The Beauty in People Building
Death has a way of putting life in perspective. It helps you to see more clearly that the seemingly “ordinary” life can be extraordinary when you live it for something that will outlast you. A cold January day this year brought life unexpectedly into perspective for me… The last thing I anticipated was burying my dear friend Reagan. Just 48 years old and so full of life, yet cancer, from my perspective, had taken her far too soon. As I stood with other dear friends to say goodbye for now, it struck me as the pastor read from 2 Corinthians 4 and 5.
“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart… for we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus’ sake… but we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…”
At her Celebration of Life, women stood up and shared the impact her investment made in their lives and the lives of their families for eternity. Next, her daughter took the stage and eloquently stated how her Mom had moments of insecurity, wondering if her contribution was significant. A wife, mom of five kids, an “ordinary” life by the world’s standards. Reagan’s Dad had been a successful architect, having the opportunity to help build some of the most famous buildings in the world including the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – the tallest building in the world. How could her life ever compare? But God, in His firm but gentle way, spoke to her heart one day as she prayed and she imagined seeing people, tall people who looked like giants, and He whispered “Reagan, you are building people. And that is more important than any building.”
“Sometimes it’s easy to underestimate how much someone is building you when they lay a brick everyday.” Her daughter’s words penetrated my heart as I thought about our calling as ministers of the gospel to be “people builders.” Since that day I have pondered the extraordinary privilege that God has placed in our lives. Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 3.
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.” (1 Cor 3:9-10)
Realize there is beauty in the building. God has graciously taught me some valuable lessons along the way…
Building isn’t short-sighted, but it does require us to be steadfast. If your hope in people building is to have a fast finished product, then you’re in the wrong business. There is no list you can check off, no resting at the finish line of a to-do list. The reality is there are no shortcuts or fast track into maturity. I love that about God. I love that He gives us a lifetime to become more like Him. I love that it’s the faithful, day-to-day obedience that continues the process of sanctification in my life until heaven. It’s the same for the people in whom I am investing. We don’t know what results our building into people’s lives will produce, but we have to think for the long term. We pray and trust and hope and believe in what God can do in and through a person. We have to be invested for the marathon and not the sprint. There are no quick results and we strive to be steadfast. I love the way the Amplified Bible talks about our investment: “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], being continually aware that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose]” 1 Cor. 15:58. You can’t be short-sighted. You must remain steadfast in building.
Building isn’t complicated, but it is costly; not easy, but enduring. I feel like these two lessons go hand in hand. For many of my early years of learning discipleship, I always felt like there had to be something novel out there. Something that would set my discipleship and building people apart. Something that would make my time with people memorable. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Over and over, what I have seen is that you can’t make the building process complicated. Jesus didn’t. He showed people how to turn from their self-directed life and believe the Good News (Mark 1:15), He helped them see their need to live a life obedient to God by knowing and following His Word as authority (John 17:17), He showed them how to pray (Luke 11:2-4). He demonstrated how to help others come to know Him personally (John 4). Another striking mark of Jesus’ relationships was just how deeply He loved and cared for and did life with people. It wasn’t complicated, yet it came at a high price. Hebrews 12:2 tells us he paid the ultimate price at the cross because of the joy set before Him. What it costs me seems so small in comparison, but I need to remember that for other people to find life, I have to embrace that it WILL cost me: my time, my money, my convenience. Or it may mean the cost of someone you’ve been investing in deciding they don’t want to follow Christ anymore, and that price is probably the most painful. BUT, Jesus promises that if we continue to faithfully build, He will give us fruit and that fruit will endure; fruit that will last (John 15:13-16). Building people isn’t complicated, but it’s costly. It isn’t always easy, but it is enduring.
Building isn’t glamorous, but it is glorious. Now I know these seem like funny words to use to describe building people. But hang with me here. Glamor draws your attention, but there is often no depth. Glamor is exciting and attractive and appealing to the eye; but it can also be a false impression that intensifies actual reality. Glamor can be a façade, shallow, on the surface. An illusion that isn’t really real. I would argue that building people is so much more than that. On the surface the process is not flashy and it doesn’t draw your attention. It’s not going to make you famous in the world’s eyes. As we mentioned before, it’s slow and it’s steady. The ordinary day to day. Investing in people building is glorious; it’s deserving of great honor. Building people is magnificent, it’s beautiful, it’s the real deal and it’s so worth it because it’s an investment that will reap dividends far beyond this life.
Building with gratitude does produce the grit to persevere over the long haul. Finally, what I find keeps me in the people building business is gratitude. It’s the deep thankfulness of what God has done for me—rescuing me and redeeming me (Colossians 1:13-14) and giving me great hope. I want to invest my life helping others experience the same rescue and the joy that comes from this life of following Jesus. Gratitude keeps my heart in the game and gives me the grit to persevere, even when it’s hard.
I am so thankful for my friend Reagan. Up until the day she got so sick, she never threw in the towel when it came to building people. I have vivid memories of her continuing to share her life and faith in the average day to day walks to and from school with her neighbor Annie and their kids, the spiritual conversations she would have with our friend Carmen at school pick up, the college women she had into her home for a meal to tangibly show them how to walk with Jesus. Reagan wasn’t short-sighted, but steadfast. She didn’t make it complicated, but she knew there was a cost involved. It wasn’t always easy, but she truly believed her investment would be enduring. She lived a life that was glorious. Today as she’s with Jesus, I know she wouldn’t trade her investment for things she couldn’t take with her and her legacy will continue long after she’s gone. Thank you, God, for the extraordinary beauty of people building. Thank you for the joy of living for something that will outlast our short few years on this earth. A life lived for something that will endure for eternity truly is the best life.