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“Unless the Lord builds the house”

My wife gave me a “verse of the day” this morning — this isn’t habitual, and she had a slight grin on her face when she read it for me. But as she was reading Psalm 127:1-2, and as I was reflecting on it afterwards, this small act on her part was a beautiful picture of how God makes the husband-wife relationship one of necessary interdependence.

First, the passage: “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 vain that you rise early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep.”

The revolutionary nature of this verse on where my heart has been cannot be overstated. It is good for us to labor–clearly, this verse supports that. However, it is fleeting, pointless, without lasting value, IF I do it apart from the simple belief that God, not me, will make the labor beneficial.

For example, when I sit down to grade a pile of essays, I am daunted. This is largely because I feel that my grading is the only factor that will impact my students’ writing. And, while I need to be ever pursuing a form of writing feedback that most benefits my students, I am not grading in a Christ-exalting way if I believe that my feedback effectiveness is the only factor that will impact my students. This is obvious in any school: some of the most technically sound writing feedback practices yield relatively small results, and some of the most technically unsound practices yield inordinately large results. There are factors at play in any classroom that are intangible; in my classroom, I must remind myself that that factor is and always has been God.

For the skeptic, this faith need not cause squirminess: what is the problem with a teacher who is dedicated to excellence, but who also does not suffer burn-out because he/she is not placing impossible pressure on him/herself? Such faith encourages the flourishing of both student and teacher.

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Series: How to Stay in our Job “with God”: Creative Productivity for a Purpose

2. We make much of Christ in our secular work by the joyful, trusting, God-exalting design of our creativity and industry.

Creative Productivity for a Purpose

There is a lot underneath this heading in John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, but I’ll try to summarize it all here with a sentence from Piper:

“…[T]he essence of our work as humans must be that it is done in conscious reliance on God’s power, and in conscious quest of God’s pattern of excellence, and in deliberate aim to reflect God’s glory (141).

There’s enough meat in that one sentence to keep me busy in my secular workplace for the rest of my life! In short: we work in our secular workplaces with God when we strive for creative productivity for a purpose.

“As Good as Prayer”

Piper also addresses a common error made by well-meaning folks of faith in their secular workplaces: neglecting the responsibilities of our jobs in favor of “exercises of devotion” (e.g., prayer, Bible reading, fasting)–in other words, “personal piety to the neglect of secular duties”–is hypocritical (141). Jonathan Edwards once wrote about his wife as an example of the opposite of this error: “worldly business has been attended with great alacrity, as part of the service of God; [she declared] that it being done thus, ’tis found to be as good as prayer;” (quoted in Piper, 141).

Piper goes on: “True personal piety feeds the purposeful work of secular vocations rather than undermining it. Idleness does not grow in the soil of fellowship with God” (142).

Summary

The second way to bring God to work is:

  1. Consciously relying on his power
  2. Consciously shaping the world after his excellence (and thereby doing excellent work)
  3. Thereby being satisfied in him.
  4. Thereby having Him glorified in us.

Application

For me as a public school English teacher, excellent work means:

  • Grading papers in a manner that is most helpful to students.
  • Grading with honesty and accuracy on all graded assignments.
  • Planning lessons not with teacher ease as the highest priority, but with whatever will most effectively make the lesson accessible and meaningful to students.
  • Incorporating a moral bedrock to all classroom instruction, both with words and with deeds.