A God-Honoring Approach to Home Design
By LESLIE LUDY
Godliness with contentment is great gain.
1 Timothy 6:6
Sitting in a waiting room not long ago, my eyes were immediately drawn to the trendy home renovation show playing on the lobby’s television. Normally I don’t have much attraction to modern TV shows, but decorating and home design episodes can quickly capture my interest. There is something intriguing about watching a run-down or run-of-the-mill house be miraculously transformed into a stunning show home all in a matter of weeks. Seeing the awestruck homeowners shed tears of joy and gratefully hug the designer who magically altered their house is always touching.
Another reason I find these shows interesting is because Eric and I have been in “fix-up mode” with our own house for the past several years. It’s been a fun challenge to modify a 25-year-old house that was originally designed for a family of four into a living environment that works for a growing, active family of eight. We’ve labored to be creative with the space that we have and to be resourceful with our time and budget restrictions. And for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the process of repairing, remodeling, and improving our home.
Except for those few times when I see a home design show in a waiting room.
Then, all of a sudden, I become inwardly frustrated. Frustrated that the process is taking so much longer than all those “transformed-in-thirty-days” shows on HGTV. Frustrated that we can’t afford to do everything at once, like those fortunate reality show homeowners who are able to get new landscaping, new outside finishes, new floors and walls, new appliances, new furniture, and new decor all at one time. Frustrated that our design efforts never look quite as amazing as the awe-inspiring renovated homes on TV.
Seeing those sparkling new, totally renovated, professionally staged homes makes me painfully aware of all the areas in my own home that aren’t up to par. After seeing just a few minutes of that home fix-up show in the waiting room the other day, I came home and freshly realized, with chagrin, that all the windows in our kitchen and living room were in a sorry state, with missing or damaged screens, broken hardware, and peeling paint. Knowing that we have a mountain of other fix-up priorities to accomplish before we can even think about addressing our window issues left me feeling a bit dejected.
But in the next moment, two convicting Scriptures immediately came to mind. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5). And the words of Christ in Luke 12:15, “‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’”
As much as I love fixing up our home and creating a beautiful environment for my family, God has continued to remind me of a vital quality I must never overlook in the process … contentment.
Home design shows, magazines, and blogs often make us believe that creating beautiful surroundings should be at the top of our priority list. Yet God says there are even more important things to cultivate in this life, and contentment is one of them.
It’s obvious from Scripture and from nature that God loves order and beauty. As I’ve written in previous articles, I believe that our living environment should reflect those qualities to the best of our ability. By no means do I feel that having a fresh, well-designed home is unspiritual.
But I have learned that creating beautiful surroundings must be approached in a God-honoring way, or it can quickly lead to very ungodly attitudes in our hearts — like discontentment and covetousness.
Whether you reside in a tiny dorm room or a spacious home, I’d like to share three biblical principles for designing and decorating your living space in a God-honoring way. These are the principles that have been most helpful to me in finding that important balance between creating beauty and cultivating contentment.
Principle One: This World is Not our Home
“Create spaces that you love” and “surround yourself with things that spark joy” are two popular mottos in our culture today. And unlike some of the clearly selfish mantras floating around our society, these particular ideas are not overtly bad or wrong. Designing your home in a way that reflects your specific tastes and interests can be a fun way to express the unique qualities that God has given you. There is nothing healthy about surrounding yourself with items that depress or agitate you.
Case in point: Our family recently stayed in a rented home for one night while traveling. The home was adorned with gaudy, Roman-temple-style decor that, in our opinion, was extremely distracting and ugly. Even though we were only staying there for one night, we could hardly stand being in the house. It made us feel uncomfortable and agitated to be surrounded by those things. We went out to dinner and stayed out for as long as we could, just to avoid being in that environment.
When it comes to your living space, replacing useless, ungodly, or tacky things with items that inspire peace and joy is a great idea. It is a way we can honor God with what He has given us, and it is a way to bless our family and friends with inviting surroundings and warm hospitality. But as we work to create spaces that we love, we must be careful not to lose sight of this important truth: This world is not our home.
We are not yet at our final destination. The Bible says that we are to be pilgrims passing through and that we are not to become at home in this world. (See Hebrews 11:8–10; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 John 2:15.)
Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:2–3).
Just think about that for a minute. Jesus Himself is preparing a home for us — a heavenly mansion that He Himself has designed. The One who created the heavens and the earth is our personal Home Designer. And rather than adorning our heavenly home with the latest trends in home decor, He is adorning it with the breathtaking beauty of His presence. The Bible tells us that His presence creates such glorious light that the sun and moon will no longer be needed. (See Revelation 21:23.) Wow!
Even the most inspiring home makeover show could never compare to the King of all kings personally designing our heavenly home! May we never become so consumed with our temporary home that we forget to keep our eyes on our ultimate destination.
1 John 2:15–17 provides an important reality check for those times when we are tempted to become overly preoccupied with our earthly environment: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
Creating beautiful spaces in our earthly home should merely be a reflection of the heavenly values God has cultivated within us and a way to bless our family and friends with warmth and peace. But it should never become the focal point of our lives. We are called to more than designing and decorating lovely homes. We are called to build our lives around eternal things. This world is passing away. The trends that seem so popular right now will be forgotten in the dust at the end of time. When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, will it matter whether we decorated our home in the modern farmhouse style or used trendy vintage artwork on our walls?
Whether you are in the midst of redesigning your home or you are simply noticing the growing cultural obsession with creating beautiful and/or trendy spaces, I encourage you to approach this area of your life with an eternal mindset rather than a temporal one. Don’t let it get out of its rightful place or claim too much of your attention. Look for ways to invest into eternity — not just into your own personal space.
There may be certain seasons — like when you are moving in or remodeling — when home design takes more of your focus than at other times. But be sure that you keep eternity in view even in those seasons. What will last for eternity? The Word of God, our personal walk with Christ, and the souls of others. Soaking in the Word of God, spending time in the prayer closet, and sharing truth with others are all things that will last long after this world has faded. So don’t neglect the eternal things as you tend to the temporal ones.
And if you are ever baited toward discontentment with your living space, just remember that your Heavenly Designer is currently preparing a perfectly designed eternal home just for you.
Principle Two: This Life is Not About Us
I’ve often shared about an inspiring scene in the book The Hiding Place, about the life of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, two sisters who were persecuted for helping Jews during the Holocaust. After Corrie and her sister Betsie were arrested, they were imprisoned in different cells. Corrie wondered how Betsie was handling the drab, dirty environment of a prison cell. She had always loved order and beauty and peace and things being in their place. One day she was led by a guard past her sister’s cell, and she was able to take a quick look inside Betsie’s cell. This is what she saw: “Unbelievably, against all logic, the cell was charming … The straw pallets were rolled instead of piled in a heap, standing like little pillars along the walls, each with a lady’s hat atop it. A headscarf had somehow been hung along the wall. The contents of several food packages were arranged on a small shelf … Even the coats hanging on the hooks were a part of the welcome of that room, each sleeve draped over the shoulder of the coat next to it like a row of dancing children.”
That is one of my favorite stories. Betsie was in a prison cell with no reason to create order and beauty; no obvious reason to even want to make an orderly environment. And yet she knew that she could make even a prison cell a reflection of the peace and order of God; and that creating beauty and peace would minister to the women who were in that cell as well anyone else who might pass by. Her decision to create beauty within her prison cell reflected the hope that was in her heart. Despite her circumstances, she had not given in to despair and hopelessness. Because of Christ, she had purpose and joy, even in the darkest of places, and her surroundings reflected that inner reality. Many lives were changed as a result of her example in creating beauty in her prison cell.
When we create beautiful spaces for selfish reasons, it quickly becomes all about us — our preferences, our tastes, our comforts. But when it is done to bless and serve others, home design can reflect the nature of Christ.
Home decorating shows and magazines can subtly send the message that we are entitled to having spaces we love, or that we can’t truly be happy until we create our dream home.
But Jesus’ message is quite different. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Deny here means “to lose sight of oneself and one’s own interests.”
Long and short, this life is not about us. When our lives center around satisfying our own desires and chasing our own dreams, we are not living as God intended us to.
