How Not to Waste Your Life
Psalms, Family, Priorities
There are few things quite as frustrating as working at something that turns out to be an apparent waste of time. In my attempts to write I have at times found that months of labor on a manuscript results in a book that is not worth reading. It is a frustrating time to debate whether you should keep trying to make the book better or whether you should simply conclude that the problem is that you really don’t have anything of significance to say.
You may have started to construct something, investing time and money, and then discovered that it wasn’t going to work. Or maybe you began a business all excited about the prospects before you only to lose your investment. Maybe you invested deeply in a relationship that didn’t work out. These are tough times. Consider how much worse it is to look back on your life and see that it was wasted?
In Psalm 127 the Psalmist teaches us how to avoid wasting our life. Psalm 127 was written, says the title, by Solomon. The words he writes here are similar to some of his reflections in another of his books in the Bible: Ecclesiastes. In that book Solomon repeatedly concluded that many of the things that are revered in our society are actually useless in bringing any meaning into our lives. Solomon repeatedly used the phrase “Everything is Meaningless” or “Vanity, Vanity.”
This Psalm has a little more narrow focus and it is not a Psalm of despair but one of perspective and hope. It is a “Psalm of Ascent” which means it was one of the Psalms Jewish pilgrims would recite while on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for a festival. In other words, this Psalm was like a creed that rehearsed core principles that people used to govern their lives.
Building Homes That Last
First, Solomon tells us how to build meaningful homes
1 Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.
We live at a time when parents tend to live their lives around the activities of their children. We want our children to be involved with many different activities. Our calendars are filled with events that we “need to get to” or we feel we are bad parents. We spend lots of money to make our children look good, to keep them occupied, and to educate them.
We want to do right by our children. However, this Psalm cautions us to not be so distracted with being a “super-parent” that we fail to do right by our children. He exhorts us to provide our children with a strong and healthy relationship with God or we will have wasted our time.
We try to build our families on many things,
• Scholarship . . . we want to raise families that are educated.
• Earning Potential . . .we want to raise families that are financially secure
• Enjoyments . . . we want to raise families that have great experiences
• Pedigree. . . we want families who are “well-connected’. We want them to “marry well” and to have a last name that will “open doors for them”.
• Appearance . . . we know that attractive people seem to get advantages so we put great amounts of money into matters of appearance (clothes, make-up, physique, and even cosmetic surgery)
These things are lauded by the world but are actually shallow and eternally meaningless. Our children could possess all these things and still be lost for eternity! They could have all these things and still be left searching for something of genuine meaning and purpose. They can have all this and still waste their life. The Psalmist says building on ANYTHING other than the work of the Lord is to labor in vain. It is chasing the wind.
Consequently, the first step to building a home that will last is to intentionally build our home on Jesus Christ. Sometimes we act like if we come to church with some regularity and talk about trusting the Lord at home spiritual roots will develop in our children on their own. That is like saying if we buy a nice car and sit in it often we will automatically go on great vacations! It doesn’t work that way! We must plan and act in accordance with where we want to go.
The goal must be more than helping our children become religious. Our goal must be to introduce them to the Lord of life in a deeply personal way.
But how do we do this? We start by showing our children that serving the Lord is a top priority in our own lives. Our children need to see the influence of Christ in our lives, in the way we use our time and by the priority we give to Him. They need to see His values reflected in our home by the things we deem important, the way we discuss the issues of the day, and by the way we spend our money.
We must teach our children how to put God first in their time (with worship, youth groups, and encouraging them to have a daily time of Bible reading and prayer), in their giving (we must train them to understand that giving is about showing God that He owns everything and we should use everything we have to honor Him), and in their interaction with others (we have to help our children think through ethical and interpersonal issues from a Biblical perspective). This kind of training MUST be intentional. It is just not a matter of forcing our kids to do these things . . . it is helping them to understand why these are good things to do. I think this is one of the strengths of our youth programs. The focus in not “to have a good time” (though we hope they will have a good time) the hope is to help our young people to learn how to think Biblically in life). To surrender this responsibility to chance would be like leaving your toddler in a crowded mall in a big city and expecting that they will find their way home. It would be foolish and dangerous.
The Privilege of Family
Jump to the end of the Psalm and you see the Psalmist driving home the same point by stating the importance of the trust that we have been given in our children.
3 Children are a gift from the LORD;
they are a reward from him.
4 Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
5 How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.
We must never forget that our children “are a gift from the LORD”. They are something God entrusts to our care. There is no such thing as an “accidental birth” in the eyes of Heaven. As parents we are to view our children as someone entrusted to us by God.
Think about how you feel when a friend or your grown children ask you to watch their child or children. You are eager to protect them and care for them. You want them to have a good experience with you. You want to be faithful to the enormous trust those parents have placed in you. The last thing you want is for something to happen to that child because of your negligence. In the same way, God has entrusted us with His children and we should treasure them and work diligently to guide them.
The idea of children being like arrows in a warrior’s hands is helpful. Chuck Swindoll writes,
A warrior in battle doesn’t stop to make his arrows, nor does he ignore them. He uses them. He directs them toward a target. A parent is responsible for the direction of his children. A child, like an arrow, is incapable of directing himself. It is the basic responsibility of parents to direct the early lives of their children.
