Ruined, But Not Destroyed

One of my most poignant and positive memories from our 2010-2011 furlough year was my five-day, whirlwind trip to Athens, Greece, to visit my parents. (I say positive memory because shattering my L-1 in my lower back was pretty poignant, though not so positive.) The timing was all wrong. I was still walking in pain with a tortoise-shell brace supporting my core. The boys were finishing up their school year and we were raising the last of our support. Not only that, but we were beginning the process of packing down the parsonage where we stayed for the year in preparation to return to our second term in the Philippines. There was much to be done, areas that needed my feminine touch, but Something was calling me.

That Something had nothing to do with man’s timing, but God’s compulsion. I have always had a fascination with Greece, mostly because of its importance in the Scriptures and because of its history and lineage for those of us who have been grafted into the Vine as Gentiles. But to have my parents serving in that famous city and never get a chance to see first-hand what God was doing there in this present day, felt to me like a crime. I wanted to see and touch and hear the works of God; not in history, but in a present-day recounting of miracles.

So despite the poor timing in our lives, I went to Athens, and it changed me. To climb to Mars Hill and look out over that lost city like Paul did, moved me to tears. To walk the hill to the Acropolis with my missionary parents ministered to my soul. This is a monument whose first stone was laid in 447 BC; a monument whose refuge and creativity has lasted close to 2,464 years. It staggered my imagination and rocked my inner world. To move among the walls and buildings of Acrocorinth – some ruined and some refurbished – incited something in me that could not be quelled; it was a cry for resuscitation. To stand on a cobblestoned ruin of a path that led to the Appian Way – Rome’s gateway to the East built in 312 B.C. – pulled me into history and consequently, into the New Testament Church age, which birthed the ultimate restoration: the Gospel.

Why these ruins speak to me is because they are not completely ruined; they are not dead or destroyed. These ruins are more than broken rocks and stones. They are lives. They are hopes. They are generations of refuge and safety. They speak a story, a tale of rising and falling, of being conquered and of conquering. They are monuments that outlast generations, that outlast this earth’s tumult and destruction, that outlast evil and heartache. Their broken remains cry out to me of joys, dreams and faith-filled hopes.

Like my awakening on those self-proclaimed sacred grounds in Greece, God wants to do an awakening in our lives, in our ruined interiors. Over these next three weeks, you and I will be exploring what it means to be ruined, yet live; to be struck down, but not destroyed. I hope we will answer some questions like: What part of us becomes ruined? How do we bring ruin to our lives? But most importantly, how do we rebuild the broken walls in our lives so as to become Restorers of Streets with Dwellings?

Even as I finish writing this paragraph, I am aware of the impossibility of this task. This venue and amount of print will not do such an important subject justice. This topic and my years of research could easily fill two volumes of a Bible study, so let me narrow my hope. My hope is that something that is said over these next three weeks will pique your interest toward looking inside: that you will peel back some layers on your soul, that you might even begin the initial work of restoring that same soul and that you will prayerfully embark on your own Appian Way, a personal pilgrimage of connecting the dots between ruined walls and restored walls of wholeness.

Hope Is An ‘R’ Word

Some of my favorite words in the English language are ‘r’ words: rebirth, rebound, reclaim, recompense, reconcile, recondition, reconstruct, recoup, recover, redeem, reestablish, refashion, refill, refresh, refuge, regenerate, reimburse, rejuvenate, release, relief, remedy, remodel, renew, repair, replenish, rescue, restitution, restore and many more. Each of these words packs a punch of positivism. They are tiny storehouses of potential; all they need is to be unpackaged and lit by the fuse of faith, and they will explode in a colorful and far-reaching display of hope. Even reading this short alphabetical list can infuse enthusiasm and a soul-lifting buoyancy.

