For what hath a man of all his labor, and of the striving of his heart, wherein he laboreth under the sun? For all his days are but sorrows, and his travail is grief; yea, even in the night his heart taketh no rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it is from the hand of God (Ecclesiastes 2:22-24).
For better or worse, man was made to work (Genesis 2:15). The world is full of the evidence of the “business” of mankind, and the work cycle will continue until the Lord returns.
It is within the heart of man to work. Not working– and not wanting to work– is an aberration (1 Timothy 5:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Work provides people with a level of purpose and meaning along with the paycheck to pay for life’s necessities.
Unfortunately, too many labor under many false pretenses about human effort. From a young age we are told that we can make something of ourselves and that we should find work that empowers us or helps us find meaning. We should try to find some job with lasting value. Every employer tries to find some way to make the effort of their employees fit these bills.
The difficulty is, as the Preacher indicates, that human effort is ultimately vain. Things that people make break or perish. Accumulated wealth goes to children or others. You can work at a job for years, retire, and eventually be forgotten. In the end, it will all burn up (2 Peter 3:9-10).
Meanwhile, how many find themselves at 25 or 35 in the job of their dreams as a young child? Not many. Instead, cold, hard reality has set in, and how many suffer great distress and discouragement because of broken promises or failed dreams?
This is why the Preacher’s message, while disconcerting, needs to be heard. We are not promised that our work will be ultimately meaningful. Instead, we must find value in our work. We must find some way to enjoy what we do. We spend far too much of our time and effort in our short lives at work to do otherwise!
We must also realize that work is the means to an end, and is not the end all and be all of existence. Serving God serves that purpose (Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:3-8). We must find enjoyment in work and enjoyment in the rest of life. Does this mean that we might have to change jobs? Perhaps. But most times it has less to do with the job and more to do with our perspective on the job. Let us lay aside our pretensions about our effort, find value in our effort, and do all things to the glory of God!
Ethan R. Longhenry