I encourage you to prayerfully consider whether your approach to home design and decor reflects a selfless mindset or a selfish one. Why are you buying that decoration? Why are you reading that design magazine? Is it to satisfy your own whims? Or to help you bless and serve those God has placed in your life? If God convicts you of selfishness in this area of your life, look for ways in which you can reverse the pattern. Can you begin to use your living space as a place for others to gather and be refreshed? What are some specific ways in which you can share what God has given you with others? If you have a family, are there ways in which your living space can better serve your spouse and children and not just your own desires? Do you need to cut back on watching design shows or reading certain magazines in order to cultivate greater contentment in this area of your life?
Ask God to cultivate a selfless attitude within your heart as you approach this area of your life. Let home design become a way to serve your family and bless others, rather than just serve your own desires. Remember that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Principle Three: A Poured-out Life Requires Sacrifice
Scripture is very clear about our calling to live an outward-focused life, as we’ve detailed in other articles. Living a poured-out life will look different for each of us, but one thing will be the same for anyone who chooses to say yes to this calling — personal sacrifices will be asked of us along the way.
Years ago, as we began to grow our family, God led Eric and I into adoption as a specific step of obedience in living a poured-out life. As a result, we have two biological children and four adopted children. When we first adopted our children, I thought that the greatest challenge would be affording the adoptions in the first place. We watched God miraculously supply our needs in each of the four adoptions that we walked through. But now, years later, I’ve realized that paying for the initial adoption fees was just the beginning. The financial challenges have continued — and grown — as our children have gotten older.
If we hadn’t adopted our four children and were only raising our two biological ones, day-to-day life would be much more affordable. Going out to dinner is a far more expensive endeavor with eight people in the family, than if there were only four of us. Buying a car that seats eight people is more costly than a small, four-person vehicle. Vacations can feel almost impossible to afford when we have to multiply tickets, meals, and lodging by eight. Paying for music lessons, sports, medical needs, clothes, and school supplies for six children quickly adds up. Our grocery bill often seems shockingly high, especially as our kids get bigger and eat more.
And oftentimes, there just isn’t much money left over for creating the kind of beautiful home environment that I envision in my idealistic Pottery Barn or Magnolia dreams.
It goes without saying that I wouldn’t trade any of our adopted children for more wiggle room in our home design budget — or anything else in this world for that matter. But there are times when looking at home decor magazines or seeing a few minutes of a home renovation show in a waiting room can serve as a painful reminder of things I’d love to be able to do in our home, but can’t afford.
In those moments, it’s vital for me to remember the poured-out path that I have chosen, and to gladly and willingly embrace the personal sacrifices that come along with obedience.
Whatever specific path of obedience God has called you to, make no mistake about it; there will be sacrifices required along the way. You might have to say no to something the world highly values (i.e. a beautifully designed space that you never want to leave) in order to say yes to something even more important in God’s eyes (i.e. giving of your time, energy, and resources to rescue a soul in need).
Amy Carmichael wrote, “There is nothing worth doing which has not sacrifice set in its heart.”2 This is a very different mindset than our culture’s obsession with personal happiness, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that we were not put on this earth merely to enjoy life and live comfortably. We are here to love and serve sacrificially, just as He has done for us.
If God has brought you on a path of personal sacrifice, if you have had to say no to things others are saying yes to, and if you have chosen a harder road than some who are living for personal pleasure, I want to encourage you with some precious promises from God’s Word — He will repay, He will reward, and He will honor those who honor Him. (See Proverbs 19:17; 1 Samuel 2:30; Matthew 6:4.)
Your living space may not be featured on Pinterest, and you may not be able to buy every trendy new pillow or clock that captures your interest, but the King of all kings is well pleased with your sacrificial love. You will never regret anything that you give up for His sake.
Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus in Scripture, was an excellent homemaker and hostess. If she’d had her own show on HGTV, it probably would have been a big success. But she became so preoccupied with creating beauty in her temporal environment that she lost sight of what mattered in light of eternity. She chose beauty without contentment, and looked for her satisfaction in her homemaking success rather than at the feet of Jesus. By God’s grace, may we not make the same mistake.
Remember, this world is not our home. This life is not about us. And the poured-out life we are called to live requires personal sacrifice. With these truths in view, beauty and contentment can walk hand in hand. By God’s grace, let’s create spaces that reflect His nature, not just in the design style we select, but in choosing a heart-attitude that truly honors Him.