My personal favorite not mentioned above is the word ‘rebuild,’ which is a volatile package lying dormant in me like a volcano about to erupt. This word is an inferno in my soul. I empathize with Jeremiah who, though he was persecuted all his life for speaking God’s words, could not shrink back from his calling: “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20:9). Rebuilding is an action that wearies me to merely think about; it must come up and out of my inner depths and spill out over onto others.

This word propels me. Speaking of rebuilding fires me up like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” Rebuilding, to me, embodies the very same gospel that compelled Paul to continue his lifelong calling of preaching.

This word is prophecy to me, God’s words of promise over my life: “You…will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isa 58:12). When this word is used in my presence, my soul embarks on an anticipatory pilgrimage home to rest and safety, much like the exiled remnant of Israel.

Over and over in the Old Testament, God spoke through His prophets to give hope. And over and over, this word ‘rebuild’ is used to define that same hope. Amos exuded this confidence, “I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them” (Amos 9:14). Isaiah engendered trust with this word, “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations” (Isa. 61:4). And Jeremiah, though ridiculed, instilled belief in the remnant with God’s prophecy, “I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before” (Jer. 33:7).

I spent a lot of time praying over what I would write this week and the Lord highlighted Zechariah 4:6-10a in my personal study time. As I began to study these verses, I began to rationalize with the Lord. I don’t have much time this week to write, Lord? Isn’t there another topic which I could address? There are other topics of teaching I could engage that are in the teaching rolodex of my thoughts. This subject is too big to speak about in a tiny mini-series of devotionals.

But the Lord kept reiterating the need to engage rebuilding. He used the opening session of our conference on the unhurried life to help me look within. He used a book – Soul Keeping – to percolate my thoughts in this direction and He used a Bible study that I am working through on Ezra to bring this Zechariah passage to my attention. I truly believe there is someone out there who needs to hear some truths about the rebuilding of their soul. And because of the Lord’s persistent herding of my thoughts, I have hope that He will multiply my time and my efforts to engage one of the most important topics about which I will ever write or speak: the rebuilding of the interior.

Hope is the most important ‘R’ word you will ever encounter. Look with me at the Scriptures to see why:

“So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. “What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’ Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel…” (Zech. 4:6-10a)

Perusing The Ruins

Nowhere in Zechariah’s prophecy above will you find the word ‘rebuild,’ yet this passage pulsates with the concept of restoration. And again, nowhere will the word ‘ruins’ be seen, yet this is the motivation behind God’s directive to Zerubbabel. So before we begin looking at God’s plan for rebuilding, we need to first examine what caused the destruction, what was the means of the destruction, what actually has been ruined, and why there is a need to rebuild. Answering these questions enables us to be able to move forward into a clear-cut plan for rebuilding.

Throughout this entire devotional set, I will be using the real-life situation of the Israelites as a picture, a metaphor, if you will, of our lives. I will extract Scriptures straight from Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah that pertained to the Jews’ lives, but seem to fit ours as well. I am well aware that many of these Scriptures were specifically written to the Jews that lived close to 400 years before Christ, yet I am also aware that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Keep this principle in the back of your mind over these next three weeks: words spoken directly to a person in the Old Testament have also been God-breathed so as to be useful in your life and in mine as well. I believe that if you are human, you probably have experienced some ruins in your life. Some of those ruins may have been rebuilt already through the Word and significant mentors, but I am not naive enough to think that everyone who reads this devotional has a truly rebuilt interior. We all struggle with ruins that have built up on the inside of us, some of us more than others.

So how do you know if there are ruins in your life? I have jotted down a number of questions just off the top of my head that you can ask yourself to see if this devotional even applies to you? Maybe these will get you to thinking about whether your interior is healthy and whole or in need of some major rebuilding.

