skills. My hands look like they’ve been through a world war. I wonder if this will go down as one of my greatest blunders. I long to make this house beautiful, but the work it’s taking to get there often makes me stop and second-guess myself. I fear all this sweat and investment will be for nothing.
How many times have I doubted God’s work in my own heart, too?
2. It’s worse than it looks.
I mentioned the petrified squirrels. There are also live ones sneaking in during early morning hours and scurrying around inside the open ceiling. I’m certain they mock me. Cue also the cockroaches that’ve gone deep-diving into my coffee and termites that’ve moved through the place. The kitchen was unsalvageable, floors destroyed, roof caving in.
Everyone says, “You don’t know what you’ll find!” As annoying as that is, they’re not wrong. My heart is no different. We often look decent on the surface, but when the Spirit of God starts digging around and ripping things out, we discover the long-dead varmints hiding inside the walls of our hearts.
We often look decent on the surface, but when the Spirit of God starts digging around and ripping things out, we discover the long-dead varmints hiding inside the walls of our hearts.
How often do I look better on the outside than I truly am on the inside?
3. You won’t get it perfect.
I’m not a professional. I’m not a designer. I’m not an architect. I don’t always understand why I need structural headers here and not there. I don’t even understand when someone explains it to me, but I’m learning. I’m figuring out how to lay tile and use a saw. I’m heaving the sledgehammer and carrying out loads of trash. My finished house won’t be perfect, but it’ll have value.
My heart is the same. I don’t understand every aspect of holiness, and I fear not getting things right. But God loved me when I was a wreck (Rom. 5:10), and he already knows the worst about me. I won’t be perfect until Christ returns, but he wants my participation anyway. I can take joy in even imperfectly executed steps toward Christlikeness, because I belong to a loving God.
How often do I give up because I fear not getting it right before God?
4. It takes longer than you project.
I can tell a huge difference when a wall goes up in a single hour, but the next three weeks might be as slow as molasses. I can be highly motivated for one task, only to struggle to do the next thing. While renovating a house takes longer than I think it should, motivation comes from remembering where I started and what it could be like at the finish line.
I often berate myself for my slow progress. But that response fixates my focus in the wrong place. To expect much of myself is to think little of God and to forget his Word. To expect much of God is to think rightly of myself and remember the gospel. Transformation of my heart isn’t finished on my timeline—it’s done on God’s. It’s his work to begin with.
How often do I project my sanctification timeline onto myself and others?
5. No one knows the sweat that goes into it.
It’d be weird for me to have you rub the callouses on my hands. How boring would it be to sit and listen to my rendition of the days spent waiting for the sheetrock guy to show up? Or the saga of removing stubborn popcorn texture from the ceiling? I can tell you about this, but even if you patiently listened for hours, you’d never know it all. You’re not me, and it’s not your house.
The progress of our hearts is largely unknown to others, too. Nobody knows the effort put into changing my heart. Nobody sees my increasing desire to please only Jesus. Nobody is with me in the sleepless nights of prayer or the quiet moments of reading his Word. But he knows. He sees. And he’s in charge.
Am I focused on what others see or what God knows?
When we force change on others, we forget that renovation of the heart belongs to God.
I’ve probably quoted Hebrews 10:23 more in the last several years than any other verse: “Let us hold fast our confession without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” In other words, remember what is true because of the gospel. Christ has done and is doing what we cannot do for ourselves. When we force change on others, we forget that renovation of the heart belongs to God. When we expect our own sin to disappear quickly, we forget that heart renewal comes only from the power of God’s Spirit.
There is one major difference between my house and my heart. God promises to finish the renovation of my heart once and for all. It’s a certain and sure truth, ensured by the Great Architect himself.
A version of this article appeared on the author’s website.