You can’t win a 5K if you run in the wrong town.
You won’t get where you want to go if your map is for the wrong state.
And, no matter what Joey Tribbiani says, trifles do not taste good if the ingredients you use aren’t right.
The starting point matters.
We may all agree with that, but often our actions and thoughts tell a different story. We might lean into the belief that “it’s the thought that counts” or “the ends justify the means.” We often insist that EFFORT or PASSION are what matter most. How hard are you working? Have you earned your success? It’s all part of our American values.
It’s not about us as much as we think (or want).
In Matthew 7 Jesus tells the story of two builders. I’m sure you’ve heard it. One builds his house on the sand, while the other builds his on the rock. When the storms come, the house on the sand — as the Sunday School song says — “GOES SPLAT!!”
Kids laugh at that. It’s funny. And children’s books often ham it up even more.
Authors and illustrators depict the man who built his house on the sand as lazy, carefree, and in a hurry. He slaps together his house with crooked corners and worn boards, then sits sunning in a beach chair with an umbrella in his drink.
The second man — the man who built his house on the rock — is strong, calculated, and hard-working. His house comes together over an extended period of time. It sports brick walls, neat windows, and solid construction, sometimes looking like a mansion compared to his neighbor’s shack.
And just like that — we’ve conflated God’s Word with our own cultural virtues. The one who is smart, diligent, and passionate always gets ahead, right?
Here’s the problem: Jesus doesn’t suggest any of this. He doesn’t diminish the work, skill, or commitment of the builders. He doesn’t say one house stood inferior to the other. He simply highlights the different foundations.
You could argue that a “smart” builder would know better than to build on sand, but the builder is not the point. And Jesus isn’t arguing that.
He directs our focus to the starting point.
What are our starting points?
When we talk about loving our neighbors, what is our starting point?
Do we, like the lawyer in Luke 10, seek first to define who qualifies? Are they close enough, trying hard enough, needy enough, righteous enough? Do they look like me? Can I trust them? Are they trying to take anything that’s rightfully mine? We often want to assess if they’re worthy and really our responsibility.
When we talk about politics, what is our starting point?
A lot of us start with our rights. We protect those first. We may listen to arguments and choose a side, then hit up the Bible for Scriptural supports. Is that how we want to do this?
How often do we start with what’s best for the community? Or what might rescue the oppressed? Can we seek to know the heart of God FIRST, then see how we can apply that to how we live and vote? Do we look at all of God’s instructions or just the ones that fit our agendas? And those supports should be evaluated in context, not just squeezed into a catchy meme or shareable graphic.
When we study the Bible, what is our starting point?
Maybe we start with a problem we have or a source of pain. We want relief, so we go to God’s Word. Is there a book or study that will directly address that issue and tell us how God can fix our problems?
Or maybe we approach the Bible to confirm what we already believe. Do we pull out our concordances and search by keywords to affirm choices we want to make? (Or have already made.)
Now, there’s nothing wrong with seeking wisdom from the Bible. It’s good! And we absolutely should seek wisdom from God, but should we be starting with US? If we only and always approach Scripture with the question — What can God do for me? — we have the wrong starting point.
We can view the Bible as a manual, but … Do you have a personal relationship with your washing machine? That came with a manual, too. This self-help approach makes our faith less about a relationship and more about a transaction.
Seek FIRST His Kingdom.
What if the builder who started on the sand didn’t know it was sand? It could have looked solid to him. He may have known more about construction and materials. He may have saved longer and been more respected in the community and in his trade. What if he worked crazy-hard and just built in the wrong spot?
That’s not funny at all.
And I fear we can make that same mistake far too easily.
We can spend our lives working for something, building a kingdom of our own design, and realize only too late that we’ve started in the wrong spot.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…Matthew 6:33
Dallas Willard defines the kingdom of God as “where what God wants done is done.”
Jesus isn’t instructing us to seek eternal life in some future heaven. Yes, the faithful will receive that, but we should seek FIRST to do the will of God.
It’s not the quality of work or even the builder’s supreme passion that makes his house stand. It’s the proper foundation. That foundation isn’t politics or logic. It’s not works or skill or popularity. It’s living like Jesus Christ. It’s seeking, above all else, to do the will of God.