Skip Heitzig - Home (Psalm 127)
For decades the America dream has included owning your own home. That's for years what was said, that you would have your own house, so many cars in the garage, etcetera, etcetera. Today the American dream is more like being able is to keep the home that you're in. And, unfortunately, we have seen over the past few years an economic downtrend where people have lost homes in this country. And they estimated about 5 million foreclosures in the United States of America since that-since that slump began. But though you may lose your house, you never have to lose your home. And there is a difference between those two entities that I want to show you out of Psalm 127. Now you know, to get back on this page, Psalms, the book of Psalms is essentially a list of worship songs that was sung in the ancient temple or on the way up to the ancient temple, as is the case of this psalm. So we're dealing with the lyrics of songs. It's the Word of God, but these are song lyrics. And for the most part usually I would never recommend that a person govern their lives based on the lyrics of songs; if you know what I mean. You can have great songs with happy little melodies, but the advice in songs, I would say, isn't always the best, to say the least.
If I go back to 1970, there was that Stephen Stills songs that said, "If you can't be with the one you love, then love the one you're with". That's not good advice if you want a long-term relationship with anybody. Or Bob Dylan's song "Everybody Must Get Stoned," not good advice in general. There's a country-western title, a song that says, "Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life". I don't want to be drop-kicked by anybody through the goalposts of life. The worse lyrics of all that I think that were ever penned were written by Curtis Mayfield in 1970. And the lyrics go like this: "If there's a hell below, we're all going to go. So don't worry".
See what I mean by the worst lyrics? If you're going to govern your life, don't listen to that song to do it. But we are in God's playlist, and here are some lyrics that I would recommend that you get not only good advice from, but you govern your life according, because Psalm 127 tells us what is not important and what is important, that no matter what kind of a house you live in, you can have a great home.
So Psalm 127 begins in my Bible by saying, "A Song of Ascents"; that is, as people would ascend up toward Jerusalem they would sing this refrain. And then notice who the author is. It says it was written by Solomon, it's "Of Solomon". And he writes: "Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so he gives his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate."
I don't know if you caught just the reading of this psalm shows that there are two different parts. There's a division sort of right in the middle, but more lopsided. Verses 1 and 2 is different from verse 3, 4, and 5. The first component or the "strophe" of the psalm, as it's called lyrically, the first strophe deals with things that are vain; and the next strophe, verse 3, 4, and 5, deal with things that are valuable, vain versus valuable. Or let me divide it this way: a house built on vanity versus a home built on value. We notice that the author is Solomon. And Solomon is uniquely qualified to write about these matters for two reasons. The first is that he was very wise.
The Bible says in Frist Kings, chapter 4, that he had great insight and understanding, that God gave him wisdom. In fact, it says in that very same chapter that he was wiser than any other person. So he's uniquely qualified because of his wisdom. The second reason Solomon is qualified is that he failed to heed the wisdom God gave him. And he was himself, though a great builder, he was also a failure relationally. Solomon, I like to think of him as the Donald Trump of the tenth century BC. That guy was an incredible overachiever. He built the temple in Jerusalem. He built his own house in Jerusalem. He built another palace in the forest of Lebanon just for the summer. He built another wife of his another palace to live in; that was the daughter of Pharaoh. And besides all of that he built cities, whole cities: the city of Hazor, the city of Megiddo, the city of Gezer, the city of Beth Horon, the city of Tadmor out in the desert, and other towns. This guy built a lot. However, though he did all of that, he failed to take his own advice many times, and he failed relationally.
Anybody remember how many wives he had? Seven hundred wives. Come on! That's messed up. Seven hundred wives plus 300 other women called concubines. He had a thousand women in his life. Socrates used to tell his young students, "By all means, get married. If you find a good wife, you'll be extremely happy. If you find a bad wife, you'll become a philosopher". Interesting how much philosophy Solomon gives out. But God preserves some of it as the very inspired Word of God. Psalm 127 is one such item. And as we go through these five verses, I want to offer to you four decisions that you should make, four decisions, four values that will turn any house into a home. These are values to build your life on.
