A Victim of Failure Returns to Joy – Psalm 127

Peter Eng




A Song of Ascents, of Solomon.

Psalm 127

1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
2 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.

3 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.

Unbearable Intensity. There are times when the truth of God comes upon me with such unbearable intensity that I become spiritually and mentally floored. I feel exhausted by the enormity of truth and there is no way I can speak about it, much less share it meaningfully. I was writing the series “Return to Joy” and became floored by Psalm 127. This is because I had experienced crushing failure and this psalm calls me to a joy that seems so far from personal reality and yet it strikes home with such intensity. Until I internalize it, until the Word of God has done its work in me, I cannot talk about it.

The Holy Spirit of God calls to my mind this psalm as we enter this New Year, and this article is first a lesson I need to articulate for myself, and then a lesson that may also bless your heart.

King Solomon built the first temple to the LORD, built a fledging nation, built his own palace, etc. This great builder of buildings is not talking about stone, brick or mortar. We know his emphasis when we see his exhortation to us about children in the second half of the psalm. There is truth here relevant to physical buildings and the defense of a city, but the normal person is to understand this psalm as the building of a household. This includes a physical home, but goes far beyond that. The home is for the development of the people, the children, in the home.

This psalm is placed in the collection called “Songs of Ascents,” songs used by Israelites when they journey to the temple in Jerusalem as returnees from the exile or as pilgrims. It is a song that celebrates God’s blessing after the experience of crippling failure.

The Israelites lost the war against the Babylonians. They were captured and sent into exile, and had only the clothes on their back. Some have enjoyed a measure of success after seventy years in exile, but they were all acutely aware of devastating loss experienced by their parents.

“We need to build our household in such a manner that God will bless.” That is the lesson that personal and national judgment from God has taught them. Some may have been obedient to God, but there is a national judgment and no one is spared the pain of that devastation. “Therefore, as a family and as a nation, we must now build with God’s blessings in view,” would be the singular resolve of a humbled people.

We can experience loss as the result of personal foolishness, or through the wrongs done by other people. Even when we did not do wrong, it is hard not to escape the feeling that God has not been good to us. We can see what we lose, but cannot see what we retain. We can see what we want, but cannot see what we have. And when we finally recognize the kindness of God even in the midst of adversity, we are ready to rebuild under a new commitment to live and work in such a way as to actively seek God’s blessings in what we do.

We Lose Our Joy When We

The life and work of a person living outside of God’s blessing is an incredibly busy life with little to show for it. We lose what we make. We rise up early and retire late. The food we eat is the meager wage of painful labor. But the one who is blessed by God is able to work in confidence, and sleep in peace. “For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” The Lord’s beloved is like an investor who continues to enjoy growth as he sleeps. He is like the farmer who does not have to watch his crops grow. He is the mom or dad who does not have to supervise the children’s education or the company they keep.

The truth of this psalm comes to us more powerfully in our modernity than at other times. We are so connected that there is no rest from work. We are reachable 24/7. We are reachable even when we are on vacation, when we are resting, or spending time with family. The curse of toilsome labor in place of fruitful labor comes with the fall of man, and with each passing year, we pierce ourselves with more rest-depriving technology.

Let 2014 be different. Let us discover the blessing of the Lord, even the blessing of rest.

But the courage to rest can be difficult. Solomon tells us that our hearts must be tuned right before we can rest. We must internalize the reality that “Unless the Lord builds the house, / They labor in vain who build it.” I know I tend to make “me” the first reference point in my labors, but I need to change that. The blessing of Yahweh has to be the first reference point. All my labor can be reduced to busy work unless the Lord builds my household. When we do God’s will, and do it God’s way, “He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”

I often hear investment trainers boast of how they make money work for them, or how others work for them. They do nothing and the money keeps coming in. God had already revealed this to Solomon 3,000 years ago. And the key to this is who builds the house. If God builds our household, which is focused more on the family than the assets used to run the family, the work continues even when we sleep. I find it amazing that God is saying, “I love, you, I don’t want you to be anxious, I want you to sleep well, and to this end I will continue to bless you even as you sleep.”

If I do not find 24 hours enough, it is not because God has made a mistake by creating days that are too short. I am not spending my time rightly. This is especially true if you are already very well organized and there is still not enough time in a day. The issue is then not organization but much deeper.

The blessing of the Lord that gives rest does not refer to cushy jobs. Some jobs will be tough! But even tough jobs must give way to rest; especially tough jobs—they must give way to rest.

Some Christians choose to believe that when they tithe, God will give them a good easy life. Other Christians choose to work as though God wants them to burn out and die prematurely. Neither is true. Labor is necessary for our well-being; so is rest.

How we labor and what we labor over are both vital. We cannot really labor and rest rightly until we know the object of our labor. One simple word defines out labor: children.

For people with biological children, the point is self-explanatory. We love our children and more than any other motivation for work, we are motivated by our children’s success in life. As much as this is natural, it is also inadequate.

Take a look at singles, the best example being Jesus himself. He had no biological children, but he labored, rested and unhurriedly did the work of God. And if skeptics will not believe him, just have them look at what he accomplished in 3½ years of work! Has any human, or can any mere mortal work 3½ years and accomplish what he did?

All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life.
James Allen

Today, 2.2 billion people, a third of the world’s population call themselves Christians. Jesus is the perfect example of how a person can be without biological children, and yet have more spiritual children than any biological act can produce.

In truth, he calls us to the same path when he says, “Go and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Behold, I am with your always, even to the end of the age.”(Matthew 28:19-10).

The victim of failure returns to joy when he restarts his life with God’s blessings in view. In view of the strong delusion going around Singapore, I need to specify that the life of success in our children (biological and spiritual), and in the ability to rest, is not the materialism that some preachers promise you. They say God will make you rich. That is not God’s reference point to bless you. He will bless you when you focus your life on raising godly children and give you the means to do so, including material means. And as you fulfill his will in your life, he will give you rest.

In New Testament language, raising godly children is called “discipleship.” When “making disciples” becomes the goal in our life, the blessings of fruitful labor and restful sleep described in Psalm 127 become our lot.

Failure is a call to reboot our life to live in the blessing of God, to realign and find success in building a household that is also the household of God.

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