Work and Family Wisdom, Psalm 127

Well, it’s one of the greatest days of the year… even if it was kind of an afterthought.  If you know a little of the history behind Father’s day, you know there was Mother’s Day first and there was just Mother’s Day for years.  Then people decided we had better have a Father’s Day so the dads don’t feel left out and totally unappreciated.  And you know, we don’t make as big a deal out of this day as we do Mother’s Day.  One little boy defined Father’s Day aptly I think when he said, “It’s sort of like mother’s day, but you don’t have to spend as much on the present”.  But that’s okay.  I’ll still take it.  And it’s probably rightfully so that Mother’s Day gets a little more attention because they’re often the ones at home more with the kids.  But I decided not to treat Father’s Day as less important than Mother’s day, at least in my preaching.  So just as we looked at a passage especially for mothers for few weeks ago, we’re going look at a passage especially for fathers today.  I’d like us to turn to the book of Psalms and to Psalm 127.

This Psalm deals with two main areas of concern for most men, two areas that often compete with each other for our attention and energy.  The two areas are our work and our family.  I suspect many of you men, like myself, wrestle with how much time to give to each.  Should you work more so you can provide more for your family and maybe if you work more now you can advance your career and get yourself in a position where you are making more so then you can spend more time with your family, or should you work less now and spend more time now with your family?  You probably also wrestle with, “What work can I do that would be the most profitable?  And how can I best take care of my family?”.  Well, this Psalm offers some insight about work and family that may not totally answer those questions for us, but if we take it to heart, it will certainly lead us in the right direction.

Read this Psalm 127 first…

If the things this Psalm say are true, then there are three decisions we should make.  First, which I get from verse 1, is…

We should decide to never work on something independent of God. 

Look at verse 1, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchmen keeps awake in vain”.  And of course that’s not only true for building houses and guarding cities, but for anything we might want to build or guard, which is a lot of the work we do, making and preserving stuff.  Some build homes, barns, and gardens.  Some build businesses and cliental.  Some of us might even be building a nice body with building muscles.  Some are building relationships, assets, or retirement funds.  And we’re guarding stuff, maintaining stuff, preservers of all kinds of stuff.  Unless we have the Lord’s approval and support in what we’re doing, we do it in vain.  If we’re working independent of God our efforts are futile, worthless.

Now, you probably know from experience that finding out that you just spent time and effort and maybe even money on something in vain is about the most infuriating thing in the world.  I can vividly recall a few occasions where I’d worked for hours on a paper for school, or a sermon, only to have my computer crash and erase it all.  I can remember wanting to throw the computer against the wall.  I remember on a road trip missing an exit and then realizing an hour and half later that I’d been driving the wrong direction, so all that driving was in vain.  Not a happy moment.

You don’t want to spend your strength and time and resources in vain.  We only get so much of it in this life.  We want to spend it in ways that have lasting value.  And the only way our work is not going to be in vain is if it has the Lord’s approval and support.

Let me give you couple examples from the Bible that immediately come to my mind.  Genesis 11, a few generations after the flood, God told people, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”.  They said, “Fruitful and multiply, yes.  Fill the earth, no.  Let’s instead stick together and build us a tower that reaches to heaven and in doing so make a name for ourselves that will be remembered and praised in future generations.”.  So that’s what they worked on for a while, independent of God, God wasn’t with them in the effort but He let them do as they chose.  I don’t know how many years they worked on it.  But God eventually stopped their operation and made them spread out over the earth as He told them to in the first place, by erasing from their minds the knowledge of the one language that they all spoke, and making them speak a whole bunch of different languages so they couldn’t understand each other.  That caused them to separate into a bunch of little groups according to the different languages they spoke and spread out.  So all that tower building was for nothing.