  1. Are you an impatient person? Always in a hurry and stressed when you fall “behind.” Or do you find yourself to be unhurried and generous, meditative and slow to speak?
  2. Would your family say that your walk matches your talk? Are you the same at home as you are at church and would your family agree?
  3. Do you obey God, even when it hurts? Do you have a habit of obedience?
  4. Is anything more important to you than spending time with God? Where are your priorities? To what do you give the majority of your free time? What would your family say is your god?
  5. Do you look forward to your devotional time with God, or is it dry and hard to get through? Do you check off this time at the beginning of your day with not much thought of it the rest of the time? Or do you long to be with God and spend time with Him? Do thoughts about Him accompany you everywhere, all day?
  6. Do you worship with all of your heart? Do you commune with God, really meet with God, in your soul as you worship? Or are you thinking about how bad the hair is on one of the singers leading worship? Do you worship as loudly or sincerely at home in your prayer closet as you do in the pew at church?
  7. How are you at abiding? Do you live in God’s presence all through your day? Or do you spend the majority of your time with God in the 15 minutes you call “quiet time?”
  8. Are you easily rocked by your circumstances or by how others treat you? Or are you centered on your identity in Christ so that nothing moves you from that foundation?
  9. Are you completely honest and above-board in your dealings or do you compromise in little things? Ex. Stretching the truth, telling little “white” lies, borrowing something but “forgetting” to give it back, etc.
  10. Is your word your bond? Can people always trust what you say when you say it? Or do others doubt that you will be on time or complete the project or spend time with them?
  11. Is God your best friend? Do you turn to Him, honestly, before you turn to someone else? Do you enjoy being in His presence? Do you regularly hear God’s voice speaking to you, either through His Word or through your spirit?
  12. Are you truly satisfied in Him. Is He really your all in all? (You will know if this is true when something important is taken away from you – your children, your spouse, your health.)
  13. Are people drawn to Jesus in you? Do they sense a resting place in you? Or do you repel people by the way you treat them or by the lack of attentiveness you give them?
  14. Would people say that you have a godly discernment that does not come from earthly knowledge? Is your speech full of Scripture? Are people drawn to you for godly advice? Do you truly acknowledge the Lord in all things? Or does your advice fall far short of what the Bible terms wisdom?

How you answered these questions may reveal what is going on in your interior. Some of these questions reflect a dichotomy that many Christians live under; many would call it hypocrisy or living in deception. Other questions show us if our priorities are truly godly, whether we are choosing the “better thing” that Mary chose so as to find peace and rest (Luke 10:42), whether we are seeking first God’s righteousness so everything else in life becomes a bonus (Mt. 6:33), or whether the barns that we are building show whether we are rich toward this world or rich toward God (Luke 12:21).

If you have answered many of these questions in the negative, I will prayerfully tell you that you have some ruins in your interior life. The most important part of who we are must connect to God…often and regularly. That connection – living out of the Vine – cannot help but trickle down into thought patterns, speech and behaviors. If your connection is cut off, your life will begin to descend into ruin. I cannot state this more plainly or clearly. Indeed, engaging believers in an assessment of the interior life is really my heart’s cry, my clarion call to ministry…

…Because remember, God is in the business of rebuilding. “Pass through…the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations” (Isa. 62:10). He wants to move you into a deep-rooted connection with Him, where your interior is whole and resting upon Him, the firm foundation. But that will not happen until the damage, the ruins, have been inspected carefully to assess all of the damage.

What caused the ruins?

There are so many causes of ruination. I could spend hours researching and writing and only scratch the surface so I will only talk about a number of causes of ruin. Prayerfully read over these next paragraphs. These were indictments straight from the mouth of God that led to the ruin of a nation. Perhaps the Lord may convict you of some of these same actions.

Sinful Behavior

Over and over the Lord sent prophets to deal with the sins of His people. The author of Chronicles, Zechariah and Jeremiah all speak to the Israelites’ evil ways and practices (Zech. 1:4, 2 Chron. 36:12, Jer. 4:22). Jeremiah even goes so far as to say that they were skilled in doing evil and did not even know how to do good (Jer. 4:22). These kinds of general behaviors eroded their relationship with God to the extent that they imploded spiritually. God then chose to bring them to ruin externally through captivity and destruction, but this act was a response to the inward ruin of sin.

