Rule 1

Written by Carl Greene

March 6, 2024

“Rule 1: Don’t do anything stupid.”

I received this sound advice from my coach, Eric Bofinger, just before running the Boston Marathon in 2023. He has shared it with me again while preparing for another marathon in Boston on April 15, 2024. I have struggled to learn Rule 1.

Actually, I think that we struggle with “Rule 1” daily. All too often, we forget the key reminders captured in Psalm 127. God is Enough.

Defining Stupid

When it comes to marathon running, my “stupid” is to avoid running too fast at the start and leaving nothing in the tank to finish out the race. The adrenalin flowing at the starting gun does not have the same impact a couple hours later. Stupid is overestimating my strength and endurance.

In daily life, “running stupid” is plunging into our work and activities without realizing that we are actually joining God in His work. We do not intentionally go this route, it just happens as we get wrapped up in the demands of the day. Once again, stupid is overestimating my strength and endurance.

Psalm 127

1 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.

2It 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, ESV)

Let’s start with the problem that is addressed by this passage. The problem

is not work itself, the problem is work “in vain.” The word “vain” is used three times within two verses. The repetition of such a strong word should grab our attention. “Vain” goes a whole lot further than my coach’s warning about “stupid.”

We often pass off the word vain as a little problem. We see vain as more of a frustration or something to avoid in order to attain a better outcome. The use of vain in Psalm 127 actually points to something far more worrisome though. Vain literally means ruin. The builders and watchmen are bringing ruin on their work and themselves if they do not follow the admonition in each phrase.

Unless the Lord

The key phrase of “unless the Lord” is the reminder to keep us from a vain end. We join God in His work. While this is a basic concept, we clearly need the reminder. All too often we jump into “building” or “watching” and live like we are doing it alone, not joining God in His work. This plays out in “watching” over our family and church family with micromanaging, controlling tenacity. We can see it in “building” our church through ministry initiatives that are driven more by metrics (or fear of metrics) than Spirit-led promptings. We end up “vain” because we do not start with “unless the Lord.”

Gives Rest

We say that God is enough, but live like He desperately needs us to save the day. We make ourselves something of an idol, living as though a work or initiative will not come to fruition without our personal control.

Verse 2 provides a corrective to our controlling tendencies. He gives sleep to His beloved. Those who recognize the beauty of “unless the Lord” are able to set aside their work and know His rest. In fact, the workaholic drive and desire for control that many of us share is addressed by a simple practice.

Rest.

Our weekly rhythm of Sabbath rest is a practice that is counter formative against the tendency to control, brood over, or despair about outcomes. Sabbath rest is a way that we remember weekly, “unless the Lord.” Routine rest dethrones the idolatry of ourselves.

With this view in mind, we actually work from our rest. A central feature of meaningful work is that it is centered on wholesome rest that restores our vision of “unless the Lord.” Make no mistake, Psalm 127 reminds us that our work matters. We are called to work, but that work is framed by trusting God more than ourselves.

Rest is not an escape from work to recharge our batteries in order to be more productive. That is simply another avenue toward a vain end. Rest actually keeps us rooted in joining God in His rest, and therefore His purpose-filled work.

Is God Enough?

We know the answer to this question. Yes, God is enough. The secondary question is the tricky one: will I live like it?

Rule 1: Don’t do anything stupid.

The best antidote to stupid just might be rest.

 

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