Why do I have to work?
During the month of December, I have been spending my early mornings before work reading through Ecclesiastes. For those that have not read this book of the bible before, it is in the old testament after Psalms and Proverbs. Unlike those two books, which are poetic and steeped in wisdom, Ecclesiastes feels far more gritty. The author discusses work, toil, getting old, seeking happiness and then rounds the focus back to wisdom. At times, the book doesn’t seem to align at all with our standard “Christian” view that we should all be joyful in all situations. Rather, it makes life appear to be a repeating sequence of drudgery with little pleasure, and the main contributor to the drudgery being WORK.
My first job in high school was working on a farm. I used to mow fields, tend to horses, and clear brush, seemingly without end. My least favorite task on the farm was cleaning up after a storm. There were hundreds of trees on the property and after every storm limbs, sticks, and twigs would fall and I would have to pick them up. This task took hours; often in wet grass that would soak my boots, gloves, and shirt sleeves. It was downright miserable. On days after a storm, I knew that I would spend at least 4 hours at this unpleasant task and at times I would wonder if I would ever find a job that didn’t seem so unpleasant.
My sentiments from my first job are echoed in the first verse of Ecclesiastes where the author says “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” in verse 2 & 3. And later in verse 8 “All things are wearisome, more than one can say.” It seems to me that the author has had some unpleasant jobs as well, or at least some he didn’t enjoy doing all the time.
At a point of despair, the author of Ecclesiastes writes in chapter 2 “So I hated life because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me, all of it is meaningless, chasing after the wind”.
Have you ever felt this way before? Does life (and going to work) at times seem meaningless?
If you have felt that way before, it is worth asking the questions, why do I need to work at all, why couldn’t God have created a perfect place where we all live peacefully. Spoiler alert, HE DID! It was the Garden of Eden, and we destroyed it with sin. In Genesis 3:17-18, God said to Adam “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat, cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread, until you return to the ground.” It is clear from that passage that we need to work to create food and shelter and clothing (or a job that provides income to purchase those items) because we lost the Garden because of our sin.
The author of Ecclesiastes must have wrestled with God over the point of life and toil, but eventually by chapter 3 of the book, he seems to have turned a corner and the tone of the book changes to a more positive and optimistic outlook.
In Chapter 5:18-19, it says “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.”
As you can see, the author of Ecclesiastes tells us to find satisfaction in our toilsome labor. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but we do have to have gladness of heart that is found in our relationship with Jesus. I would encourage you to read all of Ecclesiastes if you haven’t before. The book will help you to understand how to enjoy your work, and how to accept the things that you cant control.
Towards the end of the book, in Ecc 9:10, the author says, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might!”. In my opinion, that seems to be a great piece of wisdom. It doesn’t matter if it is cleaning up brush after a storm, basketball practice for your team, or bussing tables at a diner, if you have committed your time to that task, do it with all your might.
Wrapping this up, I choose to spend my time (at 5am) in the mornings praying and reading the bible so that I can be better prepared to share my faith with others while at WORK. Work will always be a part of life, the bible promises that, so we need to incorporate it as a part of our life. It makes me think back to cereal commercials where the host would say “part of a balanced breakfast”, implying that the cereal may be a main part of the breakfast, but other items are needed to make the breakfast complete. Like breakfast, work is a part of our life, but our faith, family, and friends make it complete.
As a follow up to this devotion, I would encourage you to read Ecclesiastes and consider the following topics:
· How do I balance work with my hobbies or family?
· What are the rewards of work?
· How do I keep my work from being all consuming?
· What will happen to my work/exploits after I am gone?