“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)
Singer, Carly Simon, wrote a song back in the 1970’s titled, You’re So Vain. The chorus went, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you, you’re so vain.” A good line, huh? It became a huge hit and Simon acknowledged that she wrote it with someone particular in mind. For years, people speculated on the object of her scorn, but Simon has still yet to reveal the name of the man she wrote about. I have a feeling he knows who he is; or maybe he doesn’t!
The Bible often refers to humans as being “vain” or seeking “vainglory.” Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and must not be “desirous of vain glory.” (Galatians 5:26) Paul admonishes, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3) It’s easy for me to read passages, like these, and blow by them or, worse yet, think they’re not speaking to my heart. But therein lies the problem Carly Simon was addressing when she wrote, “I bet you think this song is about you.” It might be said, of you and me, “I bet you don’t think this verse is about you,” but that’s something we need to rethink.
We are usually blind to our own vainglory. We don’t see it. That’s because vainglory can be subtle, especially when it disguises itself to appear more virtuous than it is. What’s more, vainglory, ultimately, goes beyond esteeming oneself above others to esteeming oneself above God. The first two verses of Psalm 127 (above) make that very point. Your plans and efforts are futile apart from God, even if those labors are focused on doing work for the church. You can make plans and work day and night, yet your efforts may be completely in vain. You and I need to ask, “To whose glory am I really staying busy for?” We need to wonder, “Why do these things make me burn the candle at both ends or keep me awake at night?” The answer to these questions, I’ve found, is I’ve viewed myself as too essential. I would never say, “It’s a good thing I’m on top of this,” but that’s what my actions reveal. They reveal my own vainglory.
The Lord wants us to rest in His glory, and not our own. To do otherwise is vain. It is empty and useless. God does not need us but chose to use us in carrying out His plans of providence. “He gives His beloved sleep,” because He neither “slumbers nor sleeps.” (Psalm 124:4) When you make time for a good and full night’s sleep, you are not only resting your body, you are also resting your plans and your cares in the Lord. We must not view ourselves as more essential than we are. It is the Lord who made heaven and earth and you and me. When you’re anxious, restless and telling everyone you’re “busy,” stop and consider the words of Psalm 127:1-2 printed above. Because, at that very moment, it seems the most God exalting thing you can do is crawl into bed early. Pardon me now while I take a nap.