It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Psalm 127:2
Let me clarify or unpack a few things before we get to the heart of the matter here in Psalm 127. First of all, the first three verses of Psalm 127 is not an encouragement to laziness. When Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air they don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Look at the lilies of the field, they don’t work or make their clothing,” – he was not telling us that we should not work. We know from other passages that if we do not work we will not eat.
Diligence is neither greed nor restless anxiety
Those who build a house must indeed labor on it, and certainly the watchman of a city must certainly stay awake. Children are a heritage from the Lord – his gift, yet husband and wife must do something in bringing the children into the world. But at the same time, the builder, the watchman and the husband and wife must diligently carry out their efforts in faith, trusting that God will make all things work for good. Understanding this principle is key to finding rest in God and being productive in life.
When we look at Psalm 128:2, we find a diligent farmer as well. But he must practice his diligence in faith by receiving the sleep that God wants to “give to his children.” The call to diligence is a recurring theme throughout the book of Proverbs (10:22; 23:4–5), but the book also makes it clear that diligence is neither greed nor restless anxiety. Too often we get clobbered by greed and restless anxiety. So in His infinite wisdom, God instituted the Sabbath rest (Ex. 20:8–11) as a gift to enable His people to live by faith, and trust him for their future well-being.
Eating the bread of anxious toil
Just as it is important to live on the proper diet as human beings for our physical wellbeing, so it is also important to live on the proper diet as spiritual beings for our spiritual wellbeing. In Psalm 127, we see the danger of “eating the bread of anxious toil.” What is the bread of anxious toil? It’s greed and restless anxiety. It is the choice to rely on effort and diligence over and above faith and trust. It is a constant striving, a will power to meet one’s goals with limited help from above. It’s driven by anxious thoughts.
For example: “How am I going to take care of my family? How am I going to pull this off? Maybe I should do more, knock on more doors, go the extra mile.” The problem here is – while restless anxiety and anxious thoughts are pulling – you sometimes forget that without His help all effort is in vain. You sometimes fail to stop and rest in Him, by casting all your care upon him and getting out of the driver’s seat to let him take control. You fail to let go and let God.
But if we could only remember in these times that “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain and unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain,” we will never be able save ourselves from eating the bread of anxious toil. We will never be able to find the sleep, the rest that He promised.
We need to always remember that it is – “The blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.”