It is a cardinal truth of the Christian faith that God does not live in buildings designed by humans minds and hands (Acts 7:24; 17:48). Sadly, while every Christian will heartily affirm this as a theological truth, too many go about their daily lives as if God does live in the church and, when they leave church on Sunday, he stays behind.
Unsurprisingly, this attitude is prevalent among nominal Christians. They show no real devotion to the Lord but quickly darken the doors of the church to get married, dedicate their newborn, or bury their loved ones. For these people, the building carries a sort of superstitious relevance. God is there to witness those significant life events and to bless them, but they have no need of him from day to day.
But it is not only nominal Christians who fall into this trap. Too often, we fall into the same thinking. We will never say it out loud, but we live as if God has no relevance in our lives outside of gathered worship. We pay lip service to him on Sunday but then proceed to live out our own plans Monday to Saturday. He plays no significant role in our family, employment, or decision-making. He is all but forgotten as we weave our way through the world before “visiting” him again on Sunday.
Psalm 127 speaks directly to this attitude. It reminds us that, unless God is intricately involved in their day-to-day lives, there is no hope of success.
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour 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.
Solomon was deeply concerned that his readers rely on God. Elsewhere, he reminded his son to trust fully in the Lord and to not lean on his own understanding (Proverbs 3:5–6). Here, he issues the same exhortation to the covenant community. Forging our own path in life, heedless of God’s direction, is a recipe for disaster. It is to live life “in vain.” It is, as we see in Ecclesiastes, to live a life of futility.
Solomon was not the only biblical author to highlight this reality. James reminds us of the same truth in James 4:13–17. James’s writing, which resonates deeply with Solomonic thinking, highlights at least three reasons that we should not be foolish enough to think we can live apart from God.
First, we do not control the present. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’” (v. 13). We want to make plans and rely on our own wisdom but even our best efforts are subject to God’s kindness. We may be tempted to rely on our own skill to “trade and make a profit” but we must remember that, unless God blesses our efforts, they will fail.
Second, we do not know the future. “You do not know what tomorrow will bring” (v. 14). As carefully as we might plan to provide for the future, we cannot see what lies ahead. The future can spin more wildly out of control than we can imagine. Only God knows what lies ahead.
Third, we do not know our own end. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (v. 14). We are transient creatures. Human plans are frequently dashed by the ever-looming presence of death.
James therefore cautions as Solomon does: “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (v. 15). Our plans—indeed, our very lives—are subject to God’s will because, as Solomon puts it, “unless” the Lord blesses, our efforts are useless.
As you head into a new day, be cognisant of Psalm 127’s “unless.” You will be tempted to sideline God in your plans but remember that, unless God blesses, your best laid plans will surely collapse. Trust in him and rely on his help today.