Neglect

Zechariah rebuked the people of God because they did not listen or pay attention when God – through HIs prophets – spoke (Zech. 1:4). Jeremiah said that they did not know God or even understand His ways (Jer. 4:22). In addition, God rebuked His people because they neglected His Temple while they were busy with all of their own houses (Hag. 1:9). This lack of mindfulness led to inner ruin. Ignoring God’s Words are a pathway to ruin themselves, but the downward spiral begins when we neglect our relationship with God. Choosing anything over God’s Words and directives will lead to ruin.

Pride

The author of Chronicles states that part of Israel’s ruin came about because they were not humble (2 Chron. 36:12). People forsook God’s covenant (Jer. 22:9), turned their backs on Him (Isa. 1:4, Jer. 2:13) and were unfaithful (2 Chron. 36:14) to their God. God spoke out against their lack of humility when He said His people had committed two sins: forsaking God, who is the Spring of Living Water, and digging their own cisterns that could not even hold water (Jer. 2:13). I’ve often told my boys, “Pride goes before a fall,” and quite frankly, it always does. It leads to soul-ruin.

Disobedience

For sure, this is a type of sin, I’m aware, but over and over in Scripture, God singles this out as a major problem in the lives of His people. Being rebellious leads to ruin (2 Chron. 36:13, Isa. 1:2). Not keeping the Sabbath day holy was in direct violation of God’s commands (Jer. 17:19-25). They disobeyed in how they treated slaves as well (Jer. 34:8ff), not freeing them as per God’s orders. Having a stiff-necked attitude and hardened heart that will not turn to the Lord will surely turn a heart to ruin (2 Chron. 36:13, Isa 1:2).

Compromise

God was quite clear in telling His people that they were to be different than others around them. They were a chosen people and had been brought out of Egypt and godlessness in order to be God’s special people. Two ways that the Israelites ruined their witness and consequently, their lives, was by following the detestable practices of all the surrounding peoples (2 Chron. 36:14) through intermarriage and idolatry (Jer. 1:16; 2:5, 11).

But compromise can be much more insidious than that. I read an interesting two verses in my devotions this morning: “Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips. Don’t let me drift toward evil or take part in acts of wickedness…”(Ps. 141:3-4ab). David’s choice to link what he says with drifting toward evil cannot be ignored. If God is not given control over what we say, that can be a form of compromise. Compromising the beliefs that God holds for us, or His desires for godliness in our lives, buys a one-way ticket to ruin.

Hypocrisy

All of the prophets speak to this precursor to ruin. Isaiah, in particular, had much to say about God’s reception of offerings and sacrifices that were given without the heart being involved. God spoke about those kind of gifts as meaningless offerings (Isa. 1:11-15), gifts given to look good on the outside, but with no heart for God at all on the inside. An entire chapter in Isaiah speaks to the hypocritical worship in which the Israelites were engaging (Isa. 58). When there is a disconnect between what is on the outside to how a person lives on the inside, that person is already heading toward ruin.

Corruption (Isa. 1:4)

I put this word in a category all by itself, because much was said about the officials and leaders of Israel, how they had grown to love power and wealth, lording it over the poor and less fortunate. Most of the book of Amos speaks to this ruinous behavior. The Temple was corrupted (2 Chron. 36:14) by priests who ran amuck and by offerings that were defiled. Early on in the writings of Jeremiah, he speaks about the false prophets, prophets that prophesied lies, pretending as if they were hearing God’s words (Jer. 5:31). I would say that corruption comes from compromise built upon compromise and when that corruption reaches the highest echelon of leadership, whether in government circles or spiritual ones, the collective whole of a nation has descended into ruin.

