Five years ago, my wife and I bought a house. And that house has a basement.
It’s a big space - exactly half of our square footage. It’s also a walkout and where three of our four children have their bedrooms. The living room area has become their main entertainment space and so many hours of our family experience has been in this subfloor section of our home.
And in those five years, I’ve learned a major lesson: basements get wet.
It doesn’t happen often. In fact, we’ve been fortunate that in five years we’ve only experienced it a few times. But now we know that when spring comes with its crazy storm weather to southwest Missouri, we’d better be prepared for the potential of a wet basement.
This last spring was the worst we’d ever experienced. In the month of May alone we received 26 inches of rain. Nine of those came in one night. And the following morning, as I walked downstairs to wake my kids for school, one step on that soggy carpet meant that we were in for a long day.
To try to make sure this kind of thing didn’t happen again, I finally caved and sought out an expert. He came out to the house and spent an hour looking over everything on both the inside and outside of the basement. Finally, he explained a little thing called hydrostatic pressure.
Now I’m certainly no expert in these matters, but here’s what I understood: as rain comes down in large amounts, especially on a crazy night like we had just had, water inevitably seeps into the soil and begins to build up against the underground walls of the basement. This pressure builds and builds, and because water will always seek the path of least resistance, eventually finds its way into the home.
The reason that happens is complicated, but it basically comes down to the fact that every basement has imperfections. As concrete is poured and foundations settle over the years, cracks will form and gaps will appear and, when coupled with the steady pressure of building water, will result in inevitable leakage.
I know it’s just the culture nerd in me, but as our expert explained this situation, I couldn’t help but think about how this reminds me of our call to bring the gospel to all nations. Story after story and testimony after testimony, from the first church in Acts until today, will tell us that God is faithful and just, and has created each culture on earth with its own cracks and gaps into which the building pressure of the Holy Spirit will find a way in. And just like my basement on a particularly stormy spring day, that pressure will have results.
Our job, then, is to pay attention to where that is happening.
Our job is not, as it turns out, to find a way to force it through.
Ironically, that’s what this basement waterproofing expert suggested. His solution to our once-every-few-years seepage problem was to tear out all of our drywall, baseboards, framing, and studs, and then jackhammer a trough across the entire wall line, drill holes in the foundation, and force the water to come in so it could in turn be pumped out.
This solution would be destructive, outrageously expensive, and then in the end he couldn’t promise that it would actually solve the problem. And I don't know about you, but that kinda sorta sounds like a lot of modern missionary strategies. Let’s spend a scandalous amount of money to get boots on the ground, sledgehammer our way into the culture, drill holes in the foundations of their worldview, and force the gospel in. Oh, and after a decade of trying, it might not even work.
But what if we tried a different approach? What if, instead of trusting in our efforts and our strategies, we believed in the power of the Holy Spirit? What if we had faith that God was already at work in this place, and we simply took a humble posture of listening, watching, and service? And in time, we notice the places where, like water building against a concrete wall, the power of spiritual pressure begins to find its inevitable way through.
I think we could find some good things there. I think we’d begin to fall into a posture of faith, trust, and dependence. I think we’d see local people empowered. I think we’d require smaller budgets. I think we’d leave a lesser wake of well intentioned destruction behind us. I think the friction of cross-cultural objectives would be somewhat smoother. And I think, in the end, the glory and honor would shine much more brightly on the Savior, for whom it always belongs, than on our own achievements and accomplishments.
Jesus described the Holy Spirit as a wind. It blows wherever it pleases, and no one can say where it comes from or where it is going. He also promised that if we follow him, we’ll be a bit like that, too. But it will require eyes to see and ears to hear. And maybe, just maybe, a lot less effort and a whole lot more faith.