Last spring during a visit to Charlotte, N.C. I stopped by the Billy Graham Library to take a tour of the evangelist's boyhood home and to see his ministry's offices. In a shaded grove on the same property I stumbled upon the grave of his wife, Ruth Bell Graham. Her tombstone bore an unusual inscription: "END OF CONSTRUCTION. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE."
Mrs. Graham (who died in 2007) apparently saw these words on a highway sign, and she told friends that she wanted them on her grave marker. Apparently the message from the road construction crew reminded her of God's patient care in preparing her for heaven.
|"The Holy Spirit, like Nehemiah, comes into our lives like God's foreman. He clears out the debris, hauls off the rubbish, lays the new foundations, rehangs the doors, reconstructs the gates and rebuilds the broken walls of our lives."|
I have similar thoughts whenever I pass orange traffic cones on a highway. In Florida where I live, road crews never seem to finish their work. Once one section of a road is widened it is time to widen another. Additional bulldozers are needed. And more construction means more traffic delays, which require more patience from drivers.
On the journey to spiritual maturity, all of us must learn the lesson that is carved in Ruth Bell Graham's gravestone. We must learn to welcome God's perpetual construction crew. If we really want to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, we must welcome all the heavy equipment He sends into our lives.
Do you hear the noise? In your life and mine I hear the sound of bulldozers, jackhammers and pavers at work. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a process that begins when we invite Christ to take residence in our hearts; it does not end until we breathe our last.
We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as being gentle, but sometimes He brings the refining fire of holiness to burn out our impurities. Sometimes He orchestrates uncomfortable circumstances to squeeze us, shake us, mold us and shape us. And sometimes we complain about the interruptions, delays, detours and upheavals that He brings into our lives for our good.
We aren't used to hearing sermons about God's construction zone. Some preachers believe the journey of faith is like skipping effortlessly through LaLa Land. We don't expect people to conform to the image of Christ; we don't warn people that Christlikeness requires brokenness; and we don't teach that brokenness comes when we embrace trials and suffering.
Yet the Bible says: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation" (1 Peter 4:12-13, NASB).
When God wanted to rebuild a destroyed city of Jerusalem, he raised up a man named Nehemiah to manage the construction project. Interestingly, Nehemiah's name means "The Lord Comforts" or "Comforter"—the same name given in the New Testament for the Holy Spirit. In the Greek, "Comforter" can mean Paraklete, or "one who is called alongside to help."
Yet this Holy Comforter who has been called to live inside us is not just a cozy security blanket. The Spirit is also the construction manager of an amazing but strenuous project. He bulldozes into our lives to excavate, overhaul and transform. He calls in His road crews, unleashes His heavy equipment and begins what we could call Extreme Makeover—Heavenly Edition.
Please don't make the mistake of thinking that the Comforter is just a refreshing wind, or a passive force who gives us goose bumps and ecstatic feelings. The Holy Spirit, like Nehemiah, comes into our lives like God's foreman. He clears out the debris, hauls off the rubbish, lays the new foundations, rehangs the doors, reconstructs the gates and rebuilds the broken walls of our lives.
The rebuilding of Jerusalem in Nehemiah's day did not come without suffering, hardship and warfare. But in the end the process resulted in the restoration of God's glory. It will be the same for us if we welcome the Comforter.
Will you allow Him to inspect your attitudes, your motives, your thoughts, your unsurrendered will and your addictions—and all other areas where you need transformation? Will you be patient as He sets up His orange cones in your life? Let Him finish the good work He began in you.