Our sins always lead to ruin. This is true because God is holy and desires that we be holy. We cannot enter into His presence, let alone live there, if our hearts are corrupt or proud or complacent. God would rather us be hot or cold than lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-16) and He will give us over to our sins if that is what we choose (see Romans 1:18-32). He desperately wants us to choose Him, but if we do not, He will allow our souls to drift into ruin.

Sometimes, however, it is not our sins that cause ruin in our lives. Sometimes ruin is brought about by others: their words, their sinful actions toward us, or even their neglect. Let’s look together at how this can happen.

What has been ruined?

In August 587 BC, Jerusalem fell to Nebuzaradan, the captain of the Nebuchadnezzar’s army. After an eighteen-month long siege, all the might of Babylon came against Jerusalem, and God’s chosen city fell. Based on many passages of Scripture, we have a very clear view of the ruins. I have listed some of the destruction in bullet-point fashion to keep this update shorter, but keep in mind two things as you read this list: think about the verbs that are used and the objects that were destroyed. This will focus your reading and make it more personal. I think it is important to note what was destroyed and how. In other words, it is imperative to study what was ruined and how it got into that state.

  • The city wall was broken through (Jer. 39:2b)
  • They set fire to God’s temple (2 Chron. 36:19a, Jer. 52:13a)
  • They broke down the wall of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 36:19b) on all four sides (Jer. 52:14)
  • They burned the royal palace and destroyed everything of value there (2 Chron. 36:19cd, Jer. 52:13b)
  • They burned every important building (Jer. 52:13d)
  • They burned the cities (Isa. 1:7b)
  • They burned the houses of the people (Jer. 39:8; 52:13c)
  • They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and killed the nobles of Judah (Jer. 39:6)
  • They put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon (Jer. 39:7)
  • They killed the chief priest, Zephaniah, the priest next in rank and 3 doorkeepers, the officer in charge of the fighting men, seven royal advisors, secretary and 60 of his men (Jer. 52:25-26)
  • They killed the young men with the sword in the sanctuary (2 Chron. 36:17b)
  • They did not spare young man or woman, old man or aged (2 Chron. 36:17cd)
  • They carried off all the articles from the temple of God and the treasures of the Lord’s temple (2 Chron. 36:18)
    • They took all articles used in temple service (Jer. 52:18)
    • And articles used for drink offerings (Jer. 52:19)
  • They carried off the treasures of the king and his officials (2 Chron. 36:18)
  • They carried into exile those who escaped the sword (2 Chron. 36:20, Jer. 39:9)
  • Fields were stripped by foreigners (Isa. 1:7c)

To recap, notice all the things that were ruined: the city wall, the temple, the palace, every important building, the peoples’ houses, the articles from the temple, the treasures of the temple and palace, the fields and people’s lives, families, homes, and livelihood. In the captivity of Jerusalem, there was virtually nothing within the city walls that were left untouched; all became ruined. The temple, representing their link with God, was burned. Their sense of safety and protection by means of that city wall, destroyed. Their leadership eradicated. Everything of value taken or demolished. Livelihoods stripped. Inheritance by way of land, given away and crops removed by force.

Of all the painful ruminations about what was ruined, one in particular stands out in the Israelites’ minds: God’s temple. Listen to their pining, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There, on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land” (Ps. 137:1-4)? And again in Jeremiah, “We are disgraced, for we have been insulted and shame covers our faces, because foreigners have entered the holy places of the Lord’s house” (Jer. 51:51).

The temple was their trademark connection with God. Their priests led them before the Lord by way of atonement and prayers. Their Korahites taught them the songs of the Lord, enabling them to praise and worship. Their sins were covered by the blood of bulls and rams and once a year, their sins were atoned for in the Holy of Holies. The temple was their only connection with God and in Babylon, there was no temple. Consequently, there were no atonement, no remission of sins, no connection to God, and very little praise and worship. This God, who chose them from all the peoples of the world, was now a distant memory. They even hung up their instruments because their songs of joy involved God and in a foreign land, they were removed from His presence. Imagine their agony, their frustration, their utter ruin.

