Unless The Lord Builds The House

My daughter-in-law asked me if I would be willing to encourage the moms in her homeschool group.  She told me it would be casual and I only needed to share for about 10-15 minutes.
I was honored.  I wrote down a few thoughts so I could remember and what you are about to read is what I shared with them plus a little more.
I applauded them.  I told them they  are doing something great though it doesn’t seem so great in the mundane, routine, noisy, and cluttered days. In the everydayness.  But I assured them, what they are doing is a great thing.

It takes young men and women of courage and discipline to raise children for the glory of God.  God asks us to do it and for many, this includes the task of educating our children at home.  
He promises to help us. We cannot do it on our own.
All of us are probably very familiar with Psalm 127:3 which states “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord.”
This is so true.  Yet this phrase is found in the larger context of the chapter.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.
Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
I love this passage.  When I was expecting our first child, I did a watercolor drawing of Pooh Bear holding balloons – with the familiar part, “Behold Children are a gift of the Lord.”
But here’s the thing – Unless God builds our houses, we labor in vain.
I told them - Though I don't know you, I pray for you.  Stay the course. You are equipped. You are capable. You will be tired and overwhelmed at times but He is with you and if you will trust and obey - your joy will be full even in those times when you are tempted to think you are a failure and you just can't do it anymore.  And believe me, that is a good place to be if, when you are there,  you will look up and fix your eyes on the One Who wants to strongly support you.
As I asked the Lord what to share with them in those few moments we had together, my thoughts gathered around two areas.
First,  I shared briefly my journey to home educate my children. Now that I'm on the back side, I see even more clearly how God never left  me - He always guided and He was my help.
I first heard of home education back in 1982 when my oldest child was a few months old. I was listening to James Dobson and he had a guest on his program who was discussing this alternative. I was interested but I remember thinking - "that's for specially-equipped people. I'm not one of those."
However, I remember wanting to read the book his guest had written but as those things go ... I never did. And besides, I thought of school as "so far away."
Three children later, my oldest was ready for kindergarten. We enrolled him in the local Christian school deciding we would make any sacrifice necessary to pay for it. He did wonderfully academically-speaking but there were a few issues that concerned me.  
Over the summer, and after we had enrolled him for 1st grade, I walked into our church's library and there on the table was the book I had heard about when he was a baby. I remembered it and so I checked it out. As I read it over the summer, I sensed that I needed to homeschool. I asked my husband about it and also asked him to read sections of the book - which he did - and together, we made the decision to home educate.
I was now pregnant with our 4th child who would be born right at the beginning - late August - of our first school year.
I didn't really know how to introduce our choice to family and friends - it was not the norm by any stretch of the imagination. This was 1988.
I followed the curriculum plan of the Moore Foundation and thus our journey began. I loved it. I loved being with my children. I loved conversations with them. I loved teaching them.
But at some point in those early years, I began to feel very overwhelmed with the responsibility of it all. I heard from naysayers - people bringing up concerns that I hadn't even thought about.  So for whatever reason, or for perhaps many reasons,  I was feeling the weight of it all.  I began thinking - "What if I mess them up? What if I miss things? What if they need more?  What if they hate me for doing this?  What if, what if, what if …."

And so the second area my thoughts gathered around was the passage of Scripture that God used at that time in my life to encourage me.  And I can’t even begin to share how this passage has been a constant in my life for over 30 years now.
It’s Solomon’s prayer which is found in 1 Kings 3.
 In verse 5 God says this to Solomon:  “Ask what you wish Me to give you.”

And to this day, I am still overwhelmed by Solomon’s prayer.  First, he talks about the goodness of God, both to him and his father,  as he says, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.”

Then he makes his request, Now, O Lord My God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?

I remember thinking, way back then, when I had my four little children (my fifth, at this point, was just a thought in the heart of God) – "Who am I to educate them?  How can I do this?  I am in the middle of these children whom You have chosen to give me and I believe You’ve called me to this task – but their needs are so great.  I live in a nation that thinks formal schooling is the best option … Oh God, I need Your help.  I, like Solomon, need an understanding heart … I, too, feel like a little child … I sometimes don’t know what to do next …”

God’s answer to Solomon is so encouraging …
It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing.  God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you.   I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days.  If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.

You know, Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived.  God gave great wisdom to him and God was pleased with his humility at this point in his life.  And because of the humblest of prayers from the humblest of hearts – yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in …. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?, God gave not only wisdom to him, but oh so much more!

The people belonged to God.  God had chosen Solomon to lead.  Solomon was overwhelmed with this responsibility and he called out to the One Who had chosen him.  He knew he couldn’t do it alone – or AT ALL …  remember he said this to the Lord, Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted.
God reminded me through this passage that though the task is overwhelming – God chooses.  He chooses us to be mothers and He chooses the children He gives.   And He also reminded me how much I need to pray like Solomon.

