"You canít take our photo, Mister!"
"Why is that, sonny?"
"íCause youíve got the lens cap on!"
Probably all of us have been in a situation where we have been caught out like that.
One September school holidays we drove for three hours from Brisbane to Girraween National Park. We arrived around 7.30pm, found a suitable site, laid the tent out and pegged down the corners... Thatís when we discovered that weíd left the poles behind.
Fortunately, a friend in Stanthorpe put up the party for the night while two of us drove back for the indispensable poles! That didnít happen again!
No matter how well organised and prepared we may be in every respect, we are thwarted by our failure in the one vital missing element.
Psalm 127 speaks in the same way about the absolute necessity of including the Lord in all our thinking, planning and actions. Three examples are given of actions which are "in vain" - though we should take these are illustrations for the whole of life.
"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour 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" (Ps. 127.1-2).
The Psalmist (probably Solomon) isnít suggesting that we donít have hard work to do - whether in building the house, guarding the city or toiling for food. The imaginary world of Mary Poppins seems to express the secret hope of many that life can go on without any work at all. But itís not so!
He is saying that we need to build, guard and toil with the Lord - depending on the Lord to guide us and to fill our homes with his presence and love and blessing; to guide our civic leaders and to surround our community with the mantle of his protection; to bless our farming efforts with both water and sunshine and a plentiful harvest.
Those words at the end of verse 2 are significant - "for he grants sleep to those he loves". The margin gives another possible translation - "for while they sleep he provides for those he loves".
While our human work is never "done" in the final sense, yet the person who trusts in the Lord will find genuine rest. The final word is not the measure of completeness we may achieve, but with the Lord himself. Without him all our works are "in vain".
The Psalm goes on to speak of the blessing of children - not just "sons", but "children" - girls as well as boys. In those days, there was special significance in having sons as they could help defend the family against aggression and in defending the family in civil cases - "in the gate" is where such cases were discussed and decided.
Children are "a heritage from the Lord" and "a reward from him". What a marvel children are! They are ours genetically, yet each one is unique, and raising them is mostly a loving, rewarding task.
But children are not just "our work, but Godís gift. Once again, we need to keep the wonder of Godís love and presence and gift consciously in our minds and in our family life.
When the Crystal Palace Exhibition opened in 1851, people flocked to Londonís Hyde Park to behold the marvels. One of the greatest marvels back then was steam power. Steam ploughs were on display. Steam locomotives. Steam looms. Steam organs. Even a steam cannon.
Of all the great exhibits that year, the first-prize winner was a steam invention with seven thousand parts. When it was turned on, its pulleys, whistles, bells, and gears made a lot of noise, but, ironically, the contraption didnít do a thing! Seven thousand moving parts made a lot of commotion... but had no practical use.
With the high-tech era we live in, itís easy to confuse activity with accomplishment, to be fooled into thinking that the sound of gears and pulleys - or the dazzling effects on the computer screen - mean that something important is being done.
Unless the Lord is in all our activity, it is all "in vain". Our greatest need is to depend on the Lord in all that we do. He makes all the difference.
|Prayer: Eternal Lord, we spend so much time admiring our human achievements - the seeming permanence of our structures, the cleverness of our inventions, our persistence in seeking solutions to the health and nutritional needs of our race... And yet, Lord, our human weaknesses are showing - our inability to share the resources of the world, to change sinful human nature, to find peace... Our world is such a hive of whirring activity - and violence - all piped nightly into our living rooms... Apart from you, it is all in vain. So teach us, Lord, to live with you and to depend on you in all we do. In Jesusí name, Amen.|
of the sky,
that crunch numbers
and process words
and fling them
around the globe,
so we feed people
Who or what
all seem to question
"Unless the Lord
builds the house,
labour in vain".
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