We were made to work and be the undershepherds of creation (Gen. 2). Unfortunately, after the Fall, work got a lot harder and became far less enjoyable. As the writer of Ecclesiastes laments:
I hate all my work that I labored at under the sun because I must leave it to the man whocomes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will takeover all my work that I labored at skillfully under the sun. This too is futile.
So I began to give myself over to despair concerning all my work that I had labored at under the sun. When there is man whose work was done with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and he must give his portion to a man who has not worked for it, this too is futile and a great wrong. For what does a man get with all his work and all his efforts that he labors at under the sun? For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile. (v. 18-23)
Tough, right? No matter how many nights that we stay up late stressing over work, all we will get are gray hairs, heart attacks, and maybe some worldly goods (i.e. prestige or money) that we cannot take with us. Worse yet, we will eventually have to leave it all behind (once more, because of the Fall & death) and the person who will inherit our bounty will be able to freeload off of our blood, sweat, and tears.
However, this pericope is a blessing–not a killjoy. Thinking soberly about life and death can help us to properly focus our energies every day.
What is “proper” focus? It means that we prioritize working for things that last–namely, the works we do for God’s glory–and expend less time and resources chasing futility/vanity.
Does it just sound like a lot of tiring work? Take heart, because there is a HUGE upside! When we focus properly, we can actually find joy in our seemingly ordinary lives and work–a joy that was only discoverable through Him. So give him thanks and praise when you do experience such a blessing 🙂
There is nothing better for man than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand, because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from Him? For to the man who is pleasing in His sight, He gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy, but to the sinner He gives the task of gathering and accumulating in order to give to the one who is pleasing in God’s sight. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind. (v. 24-26)
And just one more encouraging thought: the wealth that sinners are gathering will eventually be given as provision to those who please God. Just work diligently and be content with God’s perfect portion of provision for you.