Do you know that feeling you get when you’ve made up your mind to do something, and suddenly all you can think about is how to accomplish it? This can be a big purchase, a life transition, or anything similar. But it’s something that will take planning, and a good bit of hard work.
I’m currently in a season where I’ve decided to move – hopefully to a safer neighborhood and a nicer apartment. It’ll require me to do some saving and extra work to make it happen. And it’s in the midst of this planning and saving that God led me to Psalm 127.
As I read these words, I could tell that He was reminding me, “I am the one who builds the house. I am the one who guides your steps. You can earn all the money in the world, but it’s me who decides what you will do with it. Trust in my plan, not yours.”
It’s humbling to remember that even if we work hard and save plenty of money, if our plans are not in line with God’s plan, it just isn’t going to happen. That’s not to say that our plans and God’s will never align, but we need to be seeking after Him first, and our plans and priorities second.
But if we are working hard towards our goals, does Psalm 127 mean to say that we should just sit back--to “let go and let God”? When you compare this verse to the many Proverbs about hard work, it begs the question: in times of transition, should I work diligently, or sit back and trust God to take care of things? I believe the answer is: both. Let’s take a look at Scripture, to see how we can respond faithfully when it seems that God is guiding us towards a big change.
Anyone familiar with early American history and Protestant work ethic will know the Bible has lots to say about working hard:
From the first chapters of Genesis onward we see that humanity was made to work, not to be idle. When God created man, He placed him in the Garden of Eden and immediately put him to work naming the animals. This was before Genesis 3, when sin and pain entered the world, so we can correctly assume that this work was not the drudgery that we have all experienced; it was pleasant work.
Many of the Proverbs compare the sluggard, or a lazy person, with someone who diligently works hard. In these examples, the speaker always encourages his reader to turn from laziness and reap the rewards of hard work.
Work was meant by God to be a good thing! But it is easy for us in our sinfulness to twist it into something more important than God intended. We can work hard, see the fruits of our labor, and decide that hard work and perseverance are all we need to succeed and be happy. We turn work into an idol.
In seasons when God is guiding us toward a change, this mindset is so easy to fall into. Even if the change is something good and godly – like buying a new church building to reach more people in the community, or raising funds to adopt a child and give them a loving home – we must remember that we are ultimately not the ones making this change happen. God is.
Let’s look again at these two verses, and break them down to apply to our situation of working towards a big change:
The first verse gives us two examples of good work that’s being done incorrectly: someone building a house, and someone guarding a city. One, I would assume, is working for himself in building a house, while the other is working for a large group of people as a guard. But regardless of what sort of work they are doing, personal or professional, if the Lord is not at the center, then it’s all for nothing. They shouldn’t even bother.
But that doesn’t mean that as faithful believers, we should sit on our hands and wait for God to drop opportunities in our laps. We need to put in some leg work to achieve our goals; the issue is how? In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus tells a story of two builders:
Jesus is assuring us of two things here: first, that storms will come in this life, no matter what you are leaning on. But He also assures us that He is our rock, and if we build our lives on that rock, we will have the strength and wisdom to withstand the storm. Our best-laid plans will simply fall apart without the firm foundation that Christ offers.
The second verse in this short passage reprimands the workaholic. My ESV translation of Psalm 127:2 says “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” (emphasis added). That phrase “anxious toil” stood out to me as it paints a picture of someone who can never work hard enough. They work long hours and barely stop to eat, believing that if they do, they won’t earn enough. They won’t be enough if they rest. What a miserable existence.
But our modern society is not one that prioritizes rest very well. Numerous self-help books and blogs will tell you how to get rich quick if you just work hard enough. Most people are encouraged to have a five-year plan with a goal and steps for how they will get there. The mark of a great person is often someone who “grinds,” or works harder than anyone else to achieve their goals.
The verses we listed above remind us that hard work is good. But it should not be prioritized over rest. God grants sleep – rest – to his beloved people. He even made rest a commandment for the Israelites: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
When we are planning for a big change--a move, a pregnancy, a new car, a bigger church building--we can easily get wrapped up in working so hard to make those things happen. But stopping to rest, both physically and spiritually, is an important part of that. Remember, it isn’t us building the house on our own. Pause and pray about this transition.
Have you thanked God for giving you the opportunity to work and earn extra money? Have you asked Him for wisdom and guidance as you plan this new thing? Have you just paused to worship Him and tell Him what you are excited about?
Listen for what His plan is. Maybe take a nap. And then get back to work.
Big changes can be so exciting! Humans aren’t meant to stay the same way our whole lives. But moving from one life phase to another often takes a lot of planning and work. And while that planning part can often feel stressful, it doesn’t have to be. Psalm 127 reminds us that the weight is not on our shoulders alone. If you’ve prayed about this change and are faithfully following Christ in your everyday life, then be confident in the steps you are taking. We are free to work hard when the time is right for that, and we are free to take naps when we need them, too.
Be a good steward of the time, money, and resources that God has given you. Be open-handed if other ministry opportunities arise. But above all, move forward confidently and prayerfully as God leads you into this new, exciting phase of life.
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Bethany Pyle is the editor for Bible Study Tools.com and the design editor for Crosscards.com. She has a background in journalism and a degree in English from Christopher Newport University. When not editing for Salem, she enjoys good fiction and better coffee.