Luke 12, a case that probably hits a little closer to home for us.  Jesus says there was a rich man who had these very productive fields.  He began reasoning with himself, “What am I going to do with all this?  I know what I’ll do.  I’ll tear down my old barns and build bigger barns and then I’ll store up all this grain and all my goods and then I’ll sit for many years to come, and I’ll retire and take my ease; eat, drink, and be merry”.  You know, just like the typical working American.  I’m going to work for X number of more years and get this and that paid off and have a nice retirement package and then I’m going take my ease, I’m going to golf and fish and travel and eat, drink, and be merry”.  Well, the guy worked hard long hours tearing down old barns and building new bigger barns and harvesting his fields and bringing in the produce and storing it in the barns.  It took a lot of work but eventually he had big barns filled with grain.  And then…  he died.  And God said to him, “You fool, now who’s going to own what you have prepared? Didn’t you know you were going to die like every other person on this earth? Didn’t you know you weren’t going to be here very long, and you might be leaving even sooner than you thought? All this work to have stuff where you’re not going to be.”.  You think having your computer crash and erase your paper is infuriating.  It will be the “gnashing of teeth” kind of anger when people find out that their entire life’s work was in vain and it didn’t have to be if they would have worked on what God wanted them to work on.  Then, in Luke 12 and the following chapters, Jesus talks about work we can do that amounts to storing up treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.  You’re not going to lose it, it’s work that has lasting value.  It’s that of giving and serving and becoming like Him and helping others to become like Him.

What is God interested in right now?  What work could you do to where God would say, “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Good idea, let’s do that and I’ll help you do it.”.  Well, it’s clearly not work just so we can take it easy and eat, drink, and be merry.  God is not really interested in our temporary comfort and ease and enjoyment here.  I mean He cares some about it.  He loves us.  But we’re not here very long and we’ve got all of eternity for enjoyment.  What He’s far more interested in right now is making people into the image of Jesus in their minds and character, because those are the people He wants with Him in His new creation, in the new heavens and the new earth.  And He’s called us to partner with Him in His mission.  This kind of work we could do to which God would say, “Yeah that’s what I’m talking about. Let’s do that, I’m with you.” is work that contributes to your own development into the image of Christ and to the development of others into the image of Christ.

For most of men this will involve a secular job.  Building houses, fixing cars, and flipping burgers can be part of working with God, because you have to have money and stuff in order to live and give and serve.  The more you have, the more you can do.  But let’s not work simply so we may take our ease, eat, drink, and be merry here because that’s working independent of God, it’s in vain and futile.  Again, we’re not staying here very long.  Let’s each think and pray about what work we can do that would be a part of what God is doing in the world, which would, in the biggest way, make you and your family and others like Jesus.

So that’s number one, we should never decide to work independent of God.  Number two…

We should decide to never neglect anything God tells us to do in order to get ahead financially.

But working so much to get ahead financially is one of the most common reasons why Christians don’t do all that the Lord tells them to.  They’re so worried about and having the money they’ll need in the future that they don’t have time for much prayer, worship, or learning God’s word, or attending to their kids in the way they need or loving, encouraging, and serving their fellow Christians in the ways they could, because they’re spending so much time chasing the dollar.

But read verse 2 again, “It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in His sleep”.  Now, the last phrase there can be translated one of two ways.  It can either be “He gives to His beloved sleep”, or it could be “He gives to His beloved even in His sleep”.  That’s how my version has it.  I think that’s the idea.

If you notice the little superscription above verse 1 that tells you about this psalm, it attributes this psalm to Solomon.  I think in verse 2, Solomon is probably alluding to an experience in his life.  Did you know Solomon had another name?  II Samuel 12:24-25, “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her; and she gave birth to a son, and he named him Solomon.  Now the Lord loved him 25 and sent word through Nathan the prophet, and he named him Jedidiah for the Lord’s sake”.  And so Solomon was also called Jedidiah.  And Jedidiah in Hebrew means “Beloved of the LORD”.  Now, you remember the occasion when Solomon, the beloved of the LORD, was the new king of Israel, and at the time, he loved and served the Lord.  One day after offering sacrifices to the Lord, the LORD appeared to him in a dream at night while he was sleeping and said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you. You get one wish, Solomon.  What do you want?”.  And of all the things Solomon could have asked for, Solomon asked for a wise and understanding heart so that he could judge and lead God’s people well.  And God’s response was “Solomon, because you asked for that rather than long life or riches or honor or the downfall of your enemies, I’m not only going to give you a wise and understanding heart, I’m also going to give you all that stuff that you didn’t ask for, long life and riches and honor and protection as long as you walk in my ways and keep my commandments”.  So what happened there?  God gave to Jedidiah, to His beloved, in his sleep.  I think Solomon may have been recalling that when wrote this verse, “It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep”.

