Trust in the Lord and do Good
About the Guest
Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living". Many people avoid examining their own lives out of fear that they'll find it empty. Dr. Duane Litfin, former president of Wheaton College, gives an exposition on Psalm 127 recommending it as a tool to help us examine our own lives.
Duane LitfinDr. Duane Litfin served for seventeen years (1993-2010) as the seventh president of Wheaton College. He holds an undergraduate degree in biblical studies and a master's degree in theology. His two doctorates are from Purdue University (Ph.D., Rhetorical Theory and Communication) and Oxford University (D.Phil., New Testament). He came to Wheaton from Memphis, TN where he served the First Evangelical Church as Senior Pastor. Prior to that he spent a decade as an Associate Professor at Dallas Th...more
It’s easy to thank God in the good times, but Dr. Duane Litfin
tells what happens when we thank God in the bad times.
Trust in the Lord and do Good
Bob: Do you ever feel like your life is a part of the proverbial rat race? Maybe, it’s because your priorities aren’t what they ought to be. Here’s Dr. Duane Litfin.
Dr. Litfin: All the time, all the strength, all the toil—getting up early, staying up late, eating the food of that toil—all this time and energy spent on something that God is not interested in. It’s not what He’s doing—it’s not one of His projects. So, everything you spend on that is wasted—it’s gone. The most precious things you have—your time and your strength—are poured down the rat hole for nothing.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 28th, Thanksgiving Day, here in the United States. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Unless the Lord builds the house, all who labor do indeed labor in vain.
We’ll hear a message on that Psalm from Dr. Duane Litfin today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition—Thanksgiving Day. I know you don’t have the whole family joining you for Thanksgiving but—
Dennis: You know, a year ago, Bob, you should have seen our back porch. We had all the kids on the porch. We had a record number of card tables lined up.
Bob: Now, is that French toast for everybody?
Dennis: That’s the Company French Toast and the kids—this was not fair—the kids had Barbara and me all the way down at the end of the table—with the grandkids!
Dennis: So, we were huddled around the rug rats, and cleaning up spilled milk, and engaged in great conversation, by the way—while the adult children were at the other end—just having a great time!
Bob: Enjoying their opportunity to catch up with one another—let grandma and grandpa take care of the kids while they visit.
Dennis: I was a good 30 feet away! It was a long table! I’m telling you! Let’s see now, we’re expecting our 20th grandchild in April of this year. We didn’t quite have all of them there, but it was over—it was 16 of them.
Bob: I know our listeners may be getting together with family or friends on this day. I hope—that if you’re only able to hear a portion of today’s program and tomorrow’s program—I hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to download this message because you’re going to get a chance to hear a great Bible teacher take us to one of the Psalms and peel it back for us.
Dennis: Dr. Duane Litfin was a seminary prof when I went to Dallas Theological Seminary.
He is a past-president—in fact, the seventh past-president of Wheaton College, up in Chicago. He did a great job of addressing our staff and just talking about the necessity of really focusing on working in what God is doing in our nation. Of course, FamilyLife, I think, is smack-dab in the middle of what God is doing in our country, Bob, around marriage and family.
Bob: You think that’s an issue today?
Dennis: I think that is a table-pounding issue. In fact, I just knocked over the controls, here in the studio; but honestly, that’s why our team labors hard because we want to equip you with practical, biblical principles and tools that will help you in your marriage and family; and we want to help you help others in your community. We want to turn you into a spiritual multiplier. So, as you listen to Dr. Litfin speak about working in God’s economy, it’s not just to our staff he was speaking.
Dennis: I think he’s going to be speaking to you, as a listener.
Bob: Well, and even with the challenges we’re facing, we still have a lot for which to be thankful. Here is a message from Psalm 127 from Dr. Duane Litfin.
Dr. Litfin: Pull out your Bibles. Let’s turn, together, to this wonderful passage: Psalm 127. I want to give you—in this passage of Scripture—that you would come away with an experience of this passage that would outlast a talk or a devotional by someone who comes and addresses you on a morning like this.
Psalm 127: This is a Psalm of ascents—a Psalm written, according to the superscription, by Solomon: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—
for He grants sleep to those he loves.” That particular line is an important line in this Psalm. I’m reading the NIV. If you look at the margin, it says: “An alternate reading for ‘While they sleep, He provides for those He loves.’”
If you’re reading the NASB, it is: “For He gives to His beloved, even in his sleep,”—that’s the alternate reading. It’s a Hebrew phrase that can be translated either way—either: “He gives sleep to those He loves,” or, “He gives, even in his sleep, to those He loves,”—“gives to His beloved, even in his sleep.” I prefer the latter reading. I think the NASB has it right, and we’ll come back to that here.
In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Lo, sons are a heritage from the LORD; children are a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the one whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
You know, it’s an old line—I think it’s attributed to Socrates. I don’t know if Socrates said it or not. Plato says he said it—but it’s a great line, and one that we, as Christians, ought to be able to appreciate. That is that: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It’s really true; isn’t it? “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I recognize there are people who don’t want to examine their lives. If we’re talking to an audience—in any audience—probably, not this one—but in almost any audience—you will have people sitting there who are not interested in examining their lives. That’s the last thing they want!
