There is a storm surge that rages against us on our journey into the presence of God. It sends the winds and the rain and the floods to our doors. As the waters rise, we can become overwhelmed with fear and doubt, despair and dread. The storm can soak our soul with anxiety about the present and the future. It can paralyze us on our journey, and we need something that will help. Today, I would like for us to hear Christ’s Word to us spoken centuries before His earthly ministry.
His Word in Psalm 127 gives us the principles for productivity on this journey regardless the storm surge raging around us. This is a song of hope in times of trouble and difficulty.[i] It provides hope for us today in a culture and a climate that seems to breed trouble and difficulty for our adventure from here to heaven’s throne-room.
1. We must seek God’s guidance on our journey
We will have a productive journey as we travel in God’s presence when we recognize that only God’s plan will lead to productivity.[ii] If God is not building, then we are working in vain.[iii] The principle in this passage is against doing anything in which God is not involved.[iv] “Unless” in the first verse indicates a desire on God’s part.[v] If God is not the originator, organizer, and craftsman of our project, then we have gotten busy in futility. The secret to great productivity is to seek God’s best.
Suppose I travel to fish a stream that I have never fished before. I do the research on the water to find what the fish will bite at this particular time of year and under the weather conditions I encounter. But when I hit the water, I catch nothing. I try every trick I know, but all I catch is a cold. So, I go to the local fly shop and hire a guide who is an expert on that particular stream. He works with me, giving me instructions on what flies to use and where to cast and how to fish. But I refuse to do what the guide says. I still work hard at catching trout, but the guide, who is the expert on this stream, gives me instructions that I do not follow. I flail along the stream and catch no fish. Why? Because I didn’t adjust my fishing to the guide’s instruction.
God is the Guide and the Expert on our lives, our families, our relationships, our work. He did more than learn about it. He created it. If we do not adjust our lives to His design, then we are working in vain. God’s role is to provide the design and to protect and provide for His people. Our role is to obey. To follow His instruction. To trust God in the midst of our journey.
Productivity on this journey through life into the presence of God happens when we hear His instructions and obey. We find His guidance through the embrace of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We find His guidance as His Spirit awakens in your heart and mine a renewed commitment to His Word. He opens our hearts to hear and to see, to taste and to feel the power of His wisdom for the journey we undertake.
2. God will passionately take care of us
The psalmist teaches that God must be the Protector and Provider.[vi] Our tireless efforts to fulfill this journey is unproductive – even though we take the safest course of action and the most conservative outlook possible – if God is not present with His protective activity.[vii]
We find confidence in conflict and chaos when Christ is in control of our lives. When we trust Him, He will accomplish more in our sleep than if we worry and fret through this journey in our own strength. The power of this principle is that Christ promises to provide the rest needed for His beloved.[viii] “Beloved” is not a term that is used by God for the whole of humanity, but it is a term that denotes a personal relationship and fellowship that exists between God and the family.[ix] So, what the psalmist teaches us this morning is that we will have rest (confidence) when we walk in fellowship with God, when we trust Him to take care of us.
The One who called light out of darkness is the One caring for us today. The One who led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, who brought forth manna, quail, and water to His beloved. The One who gave His instruction manual to a rebellious people that they might know the best way to live. The One who sent a fish to swallow a prophet so that He might bring salvation to a pagan people. The One who made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The One who is the perfect Father — who will certainly provide perfect blessings to those who love Him and obey Him. He will take care of us.
3. God uses people to help us
The psalmist finally moves to the principle of people God uses to help us make this journey. He uses images to describe relationships that we have with others.[x] The image of “arrows” depicts the security that God provides through relationships.[xi]
I was talking with one of the Single Adults in our church recently. She is a single mother with challenges far beyond what I could ever imagine. In the midst of her difficulties, she told me that this church was her family. God uses the church to help us fulfill God’s dream for our lives on this journey into His presence.
