May 13, 2020- Joy In What God Has Given Us to Do- Ecclesiastes 3:9-15

various colorful threads hanging on rail in workshop

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 (ESV)

The book of Ecclesiastes has traditionally been attributed to Solomon, the son of King David.  Upon ascending David’s throne, Solomon asked God for wisdom, and God granted him wisdom, more so than any man (save Jesus) who has lived before or since.  At the end of his life it is said he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes (which means “one who speaks openly to the congregation.” )

The work of life can be joyful as well as it can be exhausting or downright vexing. We are given different tasks during different seasons of life as well.  Teens and students may work exhausting schedules doing dirty or menial work for low pay, along with keeping up with classes and friends.  Young mothers may feel strapped between work and the demands of children and chores and schedules.  The middle aged and elderly may have to struggle to keep up with the demands of work within the context of personal health limitations and the needs of aging parents and loved ones.

We can’t admit to loving our vocations all of the time.  Sometimes we feel as if life is just one giant ratwheel spinning out of control with no way to get off of it or to change course. The Teacher (Solomon) of Ecclesiastes points this futility we see in life out quite often- “all is vanity, vanity and chasing after wind,” is a phrase repeated throughout this book.

Even amidst all his talk about vanity, the Teacher still points us back to God. He has made everything beautiful in His time. Even our vanity and seeming futility serves God’s purpose, even if we never understand it.

Everything is beautiful? Really?  Even all the evil that surrounds us? Even our own fatigue and apathy and rage? Is there anything beyond our hopelessness, frustration, and despair?

Burnout is a very real thing.  It can result from indulging in the very human tendency to believe we are the ones in charge (vanity and chasing after wind, anyone?) or from our own arrogance in thinking that the world will fall apart without our contribution to it. The sin of the Garden, after all, was the temptation and the desire to be as God.  Burnout is a wake up call to remind us that no matter what we do we are not God.

What God does lasts forever.  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Faith is trusting God’s plan even when we are exhausted, burned out, and at the end of ourselves.  Perhaps that is where God wants us to be, so that He can set our priorities, that He can lead us to rest and to joy in who we are, where we are and what we do.

Lord, help us to trust You that we are in the circumstances where You need us to be.  Forgive us for our doubt and relieve us of our fears.  Our times are in Your hands, let us be joyful and do good, and find pleasure in the work of our hands.

August 3, 2017 Healthy Priorities or Vain Toil? Isaiah 55:1-2, Ecclesiastes 2:10-12, Matthew 6:31-33

vanity

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Isaiah 55:1-2 (NRSV)

 

Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:10-12 (NRSV)

 

(Jesus said): Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

Vanity has a similar meaning to futility. When we appeal to our vanity we are looking at either instant gratification or outward appearances. Both are temporary. Often we do things that don’t make a lot of sense in the grand scheme of it all just for appearance sake. We think less about what we really need and more about keeping up with the Joneses. We put a lot of time and effort and money into things and activities that don’t do much to edify ourselves or build anyone else up.

In Ecclesiastes Solomon warns about things done in excess and/or things done for the wrong reasons. That doesn’t mean that we should not strive to achieve, or that we should take up hair shirts and austerity as a lifestyle. God’s gifts are good.  There is nothing evil about achievement, gaining wealth, or material things in and of themselves.  Our stewardship and use of those resources is what matters.

Jesus tells us to strive first for the kingdom of God. That is where our fulfillment and joy and purpose originate.  Is that where our priorities in life lie?  Do our vocation and our leisure time activities glorify God?

God knows better than we do what we need. This shouldn’t be taken to say that we should just sit back and let provision fall from the sky, but that our first priority should be going after the things that God wants in our lives.  We run into trouble when we become obsessed with work or the pursuit of money or the pursuit of stuff instead of seeking a balanced life focused on God first.

There is no cost for us to come to God. We don’t have to put on a show either.  We are invited to come to Him exactly as we are. We can trust that as we reach out to Him He will provide us what we need.

Isn’t it a relief knowing that we can stop chasing after the wind?