We are all familiar with the words in Proverbs 22:6
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.
The New Living Translation translates this as: “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” This verse reminds us that a path a person takes as an adult is greatly impacted by the way they were trained as a child. In other words, if we do little to help our children learn what it means to believe (both by teaching and by the example of our own lives) in Christ, we should not be surprised that they have little (if any) faith as adults.
I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I want to nudge you in the right direction. I want to encourage you to START NOW if you are not already engaged in this important endeavor.
Training involves creating a spiritual appetite in our children and also helping them to break some of the sinful tendencies that are a part of all of our lives. This won’t be the same for every child. Different personalities require different approaches. Parents need to study their children and respond to the unique personalities of each child.
There is no greater joy as we grow in life than our children and grandchildren. There is nothing that provides greater comfort than to have your children near in a time of crisis. Leading our children well should be one of our most passionate priorities. The greatest tragedy of life would be to get to the end of our lives and not know whether our children would be with us in Heaven!
Building Lives that Last
The Psalmist is not just concerned about family (which admittedly is the foundation for our entire society). He is also concerned about our approach to life in general.
Unless the LORD protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.
2 It is useless for you to work so hard
from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
for God gives rest to his loved ones.
I don’t believe this is just about building cities. This is about the focus or passion of our lives. The point is simple: if God is not in something, it will not last and will be meaningless.
A Latin motto says, Nisi Dominus Frusta. It comes from the first words of this psalm and means “Without the Lord, Frustration.” It is the motto of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, appearing on its crest, and is affixed to the city’s official documents. It could be attached to the lives of many who are trying to live their lives without the Almighty.
Solomon warns us that if we are logging long hours trying to accomplish great things, but are doing it apart from the Lord . . .we are wasting our lives. Making more money, having more stuff, being able to retire early, trying to provide things that are nice for our lives and family, these things will not and cannot satisfy. We can find true rest, genuine satisfaction, only in the Lord.
Why do you do what you do? Some people say it is because they need to pay the bills. Others say they work hard to have money to enjoy life. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves unless that is the primary reason you are doing what you are doing.
The Psalmist questions this whole outlook and declares,
• God alone brings security
• God alone enables enjoyment
• God alone meets our needs and brings contentment
We have to change our mindset. I have read many management books that were designed to help you get more stuff done. I would try to implement these techniques but found myself only feeling more frustrated. Then I realized that the good management books were not saying you become more productive by doing MORE things. They were telling you that you become more productive by doing BETTER THINGS. We must determine what is most important and do those things. Sometimes that is throwing ourselves into a task, sometimes it is about withdrawing from the tasks to reflect, think, and concentrate. Living a meaningful life is about choices. The most important choice is to build our lives on the Lord. Paul told the Colossians,
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Col. 3:23–24).
Of course we need to do our jobs but we must not allow them to take over our lives. A wrecking crew or a demolition team can destroy in a few hours or days what it took engineers and builders months to plan and construct. A fire can destroy in minutes what it took a lifetime to build. A child in play can shatter a treasure you spent a lifetime saving to purchase. One maverick cell can lead to a rebellion that will strike down your healthy body with cancer. Just a little plaque in your artery can lead to a stroke or heart attack. One distracted driver can cripple you for life. One financial crisis can destroy your savings for retirement. A change in ownership or leadership could make the company you worked for a thing of the past.
Life is fragile. All the things we tend to rely on and yearn for are TEMPORARY. Solomon had everything the world could offer and one day he realized that in reality, he had nothing. He was going to die and leave it all behind.
When all is said and done God is not going to look at our resume or our tax returns. He will not be interested in our press clippings or how many friends we had on Facebook. He is not going to ask if we “had a good time”. The only thing that will matter is our heart and how we invested our lives. In 1 Corinthians Paul said,
12 Anyone who builds on that foundation [the foundation of the gospel] may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. [1 Corinthians 3:12-15]
This Psalm addresses a vitally important issue: Will the efforts of your life turn out to be meaningless? Are you wasting the precious time that you have been given by building a life out of wood, hay, or straw? Is there eternal significance to what you are doing? Are your passions directed to things that will last into eternity? Are you running fast in the wrong direction?
In terms of your family, are you preparing your children to be popular while doing nothing to prepare them for eternity? Are you urging them to be committed to their sports, activities and academics while encouraging a lack of commitment in the area of their relationship with God? Are you training them in godliness or are you just “hoping for the best” when it comes to matters of faith? These are important questions.
At the end of his larger work on these issues Solomon concludes the book of Ecclesiastes with these words,
Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. 14 God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. (Ecc. 12:13-14 NLT)
Solomon learned (and Jesus affirmed) that if you want to keep from wasting your life then you need to stop focusing on: getting compliments, making money, getting to retirement, making the team, finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, being popular, or any of the hundreds of other things we fixate on. Instead we should, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all the other things will take care of themselves.” (Matthew 6:33).
This is a promise you can build your life on. And if you do so, you will never regret it. When your life is over you will know that you have invested the years you were given in something that by God’s grace, will last . . . forever.