Those who so trust God in that they decide to live His way rather than their own way; they are His beloved ones.  They’re going to make time for all that the Lord wants them to do and God is going to give to them while they’re sleeping.  And this is not saying if you trust and obey the Lord He’s going to come to you in a dream and grant you whatever you wish.  But God’s going to be at work for you while you’re not working, while you’re sleeping; to make sure you’re taken care of and have the things you need.  And if you do things His way, He will give to you, He will take care of you.  And so, it’s vain for you to work so much to get ahead financially that you don’t have time for other responsibilities.

In the midst of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is telling people how to live and work and treat people with their money, Jesus put it this way, “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on…  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?…  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown in the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?  You of little faith!  …  Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”.

You make it the priority of your life to be in His kingdom and to live righteously before Him.  You make time for various things He wants you to do, and God will work for you.  Even when you’re not working on the job, earning money (even though that’s part of what God wants you to do), and you’re doing other things God wants you to do instead, He’ll give to you, even while you’re sleeping.

So I see two decisions.  Number one, I should decide to never work independent of God.  And number two, I should never neglect anything the Lord tells me to do in order to get ahead financially.

And number three…

Take good care of your kids.

Let’s decide to give our kids the attention they need.  This is verse 3-5.  “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward.  4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth.  5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

So it says your kids are not burdens or expenses or responsibilities or interruptions to your life, but great blessings from God to you.  But, as you know, they are one of those gifts that have to be built and maintained in order for them to be the blessing that they are intended to be.  Have you ever gotten one of those gifts for Christmas?  It comes in a box with a picture on the front of what it can be, but it says “Assembly Required”, and inside the box are a thousand pieces and an instruction booklet.  And you could just focus on the “Assembly Required” part and all the work it’s going to take and think, “Oh thanks a lot for this, a chore, a headache”.  But you’re focusing on the wrong thing.  Yeah, it’s going to take a little work, but it’s worth it.  That’s what kids are.  They are likened here in verse 4 to arrows in the hand of a warrior.  Arrows were like the greates asset a warrior could have, they protected him from his enemies.  With arrows a warrior can defeat his enemies and save his home and gain the glory and spoil of war.

Kids can protect us and bless us in many ways.  Number one, I learned that even when they’re little they protect you from things, boredom for one thing.  There’s rarely ever a dull moment in my house since kids arrived.  Number two, they give you an excuse to play again.  I remember when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old and how saddened I was when my parents told me I was too old to go play in the play-place at McDonalds.  I just had to sit there with them and eat and watch my younger siblings play.  What a bummer.  But you know what?  Now I get to go back into the playplace at McDonald’s, because I have kids.  I even get to play ball again, wrestle, and watch those animated Disney movies that I secretly enjoy.  Number three, and a bigger thing they do for us, is protect us from selfishness.  They help shape us into servants as God want us to be.  They teach you patience like no other.  They’re blessings to shape our character into what God wants it to be, preparing us to be a part of God’s new creation.  And number four, if we work on them when they’re little, then as they get older they can become assistants.  They can help you with the yard work, with feeding the dog, fixing the car, the family business, whatever you’re doing, you can have helpers.  Number five, as they get older, they protect us from loneliness.  We have people to talk with, laugh with, play games with, share holidays with, etc.  And they continue to be our helpers; number six, as we get older they can be our care takers.  They can return the favor one day when we need them to.  Especially in Bible times, kids were your retirement package.  They didn’t have Social Security and these deals we have with our employers; where if we work so many years then we still get paid when we retire.  They depended on their kids when they got too old to work.  And finally, number seven, kids are a blessing in that they can enlarge our impact on the world.  I kind of see my boys like little soldiers that I’m training to fight the battle for souls when they get older.  And I can have a greater impact on the world because God’s given me these kids.

Proverbs 23:24, “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him”.

But in order for our kids to be all the blessing they can be, it takes some time and work.  Deuteronomy 6:6-7 the people of Israel were told, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up”.  It takes time and effort to do that.  Proverbs 13:24, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently”.  Which takes time and effort.  Proverbs 29:17, “Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul”.

You know, I’ve never met anyone over 65 years old who says, “I wish I had spent more time in the office”.  But many do say, “I wish I’d spent more time on those kids, building faith and character in them”.

So, in your memory bank, there should be three truths.  Number one, we should decide to never work independent of God, making sure we have the Lord’s approval in whatever we’re doing, so that we’re not working in vain.  Number two, we should never neglect anything the Lord tells us to do in order to get ahead financially, because the lord gives to His beloved even in their sleep.  And number three, we should especially give our kids the time and attention they need, so they can be all the blessing God intends them to be.

-James Williams

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