Haggai 1:2-8 & Psalm 127:1-2
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 3, 2017
There is a simple word that’s very hard to understand. It is the word, “enough” – especially when it’s used in questions such as: “When have I done enough to do justice to my deepest relationships?”, “When have I done enough to achieve my goals at work or school?”, “When have I done enough in serving God?”
Our Creator wants us both to make contributions and to just sit back and enjoy the contributions of others (especially God’s own), both to work with diligent perseverance and to just rest in trust of God’s grace. The only question is, What’s enough of each? How much should I push myself, and how much should I take it easy? At what point do I take responsibility, and at what point turn everything over to God?
When have I done enough? When I have done all God wants done by me – but with Him – and nothing more.
The prophet Haggai delivered a tough word about the foolishness, faithlessness and fruitlessness of every other kind of doing. Even the hardest and longest labor, if carried out apart from God’s involvement, will produce no effect worth the using up of our time and energy.
Haggai was talking to Israelites who’d returned to their homeland in Palestine after a long exile in faraway Babylon. Upon their repatriation, God had told them to prioritize rebuilding His home – that is, the temple in Jerusalem – and rebuild it even before they built homes for themselves. But, after a good start on the job, their temple work ground to a halt as they began to preoccupy themselves with the construction of their own houses. The irony is that their choosing to serve themselves first left them with nothing to show for their long labors. God pointed out that though they’d sown much, they harvested little; though they’d eaten much, they never got filled up; though they’d drunk much, they remained thirsty; though they’d obtained much clothing, they never grew warm; and though they’d made much money, they lost it all in bags riddled with holes. Why was all their doing for nothing? Because they had left God out of their doing and had tried to gain by themselves what they could only gain in a collaborative partnership with God.
Psalm 127, a psalm of Solomon, echoes the same warning about work carried out in independence from God. Solomon laments, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” One ounce of divine engagement is worth more than a ton of human enterprise, and no one can spend enough time and energy to make up the difference.
Thus, Psalm 127 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil.” Toil, in the right pursuits and with the right partner, is a joy; toil, in pursuits that are not ours and without our best possible Partner, leads to frustration, unmasks the pleasant illusion we are equal to the task, and locks us into anxiety about ever reaching the ends we seek.
Psalm 127 is not condoning indolence. God doesn’t mean to free us from work, but from the worry that comes from working without God. The Lord means to liberate us from our anxious, driven restlessness, born of fear and/or pride, and instill in us a restfulness of spirit, sustained by a serene trust in God’s wise and watchful care and in His strength to do all the really heavy lifting that’s needed. God wants us to be restful all the time, even when we are working.
So how do abide in such restfulness of spirit? Sleeping enough makes for a good start. After all, as the Psalm says, “[God] gives sleep to his beloved.”
One on today’s most insightful writers on spirituality is Lauren Winner. Thus, when Christianity Today interviewed influential leaders about what spiritual discipline most enhances their life, they included Winner. One leader referenced his times of fasting; another, her retreats into solitude in a remote forest; still another, his regular service at an inner city soup kitchen. When asked what spiritual discipline makes the biggest difference to her, Lauren Winner said, “Taking naps.” And she wasn’t even being half flip!
Well I understand that some of us have challenges in sleeping. Even when I give time and place for sleep, I have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. But that doesn’t undercut the value I place on sleep. For God gives sleep to His beloved as a blessed gift.
First, sleep is a refreshment to soul and body. It is a sweet and regenerative time in which to recharge, repair, reorient and rejuvenate with new strength, energy and clarity of mind.
Second, sleep is a valuable reminder of our limitedness. We have to sleep or we don’t function. God gave us the nightly need of sleep to keep us aware we’re not Him. It is God alone who, as Psalm 121:4 says, “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” God made us as creatures who are finite and fragile, and cherishes us as creatures whose engagement in the world can be beneficial, but whose influence is never necessary to the world. God has no problem with the earth’s being able very well without us. In light of our being inessential, and His being faithful and loving, we putting the world entirely in God’s hands, leave it alone for a while without worry.
Third, sleep is a reinforcement of our faith. To fall sleep is to exercise our trust that, even with our not being available to support him, God can and will faithfully watch over all that matters to us. To take our rest and by sleeping take ourselves out of commission is to practice our faith by letting God take charge all by Himself. To turn in is to turn everything over to His control – an act of faith!
Sleeping then is not an unfortunate necessity that gets in the way of our attending to our highest priorities. It is to honor God’s expressed wishes, to surrender to His wisdom, and to entrust to His care our every concern.
Fourth and finally, sleep is a renewal of the peace God wants us to enjoy. Working too much, without resting enough, is like shallow breathing. It is both a product of anxiety and a cause of anxiety. If you are gasping for oxygen, you can’t help but feel anxious. But, if you take the time to take deep breaths, you calm yourself down. In the same way, frantic and fretful busyness is both a product of anxiety and a cause of anxiety. If you’re gasping to survive an inhuman pace, you can’t help but feel anxious. But, if you lie down, you calm yourself down. Napping is a valuable spiritual discipline!
And in a felicitous irony, the more we sleep and rest in the Lord, the more we achieve. For to rest in the Lord is to receive from the Lord the light and power to do what is ours to do. That’s why George Müller, a saint who accomplished many great things for the Lord, said in his autobiography that he never made it his aim to do a lot for God, but he always made it his aim to regularly spend time with God, in a restful and receptive attitude, that He might restore him and raise him up for graced service.
When have I done enough at home, at work, at church, in my family and circle of friends? When I have done what God wants me to do, and no more. When I work under God’s guidance and in partnership with Him. When, in trust of Him I sleep enough, let go enough, and let God enough – work in and through me. Let us pray.