They work very hard not to examine their lives. They fill their lives with sound and activity. They’re constantly messaging and twittering. You know—got the ear buds going—if they’re on the move.
If they’re sitting still, they have to have the television blaring—anything but having a moment of quiet and solitude that would, maybe, trigger some evaluation/ examination of their lives. That’s the last thing they want because they know that the moment—intuitively—they sense, that if they stop and examine their lives, there’s nothing there—it’s hollow. It’s empty. It’s an abyss. So, the last thing they want is an examined life.
But there are a lot of people, especially a lot of Christians, who really do want to examine their lives. They just don’t really know how. They’re not very good at it. They’re not quite sure what to look for. This little Psalm is a delightful tool for helping us to examine our lives. It is really a wonderful instrument for helping us think through: “What, on earth, are we doing with our lives?”
It’s a Psalm that has really focused on the kinds of things that you folks are about. As I’ve thought about what to do on this occasion—what passage to touch on.
I thought: “I would love nothing better than to give you a gift of this passage—of really thinking it through, if you haven’t done it before—of how this passage doesn’t challenge what you’re doing—it reinforces what you are doing—and your investment of your life in this ministry.”
It’s a wonderful Psalm. It’s a little Psalm about the subject of spending. You might not think that—at face value, just reading it—but trust me. It’s dealing with the subject of spending. What is it we spend? We spend our money, we spend our time, and we spend our strength. We wear ourselves out—we say, “I feel spent,”—our time, our strength, and our money.
I want to suggest—money doesn’t belong in that trio. It really should be ejected from that trio. It’s kind of like talking about—you think about water—hydrogen, oxygen, and ice. You wouldn’t categorize those three things together.
Hydrogen and oxygen, together, make up water; and then, ice is one of the forms that water takes. You don’t categorize those together. In the same way, our time and our strength are fundamental things. Our money is simply one of the forms that our investment of time and energy takes. So, we’re talking about spending this morning, but I’m not talking about spending money. You get the first two right—money will take care of itself. This is about how we’re spending our time and our strength.
You can tell how odd the money piece is in this way: There are people in this world—just watching, again, this report on Bill Gates. He’s got like $65 billion. There are people in this world who have far more money than they will ever be able to spend. You couldn’t spend that much money in a lifetime—unlimited quantities of money. There is no one—not even Bill Gates—
who has unlimited quantities of time and strength. Every one of us has very limited quantities of time and strength. The older we get, the more we know it, and feel it, and see it.
So, the question is: “How are we spending our time and our strength?”—these most precious commodities that we have: “How are we spending those precious things?” That’s what this little Psalm is about. The author of the Psalm, Solomon, does this really by offering us, in those first two verses, a poetic contrast. The first side of the contrast is not fully-balanced in terms of the lines, but it’s a poetic contrast.
The first half of the contrast is found there in the first verse and a half—one-and-half verses: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat.” [Emphasis added] Do you hear it three times? “…in vain”, “…in vain,” “In vain”—it’s empty, worthless, poured down the drain, lost forever, with no value.
What is it he is saying is vain, empty, and worthless? He’s not saying, “Don’t take on things that are too big for you. If God is not in it, don’t take it on because God is bigger than you are,” or something of that sort. You know—the old Jim Croce song: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, don’t mess around with a junkyard dog.” “Don’t take on a—thing.” That’s a good piece of wisdom, but that’s not what he’s saying here.
He’s not even saying: “Unless the LORD is in it, you’ll never get it done. You’ll never build that house. You’ll never guard that city, if God isn’t doing it.”
That’s not really his point. You may well get it built. You may well guard that fortress—but, so what? It’s empty. It’s vain.
All the time, all the strength, and all the toil—getting up early, staying up late, eating the food of that toil—all this time and energy spent on something that God is not interested in—it’s not what He is doing. It’s not one of His projects. So everything you spend on that is wasted—it’s gone. The most precious things you have—your time and your strength—are poured down the rat hole for nothing in the long run. It is vain—it is vain—it is vain.
That is one side of this contrast—a very important truth. Everything we spend on projects, that God doesn’t care about, is utterly wasted.
But here is the other side of the contrast. Now, we come to that line—that second line—which is the most important line, but it’s also this enigmatic line—but by contrast. Everything we spend on things God doesn’t care about is wasted; but, by contrast: “He gives to His beloved, even in his sleep.”
Now, this is a piece of poetry. We have to let the Psalms be poetry. We have to treat them as poetry and understand how poetry works. Poets do this to us all the time. There are these poetic allusions—not illusions—“I” “L”—but “A” “L”—allusions. They’re alluding to something; but if you don’t understand the poetic allusion, you’re going to miss the point.
