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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Pray and Work
Text:LD 50 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 127:1,2   
Hy 1
Reading – Psalm 127; Colossians 3:18 - 4:1
Ps 90:1,7,8
Sermon – Lord’s Day 50
Ps 128:1
Hy 78:1,2,3,4,5
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, a big part of our life is filled by work. For Mom in the home, there’s always something to clean or cook or fold. Work for Dad means that he leaves first thing in the morning, and he doesn’t return ‘til late afternoon. The school kids are busy with four long terms each year, and the young people have their programs at college or university, besides a part-time job. If you add up all the hours, you see that we work a lot each week, each year, and then for many years of our life.

Which means that it’s essential to ask God to bless on our labours. Together with that, it’s important that we look for a godly perspective on what we do, from day to day. What’s it all for? What’s the purpose of all the hours we put in at the office, all the assessments we do for school, the driving and cooking and cleaning? What do these regular and everyday things have to do with being a child of God?

The lesson on the fourth petition is about our daily bread, how the Lord promises to take care of all our needs. It says that the Lord is the fountain of everything good in our lives—including the job we have, and the studies we pursue. Here the Catechism teaches us acknowledge every day to God in heaven, “that our care and labour, and also your gifts, cannot do us any good without your blessing” (Q&A 125).

Our Father’s blessing is vital to everything we plan and undertake and accomplish. Without his blessing, it’s all in vain. But with his favour and guidance, we can do our daily tasks for the glory of the LORD. This is our theme from Lord’s Day 50:

Pray for God to bless your care and labour, and also His gifts:

  1. the abiding place of our work
  2. the critical need for the Father’s favour
  3. the happy result in our lives


1) the abiding place of our work: We all like our time off. We look forward to holidays, and we grumble if we have to put in a lot of overtime. But the teaching of Scripture is that work is a rich blessing. It’s a gift to have something to do.

This was one of the many lessons that Solomon taught his son in the book of Proverbs. He lifted up the value of diligent labour and he also warned against the temptation to take the easy way out. He says in chapter 6: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest” (vv 6-8). The ant is always busy, building and gathering. Without anyone compelling it, without anyone paying its wages, an ant works with faithfulness and care.

And the little ant puts the lazy person to shame. Listen to Solomon’s words: “How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep—so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man” (vv 9-11).

When we have a lazy attitude about work, we’ll feel the consequences, sooner or later. If we’re lazy about schoolwork, our marks will suffer and certain opportunities will close to us. If we’re lazy about housework, our home will become an unpleasant and disorderly place to live. Solomon warned the lazy person that he’ll face the pressures of less income: “Poverty shall come upon you.” Paul said it too, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess 3:10).

Saying this, we still confess that everything we have comes from God. It’s not our hard work by itself that pays the bills and puts food on the table. This is the whole point of the fourth petition, “Provide us with all our bodily needs so that we may acknowledge that you are the only fountain of all good” (Q&A 125). We look to God to supply us!

Yet God calls us to get to work. So it always has been, even from the very beginning, when God gave his command to till the earth. He’d give people all things needful, but He still wanted them to work. The LORD uses our daily labours as the means of his provision. It’s through our efforts that God opens his hand in blessing.

In spite of all the Bible’s good and positive teaching about our daily work, it remains true that work can be a real burden. I don’t have to tell you that sometimes it’s hard to get up for work in the morning—not just Monday mornings, but every morning of the week. The task seems never-ending, like that endless cycle of chores around the house, or the constant need for meetings at work. And work is one of the many good things that became a lot harder when we fell into sin: Genesis talks about our work being hindered by thorns and thistles, filled with striving and sweat.

Nevertheless, Scripture gives the right perspective. For we belong to our Saviour Jesus Christ, and that has everything to do with everything that we do. When we work, or we study, or run a household, or volunteer in the community, we do so as followers of Christ. So God calls us to do our activities with diligence and care and integrity.

People have often said that such a work ethic is part of the culture of our churches. The owner of a local business might say with admiration, “All those church kids really know how to work.” It is a Christian view of work that will motivate us to get down to business without complaining, to work hard, to work faithfully.

This is what the Spirit says in our reading from Colossians, “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart” (3:22). And then notice how He drives home this teaching, underscores the attitude that should inform all our labour: “[Do your work]…fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (v 23).

When you go to work tomorrow, you’re doing it not only for yourself, nor for your boss or your teacher, nor even for the benefit of your spouse or children, but also—and especially—for the praise of Christ. We get to do everything for the one who gave us life. For we’re not our own, but we are his, in body and soul. So, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord…for you serve the Lord Christ” (v 24).     

These good words in Colossians don’t only apply to first-century slaves. Otherwise we could just skip over them. We’re not slaves, but there’s a principle here that still applies to all people, whatever our position, our task and work: “Do it heartily, as to the Lord.”

