It is in Vain

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
(Psalm 127:1–2, ESV)

I get up fairly early to spend with the Lord each day (I actually have a standing appointment with God on my calendar, but I’m a geek and that’s another blog). This morning I was thinking about the busy week ahead, all the things on my list to do. And I thought, Maybe this morning instead of reading the Psalms with God I’ll get a jumpstart on sermon prep for the week. God knows how much I have to do this week and He’ll understand.

As I was thinking this, the Holy Spirit convicted me, and I decided to spend my time with God, but not in Psalms. I would generate a reading plan about the Holy Spirit and start reading through those passages as my “devotional” time. Even while I was trying to make a deal with the Holy Spirit, I realized that if this was my plan I would end up spending my entire “devotional” time researching reading plans, rather than meeting with God in His Word. Plus, researching Holy Spirit reading plans is one of the tasks on my to do list for the week.

I felt pretty strongly that God wanted me to keep my meeting with Him in the Psalms, and the Psalm for today is Psalm 127. I read through the Psalm a few times (it’s only five verses) and was listening to what God might be saying. I got hung up on verse 2 and the way different English Bibles translate it in different ways, so I read it in Hebrew and was thinking about the various translation options when all of a sudden the Holy Spirit turned a light bulb on in my head.

Here I had been trying to convince myself to skip my meeting with God so that I could rise up early and work ahead on my week. But unless the LORD builds the house, the builders work in vain, and unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen work in vain… And God couldn’t have spoken any more clearly to me: “It is in vain that you rise up early (v. 2). Unless the LORD shepherds the church, the pastor works in vain! Getting up early to work won’t work unless God is the One working. So if I’m going to get up early, I might as well enjoy a cup of coffee with my Lord and let Him empower my work later.

As God so patiently spent time with me and brought that to my attention, I couldn’t help but laugh. There was no condemnation in His conviction, and I could feel His smile when  I finally got what He was saying to me this morning. My prayer for you this week is that you’ll remember to spend time with God in the midst of the busy-ness of life.

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

What do I still lack?

This morning I read the parable of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30.  He comes to Jesus and asks, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  I think it’s so interesting that Jesus doesn’t give the standard evangelical response of, “You don’t have to work for your salvation, silly.  You’re saved by grace through faith, and not by works.  It’s not about religion, it’s about a relationship.”  Instead, Jesus tells this young man exactly what he needs to do in order to have eternal life: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

As Jesus explains what commandments need to be kept, the young man exclaims, “All these I have kept.  What do I still lack?”  When Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus, the young man goes away sad, “for he had great possessions.”

I think it is ironic that this young man, who had great possessions, asked Jesus what he lacked for eternal life.  He didn’t lack anything, and that’s the point!  In order to enter life, we must lack.  Only when we have nothing but Jesus do we have everything we need for eternal life.  Jesus brought this young man to the mirror and pointed out that he didn’t need anything, and that was the problem.  Unless we need Jesus, we will not receive his life.

Reading this story, I felt the Holy Spirit prodding me to ask myself, “Where do I lack?  And where in my life have I lost the need for Jesus?”  For me, starting as Lead Pastor of this wonderful church has painted a billboard in my life of where I need the Lord’s help!  But there are other areas where I don’t lack, and in these corners of my heart, I need to sell all my possessions and follow Jesus.  As the Apostle Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

My prayer this week is that God will reveal to us where we lack, and where we think we don’t, so that we may lose assurance in ourselves and gain dependence on God.