Now, whether you are starting out and just starting to get your own family together, or you're single and you don't yet have your own family, or maybe you've grown up and raised a family, or you've made a mistake relationally and God will give you a do-over, I'm not sure. Wherever you're at, these are all values for every one of us to turn a house into a home. Let me give you the first: reject empty activities. That's the first: reject empty activities. Look at verse 1 and verse 2. He says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain," vain means empty or valueless. "They labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so he gives his beloved sleep".
In other words, we need to learn the difference between what is vain and what is valuable. And you'll notice in verse 1 that two structures are mentioned: a house and a city. A house needs building; a city, having been already built, needs to be guarded. In writing that Solomon mentions or realizes the basic drive that all of us have for fulfillment, and that there are many people who strive to attain fulfillment by building things, making things, doing things, and then preserving the things that he have created, which was Solomon's case. As soon as Solomon got to the throne of Israel, he made a treaty with the king of Tyre whose name was Hiram. And here was the deal: "You give me all the wood that I need to build all the things I want to build (that is, the cedars of Lebanon, cypress from Lebanon) and I, in exchange, will give you oil and wheat and wine from Israel".
So he gets all of that wood from Lebanon, and lots of local stone around the area, and he goes on a twenty-year building spree. It takes him seven and a half years to build the house, they called it, the temple, and "the house of the Lord". It took him thirteen years to build his own personal house. Shows you his priorities right there. And he just goes on this twenty-year build spree. After building the temple, the house of the Lord, when he dedicates the temple, listen to what God warns him about. The Lord says to Solomon: "If you, Solomon, or any of the kings who succeed you ever turn away from following me, this house, the temple, this house will become a heap of ruins". I don't know if it was because the Lord said that or not, but there's an interesting archaeological discovery that they have found over in Israel. In all of the cities that Solomon built there's a special gate they call "Solomon's Gate". It shows us that he was not just a builder, but he was a preserver. He wanted to guard the cities that he built.
So there's a gate called Solomon's Gate and if we were at Megiddo today, I would show you this gate. It's a structure that has four interlocking gates. So if you were an invader, and you got through the first gate, you would now be in a corridor facing three more gates. So sort of a stop, go through, stop, go through. And on either said were areas for archers to shoot at you with arrows, and to give you a warm welcome. They would pour hot oil on you if you were an invader. That's a warm welcome. And this gate of Solomon was unique to his building process in the cities that he occupied to trap the enemy. However, one thing we know is for certain as we look at biblical history: Solomon turned away from following the Lord and the kings after him turned away from following the Lord. And all the things he built, all the houses he built, and the cities that he built were all left in ruins. It was all, you might say, vain. You'll notice the threefold repetition of that word.
In verse 1, "They labor in vain who build it". Also in verse 1, "The watchman stays awake in vain". And look at verse 2, "It's vain for you to get up early, and to sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows". When you see that word here, it should ring a bell for you, because it's a very specific Solomonic word. I don't know if that's an adjective or not, Solomonic word. It's particular to Solomon. He wrote a book called Ecclesiastes in which he used that word a lot, right? Twenty-two times he uses the word "vanity"; two times he uses the word "vain"; two more times in that book he uses the superlative phrase "vanity of vanity, all is vanity". He wrote that little book Ecclesiastes when he was at a very dark period of his own life. Everything had lost its luster. He seemed to be going through lots of activity, lots of motions, and no accomplishments. The word "vain" means empty, fruitless, vapid, whatever word you want to assign to it, all of that has the idea of just nothingness, nothingness.
Let me ask you something: Do you ever slow down long enough or stop long enough to evaluate yourself? Do you slow down enough to evaluate the activities that you are doing and simply ask yourself, "Are these activities significant, are they significant? Are these vain activities or valuable activities? You ever feel like you're in a rat race and the rats are winning the race"? I have a lot of hobbies. There's a lot of interests that I have. And because of that, I know my tendency to get distracted and off course, and I have to evaluate myself regularly because my distraction levels are much higher. There are some people who just love to build and organize and work and accomplish, but just slow down long enough to ask why? Let me give you three questions to ask yourself, three little questions that help in self-evaluation to see if something's of value or if something's vain.
