Today’s reading is drawn from James 1:2-8.
Having framed many walls during my years of construction work, I have always made certain that I have my sixteen-pound sledgehammer close by, as well as my level. I lay the two-by-fours down on the deck, making sure that they’re relatively straight. I look down the edge of each one to make sure the crowns are all going in the same direction — almost every milled piece of lumber has an arc running from top to bottom . . . the crown. Then I nail the wall together.
Once I stand the framed wall in place, I do my very best to make sure that it’s square with the other walls and perfectly vertical, with the bubble on the level exactly in the middle. I bring my sledgehammer along because, at moments like these, it’s the best thing available to encourage the walls to be exact. In fact, our children will tell you that I actually call my sledgehammer “The Encourager.”
Unfortunately, this equipment is very noisy to use. Given a choice, I’d rather have a Chopin concerto playing in the background than have all that banging and racket. But I also used to hang wallpaper back when my wife and I were youth group leaders and needed a few extra dollars, so I know intimately the value of making a wall straight and true. So, noisy though it might be to get those walls perfect, I’d prefer disruptive and straight to serene and crooked.
Although James probably never hung a pretty Waverly stripe in anyone’s foyer, I am confident that he’d agree with this conversation about sledge hammers and precise walls. “The goal,” he would have said, “is to be mature and complete . . . not lacking anything.” And the way to achieve this lofty goal is to pay the price of perseverance — living life with steadfast determination and resolve, persistence and tenacity. And the way to earn all of these admirable qualities is to “face trials of many kinds” — the sledgehammers of failure, frustration, sickness, loss and defeat.
Have you ever seen an “artist’s rendering” of a building that’s not been built? Sometimes you see them hanging in the lobbies of large corporations. Now imagine that the work has begun on this new building. A smart general contractor would have copies made of that artist’s rendering posted around the construction site. “Work with this goal in mind,” he might tell his crew. “All this hard work might be a little more meaningful if we have a picture of what we’re building for you to clearly see.”
Similarly, experiencing “pure joy” while “facing trials of many kinds” is only possible with an artist’s rendering of “mature and complete” close by. The sledgehammer isn’t quite as annoying and intrusive if you keep that great-looking wallpaper in mind.
This brings a whole new meaning to the expression “straight talk,” doesn’t it?