In an excellent book on identity called Identity Matters, Terry Wardle uses a metaphor of a ranch to describe a person’s inner world (p. 166-170). This metaphor is perfect for what I am trying to get across to you. It speaks of the inner parts that make up our interior and how we keep them healthy. I am borrowing some of his thoughts but would like to use the city of Jerusalem instead of his idea of a ranch for my metaphor.

Think of your inner life, the part no one really sees unless you let them, as the city of Jerusalem. There is a large wall around that city and inside those walls of protection are the palace, the Temple, various houses, and gardens. (Scripture actually mentions two walls in Isa 22:11, Jer. 39:4 and 52:7. This will become important to us in just a little while.) There is also the Pool of Siloam close to the king’s garden and there are between 11 and 12 different gates entering into the city. (You can see those gates named in Neh. 2:13-15.) In addition, there are quite a number of tombs, some of the house of David and tombs for wives of Solomon and royal stewards. (Map borrowed from http://www.womeninthebible.net/bible-archaeology/maps-of-jerusalem/.)

This city, your life, needs a lot of care and quite honestly, all of this care is your personal responsibility. No one else is in charge of your own soul, your interior life. It is easy to blame others for the state of your “city,” but blame must be placed where it is due. John Ortberg puts it this way, “The stream is your soul. And you are the Keeper” (Soul Keeping, p. 98).

In your city, there is a palace. This is your home, the inner part of you that is your identity. This identity is to be securely founded on God. The more secure you are in Christ, the more secure your entire city will be. You will be able to handle attacks against your wall and significance because you are sure of whose you are.

Close to the king’s palace in Jerusalem was the Temple. In our allegory, the Temple represents your relationship with God. As you spend time in God’s Word and walk in the light of His Presence, your city will reflect that bond. Nothing in your city is more important than tending to the temple; it is everything in terms of life and health and growth.

You know that there are various other houses in your city. These houses represent your talents, your spiritual gifts, and your particular skill set. Other houses represent your attitudes and preferences, personality traits and even appetites. As you tend to these houses in your life, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, you will see maturity in your inner life.

The pool that is close to the king’s garden is the rest and restoration your soul needs. Streams of living water flowing from the Person of the Spirit will bring rest and peace and joy. If these streams are kept clean and clear, they will feed a beautiful pool that will give life to the entire city. But if the inner life is too busy to pick up dead branches or dispose of garbage in a safe place, or to spend time drawing power from the Holy Spirit, those streams will be blocked by litter and dirty waste and the pool will become stagnant, muddy, and toxic.

In your city are gardens; the people of Jerusalem called them the King’s Gardens. These gardens are full of the fruit of the Spirit, all the fruit you will ever need in your life, by the way. What is needed to see the fruit is a well-tended stream and careful pruning and cultivating. A harvest of righteousness will appear when you spend a lot of time getting to know the Gardener.

Notice that there are also tombs in your city full of corpses and carcasses. These tombs represent parts of your life with God that have died, skeletons in your closet that are still hanging around. Your inner world must be perused often to make sure that all is alive and well in your city. A bone of unforgiveness, a skull of lingering sin, a hardened skeletoned heart – all of these will lead to deadness taking over the spiritual landscape of your soul. Incidentally, the tombs may be the first place you need to go to discover some ruins.

Now I want to mention the walls. In the pre-exilic Jerusalem, there was an Old City and a new one. Each of these had walls that intertwined. The palace and temple courts were walled in by a smaller wall and the outer part of the city had a very large wall around its exterior. Walls are built around a city mostly for protection. We want to keep the bad guys out and our families inside safe.

