Workday Prayers: When You Feel Anxious About Work

By Mark D. Roberts

June 2, 2023

Scripture — Psalm 127:1-2 (NRSV)

Unless the LORD builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD guards the city,
    the guard keeps watch in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil,
    for he gives sleep to his beloved.


Help me, O God, to trust you more and worry less. Help me to take on what is mine and to let go of what is yours.


I’d like to begin with a personal word—a word of confession, actually. As you know, I’ve been working through the Psalms for a few years now, letting each psalm inspire a prayer related to our daily work. Sometimes, when I first glance at a particular psalm, I know immediately what I should write about. At other times I have to read the psalm several times, asking the Lord for specific guidance about where to focus.

But today was different from either of those experiences. As I read the opening verses of Psalm 127, I heard them as if God were speaking them directly to me. It felt almost like an electric shock as I sensed the impact of the truth of this psalm. I knew instantly that I needed what I was reading, not just so I could write a helpful devotion for others, but especially so that I might let the Holy Spirit work on my mind, heart, and way of working.

Why did I respond so strongly to Psalm 127:1-2? Because I often feel as if I am wholly responsible for “building the house.” Because I think I’m supposed to “guard the city” in my own strength. Because I often do go to bed late and rise up early to maximize the hours I have for work. And because my occupational diet is regularly filled with “the bread of anxious toil.” As recently as last night, I was awakened from a recurring dream I have that is all about the work I have failed to do and the impossibility of catching up. I’ve had that dream at least 500 times in my life. Maybe 1000. Maybe more.

I’m sure that many of you who read this devotion will relate. In fact, Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report found that “Stress among the world’s workers reached an all-time high – again. 44% of employees experienced stress a lot of the previous day” (Executive Summary, p. 7). The World Health Organization estimates that “12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.” A recent article in the Harvard Business Review had this unnerving title, “Stressed, Sad, and Anxious: A Snapshot of the Global Workforce.” So, if you’re feeling anxious about your work, you’re not alone.

There are many reasons why people feel anxious about work. Impossible assignments, dangerous conditions, unjust systems, conflicted relationships, and malicious bosses can lead to anxiety in workers. But, for me, anxiety is not just a matter of my work situation, which is mostly very positive. Rather, my anxiety is greatly a matter of faith. A part of me really doesn’t live by the truth of Psalm 127, “Unless the Lord builds the house.” I take on responsibilities that belong rightly and only to God. I end up trusting in myself rather than my Lord, not out of arrogance so much as a habit. Thus, I make for myself a feast of the bread of anxious toil (which, I might add, is dry, moldy, and tastes terrible).

If you’re like me when it comes to work-related anxiety, then you need Psalm 127 as much as I do. But if you’re not like me, if you rarely feel anxious because of your work, then let me say, first of all, “Thanks be to God! That’s great! Keep it up!” In your case, Psalm 127 isn’t so much a matter of life-saving surgery as it is part of an ongoing healthy lifestyle. If you pray based on this psalm, perhaps you’ll never be terrified by dreams that dramatize your workplace anxiety. You’ll be able to accept the sleep God gives you because, indeed, you are God’s beloved.


Gracious God, as I read Psalm 127, I hear your words as if spoken personally and authoritatively to my soul. Thank you for how your Word, once again, hits the spot.

Honestly, Lord, I don’t know exactly why I think I have to build the house on my own. I’m sure this comes from a lifetime of experiences and expectations. Even when you have so graciously and obviously been the builder of my house, I still end up thinking I have to do it myself. I confess to you my self-reliance, my failure to trust you to be the only true home-builder.

Why do I so often feast on the bread of anxious toil? I detest that bread. It fails to delight and it fails to nourish. Yet for some reason I keep chewing on it, working with anxiety rather than trustful peace. Forgive me, Lord, for my failure to trust you. Forgive me for acting and feeling as if I am on my own in my work, rather than one who serves you and relies on you.

Help me, O God, to trust you more and worry less. Help me to take on what is mine and to let go of what is yours.

Gracious God, I do thank you for the fact that despite my anxious self-reliance, you do in fact build the house. You do in fact guard the city. You do in fact give me the gift of sleep because I am your beloved. No matter how much I fall short when it comes to trusting you, your grace is always greater, always kinder. Thank you. Thank you! Amen.

Ponder Throughout the Day

Unless the Lord builds the house, your labor will be in vain.

For Further Reflection

You may wish to read all of Psalm 127.

You may also enjoy listening to the Porter’s Gate song, “Establish the Work of Our Hands.”

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Producing True Value at Work (Psalms 127 and 128).

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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