Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

This is a familiar verse for many Christians. But how should we apply it practically? What does it mean for the Lord to “build the house?” The “house” under consideration certainly includes, in context, the family and home (vv.3-5). Yet the fact is we are all building a house of sorts with our lives—whether we are single, or elderly, or empty-nesters. Whether we are parents, or pastors, or computer programmers we are laboring toward some specific goal. And it will either succeed or fail.

In considering this passage recently for a men and boys retreat for my local church, I was impressed with at least three plain lessons we should draw from it. For the Lord to be the builder of our house:

1) We must have God’s priorities.

We cannot expect to pursue our own agenda, our own desires, and then have God rubber-stamp them with his approval. If we hope to have God build our house, we must have the same desires for our house that God does.

God will not support any lesser purpose; he will not assist us in pursuing the wrong set of goals.

This is crucial to recognize because otherwise, we might mistake a general sense of “success” with the Lord’s building our house. We might think that because I got a promotion at work or my kids are doing well in school, or my banking account is comfortable—this must mean that the Lord is building my house. Yet all the while we might be in the very process of “vain labor” that the psalmist is warning us against.

Earthly success is no sign of God’s approval.

God desires that we seek his kingdom first, and the glory of his Son Jesus Christ. If this is not the single-minded motivation in all that we do, then the Lord is not going to be building our house.

2) We must use God’s tools.

We cannot expect God to use our tools in order to build a house that is pleasing to Him. God has given us means of grace, whereby he has plainly told us that he works: Bible intake, prayer, worship, and participation in the body of Christ to name just a few.

God uses the spiritual disciplines in order to shape us into the image of his Son Jesus.

Yet we often make the mistake of assuming that we can neglect these means of grace, and still expect God to help us build a strong house. We replace the spiritual disciplines with entertainment, academic pursuits, career climbing, or general busyness—and expect God to use these tools to make our house mighty.

God cares too much about us and his own glory to let us use these inferior tools in order to build a strong house. We cannot hand God the tools of our invention and expect him to bless them. If we want to have a strong house, then we have to labor for it with God’s tools.

3) We must depend on God’s grace.

Even our best labors are still in vain if God does not shore up all the gaping cracks in our holiness. Therefore, we cannot hope for God to be the builder of our house if we are depending on our own record or righteousness.

Building a strong house does require labor on our part. But any labor that is not ultimately trusting in God’s sufficiency rather than our own will be in vain.

Any labor that does not issue out of faith in Jesus Christ is a sinful labor (Romans 14:23).

So in order to build a strong and successful house, we must desire what God desires for our house, we must labor using God’s means of grace, and we must trust in Christ’s sufficiency to fill in where we inevitably fail. Those who build any other way will find in the end that they have labored in vain.

Lord, please, please, build my house. I don’t want a house of my own designing.