How to eliminate rotten wood – the thoughts, word, and actions that drag you down, whether they seem big or small – in your life.
By Mark D. Harris
The wooden plank on the deck gave a soft “squish” as I stepped down. I pushed a little harder with my heel and the wood collapsed, leaving a hole in the deck, and exposing the dirt several feet below. “Ugh” I thought, and began to check the rest of the deck for rotten spots. In total, only five boards needed to be replaced, all touching each other in the same part of the deck. I looked up. There was a leak in the gutter above the rotten spots, and I recalled seeing a nearly continuous stream of water hitting this part of the deck during several rainstorms over the past several months. While working on the deck, and lying in bed thinking about it, I recognized many parallels between rotten wood and sin in our lives.
What causes rotten wood?
Water is a good thing; a gift of God which is the basis of life. Water on the deck is a good thing; necessary to keep the deck clean. But too much of this good thing, water, in the wrong place, one small section of my deck, rotted the wood and produced a hazard to me and my family.
Rottenness in our lives can result from bad things that we do – obvious sins like stealing, extramarital sex, violence, abuse – which might be similar to pouring acid on a wooden deck or lighting it on fire. Too often, however, rottenness comes from too much of good things in wrong times and places. Television and video games may not be inherently bad, but hours of one or both per day, displacing our quiet times of Bible reading and study, or our quieter times of sleep, become sin and produce rottenness. Work is inherently good, but working to the exclusion of family, friends, church, and the other parts of life is rotten.
How do we detect rotten wood?
Judging by the size, the rotten area in my deck had been there for months. Little by little the wood grew weaker, though it looked fine from the top, until finally it buckled under my step. Only when I put pressure on the board did the rot show itself.
We all have areas of rottenness in our lives. Our thoughts too often go a wrong direction, perhaps lust or worry or pride. Since they are only thoughts, no one else notices, and we feel free to follow them down the dark corridors of our sinful nature. As long as our thoughts don’t become actions that others might notice, or our actions remain hidden, the rot can hide. Throw in some pressure: a fight with our spouse, a poor evaluation at work, an illness, or worse, and the rot in our souls stinks like a festering sore. We can no longer deny the smell, nor can anyone else.
What happens if you don’t deal with rotten wood?
My first thought on finding the rot was, “Oh no, another thing to do.” I mentally rearranged my time to make space for shopping for supplies, pulling the old boards, cutting new ones, installing the planks, and doing the preventive maintenance that follows. I could have ignored the rot, for a while, until visible holes developed or someone fell partly or completely through the deck. But the problem would have become much bigger – perhaps having to replace the whole deck and dealing with an injury.
The rottenness caused by sin in our lives will only grow if we ignore it, and its effects will get worse:
- Rottenness makes us weak, unable to do things that we should do, or even want to do.
- Rottenness is ugly, offending our senses with its destruction.
- Rottenness harms others. Less than 20% of each board that I pulled out was rotted, but the whole board had to go. A surgeon treating a woman with breast cancer cuts out a whole lump of tissue, or the entire breast, not just the small lump of definite cancer. When the Assyrians conquered the Jewish city of Lachish in 701 BC and butchered its people, worshippers of God as well as worshippers of Baal suffered.
- Rottenness hurts God by hurting us. Humans are nothing if not proud, and we think that we know what we want and know how to get it better than anyone else in the universe. We are fools. Our omniscient God knows what is best for us and labors to provide it. He knows how horrid sin is in our lives and tries to protect His beloved people from it.
- Rottenness offends God. He is perfectly holy and good. He never intended His marvelous creation to be so distorted, so marred, and He is deeply angry at those who cause it.
How do you treat rotten wood?
How one deals with rotten wood depends on the situation. Had our deck been rotten through and through, I would have torn it all down and started fresh. Had the rot been much less, I could have used wood filler and wood preservative. As it was. I had to find everything that was rotten, eliminate it, and replace it.
The penetrating light of God will reveal the rotten areas in our lives. God will prick our conscience through a sermon, a praise song, a Bible passage, or the comment of a trusted friend. We will work rather than attending our child’s band concert, think about all the other events in his life that we missed, and feel sick in the pit of our stomach. Challenges in life that used to invigorate us now fill us with dread, or at least queasiness. Not wishing to overwhelm us, our Lord shows us only one area at a time. As we trust Him and obey, He shows us more.
Once God shows us an area of rottenness in our lives, which is always caused by sin, He expects us to deal with it. Our sinful nature, supported by the ever-deceitful Father of Lies, will use confusion, distraction, fear, and fatigue to keep us in sin. Before long, much of the rot will be unrecoverable. We may be too weak to accomplish all of God’s purpose in our lives, or others may be too hurt to help us in our mission.
Once we find the rot, the first step is to fix the cause. We must have the right equipment, the right helpers, and the right practices. An acquaintance of mine struggles with pornography. He needs a computer for his work so eliminating this technology is not an option, However, he needs severe restrictions on computer and cell phone usage, strict accountability from Christian friends, and time-related goals to make this all happen. A woman who worries incessantly needs activities to get her mind off herself and her fears, schedules and techniques to replace her anxious thoughts with godly ones, exercise to benefit the body, and limited exposure to fearful stimuli. Eliminating sin and its consequent rot requires lifestyle changes, and perhaps changes in friends as well.
How do you prevent rot?
My wife told me more than once that we needed to reseal the deck. I had looked through the window more than once at the stream of water falling from the gutter to that one particular area. And yet, other priorities prevailed. Our plan is to make other repairs (like fixing a handrail), pressure wash the deck, let it dry, and stain and seal it. The more we stay ahead, the fewer problems we will have.
In our Christian lives, we prevent rot by eliminating sin. Obvious sins like those above should be the first to go – if God is building our lives into a beautiful garden, He will not allow us to keep a patch of weeds. Worries and fears are hard to root out, but we have to do it. The Word of God, the Bible, is an outstanding source of light and heat in our lives. The Bible both illuminates rot and prevents it, just as the sun prevents rot in the physical world. Worship, church attendance, Christian accountability, and enjoying the fellowship of believers also help minimize sin and stop rot.
Even as rot is an ever-present reality in the physical world, it is an ever-present danger in the lives of believers. Empowered by the Spirit, Christians must root out the sin and its subsequent rot, in every area of our lives. It takes clarity, determination, and work, but God Himself will bless our efforts. He will sanctify us, making us like Him.