Living on the Right Foundation
This month, the television show Inside the Actors Studio celebrates it’s 250th episode. It’s one of a very few shows on TV that I will actually sit down to watch. The premise of the show is very basic, the host James Lipton interviews an actor or actress in a classroom seminar where they talk about their work. While my description of the show may sound a bit boring, to me it’s fascinating. My favorite part of the show always comes at the end when they ask everyone the same 10 questions. Now the questions are very simple, but at the same time very deep. They are questions like what noise do you love? What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? If heaven exists what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
But the question that always grabs my attention is, What is your least favorite word? Have you ever stopped to think about that? Is there a word that you just despise, a word that puts you in a bad mood? My answer to that question would be 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.
Our text this morning is the song of ascent found in the 127th Psalm. This is a song that gives us a better understanding of not only why we worship God, but how we can keep our efforts from being useless.
There’s an old German saying that “Everything depends on God’s blessing.” I believe that captures the heart of this Psalm. History records that in a challenge to the Continental Congress Benjamin Franklin quoted the opening words of Psalm 127 “Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labor in vain.” and then added “Do we imagine that we no longer need God’s assistance? The longer I live the more convincing proof I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men…without His concurring aid we shall proceed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”
Our Psalm this morning 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 restructure our priorities, and find joy in being able to worship through our work.
There used to be this real popular bumper sticker that said, He who dies with the most toys, wins. I think it fell out of popularity because we realized that people who die with the most toys are still dead, and worse they may be spiritually dead, if all they’ve trusted in is material prosperity.
If we are going to excel in our work we understand that Our Work is Vain Apart from God.
Many of us live and work like it all depends on me. Whether or not our family has food on the table and clothes on their backs depends entirely on me. We act sometimes like we built the house and we have to guard the city or worse, we have to guard the church.
The Psalmist addresses this person 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.
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 passage 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.”
Jesus talks about this in Matthew 6 when he says “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink . . . You of little faith . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”
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 not created to be satisfied with such things, these things are not the purpose of work. God has another purpose for us.
Next we sing this song because Our work has the potential to be worship
The only way our work will become worship is if we understand that work is something that God gives us to do and that the results of our work all depend on Him. We need God to be in our work, to help us approach our work with the right attitude.
It’s important to realize that any kind of work 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.”
Virtually any job, no matter how grueling or tedious, can be a gift from God and worship to God. The work of our hands can become the worship of our hearts. Think of 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, whether we bless our family when we cook a meal or fold the laundry, our work has the potential and power to reveal Christ himself.
But for many of us we see work as toil and not the blessing that God intended for it to be. But if we go back to the beginning we can see that God has given us work as a blessing if it is done with the right attitude. 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."
Now this is before Eve and Adam were tempted by the snake, 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 snake tempted, Adam and Eve sinned, and that is when work went from being a blessing to being a toil. We continue the story in Genesis 3 beginning with verse 17: And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
God says Adam and Eve were cursed, but not with work. Work was a blessing they received in the garden; the curse was the thorns, thistles, pain, and death. Right now some of you are moving from being enthusiastic about your gardens to struggling with the weeds that are sprouting up everywhere, the bugs and worms that are eating away at your plants. As the sun gets hotter and hotter we begin to lose our enthusiasm for gardening, you know the cures of thorns and thistles.
Work was given to us as a blessing, but when you put work together with thorns and thistles it becomes tedious. That is why 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 and participate in. But when we get caught looking at the toil, work loses its ability to be worship and 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.
Finally we sing this song because Work has its reward.
Work is not tedious and pointless. I know for a fact that there are some folks who walk the lines at the refineries every day or who work down at the port who think that their work is so menial that it has no greater purpose. But this song not only reminds us that work is given to us by God, it also reveals two rewards of work.
The first reward can be found in the last part of the psalm where the writer says that the reward of work is family.
Eugene Peterson comments that it doesn’t matter how much money we have, how prosperous our work is, because what makes a difference is 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, will 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 the relationships and friendships that were created through our attitude about the work we do and the care and love of God. How do I show the love of God to my employer, employees, to my co-workers, or to my family when I prepare a meal or clean the bathroom? 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 Park Central. 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.
The second reward can be found in verse 2 “for he gives sleep to his beloved.”
God provides rest from work, He provides the beautiful gift of sleep. We know that work is a blessing, but we desire a greater blessing. So we have learned to abuse this gift. Our community is littered with workaholics who have convinced themselves that if they can just work a little more then they can earn a little more so they can buy a little more. They believe 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 and don’t have rest you miss one of the greatest blessings of all. We were created in God’s image, After God completed the work of creation, He rested and made the 7th day holy as a day of rest. We also read that Jesus escaped to rest during His ministry.
Don’t miss the blessing of sitting back sometimes and enjoying God’s creation, refreshing ourselves so that we can go back to work with renewed energy. How often have you had the satisfaction of knowing that you have done a job well, seen it through, and now it’s finally over? If you have known that experience, you know what he is talking about.
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, not our effort and work.
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: Strive first for 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, 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.
One of these days you and I will stand before the heavenly Father, and He’ll look us straight in the eye and will say one of two things. Either Depart from me, I have never known you, or Well done, good and faithful servant.
Questions For You To Consider
What type of work is worthless?
How do those who rely on their own efforts, see their work?
What basis is offered in this passage for the worth of our work?
Why is it foolish to work long hours?
Why is work important?
Children are a gift from God and are a sign of his favor on those who do worthwhile work. In what ways has God rewarded you for good work?
How does your attitude toward work shape how you view your personal relationships?
In what way do you need the rest that the Lord grants "to those he loves"?