I believe these two sets of walls around Jerusalem are important to our allegorical city. The most important parts of us – our identity, relationship with God, and the pools – should be doubly guarded. They are integral to our life and health. We do this by maintaining disciplines. We maintain good sleep, healthy eating, and exercise so that our body is protected. We build in rest times so that our soul is protected. We engage in spiritual disciplines, like meditation and prayer and Bible study, so that our spiritual life is protected. We learn honesty and speaking the truth in love toward others and releasing our feelings to the Lord so we can be emotionally protected. This inner wall is our responsibility and its gradual decline will lead to ruin if not maintained carefully.

The writer of Proverbs understands these disciplines, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Pr. 25:28). Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. If a person is spending copious time tending to the streams of his life, this fruit will just show. But, if on the other hand, a person is too busy, too concerned about outward behaviors and does not sit by the Streams of Living Water, the fruit that will show from his life will be lack of control, anger, impatience, and so on. That inner wall will begin to break down and everyone will be able to deduce the state of the city.

The outer wall has more to do with other people. Our relationships can protect us and keep us safe or they can damage the interior. Sometimes the walls – like Jerusalem – are breached. Sometimes they are overrun and enemies of the soul pour inside. Abuse is a huge wall-breacher and will damage the city indefinitely, unless the Lord intervenes.

But that is why there are gates in the city. Jerusalem had close to twelve different gates to allow travel in and out of the city, but there were sentries on the walls to warn those inside of enemy attacks. Some of these sentries are placed there by you and me; we must be discerning whom we allow through those gates into our inner soul. Other sentries may be parents or teachers or pastors or shepherds, all looking out for the safety of each of our interiors. Only those who are considered safe can enter the city. The same is true of our allegorical city. Only people who are interested in building up the interior should be allowed into this sacred place. My friend, you control the gates.

If the inner wall is not maintained through proper disciplines and if the temple and streams are neglected, you may not notice the disrepair until someone comes against that outside wall. If you view yourself as God views you, a criticism from someone on the outside of that wall will be deflected very easily. A demotion will not rock you. A betrayal by a loved one will not destroy you. An attack on your health or your significance will be a mere blip on your spiritual radar. But if you have not maintained your identity in Christ, that outer wall will be breached very easily.

So take a look inside at your allegorical city. Is your identity, as seen in the palace, secure in Christ? Are you investing in the upkeep of your houses, in the spiritual gifts and talents and passions God has given you? Do you even know what those gifts are and are you using them in the Body? How is the maintenance on your appetites, your passions, your desires? Are they held in control by the High Priest of your temple? Are you spending adequate time in the removal of things and duties that clutter up the Holy Spirit’s pool of power in your life? Are there any skeletons hanging around your inner life or are you careful to maintain short accounts with the Lord and other people? How is the strength of your wall? Are there people you have allowed into your interior that are damaging your soul?

The health of your city is your responsibility. Yes, parents help younger children to begin the inner disciplines necessary for growth and teachers and mentors come alongside in later years to spur more health in the soul. But, ultimately, I am responsible for my inner health and you are too.

How was it ruined?

I want to briefly look at six main verbs used in the above verses to describe the means of destruction: burning, killing, stripping, breaking, carrying off, and binding. All of these words describe a different aspect of the damage that has taken place. Many of these words describe when the walls have been breached by other people. Especially in children, whose faith is still barely in bloom, the damage done by others can be catastrophic.

First, look at the word burning. Burning indicates that something is completely destroyed. When an object goes up in smoke, it changes at a molecular level and leaves behind nothing but ash. In other words, it is truly irredeemable. Their wall, palace, houses, and Temple were burned, leaving only ash and ruin in their wake.

Killing, also, is a verb that indicates finality. It begins with an infliction of a mortal wound and ends in some sort of death, whether emotional, spiritual, psychological or physical. And in this rundown of ruin, notice that only people were killed. There is no mention of animals in this list, giving the impression that animals’ lives have more value than humans’.

Stripping is a verb that described what happened to the fields. The captors did not burn the fields, for they knew food was of value, both to them and to the poor people who were left. But they pillaged the harvest. Fields that are stripped of their grain and fruit are useless to those left behind. What remains is barrenness and emptiness.