Question number one: How has God most gifted me to meet the needs of others? How has God uniquely gifted me to meet the needs of others? Now I'm turning my focus on others by that question. Once I have the answer to that question, how I'm uniquely gifted to meet to needs of others, ask yourself this question: How am I exercising and honing those gifts according to God's plan for my life? And then the third question is this: Am I trying to build something God doesn't want me to have? Those are good questions for self-evaluation, so that your labor and your watching is not, in his words, for nothing, "vain". So, reject empty activities, number one. Here's the second decision: avoid unnecessary anxieties. Would you look more carefully at verse 2, "It is vain", empty, worthless, profitless. "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so he gives his beloved sleep".
What that little verse describes, in poetic fashion, is the artificial lengthening of the day by adding more hours to your workload, and then on top of that adding worry to the hours that you're lengthening your day with. That's the idea of eating "the bread of sorrows", it's anxiety, it's worry. The Living Bible translates it: "It's senseless for you to work so hard from early morning till late at night fearing you will starve to death". Some of you have discovered that anxiety is a tireless tyrant.
Back in 1851, can you remember that far back? Good, some of you are laughing. That was a joke, for those of you who weren't. Back in 1851 in London, England, in Hyde Park, there was an exhibition called the Crystal Palace Exhibition, and it was basically people gathering together showing off their inventions. And in 1851 steam was all the rage, not iPhones, steam, because that was what powered things. And so they had on display there steam plows, steam locomotives, steam looms, steam organs, and even a steam cannon that shot real cannon balls, all based on steam. But what got everybody's excitement up was one machine, one machine that had 7,000 moving parts. When you switched this machine on with steam power, all sorts of things began to happen. Pulleys began to pull, whistles began to whine, bells began to ring, gears began to turn, 7,000 parts. The ironic thing is that machine did absolutely nothing. It made noise and it turned around and around inside of itself. And everybody oohed and aahed, because "Listen to that! Look at that"! But if you were to ask them: "What does it actually do"? The answer would be: "It does nothing".
Well, worry is like that. You would spend so much mental energy, but you accomplish nothing. And Solomon wants to point out that there's a few things about personal anxiety. First, it is unproductive, just like that machine. It is unproductive. Notice what he says: "It is vain, it is vain [it is empty] for you to rise up early and to sit up late". I found a little study from the University of Wisconsin about worry, about anxiety. It did a study and it looked at what people worry about in life, and here were their findings. They found that 40 percent of the things that most people worry about never will happen. They never actually happen. So that's pretty vain, right? Forty percent of all that activity are about things that will never happen. Thirty percent of the things most people worry about are things regarding the past that you can't change anyway. That's pretty vain and empty to worry about that, right?
So now you're up to 70 percent. Twelve percent were worries over the criticisms of others leveled at us. Most of it is untrue, but we worry about it. Ten percent of the things we worry about is about personal health issues, which last time I checked doesn't improve when you worry, but it actually gets worse. They discovered only 8 percent, about 8 percent of all the things people worry about are things that will actually occur and are legitimate concerns. So you get his drift, it is vain, it is unproductive. Second thing Solomon wants you to know: it's unhealthy. Because he says, "To eat the bread of sorrows". That's a pretty poor diet, isn't it, "the bread of sorrows"? "What are you eating for breakfast"? "A little bread of sorrows here, toasted, a little butter and jam. Want some"? "No, thank you". It's an unhealthy diet to eat the bread of sorrows. Medical science for years over and over again proves the point that anxiety, worry, is bad for your health. I looked up on WebMD the other day and they had this little statement: "Worry will affect the body. When worry becomes excessive, it can cause you to become physically ill".
Here's some examples: a clinic in Great Britain examined 500 patients, and they made the statement that one-third of the visual problems exhibited by those in this study were due directly to worry and stress. Another study from Northwestern University said that worry restricts the flow of saliva in the mouth. That's important because saliva neutralizes the acid in the mouth. So when you restrict the flow of saliva in the mouth, tooth decay increases. Another study of 5,000 students from 21 different universities yielded this: "Worriers get lower grades". So I suppose if you want to be a flunky with poor vision and no teeth, be a worrier. It's unhealthy. It's unproductive, it's unhealthy, and here's a third: it's unbecoming of a child of God. It's unbecoming of a child of God. That's seen in this little phrase: "For so he [God] gives his beloved sleep".
