I’m not much of a builder.
You can ask Paul. Or Scott. Or Marlin. Or my wife. In fact they might even chuckle when you ask, “Is Joe much of a builder?” I worked summers doing construction with Scott, Paul and Marlin at different times during my college years. They built houses, and for reasons beyond my understanding, hired me to help. I loved working with those guys, and it was during those hot summer day son the construction site that I learned that I didn’t have that “it” when it comes to building. My poor wife has lived with me for over 20 years, watching me perform basic home improvement tasks that rarely turn out how they should, and often left me questioning my manhood and general capacity to read and follow instructions.
I have friends who are builders, guys (and gals!) who see a dilapidated old barn and can picture (and build!) a $1,000/night get-a-way for couples. My friend Tom turns barn wood into beautiful bedroom furniture. My friend Bruce takes fallen trees and carves them into grizzly bears and eagles with a chain saw. My friend Chris builds stunning custom homes. My friend Nancy builds super cool fire rings. My brother-in-law Ramiro builds 30-story apartment complexes in dense downtown business districts. My friend Dave builds cars. My friend Tim builds computers. My friend Gina builds amazing rustic furniture. My friend Dan built a Ninja course. My friend Steve built a camp. My friend Frank can build…well…anything! The list goes on.
When I watch these people ply their skills to their work, I’m blown away. Yes, some of it is learned skill, but much of it also flows out of their raw natural talent and an affinity for building. I don’t have that natural talent, and honestly, I don’t have an affinity for the work. I was never one of those home owners who thought, “I can’t wait to work on home improvement projects!” Truthfully, I’m envious of the talent of these builders, but I’m equally thankful they love to help me with projects so that I reap the benefit of their skill.
Thankfully, though God calls us all to be builders, He doesn’t call us to be those kind of a builders. In Romans 15:2 Paul writes, “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.”
Now this is the kind of building I can (and must) do!
Just as any of my builder friends would have to set out with a plan before starting out on a project, building up your neighbor(s) doesn’t happen by accident. In fact, opportunity abounds, but you and I have to intentionally seek the good of others in order to build them up in Christ. Here are two thoughts about building up our neighbors:
Build with acts of service.
On the night Jesus was going to be betrayed, he undertook the incredible task of building up His disciples, knowing what storm was soon blowing their way. Taking off his outer garments, the Bible says he stooped down to the floor, rested on his knees and began to wash their nasty feet. Yes, Jesus, the Son of God, Creator of the world, washed the feet of His followers. And when He was done He told them, “I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should to as I have done for you…now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:13-17).
In the same way that Jesus built up His disciples by intentionally serving them, we need to build up our neighbors with the same intention. It’s more than just random acts of kindness (though I’m not discounting those, either!), but rather a deliberate attempt to serve in ways that leaves the one served, encouraged. Most of us don’t fail to serve because we don’t see anywhere to serve, we fail to serve because we haven’t prioritized the opportunities in front of us.
Build with wise words
In Ephesians 4:29 Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up that it may encourage all those who hear them.” Just as we have to choose to make service an intentional component of what we do, each of us must learn to weigh our words carefully before they are freed from our mouths.
When I was a fairly young pastor in my first church in Seattle, one of the best pieces of advice I received from my mentor was to speak little during board meetings with the elders and deacons of the church, especially during the first six months. He told me to just watch and listen, and to learn how these meetings were handled and how the various boards operated. I followed his advice and only offered comments or advice when I was asked.
I remember coming to the end of the my first six months and one of the elders of the church caught up with me in the parking lot after one of our meetings. He said, “Joe, for a young man, you have an incredible amount of wisdom!” He shook my hand, hopped in his car and drove off. I smiled and thought, “I’ve spoken so few words in those meetings, my silence made me look wise beyond my years!”
Just as I was carefully choosing my words for those meetings, God wants us to carefully use our words in our interactions so that when we speak, we will be building up and not tearing down. Tearing down is easy but using our words to breath life into others requires thoughtfulness, intentionality and lots of practice.
So how are you doing at being a builder? Maybe today would be a good day to make a plan to build up your “neighbor” through a thoughtfully planned out act of service. That service might involve running all over town to accomplish, or it could be as simple as a cup of coffee and a listening ear. Or maybe today would be a good day to take inventory of the words that are filling up your speech. Are your words building up those listening? A quick inventory check could reveal what words you need to add your daily use.
Go ahead and take the plunge, building others up is better on the water!