“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:1-2 NIV)
Tomorrow morning I will be leading a group of students and staff to Florida for Spring Break. I figured out recently that I am nearing 30 such trips in my ministry career. This psalm that I read yesterday brought one in particular to mind. It was 1993 and we were in Lydia, Louisiana, a tiny community that had been devastated by Hurricane Andrew the past summer. Our theme for the trip was the first sentence of the psalm: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”
I remember we spent a lot of our time roofing, doing electrical work, painting, cleaning, and eating some of the best Cajun food I've ever had. And I remember a young seeker being baptized and others growing in their understanding that the Lord has to be central to everything thing we do.
Most of the many trips I have led have focused on doing some type of work projects, but I have always understood that these efforts have little value unless the Lord is in them, that the students allow Him to work in their lives during these trips. Why this psalm is so instructive is we often get caught up in the work we are doing and the Lord is pushed to the side.
The danger of many mission trips is the focus solely becomes on the work we are going off to do. It’s OUR mission; it’s OUR work. WE are the ones doing everything. But, as the Psalmist writes, if God is not in it, the work is in vain. We may have built a house, dug a well, etc., but the question must always be asked: Was the Lord in it or was it just us doing a good work?
The difference lies in the outcome. I have seen students participate in Spring Break trips and mission trips overseas who have return unchanged. They had a great time and perhaps even performed some good work, but they were unchanged by it. Why? Because, for them, the Lord was not the focus. Rather it was the adventure of the trip or the opportunity to do something good. It was about them. And when we are the focus, then the work of the Lord is naturally inhibited.
So as I depart on another Spring Break trip, I leave you with this question: Is the work you say you are doing for the Lord actually for Him? Is He in it or is it really just for you? If it is the latter, then realize it is in vain. If there is to be any eternal value in what we do, the Lord must be in it.
© Jim Musser 2017