Now I don't want you to walk away misunderstanding this. I'm not saying that if you have insomnia, it's because you don't have enough faith or you're not really a mature Christian. There's lots of reasons for that. There's lots of physiological reasons. But the point that he is making is this person who adds to the workload worry on top of that is simply showing a lack of trust in the wisdom and the provision of the God he or she says he trusts in. It's unbecoming of a child of God. So the first two decisions: reject empty activity; second, avoid unnecessary anxiety. And here's the third: cultivate relational priorities, cultivate relational priorities. Verse 3, "Behold, children are heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward". You'll notice that there's a turn in this psalm. We're not talking about building anything anymore. We're not talking about guarding anything anymore. We're off of building a house and now we're talking about shaping a home and the relationships within it.
There's three words I want to draw your attention to in the psalm. First is the word "Lord". And if you saw, it's mentioned three times that word. He is mentioned three times with that title "Lord". He's also implied another three times. So a total of six times this psalm either directly or indirectly speaks about the Lord and the relationship with the Lord. Then notice the word "womb" in verse 3. "Womb" can only refer to one person in a family. And who's that? The wife, the mother, right? "The fruit of the womb," not the Fruit of the Loom, "the fruit of the womb" is the child that comes from the woman. And then "children" is a word mentioned two times.
So here we're not dealing with a house built on vanity, but a home built on value, relationship. If you boil life down to its irreducible minimum, you have at that base layer one thing only; and that is, relationship, relationships, good ones, bad ones. That's what you have. That's what life is. That's how God created us, to have connectivity, communication, relationship. God never created anybody to be independent; he created us all to be interdependent. As soon as God created Adam, first time God ever said something was "not good" was after he made man. And he said, "It is not good that man should be... alone". "It's not good. I'm going to make a helper that is comparable to him".
So he raised up a wife. And now there's this couple relating to each other. But then we read that "God came to them in the cool of the day while they were in the garden". God was walking in the cool of the day. That section seems to imply that this was a regular activity that God would walk with his creation day by day. That's what he wanted, fellowship, relationship. So the idea from that and from this psalm is that our spiritual commitment should affect our relational activities, our relationship with God vertically. Let's look at it in terms of a plane. Our vertical relationship with God should affect our horizontal relationships in all areas. Hudson Taylor the great missionary said, "If your father and mother, sister and brother, if the very cat and dog in your house are not happier for you being a Christian, then it's a question whether you really are".
Cultivate relational priorities. We struggle in this area. All of us do. Every human being does, because this is where we spend our life, relating well or not very well with other people. Years ago I wrote a book on relationships, and the reason I did was because it was based upon a poll that I took in this fellowship. I asked people in this church to write a little note to me about what they wanted the next series to be on. What are issues you are dealing with that you want answers to from the Bible? Now I'm thinking most of them are going to be escatalogical questions about the millennium or the second coming or... ninety percent of them or better, maybe 95 percent dealt with relationships: "How do I get along with my husband, my wife, raise my children, settle a dispute with a friend or a coworker"? It was all dealing in this area with relationships. These are some tender issues. Some of the loneliest people I've ever met live under the same roof together, but they don't know how to relate to each other. Godly relationships is what turns a house into a home.
Professor Nick Stinnett, maybe you have heard of him, from the University of Nebraska some years back did a study of families from five or six different countries, including America, but outside our borders down into South America and all over the globe. He studied families and this is what he said, his conclusion: "All together we studied 3,000 families. We collected a lot of information, but when we analyzed it all, we found six main qualities were in strong families". He said strong families, number one, are committed to the family. Number two, strong families spend time together. Number three, strong families have good family communication. Number four, strong families express appreciation to each other about each other. Number five, they have a spiritual commitment. And, finally, number six, they are able to solve problems in a crisis.
