Tuesday, November 24, 2020

On the Construction Site

Raising children is hard. Doing it right is harder.

Psalm 127 was written by Solomon, and contains several oft-quoted lines about parents and children. To the extent we know much about any of Solomon’s own children, it appears they had limited success in this world. Solomon’s son Rehoboam started his reign with twelve tribes calling him king and ended it with 2-1/2 ... not exactly what we would call an outstanding job performance.

That doesn’t mean Rehoboam’s father knew nothing useful about governance, but whatever Solomon did know, he passed on to his son imperfectly, as is so often the case.

The House, the City and the Family

Here is Psalm 127, for those unfamiliar:
“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.

 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb
      a reward.
 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
 He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies
      in the gate.”
Psalm 127 is made up of seven sentences which scan nicely in English when we break them into two paragraphs totaling eight lines. Those two paragraphs may initially appear unrelated to one another, as if their author combined meditations on two subjects into a single psalm. Since that author was the writer of thousands of individual proverbs collected side-by-side and dealing with numerous different topics in a single chapter, it is entirely possible that is the case.

I don’t think so though, and you probably will not either if you read the psalm carefully.

The First Stanza

Let’s examine that first stanza a bit.

Planning and skill certainly help men succeed in their undertakings, but in the natural world success and failure are essentially random occurrences.

When we talk about “the best laid plans”, we are usually about to add that despite the most top-notch, proactive efforts, unexpected twists of fate have scuppered one of our projects and it is in the process of going under. Equally, some people achieve success with little intelligence or planning, while the rest of us look on in bafflement. So then, even in the absence of God’s blessing some of man’s efforts succeed. Also, not everything God blesses succeeds in terms we would recognize as success. The pagans successfully build their colossi, while the Christians often suffered and died in arenas.

All that being acknowledged, Psalm 127’s first stanza is a reminder that success in any project can only be 100% assured when the architect of that project is God.

The Architect of the Project

If the Lord God is behind any initiative, it will never be derailed, whether by plot, riot, earthquake, hurricane, lack of funding, dearth of knowledge on the part of those who seek to carry it out, or any other combination of circumstances. God’s involvement and direction absolutely guarantee success, no matter how limited the resources of his human agents; no matter how frail, unimpressive, or few in numbers they may be.

Equally, any initiative undertaken apart from God’s favor — or worse, in defiance of his will — is fatally flawed from the get-go. This remains true even if all the resources of the planet are poured into it, if the best and brightest have conceived it, if the most powerful, numerous and aggressive forces are engaged to carry it out, and if the most determined human wills are employed in driving it on past all conceivable limits. If that initiative does not fail today, it will fail tomorrow, or the next day, or several centuries down the road. Being what it is, it cannot help it.

Thus the man whose hands build the house or guards the city which is truly the Lord’s can do so without fretting or concern. Success is guaranteed. Secure in that knowledge, he sleeps peacefully in the midst of his enemies.

The Second Stanza

The second stanza may initially appear to change subjects, but it really doesn’t. After all, what are buildings and cities apart from the families that dwell in them? What do the great projects of civilization serve if not the perpetuation and happiness of the human species?

So then, in the first stanza the principle is laid out that the success of a project is only guaranteed to the extent that project is truly God’s. In the second stanza, we are invited to apply this principle to our families. Our children too may become God’s projects, and we need to think of them that way. He has given them to us in order that we may give them back to him.

Do you want your son and daughter to be exactly like you? I sincerely hope not. Oh, I trust there are aspects of your character and bits of knowledge you have accumulated over the years that are truly worthwhile. If you are able to persuade your children that it is in their best interests to memorize or emulate these, that is a wonderful thing. But overall, would you really like your child to follow precisely in your footsteps, making all the same mistakes you have? I trust you would wish something better for them.

Architecture and Ownership

Far too many Christian parents want their children to have the things they had and to live the way they lived, so they push them in the direction of university education or a career path they think will offer security, respect and even affluence. Other have noticed ways their own lives might have been more successful and push their children to take these unexplored routes through life in hope they will do better than their parents. Both of these goals are second-class. They are natural thinking rather than spiritual.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. If God designed my son to be a Samuel or a John the Baptist, I would be a fool to groom him to take over the family business or, God forbid, stick around to care for me in my dotage. That would be wrong for me, wrong for him, and wrong for the kingdom of heaven. It would be an inferior aspiration and my child would feel that loss his entire life.

The better thing is this: that our children become God’s projects, not ours. That doesn’t mean that as parents we are uninvolved in raising them or uninvested in their success, but that as parents we do not act in the capacity of owners and architects.

Rather, we function as willing construction workers looking to the real Architect and Owner of our children for his guidance and direction, asking him to accomplish HIS purposes in their lives rather than our own. We build our households to conform to his standards and measurements, not ours. The things to which we aspire on behalf of our children are the things that arise out of and draw their energies from their relationship to Christ, not their relationship to their natural parents.

Any other parental attitude will result in inferior construction work, wasted man-hours and loss for everyone concerned.

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