A lot of things change from childhood to adulthood.
When I was growing up, one of the responsibilities my parents gave me was picking up sticks before mowing (or whenever we had a storm and it would rain limbs from the approx. 98,379 trees around our house). It was a real treat. (Ha, I jest.) No, but for real, I enjoyed it for exactly zero minutes.
Fast forward 20+ years.
Yesterday, Drew and I spent some time picking up sticks in our backyard.
And it was such a joy.
(At this point, if my dad is reading, he’s probably doing his Fred Sanford impression—clutching his chest and yelling out, “It’s the big one, Elizabeth!” that’s how much I detested stick gathering as a kid/teenager/until yesterday.)
I’m serious. Talk about surprised by joy—that was me realizing how much I enjoyed it.
As Drew and I worked, I had some time to think through this startling experience of joy.
Revelation One: Things Change With Ownership
The reality that God has entrusted this house to us in order to give it back to Him is a constant discussion between Drew and I, but we are also aware that it is ours to steward. Where as that concept was nowhere near my childhood brain, yesterday was different. This was our house and we have been graced with the amazing task of making it beautiful and sharing it with others. Just typing that out brings tears to my eyes at the wonder and privilege of it all.
Things change with ownership.
Revelation Two: We Are God’s Possession
Our house is a new build and when the contractors purchased the land, they had to clear it. They came in with big machines and cut down the trees, but a good number of roots were left. So, some of the “sticks” I grabbed yesterday turned out to be roots. Some were so dead they were easily lifted, but others had to be yanked so much I pretended I was doing deadlifts in the Olympics. And sometimes it was hilarious how far across the yard those roots stretched. I mean, I kept yanking and walking across the yard and the same root kept coming like a clown’s handkerchief trick. It was quite the spectacle.
In the same manner, God bought us at a high, high price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and because of unsurpassed love for His own glory and for us as His children, He is intent on uprooting our old, dead stuff and making us new.
If I get so much joy out of picking sticks and roots in our backyard, how much more delight does God have in sanctifying us?
He beautifies us. It is His joy to clean us up, to lob off our dead branches and then tenderly pick up the limbs, sticks, and twigs from our hearts, all the while washing us in the purifying and bloody fire of Christ Himself (John 15:1-2).
Revelation Three: We Belong to Each Other
This heart-landscaping beautification project is not an individual sport. We as believers are not merely spectators to our own sanctification nor to the sanctification of others. Following Christ is gloriously and wonderfully a team sport in every aspect.
We are not passive. By grace, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we actively pursue holiness and righteousness (apart from which no one will see the Lord,) and we fight sin and temptation, mortifying our flesh and choosing not the fleeting pleasures of sin but the better and abiding treasure that awaits us (Philippians 2:12-13, Hebrews 12:14, Romans 8:13, Hebrews 10:34).
But we do not solely focus on our own righteousness, but also that of the family we’ve been given through Christ.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
By grace, we outdo one another in showing honor, we continuously stir one another up to love and good works, we wash each other through the water of the Word, and we encourage one another, showing hospitality, grace, mercy, and kindness to the same degree we have received it from Christ (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 10:24, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, John 13:14-15).
In other words, we have been given the task of not only receiving God’s beautifying grace, but also extending and exercising it toward others. We work to make others more beautiful, helping each other pick up and destroy the roots and sticks in the yards of our hearts. We help each other fight the weeds that can pop up even though we know we just pulled them up five minutes ago. We help each other rejoice, grow, and persevere. We help each other abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good (Romans 12:9).
What a mission. What a privilege. What a joy.
“Though we are commanded to ‘wash ourselves’, to ‘cleanse ourselves from sins’, to ‘purge ourselves from all our iniquities’, yet to imagine that we can do these things by our own efforts is to trample on the cross and grace of Jesus Christ. Whatever God works in us by His grace, He commands us to do as our duty. God works all in us and by us.”