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The Type of Hard Work That Does Not Please God

psalm 127

The Type of Hard Work that Does not Please God

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

Have you ever considered the truth that there is a type of hard work that does not please God?  This is the type of hard work described in Psalm 127:2 – “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” 

On a surface level, verse 2 describes a very impressive person.  If I were running a small business, this would be the type of person who I would want to hire!  Someone to rises early and works late into the night.  Yet would you notice:

  • This verse describes a person who does not glorify God.
  • This verse describes a person who does not please God.
  • This verse describes a person who does not produce fruit for God.

In fact, the scariest word is used to summarize this person’s labor – “vain” (v.2).  I can’t think of a worse way to spend my day! 

So the question arises from this passage:  What is the difference between anxious toil and fruitful labor?  Here are some reflections:

  1. Anxious toil believes that all the results are dependent on my labors. Someone once said that we are to work as if it all depends on us and pray as if it all depends on God. Anxious toil forgets the second part of that confession.  I love the balance of 2 Samuel 10:12 – “Be of good courage. . . and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.”  Fruitful labor moves forward with the trust that only God can bring success in our endeavors.
  1. Anxious toil fails to recognize that God is working while I am sleeping. Psalm 121:2-3 says, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.”  John Piper has well written:  “God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day. . . He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps.”  One saint said, “Lord You’re staying up tonight.  And if You’re going to be up, then I’m going to sleep!”
  1. Anxious toil is not joyful service. God is interested in not only what we can produce; God wants our service to reflect His goodness and His grace.  Psalm 95:1 says, “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!”  Anxious toil does not live with the awareness of God’s love; Fruitful service is a response to the amazing love of God expressed through the work of Jesus Christ! (Eph 3:14-19). 
  1. Anxious toil fails to recognize my limitations. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  An unbeliever can build a house; only God can fill that house with blessing.  An unbeliever can guard a city (v.1); only God can fill that city with spiritual fruitfulness.  As a pastor, I can create a handout and a lesson plan; only God can take the class and change hearts and lives for eternity.

It is good to recognize our limitations and trust the Lord for what only He can do!

  1. Anxious toil fails to glorify God. This is really the main issue, isn’t it?  God’s glory is the most important reality in all the universe.  Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” This is why although unbelieving toil can build a house (v.1), can guard a city (v.1), and can produce bread (v.2), in the end, God pronounces it vain – because it fails to glorify God!

May the LORD rescue us from a life of anxious toil and give us lives of fruitful labor that would be to His glory!

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