“Let the favor of the Lord rest upon us.

Oh Lord, establish the work of our hands.”

My voice mingled with the voices of other writers as we sang this Porter’s Gate song at a writers’ retreat. The soulful melody spoke the fervent prayer of our hearts, “Lord, establish the work of our hands.”

But when we pray that prayer from Psalm 90:17, what are we asking for exactly? Are we asking God to assist us in our work? Is it a prayer that God would help us triumph in our jobs and vocations?

What Does Success Look Like?

To shed a little more light on this phrase, I looked up the psalm in other versions of the Bible. Where the ESV says, “Establish the work of our hands,” other versions translate this phrase as: “Make our efforts successful” (NLT) and “Bring success to all we do” (VOICE). This makes me wonder: What kind of success is the Bible talking about? Does it mean the success that results in books on bestseller lists? Does it look like diplomas on the wall and a corner office? Does it appear as a home that friends envy? Somehow, I don’t think Psalm 90:17 describes that kind of success. 

Next, I looked at the Common Jewish Bible which expresses the phrase as “prosper all the work that we do.” Perhaps this comes closer to the intended meaning. After all, we know that without the Lord’s blessing, all the thousands of words we put together on paper won’t make any difference in people’s lives. Without God’s guidance, any business we create has no guarantee of lasting even a year. Any non-profit we start may not even get off the ground. So we pray that the Lord prospers the work that we do. That our efforts become fruitful. That our fledgling businesses take flight. That our efforts to serve others actually improve their lives. O Lord, please make all our efforts flourish and thrive. 

But perhaps my favorite translation of the last phrase of Psalm 90:17 is from the Common English Bible: “Make the work of our hands last.” This expresses my heartfelt prayer: Lord, may my words have a long-lasting effect. May my efforts endure in the hearts of the people I encounter. 

Yet, I can get caught up in our culture’s view of lasting work. I can easily strive to leave a legacy, hoping that people will remember my name long after I’m gone. If I look at enduring work in the eyes of the world, I start to wonder, if I don’t create a masterpiece like Michelangelo’s David does that mean I’ve failed in life? If I can’t produce something on the order of Handel’s Messiah, does that mean I haven’t left a legacy? If I can’t write a classic like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, does that mean God didn’t establish the work of my hands?

As I pondered those ideas, I thought of another Scripture that has been rolling around in my head, “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 ESV). Maybe a true legacy doesn’t look like trophies and awards. Maybe it doesn’t mean having your name printed in history books or plastered on university buildings. Instead, perhaps it means working behind the scenes where no one notices you but the heavenly Father. Perhaps it means faithfully doing the work he has called you to even when you wonder if it matters at all. Lord, help our work—whether we consider the work small or great—endure.

Seeing the Fruit

Once in a while God may give us the gift of seeing in our earthly lives how he has established the work of our hands and how he will make it last. A few weeks ago, a former church member stopped by our house to talk to my husband. She wanted to thank him for the encouraging words he had spoken to her when she attended the church he pastors. Decades ago, he had told this woman after an ordinary Sunday School session, “I think you should think about becoming a teacher.” She took his words to heart and went back to school to earn a certificate to teach preschool. Upon completing the program, she got a job at a local Christian school teaching wiggly 3-year-olds.

Not only did my husband’s words change her life, but they also transformed the lives of hundreds of kids who have passed through her classroom. Every day she shares the good news of Jesus with a bunch of squirmy toddlers. Every week she helps them prepare for their years ahead in school. God established the work of my husband. 

Most of the time, however, we do not discover this kind of legacy until we have finally finished our work here on Earth and we see the effects from the other side of heaven. The things that are unseen are eternal—everything will be clear there.

But for now, let’s remember that God can make even a small thing like a casual comment in a church narthex have a lasting effect. Perhaps in the eyes of the world, a legacy only looks like a literary masterpiece, a successful business you pass down to your children, or a ministry that has improved the lives of thousands of people. But God can also establish the work of our hands when we write the article that comforts one online reader, when we serve with kindness a customer in a store, when we tutor an immigrant in English, when we wipe away a child’s tear. 

So let’s pray, Lord, Make the work of our hands last. Help us not to focus on trophies or applause or impressive titles, but on doing the work you have called us to, whether or not the world notices. And even if we don’t see the effect of our efforts, let our words, our parenting, our businesses, our volunteer work, our art, our teaching, all make a lasting difference. Establish the work of our hands.

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