BY JORDAN MAYER
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
With a new year comes an endless array of new year’s resolutions. Renewed motivation leads many to try something new, make a change, or chart a new path. There is something exhilarating about looking ahead to 365 new days, fresh with potential and ripe with possibility. Though the specific goals may vary, they usually fall into some common themes.
Health and fitness usually take top billing. Most people want to “eat healthier”, “get in better shape”, “slim down”, “lose weight”, or any number of variations therein. There are career goals like getting a promotion or finally moving into a new role. Some set financial goals to save more money or finally pay off a debt. Others commit to stopping a bad habit or starting a good one.
Resolutions, like goals, can be a great tool for giving us direction and something to work towards. But are our resolutions merely about us? Are they only about what we want to do, be, or accomplish?
Resolutions present an opportunity. They can either be just for our personal accomplishment, or they can be to the praise of His glory. They can make much of ourselves, or they can make much of God.
So we come to Psalm 127. Tucked within these opening verses is a truth about not just what we pursue, but how we pursue it. There is a vanity in which we can strive after the things we are trying to accomplish. They may even be extremely worthwhile pursuits like building a house or keeping a city safe! Noble they may be, the issue lies in the manner in which they are done. If our God is a God of peace, then “the bread of anxious toil” does not sound like the kind of bread He would provide. Instead this is the fruit of our own labor. It comes from a heart that’s trying to do it all and control it all. The anxiety comes in realizing that no matter how much we do, it is never enough. It is what makes the Preacher cry in desperation, “…Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3)
Whatever we may pursue, if the Lord is not in it, the pursuit is in vain. If we merely exercise to look or feel a certain way, we exercise in vain. If we strive to climb the corporate ladder for personal accomplishment, we work in vain. If we take on a new hobby for our own gratification, we enjoy in vain. The same is also true for seemingly “spiritual” pursuits. If our study of God’s Word is for our own theological prowess, we study in vain. If we pray to fill some imaginary quota, we pray in vain. If we sing worship for an emotional experience, we sing in vain.
1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us that all of life - whatever we do, think, or say - can be done for God’s glory. So as we set and pursue the resolutions that are before us, let us do so from a heart of faith. Let us seek God in the things that we pursue. And as we seek Him, we receive His beloved sleep. We enter into the rest that God has prepared for His people (Hebrews 4:9-10). Rather than the bread of anxious toil, we partake in the bread of life (John 6:35)