God was so pleased with his prayer – He gave him so much more – things he didn’t even request!   Sometimes when I look at my grown children today, my heart is overwhelmed with how God has worked.  He is so faithful.

Reminds me of Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think ,according to the power that works within us,  to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
And you know what else? God constantly reminds me that there is absolutely no room for pride as we mother our children, as we home educate them, as we do what God asks us to do.  The older I grow, the more I realize this.  It’s all God.

All of us are like children – we don’t know anything – but God knows everything.  All throughout Scripture God shows us through narratives and He tells us point blank that He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Scripture shows us that God is attracted to weakness – He comes near to  those who cry out to Him for His help.

I need to have a constant heart like Solomon – realizing that I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in ….
And think about it, Jesus is the One Who tells us that to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must become like children.  Childlike in our faith – dependent on the One Who saves us.  We can’t save ourselves.  We can’t even help.
And likewise, with all God asks us to do, we must be like children.  Dependent on the One Who can help us.
Jehoshaphat, when facing the enemy in 2 Chronicles 20, expressed this same kind of heart when he prayed, O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.
God, pleased with this kind of prayer, answered, Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.
I am just a child. I am often fearful, dismayed.  I don't really know what I'm doing. I don't know how to go out or come in. I'm in the midst of all these children - I need God’s wisdom. I need Him.

Again, there is absolutely no room for pride.  The moment pride enters -  “I got this.  I know what I’m doing.  My way is the best way,” we set ourselves up to fail.
I want God to have it. He knows what He’s doing.  His way is the best way.

 So as you've taken on this task of home educating your children, what is your heart like?  On Whom are you depending?  Yourself?   Your education?  Your great organizing skills?  Your great plan?  Your wisdom?

Or are you depending upon God?  Are you asking for His help?  Do you realize that unless He builds your house, you labor in vain?

You know, there was one thing I didn’t share with the moms on that morning when I offered some encouragement.  I didn’t tell them the following story from the early days of my mothering.
It was spring of 1984. We were at Duke University and in those busy years of discipling and training students, becoming a mother and being involved in our church, I didn’t know then how God would use the event of one night to shape me and prepare me for the years ahead.
Carl was away from our home in Durham, North Carolina.  I was a young mom with 2 small babies.  My older was 2 and my second was a few months old.  Carl had traveled to Texas to help write Bible study materials for Cru.
On the second night of Carl’s trip I remember putting both my boys in bed with me.  I don’t really know why.  It just seemed more comforting to have us close together when Carl was away.
      Sleep felt good.
      Later, I found myself coughing yet I felt as if I couldn’t move.  I thought I smelled smoke but I was so sleepy,  it didn’t seem real.  I fought the urge to get up.
I continued to cough and the urge to get up became alarming.   Suddenly I sat up in bed. Why was it so foggy? It was dark; yet there was a flicker of light coming from the kitchen which cast an eerie shadow.
I jumped up as I realized the house was filled with smoke.  I ran to the kitchen and saw a smoldering towel on the stove.  In my haste, I grabbed the towel and threw it in the sink not realizing with that one act, I was creating a bigger fire.  Flames burst upward toward the kitchen cabinets from the fragments of the towel.  I threw the towel in the sink and turned around to see fiery shreds of it left on the burner.  I don’t remember how I put the two fires out but somehow I  found the baking soda and dumped it everywhere.   I turned on the water in the sink.  The fires were now out but the smoke thickened.  I ran to open up windows and doors and then stopped - what was I thinking?  I needed to get my boys out of there.   It was 3:30 in the morning.  Somehow I carried them both out into the night air.  Then I sat on the deck steps and cried.
      A breeze was blowing.  My children slept in my arms.  I kissed them both as tears rolled down my cheeks. I looked to the heavens.  The sky was as clear as I had ever seen it.  The stars were as many and as bright as I could ever remember.  And in that night air, God brought two passages of Scripture to my mind:
 Psalm 127:
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it:  Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.  It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.  Behold, children are a gift of the Lord;  the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They shall not be ashamed, When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
and Psalm 139,
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thoughts from afar.  You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.  Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.  You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;  Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.   If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,  And the light around me will be night," Even the darkness is not dark to You,  And the night is as bright as the day.  Darkness and light are alike to You .  . . . And in Your book they were all written, The days that were ordained for me,  When as yet there was not one of them.  How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.  When I awake, I am still with You.
      God impressed a great truth to me that night.   He is the source of all I need as a mother.  He is the One on Whom I need to depend to build my house.  As I gazed into the heavens, I really sensed His presence.  I knew He was the One Who had awakened me.   And there as I  felt the breeze, I asked the Lord to show me His ways,  I asked for the good way, and I asked Him for His grace to walk in it.  I loved the Lord before that night but then I loved Him even more.  I knew what Jesus taught in the gospel of John, “If you love me, you will obey me.”  That night was the beginning of my knowing God’s presence in my life in a whole new way.
We need Him.  We need His wisdom.  We are but children.  We don’t know how to go out or come in.
But He does.

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