Many years ago, researchers interviewed former prisoners of war to see what methods were most effective in breaking their spirit. They learned that physical torture wasn’t the most effective tool of the enemy. It wasn’t the bamboo splinters plunged underneath the fingernails. It was solitary confinement. It was being separated from friends. The researchers also learned that the soldiers found strength to survive the tough times from the close-knit friendships they had among other soldiers in the prison camp.[xii]
God uses friends who love Jesus to help us make this journey into His presence productively. A friend that loves us at all times, even tough times (Prov 17:17). A friend like Jesus who sticks to us like glue (Prov 18:24) and who sharpens us for whatever turn our journey may take (Prov 27:17). We need people in our lives who will stand up for us. Friends and family who “go to bat” for us in the public arena. Friends and family from whom we find God’s favor and strength to move forward today and tomorrow on this journey to the summit.
Lord, I pray that I might be a friend to that person You have for me to encourage today. That I might trust myself to Your care, no matter what. I pray that I might follow Your plan and depend upon Your design to make this journey productively.
[i]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 167-68. “If vv 1-3 are interpreted with reference to the past, it is hardly possible to avoid relating them to the return from the exile and the rebuilding of the temple and city of Jerusalem. . . . Either the verse or the whole psalm is probably post-exilic.” See, M. Dahood, Psalms III: 101-150, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970), 217-18. Dahood proposes that the entire psalm is a reference to the past and that it is a pre-exilic account. See, A. Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, trans. H. Hartnell, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 760. Weiser does not attempt to provide an historical backdrop, but relates the psalm to “the cult community’s expectation of salvation in times of adversity.” A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, 2 vols., NCB (London: Oliphants, 1972), 2:131. Anderson also contends for a post-exilic date.
[ii]G. Campbell Morgan, Notes on the Psalms (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1947), 257. As G. Campbell Morgan wrote poignantly: “Jehovah is the one Worker . . . He is the one and only Strength of His people. He must build the house and guard the city. He must be the Partner in toil, giving to His beloved even when they rest in sleep, after the toil is over.”
[iii]James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 22. “The vanity of human endeavor, apart from divine surveillance and active support, comes to expression in Ps 127:1-2.”
[iv]F. B. Meyer, Psalms: Bible Readings (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, nd), 153; Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 454. Kraus suggests that the three-fold repetition of awv “emphasizes the senselessness of all painstaking endeavor undertaken without Yahweh.”
[v]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 441. He writes that the project will either “be the Lord’s doing or it will be pointless; there is no third option.”
[vi]The qal participle of the verb shamar means the one who keeps, guards, and preserves.
[vii]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 454. He writes: “The watchman’s busy activity on the lookout guarantees no protection for the city; it is ‘in vain’ if Yahweh is not present with his protective power.”
[viii]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 455-56. “Yahweh continuously takes a personal part in the life of human beings. More than that: he alone is the Lord who creates and preserves life. All toiling and worrying on the part of the human being that goes on without him is in vain. Human beings live exclusively because of Yahweh’s intervening, protecting, and giving. He lives because of the presence of God.” For an examination of the formula (127:2), see, F. Bussby, “A Note on anv in Psalm 127, 2,” Journal of Theological Studies 35 (1945): 306-307 and J. A. Emerton, “The Meaning of anv in Psalm CXXVII, 2,” Vetus Testamentum 24 (1974): 15-31.
[ix]The term yādîd [BDB, 391] is used in prophetic literature to describe the relationship between the husbandman and his family.
[x]The psalmist portrays the picture of God’s super-impending project of the family. God has given a lasting legacy to His people in the creation of the family. Our future is dependent upon the gift of God to provide something that lasts for our lives. Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, 456; Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 441. Kidner writes: “God’s gifts are as unpretentious as they are miraculous. The two halves of the psalm are neatly illustrated by the first and the last paragraphs of Genesis 11, where man builds for glory and security, to achieve only a fiasco, whereas God quietly gives to the obscure Terah a son whose blessings have proliferated ever since.”
[xi]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 181.
[xii]S. v., “Grouped for Strength,” Our Daily Bread (Feb 11, 2001).