Living on the Right Foundation
When I was in High School I was introduced to a set of 10 questions, originally asked by Bernard Pivot, through the show Inside the Actors Studio. The questions are very simple, but at the same time very deep.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
What turns you off?
What is your favorite curse word?
What sound or noise do you love?
What sound or noise do you hate?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
What profession would you not like to do?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
My friends and I thought we had much more culture than actually existed. There times when we would sip hot tea and talk about these questions, we felt that it was pretty good way to get to know one another. I even asked Trista these questions on our third date. And while they all serve as a way to get to know one another, I really like the questions about words. What is your favorite and what is your least favorite word? I wonder how you would answer those questions? Is there a word that rings in your ears, one that makes you feel at peace? On the other hand is there a word that you just despise, a word that puts you in a bad mood?
I know you are dying to know my answers to those questions, so my favorite word is welcome. I like the idea of welcome, you are welcome here, welcome at my table, welcome into our community. Or hearing you are welcome, after you say thank you for a gift or a bit of kindness.
My least favorite word is the word useless. I just hate the word useless. I don’t mind working hard, or getting up early and staying up late to get something done. I don’t mind passing on temporary pleasures in order to get a bigger benefit in the end. But I struggle when someone says that my efforts were useless, that doesn’t sit well with me.
We are in the middle of a series on the Songs of Ascent. These are the songs that the Jewish Pilgrims would sing as they made their way to Jerusalem for the three required festivals that happened every year. This morning we will talk and sing our way through the 127th Psalm.
There’s an old German saying that “Everything depends on God’s blessing.” I believe that captures the heart of this Psalm that gives us a better understanding of not only why we worship God, but how we can keep our worship from being useless. This song draws us to worship God because of the worth that He gives our work, and life. We gather to worship Him because He and He alone gives us purpose and reason. Unless God blesses our efforts, unless He is a part of what we’re doing, our labor is worthless.
At the end of the day we have two choices: self-reliance or trust in God. Self-reliance ends in despair, while trusting in God leads us to find purpose and meaning in our lives and livelihood. God makes our work meaningful, He gives us job satisfaction. We can go to work tomorrow morning with eager anticipation, if we’ve taken the time to consider how successful we are in God’s eyes when we labor for His glory. But for our work to have meaning, it starts with our ability to trust that God is everything that we need. Sing All in All
Our Work is Vain Apart from God.
One of the Americanisms we all believe, is that our success depends on what we do. Whether or not our family has food on the table and clothes on their backs depends entirely on me. If we just work a little harder, do just a little more, put in a few more hours, then we will be successful And the truth is that some folks put in 80 hours a week and still fail. But we still act sometimes like we built the house and we have to guard the city.
The Psalmist addresses this American idea in verse 2, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest.” We have made the workaholic a superstar. We say that you can only be successful if you put in long hours and make extra money, or to get that promotion or that raise in salary. We praise people that think they’re doing the world and their family a favor by constantly working overtime. When I first started preaching I put the phone in our bedroom across the room, that way if the phone rang at 4 in the morning, I could honestly tell say, “No, I’m not in bed”. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was a lazy preacher.
I understand that things have to get done. And I know the feeling that if I don’t do it, no one will. But according to our song we are just working towards self reliance and not trusting God. The result to this type of life style is “the bread of anxious toil.”
So when we say that our work is vain apart from God, this isn’t to say that apart from God we’ll be unsuccessful in our work: we can still make lots of money, stockpile lots of possessions, and prosper, but all of this will ultimately be unfulfilling. Money and possessions don’t buy us happiness. We were created in the image of God, that’s why we will never finding lasting satisfaction in temporary things. Stuff will never be the purpose of work, work has to serve another purpose, dare I say an even greater purpose.
The whole reason we work, is because Our work has the potential to be worship
But that can only happen when we understand that work is something that God gives us to do and that the results of our work, whatever we gain from it, all depend on Him. We need God to be in our work, to help us approach our work with the right attitude. We need to be reminded that our work is an opportunity to worship God and bless others. You and I need to remember that any kind of work, whether you are a brain surgeon or my favorite waitress at Waffle House, can become an act of worship.
Martin Luther put it this way: “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays, not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
Right now you can go turn on a radio and find a Christian Radio Station, or go to a Christian book store. And there may be some merit to that, but Christians can write songs that will make the top 10 on the R&B station, or a book that makes the top 10 best seller list. Our songs is pointing us back to the idea that any job, no matter how grueling or tedious, can be “Christian Job” if we use our talents to bring glory to God. The work of our hands can become the worship of our hearts. Remember when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He took a common and menial task and turned it into an act of love and worship. When we approach our tasks in a similar way, even those we consider insignificant like cooking our family a meal or putting your buggy in the proper place and not leaving it in the middle of a parking lot has the potential and power to reveal Christ Himself.
Our struggle is that all too often we lose sight that God intended our work to actually be a blessing. Just go back to the beginning and you will see that God blessed mankind with the gift of work. In Genesis 2:15 we read, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it."
