Best of Daily Reflections: The Lord Must Build the HouseDaily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
“Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on you.” This well-known Christian phrase appeals to my American sensibilities. We pray to God petitioning him with all our wants and needs, then we work hard, taking care of our needs ourselves. The only problem is that approach is wrong. Nowhere in Scripture will you find words that encourage us to work as if everything depended on our own efforts. In fact, you find just the opposite.
So what does it look like to live as if everything, including our work, depends on God?
In Psalm 127, Solomon says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” The house is God’s temple. Unless God builds the temple, there is no temple. Verse two expands the meaning of the phrase to all of our productive output: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives rest to his beloved.” In other words, unless God stands behind our work, we labor in vain.
This certainly applies to worship: unless God stands behind our worship and ministries, unless he himself builds them, they will fail. It does not matter how hard people work, how wonderful the music is, how creative the outreach is; unless God builds his church, you can forget it.
But Psalm 127 applies just as much to all of our productive output.
Work is an important part of our identity. We were created to work, and work affirms our dignity as God’s image bearers. But for many, work is a source of fear and constant worry over whether we will make it. It’s not just adults who are like this; I’ve known many teenagers who have anxiety over test scores, colleges, and so-called “success.” I’ve even witnessed kindergartners with test anxiety, desperate to perform well. And for what?
You can work yourself as hard as you want to go, but in the end, as Solomon brings home in Ecclesiastes, you will still die. There is, of course, value in working hard, but work cannot possibly bear the burden of fulfilling our souls.
We are more than retirees, work-at-home parents, bankers, physicians, salesmen, teachers, or pastors. With God, we are his children, heirs to the kingdom of God. But without him, we will never be anything more than our jobs, genders, or our ethnicities.
To those whom God loves, he gives rest from labor and also from the curse of sin. We need only think of God’s command to take the Sabbath rest, trusting that God has provided for everything we need. Consider what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 2:24:
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
Solomon isn’t saying we should be reckless or hedonists; he’s calling us to worship, to rest in God’s provision. God calls us to rest from our often frustrating and futile labor, trusting that he will provide for our every need. Everything that we have: food, shelter, our happiness, and joy, even our breath, all are gifts from God. Work hard, but know that it all depends on God.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How have you made your work your identity? What fears do you have when it comes to your future? How has God proven himself trustworthy to you over the years?
PRAYER: Lord, you are the Creator-God, the maker of all things visible and invisible. You hold this world in your hands and rule over it. Nothing escapes your notice and you direct all things, including my life. Remind me of your steadfast love and teach me to trust in your strength. May my hope only be in you and your salvation. Amen.
P. S. from Marcus Goodyear, acting Editor-in-Chief: Dave Peterson is on vacation this week, and we are delighted to bring you reflections from Dr, Rob Fossett. Dr. Fossett has adapted these reflections from his upcoming series of Sermon Notes from The High Calling. Later this summer, The High Calling will share Dr. Fossett’s sermons with thousands of subscribing pastors who want to teach their congregation a theological view of work. We know you will enjoy Rob’s wisdom as he invites us to reflect with him each morning.