Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. – Matthew 7:24-29
This passage holds special meaning to me both as a geomorphologist who studies rivers and a homeowner whose house is in fact built on sand. Fortunately for me our house is built on a very old sand dune which is pretty stable and not in any real danger of washing away because we are not near any streams. Jesus is summarizing his teaching goals and style in this passage. He just provided scaffolding in words of wisdom and soon the people who heard these words will be called to put them into practice through experience.
The same river that deposits sand along a river can erode that same sand and cause great damage if you build your home in a place prone to erosion. The solution Jesus provides here is to build your house on rock rather than highly erodible sand. Note that His solution is not to stay away from the River (God) to avoid calamity. It is to have the proper posture and perspective when the inevitable floods occur.
Rivers naturally flood, it is part of their proper and healthy function. Floodplains are the “relief valve” that allows flooding to occur without creating permanent damage. Floodplains are actually created by the very flooding for which they serve as a “relief valve”. When humans build levees, dams, and weirs it is like plugging the pressure outlet on a pressure cooker. It usually does not end well for the river or those seeking to control it. Rivers that flow over bedrock tend to be very stable and do not move during floods. That is not to say that floods on bedrock rivers are not damaging and dangerous, but the rivers do not move as a result of the floods.
Jesus says “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house”. Problems and trials will come, it is how we prepare for these inevitable floods and storms that determines our ability to weather them. So how does one prepare? It sounds fairly simple as Jesus explains it, we need to “hears these words” and “put them into practice”. Easy right…..not so much.
Ability to hear Jesus’ words is usually a function of listening and paying attention. The “words” that God has for us sometimes come in an attention grabbing two-by-four to the head, and sometimes they come as a subtle whisper. Jesus’ words are the intellectual infrastructure on which we are to base our lives and our actions.
Our heads, filled “words”, are to channel our hearts to put these words into practice. This is the harder part for many people, including Jesus’ disciples, and me. I think the reason it is hard is because it requires interpretation and deep understanding of the underlying truths of Jesus. In the book the Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis the two main characters are given a set of “signs” or clues about a task that Aslan (the Christ figure) has given them. Complicating matters is that only one of the two adventurers (Jill) was able to hear the signs from Aslan. Here is what Aslan says to her about the signs:
“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.” – C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
God is saying something similar to those listening here. We must try very hard to listen and learn the “signs” (words) whatever “strange things” (read storms and rain) happen. Fortunately for us God has sent a “helper”, the Holy Spirit, to help with both hearing, and remembering, Jesus’ teaching.
Prayer: God help us to be good listeners and learners so we can apply Your wisdom and build our lives on a firm foundation.