Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. Psalm 127:1
Most of us have worked hard to get to where we are today. If you’re like my wife and me, you periodically reflect back over your years of co-laboring. In our case, we can hardly believe it’s been forty-three years. I was in my second year of seminary in Scotland. We had just enough savings between us to squeak through the year. By the time we got back to the states, I had decided not to pursue ministry as a profession but was unclear about what I would do as an alternative. We borrowed money from my mother for the first month’s rent and security deposit on an apartment. No furniture, no job, no prospects, and practically no money. Our future was uncertain, but that didn’t seem to matter. We sat on the floor of the apartment the day we took possession, looked around, and couldn’t have been happier. We were fueled by love, hope and faith. We knew we’d be fine.
I wonder, if we were faced with the same circumstances today, would we be as confident and hopeful? What might we be thinking, feeling and saying to each other? Maybe I’d be ashamed that I’d put us in such a position. Perhaps I’d be fearful about how to navigate out of that rut at the age of 67. Wouldn’t want to impose on our children for help. Would the tenderness and partnership between us still be there? Enough to see us through? Or would we turn on each other, cast blame and make matters worse? I’d like to think there’s still enough faith, hope and love there that we’d be able to face that hypothetical together and find our way through it with the Lord.
Thankfully, that’s not our situation. However, this forces some questions: Who has been building the “house” of our lives over the years? Was it us? Was it the Lord? Did we build it and invite Him in, or did He build it and invite us in? These are tough questions. It’s easy to rationalize that we were trusting Him for direction and outcomes. Diligently doing our part to bang the nails with the hammer He gave us. The honest answer for me (my wife was and is better at this) is that there were times, even long stretches, where I “hammered” first and consulted later. There were other times, usually when I hit rough patches, when I asked my Builder-Foreman for assistance. He was always quick to respond, performing for or with me what I couldn’t accomplish on my own.
I suspect that if you were to take a spiritual photo of the “house” of your lives, it would be apparent who was building what at various points in the construction process. The better, more finished looking parts were the Lord’s craftsmanship. The obvious do- it-your-self parts were your handiwork. Is it perfect? No. Could it have been better? Of course. If we all could retrace our steps and do it over again, knowing what we now know about His faithfulness and effectiveness, would we give Him more control over the building? You bet we would. Hindsight. But here’s the thing–the house of our lives is still being built. The sagging ceiling in our marriages? The leaking basement in some of our family relationships? The wall cracks in certain friendships? The weakening support beams of health and finances? The broken seals in the windows of our earlier hopes and dreams? None of these are beyond repair or remodeling.
Labor Day commemorates the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. We take a day off from our labors to give tribute to those who labored before us. I’d like to propose a new holiday. We can celebrate it on the same first Monday in September. We’ll call it “Don’t Labor in Vain Day.” This is when we bring in the Inspector, take that spiritual photo, get the report, and call in the Contractor of Contractors to come in and take care of business. There’s no telling what He’ll be able to do that day. He works wonders.
You may be in a season of life where what you’re facing has required you to recalibrate your game-plan, make adjustments, change your expectations, realign your priorities. Whatever your circumstances, He who numbers every hair of your head is able to do exceedingly more with the rest of your life than what you’ve been able to do under your own labor up to this point. That’s not an idle pipe-dream. It’s a promise. His promise. Let’s remember that on this Don’t Labor in Vain Day.