It’s semester two of the Fellows year, and for most of us it’s easy to dilute that to meaning only one thing: job-searching. It’s the daunting phrase that is weighing some of us down, is the source of all excitement for others, or provides feelings from both camps.
We worry because we know we’re insufficient in our skills and expertise in a workplace that demands streamlined proficiency and competent performance. This realization leads us to a sincere crying out of “How will I ever be hired come May? What in the world do I have to offer?” But then again, we have spent the better part of the past four months being enlightened to new heights and depths of who God made us to be as his image-bearers, and how he has equipped us for every good work he has set before us in Christ to build His kingdom on earth. We’re excited to step up to the plate and take a swing, to vocationally begin weaving our thread in the Lord’s greater story.
If nothing else this year, we have learned that work is good. Created by the Lord before sin ever entered the world, work is something we are designed to need and in which we are to find a degree of fulfillment. Tainted by the fall and subject to all futility and toil, work is also severely broken. Nevertheless, our command remains: work the garden and keep it; multiply and have dominion over the land. There is work to be done, and we would do our best to tend to it promptly.
Like many paradoxical concepts in scripture, there exists a tension between our work and rest. I have heard it stated in this way before: “God is always working so that we may experience rest; likewise, we find our rest in God so that we may work.” This was the concept that came to mind in reading King Solomon’s song of ascent in Psalm 127. He boldly grabs the attention of his listeners for their vanity in work in verse one:
“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.”
There are two greater targets that I think the poet is getting at, targets more encompassing than physical houses and watchmen. Just as the purpose of a house is a shelter for a family, the purpose of a watchman at the gates is security of the town.
Shelter and security. I am confronted by the poet and convicted by the Spirit of something that my heart is all too tempted to believe: that a job will provide shelter and security in this world. No, it’s not something I would ever audibly vocalize, but I know it’s a lie that I want to functionally operate out of all to easily. Yet I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’re still called to build, still called to keep watch over the city. We must pursue vocationally what the Lord has outlined for us already in His relationship toward us. I find the poet both calling me out and nudging me forward by reminding me that my ultimate shelter and security are only ever found in He who created me, and only in recognizing that can I proceed in building houses of my own.
Given the gift of free choice, but still under the absolute sovereignty of God, all my actions carry so much purpose. The Lord cares about more than just what I do, but how I do it and why. For this reason, I’m reminded that the Lord absolutely cares about my motives in building houses and establishing my post at the watchtower.
For me, this is where I see myself working in vain like the passage notes. I know all too well that my good intentions for looking into certain jobs are intertwined with motives that aren’t as righteous. In surveying the financial realm and its careers, I have found myself both extremely intimidated and exceedingly intrigued. Wealth management, investments and portfolios, consulting – just a few examples of culturally flashy buzzwords that have genuinely piqued my interest recently, but have also provided an opportunity to be honest with the Lord about my fear of failure. I think the psalmist cajoles me here to recognize the divided nature of my heart in pursuing these options. There will be a tendency to cling to the shelter and security that jobs in these arenas will falsely promise, but that does not mean that the Lord is not great enough to perform a work in my heart to both use these mixed motives for good, and also to change them.
The first half of the psalm calls our bluff, that unless our work and all our desires – good and bad – attached to it are brought before the Lord along the way, our efforts will be futile, not fruitful. No, our intentions will never be 100% pure on this side of heaven, and our sinful nature will continue to crave security and shelter from the wrong places, but that’s where the second half of the psalm reminds me that grace changes everything.
Solomon uses the image of children being a gift from God to remind us that the most monumental things come to us from receiving God’s free grace rather than as a result of our striving. This is the healthiest reminder for me in this process. Recognizing that it is not me but the Lord who has placed me here in DC having these thoughts and interests with these people for such a time as this humbles me. Just as birthing a child is a pure miracle from God that we can take no credit for (it’s not as if women instruct their bodies to grow and develop a baby in the womb!), our work and the potential fruit that results are ultimately all grace from the Lord. Doors opened and doors closed will be reminders of the Lord building houses and keeping watch before we ever started on our journeys, helping us to release control and acknowledge his sovereign purposes.
I’m praying for myself and all of the Fellows that the Lord gives us eyes to recognize where we are trying to build in vain, minds to acknowledge such idolatry struggles with repentance, and for impressionable hearts to be quick to receive the grace that He offers us with each step.
originally written in February 2017