Labor in Vain


How would you like to move in to the cabin pictured here?

What? No takers????

Once, many years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting a cabin that was originally built in the 1800’s. (NOT the one pictured here.) The owner of that cabin had lovingly restored it, detail by painstaking detail. He had also added all the modern conveniences that would make it a paradise in which to live for a person of this century. It was filled with beautiful period antiques and quilts, and situated in a pastoral setting, far enough off the beaten path that it was its own little world. I drove away knowing I”d had a true privilege to visit such an enchanting place.

The owner had even named his cabin. And what was that name?

“Labor in Vain”.

That name has stuck with me for over 20 years. Why in the world would you pour your time, talents and energies into a work like that and name it “Labor in Vain”? I have no answer to that question, by the way, but that is what has been bouncing around in the back of my mind as I have contemplated today’s psalm, Psalm 127. (Well, that and the song that Keith Green wrote over 25 years ago: Unless the Lord Builds the House.)

Here’s the text of this psalm of ascent, which by the way, was written by Solomon, the son of King David and the builder of God’s house, the temple in Jerusalem:

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat –
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Sons are a heritage from the Lord,
children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.”

In this psalm, I see God pictured as the Builder, the Watchman, the Giver of the gift of sleep, and the One who grants rewards and blessing.

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.”

I find it just fascinating that the man who built God’s house had these thoughts swirling around inside his head. After all, what could be more meaningful than being assigned the job of building the house where God would come and dwell among his people? But I guess even the most glorious monument in the world is a labor in vain, unless it’s done for all the right reasons, with the right Source of strength. And Solomon, with the wisdom that God Himself had poured out on him, was just wise enough to have figured that out.

So I ask myself, if God gave Solomon the task of building the temple, what is the work that He has put in front of me for me to do? I think each of us has been given work to do. Adam was given work to do in the Garden of Eden even before the fall, because God knows that work is GOOD for us. When done well, it brings us satisfaction and fulfillment. Each person’s work is as individual as is that person, but for me, for this season of my life, I realized that the answer to my question is that my work is to raise these children that the Lord has blessed me with to the very best of my ability.

But here was my head-slapping “Doing! I coulda hadda V-8!” moment. I’ve really been trying lately to do it in my own strength. And failing miserably. And if Solomon realized that doing something in his own strength was meaningless, and a labor in vain, maybe I, too, should get a clue. Parenting and homeschooling IS my (at present) divinely appointed work, and without God, everything I am attempting to do on my own is vain, worthless frustration.

And the whole sleep thing?

“In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat –
for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

God is not asking us to work till we drop. Sleep is a blessing for us from God. So go to bed, already.

In Beth Moore’s words:

“Godless labor + little sleep = a futile expenditure of energy.”

Well and succinctly put, I think.

“Sons are a heritage from the Lord,
children a reward from him.”

Well, yes, indeed, children are a reward from the Lord. But they are not the ONLY reward the Lord gives out, thankfully – they are just one of His lovely rewards. His greatest reward is His very own presence. Like He told Abraham back in Genesis 15:1 when Abraham was still childless, “I am your shield, your very great reward”. So, if you don’t have kids, you should never consider yourself unrewarded. In fact, I’m pretty sure that some of us who at present are parenting teenagers have considered returning our rewards to the Giver a time or two. ; )

But I am so very thankful that I do view my children as beautiful gifts from God. They are likened to arrows in the hands of a warrior in this psalm, and what is an arrow in the hands of a warrior but the tool that makes him even more effective at his job?

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending a brunch that my son’s tutorial put on for the church that allows the program to be held in its building. It so happens that this is a congregation of believers that largely consists of senior citizens, quite a few over the age of 75. So as I served, and then as I sat down to eat with these folks, I looked at the stark contrast of the fresh faced junior high and high school aged students and the white-haired elderly believers they were eating with. I saw those students conversing and smiling with radiant faces as they interacted with their elders, who seemed to be obviously enjoying the experience as well. And then the pastor of the congregation stood up and talked about how much their congregation enjoyed and was blessed by these fine Christian young people, and my heart just welled up with joy to be a part of such a group of people. (And my son wasn’t even there!) But it was obvious that these children were a blessing to these folks. And when our kids ARE trying to serve the Lord with their lives, that day I saw that they ARE like an arrow that we are sending out into the world, and they do extend our ministry to the world.

So, anyway, if anyone is still reading this, I just want to encourage you to examine the work that God has put in front of you to do, and to ask Him if perhaps it has gone off course and in any way become a “labor in vain”. And then ask Him to help you take any steps you might need to take to correct your course.

Here’s my version of the psalm, for what it’s worth:

Lord, You are the Divine Builder,
and if You don’t build my house,
I might as well be homeless.

Lord, You are the Divine Watchman,
and if You don’t watch over my family,
I might as well take the doors off
and invite the wolves in.

All this staying up late and getting up too early
profits nothing.
You’ve designed sleep to be a blessing
for the ones you love.

My children are indeed a heritage
and a reward from You, Lord!

Our children are a most effective tool
to extend our impact on the world –
and I am blessed to have a full toolbox.
May they never put me to shame –
and may I never put them to shame!

At the end of the day, may my life NOT be like the run down shack pictured above. May it NOT be found to have been a “Labor in Vain”.

I wish the same for you, as well.


Yum
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