It’s interesting how God lays something on your heart that doesn’t seem all that relevant until you’re in the middle of a hard season. I’ve been thinking about foundations for a while and I wrote this post weeks ago. When I scheduled it to publish I had no idea we’d be in the middle of a global pandemic wondering when our country will lift quarantine guidelines. Re-reading this today it feels even more relevant.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the shoulders we stand on and the concept of a firm foundation. I’ve spent a lot of time on athletic fields, in locker rooms, and listening to coaches give speeches to teams and alum. There is a phrase that comes up regularly when there’s a desire to cast vision or honor a legacy.
“We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us” is a phrase I’ve heard dozens of coaches say with gratitude to rooms full of seniors at banquets. Honors retiring coaches and reminds leadership teams their example will set the standard for future teams.
The original phrase has an extensive legacy. In 1159, John wrote in his Metalogicon: “Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.” Put another way:
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”Isaac Newton
The Value of Giant Shoulders
The legacy of strong programs can’t be taken for granted. Winners attract winners. A winning program sets a standard of hard work on and off the field. People want to be a part of a winning program so there are more players and resources to continue to legacy and help the program to keep winning.
At the same time, there’s a huge difference between times when a new coach keeps the ship moving forward on a healthy program that has momentum and a coach tasked with rebuilding a team and program from scratch after years of losing.
Every coach stands on the history of the coaches who came before him while he’s earning the trust of his new team. Often conversations will begin with “The last coach did things this way…” followed by unsolicited input that may or may not be relevant to the way the new coach is moving the team forward.
Sometimes the strength of a program depends on a team and staff choosing to stand firmly on the shoulders of those who came before them. Other times the foundation built by the previous leadership is shaky and needs shoring up before it’s safe to stand on, and other times a team to start fresh and build an entirely new foundation.
We Need a Solid Foundation
Matthew 7:24-27 (NASB) says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
What was Jesus referencing when he forewarned the possibilities of what could happen when people do or don’t respond to his words? Just before this section of text in Matthew Jesus warns the crowd to beware of false prophets.
Matthew 7:15-20 (NASB) says, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
We’re All at Risk of Building Weak Foundations
I don’t believe anyone intentionally builds their house on a weak foundation and I don’t believe any coach takes a job expecting they are going to fail. Regardless, some house foundations are the victims of land erosion. Othertimes a builder simply takes short cuts and pours a bad foundation from the start.
Older homes are also at risk of a weakened foundation if they aren’t properly cared for regularly. And this is where I believe our warning comes in as followers of Christ who have grown up attending church. Even if you are a leader with decades of history piled on your shoulders with years of coaching experience on your resume and hundreds of players on past teams you’ve mentored standing on your shoulders you are always at risk of developing a weakening foundation.
When we consider homes, foundation issues can develop from years of moisture build-up in humid climates. Termite infestations can also cause issues. Finally, poorly executed renovations can harm older foundations. How does this translate for our Spiritual foundation?
Our Spiritual foundations become shaky for many different reasons. Jesus points out that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit and every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. This boundary isn’t set up for God, it’s established for our benefit. We need protection for our foundation to stay firm. It is so vital that we only build on firm foundations, which we can identify as foundations that bear fruit, that everything else is not only cutaway, it’s thrown into the fire. The fire ensures the branches aren’t accidentally brought back to shore up a foundation.
Evaluate Where You’re Standing
Sometimes there are blinders about the shoulders you’re expected to stand on, so it’s important to take time to evaluate the firmness of the foundation you’ll stand on for yourself. I hope you wouldn’t simply trust someone else’s word regarding your bank balance, rather you would check things for yourself. Shouldn’t you do the same when it comes to considering the truth of Scripture?
- Do the shoulders you’re standing on, the ones you’re building a foundation on point you to God or do they point you to a cultural theology based on personal preferences?
- Do the shoulders you’re standing on value Jesus’s call to love one another with a servant’s heart? (See John 13 for reference)
- Do the shoulders you’re standing on help you clearly identify and reflect the character of Christ even when it requires you to live counter-culturally to the world or are those shoulders more concerned with making sure your views are siloed to focus on one specific earthly view?
- Are those shoulders more concerned with making sure you do things the way they prefer them or are they open to praying with you and listening to how God is guiding you to lead?
We will never live perfect lives on earth. But we must strive to be discerning about the foundation we build upon. Building a legacy isn’t a privilege reserved for coaches. While their platform may be large, and sometimes a bit more public, we’re all called to a life with Christ.
Hebrews 10: 19-27 NIV says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”
What if the way we see further than others by standing upon the shoulders of giants (as Newton suggested) is by encouraging each other, hold unswervingly to the hope we profess and by considering how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together?
How will we know? I believe we start with consistent prayer. In truth, it’s easier to answer how we won’t know. We won’t know by focusing on man’s outward appearance rather than God’s consistent character. We won’t know by choosing to incite fear rather than faith. We won’t know when we say follow me rather than follow Jesus.
Foundation building is a tricky matter, but thankfully there are tools and skilled master builders to help us keep our foundations strong and sturdy so our houses will weather any storm. The same is true when we stand on the right shoulders. Choose the shoulders you stand on wisely. More than that, pray for those who come before you. Pray for those who leave a legacy to continue to lead with integrity. When their foundation stays strong those who stand on their shoulders stand tall as well.