Last summer, I decided to build my kids a tree house. They don’t spend much time outside, even though we live on acreage. My wife and I grew up on or near property, so living this way feels normal to us. We’ve got a dog, chickens and tons of space for the kids to explore. But they’re totally content in their 10′ x 10′ bedrooms, incessantly asking us to get them “this” or to get them “that.” My hope was that a treehouse would give them their own space outside, and would give us some small, but glorious, quiet time.
Problem with the treehouse is, i’m not very handy. Let me give you an example. I’ve got this truck. It’s a ’92 Ford F-250. It’s a man’s truck.
One day, it just wouldn’t start. So I did what most men would do…I “popped the hood.” I found myself staring at a bunch of metal and wires that I had no business messing with. After much Googling, I decided that the problem was either the battery, the starter relay, or the starter itself. I figured that since the lights were working, it wasn’t the battery. I tried bypassing the starter relay, which didn’t work, so my next guess was the starter. I learned that if you hammer on the starter, it can loosen whatever is inside and it will work again. So I grabbed a hammer thinking that, if this works, it’s the simplest fix. There was only one thing wrong with this plan. I had no idea what the starter was or where to find it. I decided to do the obvious thing and just start hammering random crap around the engine. I did this for a few minutes and then tried to start the truck again. You won’t be surprised that it still wouldn’t start.
In the end, it was in fact the starter, which I eventually found and replaced myself. Truck works fine now, and I feel slightly better about my manhood, but the point of the story is just to say that building a treehouse myself is ill-advised and will undoubtedly result in someone getting seriously injured. But I decided to build it anyway.
I found a tree on our property, shaped like a cobra about to strike. It’s a great treehouse tree because you can literally walk up the trunk and into the treehouse. Check it out…
Because the tree is on a hillside, I needed to anchor the treehouse with 4″x4″s, two of which you can see in the picture above. That’s the back of the treehouse, where you enter. The front two 4″x4″‘s were much longer because of the slope of the hill – about 25 feet long. There’s about a 15 foot drop from the front of the treehouse to the ground. Seriously dangerous. But they’ll be walls and stuff….what could go wrong, right?
After I installed the four 4″x4″s, I took a two month break. Those of you who have kids know how hard it is to get home improvement projects done. So there it sat, just four posts sticking out of the ground. But after my hiatus, I was onto the next task of bolting 2″x4″s around the posts, making a square which I would attach the floor joists to. I made quick work of that, and then took another break. This time only one month. I was getting quicker each time i picked up a hammer!
Next was attaching the floor joists, then I would install the floor, the walls, the roof, and then i’d slap a coat of paint on it, send the kids up and see them next for high school graduation.
I began installing the hangers (metal thingys that hold the floor joists for those of you who aren’t badass builders like myself). The treehouse is 8 foot by 8 foot, so it was going to take about 6 joists (2″x4″s). I was able to get the joists attached on the outside, but then I couldn’t get to the middle ones because the structure was too tall and my tallest ladder was too short.
So i decided to put a half sheet of plywood across the edges of the outside floor joists. If you can’t picture this, just think….dangerous. Then, multiply the danger by 10. This is what it looked like after I got all of the floor joists attached.
As I laid on the plywood, 20ft in the air, trying to nail in the last of the floor joists, after months of working on this stupid treehouse, I found myself wanting to be done with the floor so I could move on to the walls and the paint and then celebrate the accomplishment. Laying there, hanging over the side, I had the all too common experience of trying to put the screws in the wood, only to have them fall to the ground before they caught the wood. I must have done this about 20 times. Grab my screwdriver, grab a screw. Hold the screw with one hand and the drill with the other. Press the screw to the wood, begin to drill….screw drops 15 feet to the ground. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The ground below the treehouse was starting to look like a minefield.
I also had a pencil in my ear to mark where the hangers were supposed to go. In between dropping screws, I dropped this. Every time something fell, I got up off my stomach, walked down the tree, down the hill, picked up the screw or pencil, walked back up the hill, into the tree, back onto my stomach and began dropping crap again. Finally, I accidentally knocked over my tape measure, which was resting on one of the joists. I had had it. The words I was saying were not blessings. As I was making my way down the tree for the 20th time, I felt God say something to me, which was
“Spend your years on the foundation, not the walls.”
Now, I’m not sure what your walls are specifically, but it occurred to me that our walls are the things that people see. They are the outward manifestation of our inward desires. Our walls can be things like influence, beauty, security or fame. They can be tangible as well. For me, they are writing a book, recording music or speaking to the church.
I should say that I don’t believe these “walls” are bad. Just the opposite actually. I think we fail when we deny the authority and mantle that the Lord has given each of us. We all have talents and abilities that are unique – that should be fostered well and shared within the sphere of influence God has given us. So let’s not get confused that pursuing the dreams that God puts in us is selfish, or means we have bad motives. It’s just that our walls are the by-products, the output, of what should be our primary pursuit. See, once you’ve got a solid foundation, the walls come up easy.
Proverbs 9 says that as we plan our course, the Lord establishes our steps. Do you know what “establish” means in that verse? It means, “to institute permanently by agreement.” We set our course, based upon our abilities and desires. Then, upon agreement with the Lord, they are instituted permanently. Permanently. It’s so important that we understand the implication of this promise. See, our problem isn’t that our dreams are too big – it’s that they’re too small! I don’t know about you, but i don’t want to look back on my life and see nothing that I couldn’t have done on my own. I want my life to be marked by this agreement – planning my course and then….step…..step…..step….each step instituted permanently. Each step leaving a deep mark in the soil of my life through partnership and agreement with God. I want to build permanent walls, as high as He’d have me build.
But here’s the thing – the quality of your foundation will determine the height of your structure.
Have you ever played Jenga? Good, so you understand that as you pull those wooden pieces from the bottom, you weaken the foundation and the tower begins to wobble. It’s only a matter of time before it crumbles because the foundation can’t support it. The quality of your foundation will determine the height of your structure.
In 1 Kings, chapter 6, Solomon begins building the Temple of the Lord, to house the Ark of the Covenant. The stones used to build the foundation of the temple couldn’t be cut at the temple site. They had to be prepared in the quarry by craftsmen and brought, finished, to the temple site. I won’t go into the history of this requirement from Solomon, but it’s a throwback to a command by God in Deuteronomy 27 not to use any iron tool on the stones of the altar on Mount Ebal. Can you imagine how much work this took?
Just to give you an idea of scale, the quarry (under Mount Moriah) is 330 ft wide and 650 ft deep. That’s one football field wide and two football fields deep. Solomon hired 80,000 stonecutters and 70,000 carriers for the stones. No heavy machinery. They had to go into this quarry, cut the stones and then haul them to the site of the temple.
Solomon didn’t care how many people, or how long it took. The stones used for the foundation of the temple had to be the best sourced and crafted that he could find. It took him seven years to finish the temple. The thing that amazes me is this. Chapter 6, Verse 18 says, “The inside of the temple was cedar, carved with gourds and open flowers. Everything was cedar; no stone was to be seen.”
Solomon used the finest materials and laborers he could find for a foundation that would NEVER be seen.
So my question for us is, are we willing to spend our years on the foundation? Are we willing to spend our time in the quarry, honing our craft, deepening our relationship with the Lord? My hope is that more of us experience this upwelling of dreams that can’t be done outside of agreement and partnership with God – that our steps towards those dreams are established permanently, and that the walls we build are worthy of the One we build for.