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Psalm 127 (NIV)
1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labour in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat –
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
3 Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.
How many of our projects are exactly that, our projects? Even when we set out to do something for God, be it to plant a new church or to visit somebody in a hospital, are we motivated by the conviction that the Lord has laid it on our hearts to do this or could there be an element of our doing this according to our own agenda?
The psalmist has made it clear: whether the task is to build a house or to secure a city, unless it is the Lord’s initiative and unless the Lord is providing his cover over the activity, the effort is in vain. Toiling for any purpose, even for the simple purpose of earning sufficient to pay the food bills, is in vain if the work is contrary to what the Lord wants to be done.
That such work may be in vain is not always evident. We should not be amazed if the corrupt and the selfish seem to prosper in the short term. The vanity of their effort might be revealed in this life but, in most instances, revelation that their effort was in vain may have to wait until the life-to-come.
In Psalm 90: 17 we read the psalmist’s request, “May the gracious favour of the Lord our God be upon us: prosper the work of our hands, O prosper the work of our hands!”
We must be wary of starting a work and only then asking the Lord to bless it (or “prosper” it) rather than embarking on a work because it is the Lord’s work which he is calling us to undertake. In the latter case we can ask with confidence for blessing and a prospering of the work of our hands in the knowledge that the Lord’s work will not be thwarted.
Let us resolve to pray before planning, to pray before commencing anything and to pray throughout an activity so that the Lord’s work continues unhindered and our obedience is rewarded with progress for his glory and for the advancement of his kingdom.