Unless the LORD Builds

“Unless the LORD Builds…”

One of the most admired attributes in our world is a good work ethic. I don’t know too many people that don’t want to be known as a “hard-worker” or a “good employee.” Because of this many of us spend our days trying to be as productive as possible. We do all we can to remain busy. Who wants to be seen wasting their time? No one wants to be thought of as being lazy!

I think most of us would agree that a good work ethic is an honorable and wonderful thing for us to strive for. Especially as followers of Jesus, we want to honor God with the work of our hands and with how we represent Christ in our work. 

However, we also need to be careful. 

I say this because, if we aren’t careful, we will let this desire for productivity lead us to a place of self-reliance. We will charge at the tasks of our day at full-steam and forget to seek after God and His wisdom and His strength. We will get so caught up in doing “something” that we will forget that Jesus tells us that apart from Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5) 

The reality is, no matter how productive we think we can be, or how much “work” we are getting “done”, if God isn’t in it and behind it – then ultimately it is destined to crumble or to yield any type of lasting benefits for anyone. 

Sadly, even as a pastor I still need to re-learn this lesson quite often. 

One my greatest fears, and a fear that is shared by many in ministry, is to be thought of as someone who is idle. I want to be productive. I want to be doing things that “move the needle.” I want to labor, and I want to see metrics that tell me that my labor is not in vain! Because of this, I often find myself pushing, and working, and striving. I often find myself questioning if I’m doing enough, or if I could have done more. 

Because of these fears, far too many times in my life and ministry I find myself foolishly charging ahead in my own strength, and in my own wisdom, apart from the Lord. This never turns out well. As a pastor friend of mine says often, we have no business trying to do anything for God without first drowning it in prayer. 

But the reality is, this isn’t just true for pastors or for those in ministry. This is the reality for ALL OF US. No matter what we do, if the Lord isn’t in it, then all we do is in vain. 

This past week, as I was dealing with a bit of frustration, my daily Bible reading happened to take me to Psalm 127 and I read these words:

“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)

I happened to be reading these words at 3:00 am because I couldn’t sleep and was feeling a bit anxious. God has a way of getting our attention, doesn’t He?

Friends, don’t get so caught up in trying to do so many “good things” that you forget that what you are actually called to do is the “God-things.” Unless God is directing you, and leading you, and giving you His strength to accomplish your tasks, no matter how good you think what you’re doing is – it’s going to crumble, and it’s going to be done in vain. 

This will only lead you to frustration. This will only lead you to a life of anxious toil, and a whole lot of sleepless nights. Nobody wants that. 

Seek the God who is your strength. (Psalm 73:26)

Seek the God who is your wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

Seek the God who is, and in whom you find your peace. (Psalm 119:165, Ephesians 2:14)

Trust in this God and find your rest in Him. (Matthew 11:28-30)

My Help Comes from the LORD

smokey mountain

One of my favorite places to visit is the mountains of North Carolina. I think one of the reasons for that is because mountains make me feel very small. It’s hard to go to the mountains, see the majestic sky lines and the unbelievable views and not be in awe of God’s creation.

This year in particular, I felt very small. The house in which we were staying was surrounded by terrifying roads along with a terrifying driveway leading up to the house…and let me tell you, I probably prayed as hard and as fervently as we drove up and down these roads and that driveway as I’ve prayed in some time. There’s nothing like contemplating your impending doom, to get you praying…and praying hard!

I write all of this a bit tongue in cheek, but on a very serious note, I came back from vacation quite refreshed (even if it wasn’t that relaxing). I think one of the reasons I came back so refreshed was because I had time away from the everyday “hustle and bustle” of life to spend some time contemplating the things of God. And no matter where you find yourself, it is always a good thing, and a beneficial thing, and a soul refreshing thing to do…to contemplate the things of God.

For me personally, the mountains are a good place to do this. I’ve heard some say the beach helps them to connect with God in a way that they may not in their ordinary day to day lives.

With all of this being said, and aside from my terrifying drives that got me really close to God a few weeks ago, the fact is we as Christians here in America live in relative safety. We get to worship in relative safety. But this has not always been the case, and that is the backdrop for one of my favorite Psalms – Psalm 121.

The backdrop of Psalm 121 is that of a pilgrim traveler that was making his way up to Jerusalem to go up to the temple to worship. And this pilgrim who was making his way to and from the temple would encounter many trials and dangers along the way.

I suppose in light of the immediate context of this Psalm, some might wonder how this Psalm would apply to you and I. Well, let’s take a closer look.

While it is true that you and I dwell in relative physical safety in our day, that doesn’t change the reality that we are still pilgrims in the midst of a dangerous world. This being true, we can see very plainly in just the first few verses just how applicable this text is for us.

In verse 1, the Psalmist says, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?”

Friends, even though we may not be facing perilous physical journeys right now in the way of dangerous mountain roads, the fact is that all of us deal with challenges in this world. Dangerous challenges that threaten to derail us on our journey WITH and TO God, and that threaten to derail us on our path to worship.

Our world and our lives are filled with things like sickness, the death of loved ones, difficult relationships, money issues, trouble at work, and we could go on and on. All of these things are in addition to the Spiritual and emotional challenges that we all face. (Of course the big one that sort of sums up all of these things up is SIN…We ALL deal with sin.)

Each of us could, I have no doubt name something that we are dealing with right now.

So…in this context, I love this question. Why? One, because it is an acknowledgement of and an awareness of the need for help. Secondly, because it implies that there is an answer, and there is help to be found.

The Psalmist asks, “Where does my help come from…?” As the Psalmist looks to the hills as a picture of the trials and dangers that await him, it reminds us that we are a people who do need help. Much like I said earlier about how the mountains help me to feel small and they humble me…so does our seeing and going through challenges and difficulties in our everyday lives. These things help us to remember that we are not self-sufficient. We are not strong. We are not the ones with all the answers. We are small…and we are in need of help along the journey of life.

But here is the reality. The truth is we are all tempted to look somewhere else, other than to God for our help. Unfortunately most of us, and maybe even all of us often look in places that offer no help at all or at least they don’t offer us the help that we truly need.

But, the Psalmist here in Psalm 121 gives us just the answer that we need, and tells us EXACTLY who we are to be looking to for our help. In the midst of whatever trial, and in the face of the mountains that lay before us.

Verse 2, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Folks, we can and we MUST be looking to the ALMIGHTY, ALL POWERFUL, SOVEREIGN God of the Universe. The God who is the creator of the heavens and the earth. Look around at the world, look all you want, and you won’t find anything that God didn’t create. If God created it, He is sovereign over it. I know sometimes it seems like the world is out of control. Sometimes it seems like your problems, your hurts, your pains are too much for anyone to bear…but if you have the ALMIGHTY God, the creator of the world…the one who is sovereign over ALL things…then what should you fear? Nothing!

Is anything too hard for the Lord? Absolutely not!

Look what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8.

Romans 8:31, “…If God is for us, who can be against us?“

Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?….” Verse 37, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There is a lot going on in these verses, but I think we can sum it all up quite simply…You are in good hands with God. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. There is nothing this world will throw at you that can destroy you if you are in the hands of God, and friends if you are in Christ, that is precisely where you are. Firmly in the hands of God.

And I think the Psalmist in Psalm 121 would agree. So,  no matter what challenge or what mountain you see before you on this day…be looking to the LORD, the only one that can truly give you the help that you need.