“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)

Honestly, I think my grasp of Scripture comes in and out over time. I understood this verse in a spiritually mature way a few years ago, then I fell into literal thinking about it, and now I’ve come out of that, back into a fresh understanding. Has this ever happened to you? It’s like finding a long-lost earring in the pocket of an old pair of jeans. Cause for celebration!

I know…this verse refers to whatever I’m working on. If we don’t invite the Lord into the work, we’re on our own, and we all know what that can bring. But a few years ago I just forgot that was the point; I took the passage too literally for awhile and left it stuck in that understanding.

Here’s what happened: in 2004 I renovated my home. I applied this verse to that project, which was a very smart thing to do. I plastered that passage all over my notes about plumbing parts and stair risers and kitchen appliances and wireless modems. It helped a great deal as I chose between what I earnestly wanted and what was truly needed. So I was constantly (often reluctantly, really, and only because I’d promised God that I would) putting my ideas in front of the Lord and listening hard to hear the wisdom about each phase of the project. He was helping me “build the house.”

And then it was done, and I subconsciously put that passage away. The problem is that I no longer thought to apply it to work other than house renovation. That’s where the earring got lost in the old pair of jeans.

So many times in my work of management consulting, coaching leaders and helping them spread their organizational knowledge around, when I forget to apply this idea, well, the result is usually a mess. Recently I encountered a very difficult working relationship that threatened to derail one of my most valuable contracts. I was cranking away on my own steam, not even thinking of the work or the relationship as a house that God might be interested in building with me, but entirely focused on the next difficult conversation.

In the pain of mopping up a disastrous public event, it came to me that this was a house, and I was trying to build it by myself, and that it was going to be futile as long as I continued without asking for God’s input. I had never once asked Him into the planning or execution of this project! I reoriented myself to serving God in the work, and something shifted. But not at first. It took awhile, but over time the relationship troubles have receded, and the work has been transformed into something fine. The contract is still challenging, but it’s now good work, not an exercise of trudging through on my own.

The truth is He cares about this work (this “house”); He designed it for me long ago and has a plan for it that is beyond what I can see each day. My service to Him is showing up and doing my best at my part of the job so that He can do His part. My work every day is integral to the missio Dei, as my colleague Steve Garber likes to say, not incidental to it.

The insight for today is simply recognizing anew that it’s a house I’m building with each client and each contract, and that unless the Lord is building it, I am going to be laboring in vain. His resources are far greater than anything I can find or generate myself.

Sure am glad to have that earring back.

Anne Cregger is a former Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute, a member of the US Navigator Staff, Metro Mission, and she was the founding Director of The Falls Church Fellows Program.