Notice also the breaking that occurred. Walls were broken as well as many objects that were in the temple. This is not a verb that indicates a complete end, but there is a hopeless sense about it. Objects that are broken seem irreparable, but people live on and on with this sense of crippledness in their lives, lives and hearts that experience a breaking.

So many things and people were carried off from Jerusalem. All the treasures were taken, both from palace and officials’ homes. The Temple’s treasures were also carried off along with over 4000 people in three different waves and time frames. To be carried off indicates a stronger might enforcing its will; it is a control type of word.

The king was bound with bronze shackles before he was carried off. No other captive was described in this way, but binding is another form of ruin. Having one’s freedom and will stripped away brings with it psychological and emotional ruin.

In light of these six verbs, I want to ask you a series of questions to help you name the ruins of your interior life. Has anything in your life gone up in smoke or been killed outright? How about your marriage, your virginity, your close relationships, your purity or integrity? Anything that cannot be brought back to its original state is something that is burned or killed.

Has something been carried off? Perhaps it was your position or your talents or health. Perhaps your children have been carried off or your spouse. When something has been taken from you, that is a “carrying-off” type of ruin.

Has anything been stripped from you? Your reputation or honor? The fruit of your efforts or abundance of wealth? Your ministry or integrity or effectiveness? The ruin of stripping does not harm the actual thing stripped; it just leaves you barren in its wake.

Has anything broken in your life? Has anger broken you or others? What about your sense of identity or significance? Maybe your marriage or portrait of family has broken along the way. It might be your sense of safety or trust that is obliterated. A breaking ruin usually has something to do with someone else’s words or actions and it can leave you lying in the middle of your life paralyzed by hurt.

Lastly, are you bound in ruination? Does unforgiveness keep you captive? Do you struggle with hate or anger or bitterness? Others can bind you quite effectively, as in taking away your freedoms, but we often ruin ourselves with a binding type of destruction.

So much more could be said about these six words, but I trust that if you are experiencing some ruin in your life, some of these questions will get you to thinking about the causes and consequences of destruction.

God’s Reconstruction Zone

In my unprofessional opinion, many believers never take the time to walk through their inner ruin. That is why marriages fail and churches divide. It is much easier to ignore the inner cries of the soul than to sit in the messiness of our neglect. But eradicating all pride and grieving the loss through wailing and mourning are biblical mandates. Part of cleaning up the ruin of the interior requires submission to God and the hard work of purifying the heart. God’s promise is that if you and I will humble ourselves before Him, He will lift us up (see James 4:7-10). Confession really is good for the soul and it begins the process of reconstructing the interior.

It is important for me to end these difficult devotional thoughts on a redemptive note. Perusing the ruins is only useful for so long. It is helpful to know that there is a goal God has for this process of reconstructing the interior. That goal, simply stated, is a rebuilding of a relationship with you and you guessed it: that only happens through the care-taking of your soul. God cares about you. About your hurts. About your worries. About the intricacies of every decision, mostly, because He loves you desperately. He longs to share every moment with you.

He desires you to call on Him, pray to Him, listen to Him and He will listen to you, allow you to find Him, and bring you back from captivity (Jer. 29:11-14). He is anxious to renew covenant with you, to have His laws in your life, to call you His and to have you know Him (Jer. 31:33-34). He wants to cleanse you from all sin, forgive you, and accept your sacrifices once again (Jer. 33:8-18). He longs for you to come to Him, to forsake evil ways and thoughts, and turn to Him for He freely pardons (Isa 55:1-8).

Dear one, perusing the ruins is painful, but necessary if you want to experience any joys of a thriving relationship with God. Would you make that decision today to begin the work of rebuilding, of looking honestly inside? Then the Lord will take great “delight in you.” He will “rejoice over you. “You will be called a Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted” (Isa 62:4, 5, 12).