God’s Word speaks to the business owner who enjoys some prosperity; and He speaks to the students not looking forward to being in school again this week; and to those who dread the tasks of tomorrow; even to those who don’t have a regular job anymore but who fill their time with other things. Scripture’s command is wide-ranging, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…because it is the Lord Christ you are serving” (NIV). In the place God has put us, with the opportunities and time that He gives, it’s his will that we faithfully do our work for him.

Here I think we’d benefit from a regular “re-set” of our goals in working, a reorientation for our labours. For instance, we should remind ourselves not to just use our talents for our own slow climb up the corporate ladder, but for the praise of our God. We’re also not raising our children primarily for their own successes, nor as a boost to our parental pride, but we do the hard work of raising them so that they’ll love God and walk in his ways. Neither do we work in the local church to be esteemed by others, but we do it for the glory of Christ and good of his people. Whatever we do, we should do in service of the LORD.

Martin Luther once said, “Even a dairy maid can milk cows to the glory of God.” Why was the great theologian thinking about dairy maids? He said that a task so ordinary and simple, a job overlooked by this world, was still important to God. Because even that dairy maid could serve the Lord while sitting on her stool on the dirty barn floor—she could, if she would just do her work well, doing it gratefully, cheerfully, and in dependence on God.

We can include ourselves with that dairy maid. To rephrase Luther’s words: Even a salesman can sell product to the glory of God. Even a mother can vacuum floors to the glory of God. Even a homebuilder can frame houses to the glory of God. And a mechanic fix cars. And a school teacher teach. And a nurse. We could go on… As we sang in Psalm 90, “Establish all the labours of our hands/ Establish them, that to your praise they stand.” We do it for the LORD, and we do it in reliance on his blessing.


2) the critical need for the Father’s favour: It’s all too easy to be proud. In the time of life when things are going well for us, there’s the creeping tendency to forget God’s mercies, and to think that all this good is self-made and self-sustained. But the fourth petition teaches us differently. Jesus teaches us to bring all our needs, our cares, and our labours, before the throne of God and there to ask for his blessing. For none of these things will do us any good unless He decides to show his favour.

This is also the theme of Psalm 127. The words are familiar, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (v 1). In vain! Those are serious words to have on our heart when we go to work or school tomorrow. Why am I “rising early, and sitting up late?” (v 2). What if it’s all just for me, just for achieving my personal goals? Is it all in vain?

As you see in the heading over our text, Psalm 127 is one of the “songs of ascents.” These Psalms were used at the temple as the people stood in God’s presence and worshiped. But already before that, the people sang these songs while they made the journey up to Jerusalem.

Psalm 127 was written by King Solomon, whom we mentioned earlier. The big theme of Solomon’s writings was that living in the fear of LORD is the good and wise life. So as the people went up to Jerusalem, they could reflect on this word of wisdom. This Psalm reminded them that life isn’t about getting nice things for yourself or building a solid fortress for when trouble comes. Rather, life is all about seeking the presence of God.

But before that, he begins with the solemn warning, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain who build it” (v 1). Now, if you said “house” to an Israelite, he’d picture roughly the same thing we would: a domestic shelter, four walls and a roof, a couple windows and a door. But Solomon is speaking here about more than a physical residence. This “house” is far weightier. It stands for the heart of your earthly life. It’s what you’ve made the centre of your existence. It’s that place you’ve made for yourself in this world. What’s important to you? Where are you most comfortable? Where do you feel secure?

We’re all involved in building a “house” of one kind or another. We set things up, plan it all out, acquire what we like. We work and save and spend. We set goals and attain them. Our lives can become quite complex, filled with people and plans and things, ‘til we look at it all and say, “I finally feel at home. I’ve built something that I like—a life of my own.”

Solomon knew about projects like this, too. He spent years building cities and fortresses and palaces, even the temple in Jerusalem. All of them took careful planning and organizing. He would never have attempted them without a detailed blueprint, and a firm idea of who was in charge of the work.

That is Solomon’s lesson for us. Don’t go through this life without the constant help of God, the master Architect and Builder. In all your interests and activities, don’t ignore God’s plan and direction. For anything we gain from our earthly labours will soon spoil and fade away. Unless it’s done for the LORD, it’s all in vain. What’s it all for if you’re not living for God—working for God? You’re building your house in vain.

That’s a striking thing about this Lord’s Day. It says that our “care and labour” won’t do us any good without God’s blessing. From reading Scripture, maybe we expect that truth. We know that God has to strengthen our hands and minds for work.

But then it says that even “your gifts”—God’s gifts!—cannot do us any good, unless God will bless. The heap of money you have, those material possessions we’ve gained, those gifts of intellect and skill we received: they might all be from God, and they might be very good things from his hand… but on their own, these gifts won’t bring any benefit at all. Even his gifts won’t do us any good unless God blesses and helps us. So we need to ask him to! Make my work useful, Lord! Help me to be faithful, Lord!

