Do Not Eat the Bread of Anxious Toil

Being anxious never helps in any situation or our own. It is destructive for us and useless in any circumstances.

“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.
It 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)

“I probably shouldn’t have said that. I wish I had taken the conversation this way instead. I hope she understood me. Maybe I should go back and clarify what I meant.”

“If we don’t do XYZ, she will be like this for the rest of her life. We should have been more consistent in training her when she was little. I’m a failure; I don’t know how I’ve made it this far in motherhood. Lord, help me to be more faithful.”

How often do you ruminate on (literally, “chew on”) past conversations, decisions, or future unknowns to the point that you could drive yourself crazy and make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep?

What Kind of Bread Do You Eat?

It’s intriguing to consider the use of language in Scripture, as the Lord’s consistency is evident throughout His Word! In Scripture, bread symbolizes nourishment or life, so when the Psalmist speaks of ‘eating the bread of anxious toil’, it’s a vivid metaphor for the fruitless consumption of worry and anxiety that should capture our attention.

In Psalm 37, we’re told something similar. The Psalmist exhorts us to “feed on faithfulness” as we delight ourselves in the Lord. The promise attached to this is that he will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:3-5). In the New Testament, Jesus calls himself “the bread of life” (John 6:35,48).

When we delight ourselves in the Lord and are at rest in Him, He gives us sleep, even though the cares of our hearts may be very big (Psalm 124:5). Paul tells us in Philippians 4 that when we make the choice to rejoice in the Lord, be reasonable and not anxious because we know the Lord is at hand while taking our requests to the Lord, He gives us peace that goes above and beyond what we can understand. Have you ever found it interesting that Paul tells us to be reasonable? I believe it’s because anytime we choose anxiety, we’re being very unreasonable- the Lord is always at hand!

The Lord’s provision over our heart’s cares is reiterated in 1 Peter 5:6-7. When we humble ourselves by remembering Psalm 127:1, that he builds families, friendships, churches, businesses, etc., for His glory, and we obey Him by faithfully working hard and casting our anxieties on Him, He cares for us. Contentedness and satisfaction come when we do our part and allow God to do His. When we feed on Him, we are nourished.

If we “eat the bread” of anxious toil, what should we expect to be the result? The next part of Psalm 127:2 gives us a huge clue: “…for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Anxiety will affect our sleep. When we disobey and proudly take things into our own hands, we’ll begin to experience its symptoms because it’s similar to eating something that upsets our stomach, making it hard to digest and fall asleep.

Entertaining anxious thoughts is the vain consumption of things that are bad for us, and a common symptom is lack of sleep or difficulty falling asleep.

There have been plenty of times when I’ve laid awake at night chewing the cud, so to speak, of my failures, conversations I wish had gone differently, going over my endless to-do list, and on and on until I’ve been awake several hours past my bedtime and I am frustrated. I’ve experienced the tightening of my chest to the point of feeling like I’m having a panic attack. Anxiety is no joke.  

Rogue Imaginations

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I need help here because this is a huge problem for me,” I want to encourage you! Hope and help are found in the Words of Scripture and from the Helper who lives within you.

The first step is to recognize that you have not trusted the Lord. Repent of your sin and receive the Lord’s kind mercy, which brings peace. Part of the problem when we do this is that we don’t remember He is sovereign and always at work, even when we fail. He builds the house even when the tools are a bit defunct.  

Understanding that the Lord has designed us with incredible capacities is helpful! Not only has God given us the ability to work hard, but He’s also given us the powerful capacity to imagine. Often, we can run wild with “what ifs” or even relive events from the past to the point that it can seem as if we’re suddenly struck with crippling anxiety. The Puritan Richard Sibbes explained,

“And amongst all the faculties of the soul, most of the disquiet and unnecessary trouble of our lives arises from the vanity and ill government of that power of the soul which we call imagination and opinion, bordering between the senses and our understanding; which is nothing else but a shallow apprehension of good or evil taken from the senses…This imagination of ours is become the seat of vanity, and thereupon of vexation to us, because it apprehends a greater happiness in outward good things than there is, and a greater misery in outward evil things than indeed there is; and when experience shews us that there is not that good in those things which we imagine to be, but, contrarily, we find much evil in them which we never expected, hereupon the soul cannot but be troubled.”[1]

We must learn to govern our imagination and of prime importance is to cultivate the habit of remembering who God is.

It’s so easy to be unaware of our thoughts until it’s too late! But, for those of us who struggle in this area, we must learn to be vigilant. What do you think about? Keep a journal for a day or two and when you notice anxiety popping up, stop and write down what you’re anxious about. Then, interrogate that thing. Ask the Lord where it came from and when it started. Once you identify the stimulus, you can be specific in your repentance and prayer life. Is there something you need to cast onto the Lord?

Intentionally replace your thoughts with nourishing food. Ponder the Lord’s character and remember the ways that He has been working in your life.

As you practice, you’ll notice the peace that surpasses your understanding and likely experience better sleep. He delights in giving sleep to His beloved!

In His Word

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:3-4 (ESV).

In Your Life

Would your husband describe you as a reasonable person? What are things you need to be faithful in, but leave with the Lord?

We Recommend

We recommended taking a look at the Circle of Responsibility Diagram. It provides a practical tool rooted in biblical principles, guiding readers to discern their areas of control and trust in God’s sovereignty.

Let’s Connect

Follow Kelly on Instagram, her blog, and check our her podcast Down to Earth: Theology and Worldview for the Nooks and Crannies.

[1] Sibbes, Richard. The Soul’s Conflict with Itself and Victory Over Itself by Faith. 178-79.