When my wife was growing up her family had a prominent portrait of John Wayne in the living room above the television. It spoke volumes about the family ethos. They had horses and loved to ride and enjoy the outdoors. Hard work was a daily reality of life, as well as a rugged individualism that often suppressed all else in order to engage in work. Doing your best, striving for excellence, and learning responsibility are good things that mature people do every day. But there is a fine line between hard work that provides and enriches, and lonely work that is frenetic and fueled by anxiety about the future.
Today’s psalm gives us a wake-up call that all our work is useless, in vain, unless it is connected to the God who gives strength and sweet sleep. “It is in vain that your rise up early and late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for God gives to his beloved sleep.” The motives that lie behind why we burn the candle at both ends are just as important to the Lord as the work itself. If we independently believe that our life is in our own hands and we work with worry animating our every job, then we have lost touch with the understanding that it is God who ultimately provides us with every good thing in life. But if we begin to relax and let go of our stubborn independent streak, then we work hard with strength God gives and let him watch over us.
This trust and connection with God is why work is connected to children being a heritage from the Lord. Children worked with their parents in the ancient world. Dad and Mom did not go it alone – it was a family affair, and a community endeavor. Whenever we slip into the groove of worshiping individualism rather than simply taking personal responsibility, then we must come back to the inter-dependence that we were designed for as people. The ethos that the psalmist is looking for is trust in God, reliance on others, and working together for the common good of all. So, who do you need to help you today? Will you ask for it? How is God in your plans and your work?
Sovereign God, you created all things and in you everything holds together. Preserve me with your mighty power that I may not fall into disconnection with you and others, nor be overcome by anxiety. In all I do direct to the fulfilling of your purposes, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.