Want to turn a house into a home? Get better at relationship. If you say, "Well, how do I do that"? Then start with some simple ideas: listen more, ask better questions when settling a dispute, encourage people more frequently. How about this is so easy, smile more. You know this is a whole lot better than this. Just a whole lot better. It just goes a long way. Pray together, pray together. Read Scripture together. Cultivate relational priority.
Here's the fourth and final value or final decision to make, and we'll close with this: shape future destinies, shape future destinies. Verse 4, look at this: "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth". You can picture that, can you not? A warrior grabbing from behind in the quiver, the pouch, an arrow out to put in the bow to launch it. And he's going to aim, and he really can't tell you where it's going to end up precisely, but he wants to make sure the launch is nicely shaped, it's just at the right angle with just the right pull. It's all about the launch of that arrow. So it is with children. "Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate". "Children are a heritage from the Lord". That's the future generation. One translation puts it this way: "Children are God's best gift".
Now every parent I've ever met will question this at least two times in the child's development. The first is the baby stage, the first few months. If it's their first child, they bring the baby home, and after a few months they're thinking, "My goodness, this is a lot of work and noise and responsibility". It weighs heavily during those first few months. One creative individual described a baby as "a digestive apparatus with a loud noise at one end and no responsibility at the other end". Isn't that creative? The second place that they will challenge the "children are a heritage from the Lord" is when that child becomes a teenager. And now the will is becoming fully developed and that child, now teenager, almost adult, looks at the parent and thinks, "Now, you're not all that. You're not so much as you think. And you don't have the same esteem that you once had when I was younger".
And they're trying to relate to you on a different level, and we struggle with that sometimes as parents. I thought teenage years were fabulous, by the way. But parents, many of them will disagree with me. Mark Twain, you've heard his advice, right? He said, "Everything goes fine until the child turns thirteen. And that's the time you want to stick 'em in a barrel, and hammer down the lid nice and tight, and feed him through the knot hole. And then," he said, "when the child turns sixteen, close up the knothole"! Better advice, "Children are a heritage from the Lord". "It's his best gift". Why? Picture the warrior. They are on loan from God to shape their destiny and launch them correctly. That's the home. Home is where life makes up its mind. Home is where our convictions are hammered out. The greatest influence for good or bad happens in the home.
Sixteen percent of a child's time is spent at school. One percent, at best, is spent at Sunday school. Eighty-three percent of the child's time is spent at home. That's why as soon as Samuel was born his mom Hannah in her prayer of dedication said, "I have lent this child to the Lord for as long as he lives". "Lord, you've given me this child, I'm giving him back to you. I'm loaning him to you. I want to shape this destiny by praying for this child right off the bat". So if you're going to spend energy in life, and we all do, make sure it's about people that you're building up, not just projects that you're building up. Because your kids are the only earthly possession you can take with you to heaven.
So let me sum it up by saying these three things, these three takeaway points. If you are trying to build your life apart from God, that is... what does it say? Vanity, it's "vain". That's vanity. If you're adding worry on top of all of that energy, that's insanity. But if you are building upwards to God and outwards to people and building up those relationships, now you have a valuable commodity. That's value; that's not vain. Which will it be, a life of vanity, a house, activities, organizations, structures, teams, a lot of energy, a lot of vanity, or people? That's value. That's value. That's community and that's valuable.
Father, we close by talking to you, a Heavenly Father, one with whom we have a relationship with because of what Jesus did for us. And I think of a couple of things that come to my mind after a study like this: one, the promise of Jesus when he said, "In my Father's house there are many mansions. I'm going to prepare a place for you," that we have a heavenly home. And the best thing about that will be the face-to-face fellowship that we will enjoy with our Savior Jesus and with you as our heavenly Father. The other thing that comes to my mind is what Paul said when he prayed for the Ephesian church, "That Christ would dwell in your hearts by faith," or better yet, "make himself at home in your heart". And the thought, Lord, that until we get to our ultimate home we can live with our compass tuned to true north by Jesus being at home in our lives, Lord, I pray that with that in mind that we would build upward toward you and outward toward others, and you'd just help us to be better at relating to people that are in our lives and building them up through love, encouragement, in Jesus' name, amen.