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. 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.
If I were to name a theme verse for me for 2013, Psalms 127:1-2 would be it.
In the last quarter, I spent a lot of time trying different things to get ahead in my job (I’m self-employed, which provides me with the flexibility of time to write). I did a ton of traveling and running to different trade shows. There was little return.
God started bringing verses like Psalms 127:1-2 my way, as well as others like these:
O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.
I had been running hard and fast, and was taking little time to ask God what He wanted me to do. Or maybe, I just wasn’t listening. He was saying to slow down, seek His counsel, listen and look for His answers, and then obey. I think that sometimes slowing down and listening is hard because we really don’t want to hear the answer, especially if it’s “No.” We want to do what we want to do and then pray that it all works out.
That approach can get expensive… and painful. I’ve had to relearn this lesson many times over the years… seek, listen, and obey. There have been times when God’s given me a clear answer and I went the wrong way (like Jonah), with severe consequences.
I used to think it was hard to hear from God. Now I believe He will surely answer us, through His word, people, the Holy Spirit, and/or circumstances. The problem isn’t always in the hearing, it’s in being willing to slow down, and then comes the hard part – obedience. Gulp. If the answer is “no” or “stop,” then I have to give up what I want to do and obey.
The things other Christians say don’t always help. “What’s your plan? What is your vision for the future?” I can make plans, and I’ve built up a vision on my own before, but there have been times when they had nothing to do with the Lord’s plans. There was a time when I made a grand vision for what I wanted the ministry to be, and spent extended time praying and fasting for it to happen. But during the time of prayer and fasting, all God did was convict me of sin. A lot. By the time the prayer was over, He hadn’t said one word about my vision or plans. He did show me a lot of pride and how I’d hurt others, though.
I think a lot of American Christians are probably doing flesh-ministry. I’ve done plenty of that. It’s all about their plans, visions, programs, and goals. Little time is spent on their knees saying “God, what do you want me to do?” Instead, it’s “Hey God, I’m gonna do this great thing for You today, please bless me and make it happen!”
This year I’ve been trying to take “Unless the Lord builds the house” to heart and get my directions from Him in the morning. I do make plans, but I’m working to pray and ask Him more instead of charging ahead without with my Creator.
Prayer takes work and self-discipline. It goes against the grain of our mad, spun out of control lives. We have to force ourselves to slow down, push the screaming demands of the day aside, and listen for what God wants to say.
One big key to walking with God is humility. “Not my will but Thine be done.” Easy say, hard to live out. Truth is, I want my way. I don’t want to slow down. I want to chart my course. Our pride balks at prayer because it knows if God tells us to do something we don’t want to do, like forgive the person we’re angry at regardless whether they ask for it or not, we’ll have to let our pride die.
I got instruction from God on that very thing this morning. Yesterday a business deal went south and the other person wouldn’t take ownership in their part. He probably never will. I was starting to bite on bitterness and the want for revenge a little. The Lord came to me and had me send him a gift card along with a thank you note. Nuts. There goes my pride again. I’ve heard some people say that we should wait for the other person asks for forgiveness first, but there’s many times where that’s not going to happen, so we have to choose between forgiveness without pre-conditions, or holding onto bitterness and becoming miserable. As soon as I bought the gift card, I felt a sense of peace.
Sometimes “God building the house” doesn’t make sense to us. And it can conflict with the advice other Christians give us. I used to think that if three or four of my Christian friends agreed that I should proceed with a plan, but there have been times when the Lord kept convicting me and saying “No, don’t go there.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the counsel of others, but sometimes God wants us on our knees before we go and ask twenty people, who have no idea what the Lord wants to do in our life, what to do. (Or were we really just trying to build a consensus to justify want we wanted?)
There are mornings when I don’t get anything specific from the Lord, and then I just proceed as usual, trying to stay as flexible as possible. We just never know who or what He might bring or way.
Lord, show us how you want to build the house.