Solomon said something similar in the book of Ecclesiastes. There he looks at the futility of a life lived apart from God. He says that a man can have anything he wants, like lots of wealth, and wisdom, non-stop pleasure, an earthly sense of security. But if you’re not relying on God and worshiping him, then it’s meaningless.

This is what Solomon asks, right in the opening words of Ecclesiastes, “What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?” (1:3) Nothing! What do you gain from all your working and your studying and your planning? Nothing at all. Nothing, unless the LORD is building, and the LORD is blessing.

This underlines the need for us to be faithful in prayer, faithful and sincere in offering the fourth petition. It is right that we daily bring all our endeavours and ambitions before the LORD. Prayer is a simple yet powerful way of saying to God, “Father, I need your help. Father, I cannot do this without your favour and your wisdom and your Spirit. I need you, every hour. For this assignment; for this chore; this meeting; this exam; this sermon; this mealtime. I need, and I ask, your blessing, for Jesus’s sake.”

An attitude of dependence on God is at the heart of this petition. For when we acknowledge that our care and labour, and also God’s many gifts, can’t do us any good without his blessing, we also pray: “Grant…that we may withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it only in you” (Q&A 125). We trust in the LORD that He alone will keep and care for us.

It is trust that also features in the second comparison in Psalm 127. For after speaking of the need for God to be the Builder, Solomon goes on to speak of the need for God to be the Watcher: “Unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (v 1). Remember that the Israelites were on their way to Jerusalem. The Israelites loved the holy city; it was their pride and joy, full of beauty and splendour. Yet without God’s constant mercy, even Jerusalem could fall and be destroyed. Unless the LORD was guarding, all those watchmen were wasting their time.

So it is today. We can love and cherish all the many things that are ours in this world, whether it’s our home, or our car, or even our spouse and children. And we can try hard to protect these things with alarm systems and insurance policies and good health care. But all the watchmen stand guard in vain if God isn’t the one helping and protecting. The most effective security—the only effective security—is the living God who holds all things in his Fatherly hands. So trust in him.

That’s a wonderful and comforting thing for us to know. For when the Lord builds, and when the Lord watches, we can be freed from the burden of our worries and anxieties. We can also be freed from the burden of working too much, or saving too much, or planning too much, because we think it all depends on us. Because we know that in all things, our Father will take care. He will provide, and He will guide.


3) the happy result in our lives: Jesus wants his followers to be happy. Not to be happy in any worldly or superficial sense, but happy in him. This is why He began his ministry by announcing his beatitudes, “Blessed are—happy are!—the poor in spirit, and those who mourn, and the meek and the merciful.” The sure way to be happy in this life is by seeking the Lord.

It’s a theme in the songs of ascents too, like Psalm 128:1, “Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways.” There’s a good outcome to our life and labour when we put the Lord first. Psalm 127 touches on this too. Solomon has spoken of things being vain and useless when they’re attempted without God. But then he also speaks of the good that results when the Lord shows his grace; like in verse 2, “He gives his beloved sleep.”

We all know that a good night’s sleep is a blessing. It’s a gift from God when we’re able to close our eyes at the end of a long day and be at peace. Not tossing and turning, not staring at the ceiling all night, but resting. We close our eyes at night, happy to know that our life is in the Father’s hands.

Psalm 127 says that you can rise early and stay up late, in the endless pursuit of happiness. But you’ll only eat the “bread of sorrows” (v 2), Solomon says, which is another way of saying “It’s all in vain.” Your daily bread will be the bread of sorrows, because in the long run, all your activity won’t do you any good.

The alternative to that is fearing the Lord and relying on his blessing. Then you can be happy and at peace. You work and sleep, you eat and drink, you live and die, and you are content. Whether experiencing need or having plenty, you can be content.

For along the way we are learning that Christ is really the One we need: Christ, who is the Bread of Life. If Christ has given us the one thing which is more important than anything else—eternal salvation—then we know that He’ll also give everything else that we truly need. God will surely give us all things together with him!

Paul speaks of this great gift in Colossians 3. It’s right after he calls servants and employees and employers and students and mothers and teachers to faithful labour. He says, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, not to men…” And he continues, “Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of your inheritance” (vv 23-24). When you serve Christ as your Master and King, He promises you a lasting reward.

What’s your reward from Christ? Probably not great wealth in this life, but everything you need for another day. And probably not glory and honour in this life, but certainly in the next, when we are with Christ forever. That’s the one reward that matters!

So it’s a promise for you to believe in, a guarantee from our Saviour: “I want you to work for me,” He says, “and work faithfully. Work, and do not lose heart, because I will certainly give the reward of your inheritance!”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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