This is before Eve and Adam were tempted, and this is before God kicked them out of the garden. God gave Adam the ability to work as a part of the blessing of Paradise. One of the things that made Eden so wonderful was the privilege of working in the garden and caring for it.
But the serpent tempted, Adam and Eve sinned, and work went from being a blessing to being a toil. We pick up the the story in Genesis 3:17: And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
The curse for Adam and Eve was not work, the curse was the thorns, thistles, pain, and death. Right now some of you are wrapping up your little gardens and have spent the summer fighting the weeds, the bugs and the worms. This summer has been hot and dry, and you are probably thinking this is the last year you will ever have a garden. I understand it. Even those tomato plants you put on the back porch caused you frustration since the squirrels and chipmunks enjoyed them more than you did.
That’s why I need to be reminded that work was given to us as a blessing, but when you put work together with thorns and thistles it becomes tedious. That’s why God calls us back to this idea that work has the potential to be worship. When we understand the blessing of work then we can enjoy what God has allowed us to do. But if we get caught looking at the toil, work just becomes something to be endured.
What we have to figure out, is how do we approach all those undesirable, normally thankless jobs that have to be done? Do we tackle them with a begrudging and resentful spirit? Or are we able to turn it around and be thankful and turn it into an opportunity for love and worship? If we are called to wash someone’s feet, do we do it in the spirit of devotion and service? Or have we allowed our work to become vain and something we hate doing and something we feel miserable about. If we are going to redeem the blessing of work, it has to start by rekindling the fire for God in our lives.
Sing Light The Fire
Finally we sing this song because Work has its reward.
I fully understand that there are days when our work seems tedious and pointless. We have all felt and wished that we could be involved in something that had meaning. I have a friend who is a pharmacist and they struggle in their job, because every day they provide medicine to folks who will take the same medicine every day, and never get better. They have told me that they feel their work has no greater purpose than to pass out one bottle after another. That’s why we need this song, because we must be reminded that not only was work a gift given to us by God, it also reveals two rewards of work.
The first reward can be found in verse 2 “for he gives sleep to his beloved.”
Like most of you, when I am preoccupied, or worried I find it difficult to sleep. There have been many nights in my life that I have found myself up at 3 in the morning, trying to solve all of the world’s problems at once. I remember when we were working with a congregation in another part of this state, that I must have looked extra haggard one morning because one of our members quoted verse 2 to me. I am sure they were hoping to be comforting, but it just made me more anxious because not only could I not sleep, apparently God didn’t love me enough to let me get some sleep.
While I think that there is some truth to what my friend told me, they might not have been spot on. The psalm does carry the implication that God provides rest, yet that might not be what the Psalmist is trying to say. America has rated in the top 3 nations of insomnia every year since World War 1. God says work is a blessing, but we work like we are looking for a greater blessing, and we end up abusing the gift. We don’t work a little more so we can earn a little more and buy a little more. The lie is that there is a blessing in stuff or that things are the secret to happiness in life.
But that is building on a faulty foundation. If you work long hours only to miss out on the gift of rest you missed one of the greatest blessings of all. Jesus came to this earth and lived the best life ever, and we cannot find anywhere in all of Scripture that Jesus worked long hours, to have a big house and a fancy camel with a surround sound system. But we do se that often Jesus would escape from the crowds to rest during His ministry.
This song is not saying that we don’t need to build houses, protect our cities, or work for food. It is reminding us that we don’t have as much control of our futures as we like to believe. There is another way of translating verse 2. Some translations say for he provides for his beloved during sleep. That’s a different reward, it reminds us that we don’t always have to be working. We can rely on God to take care of things even when we’re not working. The world won’t fall apart without us. He provides for His beloved during sleep, our well-being doesn’t depend on us it depends on the grace of God.
The second reward can be found in the last part of the psalm where the writer says that the reward of work is family.
Eugene Peterson writes: It doesn’t matter how much money we have, how prosperous our work is, because the only thing that will last throughout eternity are the personal relationships that we create and develop. In other words, the people we work with are more important than the work we do. Only when we entrust the work to the Lord do we reap such rewards.
I don’t think that it would be a stretch to expand this verse to include more than just our children. It could also include our other relationships and friendships. What can you do to show the love of God to your employer or employees? What is the best way you can show the love of God to my co-workers, or to my family? How can I do menial tasks like cleaning the bathroom or filing reports in a way that shows God’s love and compassion? Because unless I approach my work in a way that seeks to reveal God’s love and care, in a spirit of worship and devotion, then I end up more than likely hurting rather creating relationships.
There is a beautiful application for us here at Greenbrier. The Lord is the one who builds this church and unless we realize this and live out this truth we can hardly expect the Lord to bless us with more brothers and sisters to populate this house. The Psalmists remark that, “Happy is the man who has a quiver full of them” can be equally true of the church as well as the home.
Ultimately, Psalm 127 functions as an invitation to build our lives on God and to follow His claim to take care of us. Or as Jesus puts it in Matthew 6, Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. When we realize that we depend on the Lord, whether for our family life or our church, our livelihood or our ministry, we realize that we don’t have to eat the bread of anxious toil, since we have Jesus Christ.
Sing The Greatest Commands