I was reading, some time ago, a book by John Betjeman called “Summoned by Bells”. He was the poet laureate of Brittan for many years.
I was reading this particular poem called “Summoned by Bells”. I came across these lines:
Take me, my Centaur bike, down Linton Road,
Gliding by newly- planted almond trees
Where the young dons with wives in tussore clad
Were building in the morning of their lives
Houses for future Dragons.
As I read those words, you’re probably saying: “What? Huh?” [Laughter] I read those words, and it was like bells going off in my head. I could see the—he was talking about the neighborhood we lived in at Oxford. We lived just off Linton Road. I rode my old-fashioned English bike—this Centaur Bike—down to the bottom to the library every day.
“Gliding by newly-planted almond trees”—he wrote this in the early part of the 20th century. There are big, tall, arching trees, now, in the neighborhood in which we lived. I would go riding my bicycle under those big trees where “the young dons”—
those are the tutors at Oxford University. “Their wives in tussore clad”—Tussore is a particular kind of silk imported from Tussore, India—that you make the Oxford gowns from—women would make their clothing from.
Where they were building—these young professors “were building in the morning of their lives”—when they were young—“houses for future Dragons,”—future Dragons? “What are you talking about?” Well, here was the Dragon School—right there. I used to ride my bicycle past the Dragon School—this elite boys’ school where John Betjeman, himself, had gone to school, as a boy. You’d go by and see the boys out there, playing rugby or something, in short pants. They were called the “Dragons”. So, I’m riding my bike—I understood every bit of these poetic allusions; but if you don’t have that, you read that and you think: “What? I don’t get it.”
Well, this line in the Psalm is full of poetic allusions. Unless we stop with it, for a moment, we won’t understand the contrast.
Here’s one: “He gives to His beloved, even in his sleep.” The word “beloved” is the yadid in the Hebrew. Let me ask you a question. Solomon had a nickname. In fact, it was a nickname given to him by God. Do you know what that nickname was?—anybody? It’s a famous passage. This is, of course, David and Bathsheba. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan, the prophet, to name him Jedidiah—the yadid of Yahweh—the beloved of the LORD.
Solomon—saying: “God gives to His beloved, even in his sleep.” When you think of Solomon, what do you think of? What is he famous for?—well, the wisdom of Solomon.
Where did he get that wisdom? At Gibeon, the LORD appeared to Solomon, during the night, in a dream. He said, “Ask whatever you will.” He asked for the right things. He asked for a discerning heart—to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. And the LORD says to him:
Since you have asked this, and not for long life, or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies, but discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you nor will there ever be.
And the text tells us: “Then, Solomon awoke; and he realized it had been a dream”—“God gives to His beloved, even in his sleep.”
Dennis: [Chuckles]Don’t you love that?
Bob: It’s amazing to think, while we were sleeping last night, God was at work, blessing us.
Dennis: And, you know—here’s the thing—I was just listening there to Dr. Litfin, again. If God could come to you and say: “What would you ask Him for?” Would you ask Him for long days, wealth, fame, or power? Or would you ask Him for something that would impact generations?
As I was listening, again, to that, I thought: “You know—if God came to me and said, “What I would ask for?” I’ would say: “You know what—that there would be spiritual vitality in my children, and my grandchildren, and my great grandchildren, and in the lives of families, all across this country, that confess and seek to follow Jesus Christ as Master and Lord.” I mean, Bob, that’s what our nation needs, here at Thanksgiving. We need a fresh return to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
Bob: Of course, that is our mission, here at FamilyLife—to effectively develop godly families. We want to see every home become a godly home. That’s why we create the resources we do. It’s why we have this daily radio program. It’s what FamilyLife Today is all about. We want to be used by God to effectively develop godly families—families who change the world, one home at a time. Our goal is that every home would be a godly home. It’s to that end that we create this radio program—it’s why we create the resources we create, we host the events we host—all of it with one goal in mind—to effectively develop godly families.
And, we’re thankful, on this Thanksgiving Day, for those of you who stand with us in making that goal possible. We appreciate your financial support of this ministry—we’re grateful for that. And we thought it would be nice, here on Thanksgiving, to listen to a song of thanksgiving from Kristyn Getty. This is from Keith and Kristyn’s album, Hymns for the Christian Life.
The song is called: My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness—a great song to listen to on Thanksgiving Day.
[Song: My Heart Is Filled with Thankfulness]
Bob: Once again, that is Keith and Kristyn Getty in a song called My Heart Is Filled with Thankfulness. We are grateful that you’ve joined us for the Thanksgiving Day broadcast of FamilyLife Today. I hope you can be back with us tomorrow as we will hear Part Two of Duane Litfin’s message on Psalm 127.
I want to say, “Thank you,” today to our engineer, Keith Lynch, and to our entire broadcast production team. And, on behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We hope to see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
©Song: My Heart Is Filled with Thankfulness
Artists: Keith and Kristyn Getty
Album: Hymns for the Christian Life, (p) 2012 Getty Music Label, LLC
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