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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
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 127:1-2
Do you ever feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day?  I feel that way all too frequently.   During the fall, the busiest time of year for college ministry, I often struggle with sleepless nights of tossing and turning for hours before I get to sleep.  My mind continues to churn over all the things I have to do and all the things that are not or may not get done.  Often I will get back up and try to distract myself with some mindless entertainment or a few minutes of reading in an attempt to settle my mind down so I can get some sleep.

On those nights, I almost always cry out to God in desperation for help, but my prayers seem to have little effect.  Sometimes I get up and try to read the Scriptures, but my tired, fuzzy mind can rarely get engaged in God’s Word. Instead, it endlessly processes details and anxieties of the coming days.  After anxious nights like those, I rarely give much thought to it the next day.  I do not take time to think about what such an anxious night says about the state of my heart and where my hope lies.

Those nights betray one of the great idols of my heart — the idol of my own industry.  It betrays that I am living my days as if the Lord is not the one “building” and “watching” as Psalm 127 says, it is just me.  I am living in those moments as my only hope for success, and my mind knows that my own ability to get everything done is pretty pathetic.  So, I worry and fret, and toss and turn, robbing myself of sleep and compounding my anxiety of my impending failures by robbing myself of rest.

Jesus points us to the folly and uselessness of anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6.   He reminds us that birds and flowers, who are far less capable “workers” than we are, are cared for by God in his providence.  Birds do not sow, reap, and store their food, and flowers do not toil or spin, yet they are fed and clothed by God.  Jesus does not say this to encourage idleness, but to prevent idolatry – a misplaced hope and confidence in our own efforts instead of his gracious providence.

If I truly want to see God’s kingdom built through my life and work, I should not be plagued by such anxieties.  God will build his kingdom, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  If God is not at work in my puny efforts, my labor is wasted, but if He IS at work, I can labor hard and rest peacefully, knowing that He will accomplish His will.

As I enter another busy season, I am very aware of my own insufficiency for the tasks ahead and my heart’s propensity to trust in my own efforts instead of rest in the faithfulness of the Lord.  Instead of trying to pray my way out of those anxious, sleepless nights, I am striving to keep my hope fully in the work of the Lord – laboring hard as a steward of His grace and sleeping in the peace and certainty of His faithfulness.  I have had my fill of the bread of anxious toil and the vanity of the idol of industriousness.

Chris Matthews
Ministry Director at Yale