I read through the book of Ecclesiastes yesterday, and it brought overwhelming joy to my heart (and this shocked me!). Normally, people approach Ecclesiastes as a rather hopeless little book that makes us feel like everything is meaningless. After all, the wisest and richest man who tested himself by denying himself nothing he thought might bring him pleasure ultimately felt that all was meaningless. You’ll end this book by realizing fearing God and keeping His commandments are “the whole duty of man,” but it normally doesn’t feel very good in your heart by the end.
(It’s not a motivating book, if you know what I mean.)
But when I read it this time, I noted some important repetitions–a clearly stated gift that comes from God in the midst of utter meaninglessness.
In the middle of talking about death and anxious striving and grievous work, Solomon writes that “a man can do no better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness.”
I kept noting that phrase about finding satisfaction in work as a precious gift from God. How interesting that yesterday morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about rest, but today, I think about work.
Indeed, he continues to write that it is a gift from God when we “find satisfaction in all [our] toil” (3:13). Again, Solomon tells us in chapter 5 how it is “good and proper. . . to find satisfaction in [our] toilsome labor.” He then reminds us that when God enables us to “accept [our] lot and be happy in [our work] this is a gift from God.” When this happens, we’re told we will “seldom reflect on the days of [our] life because God keeps [us] occupied with gladness of heart.”
I want to be occupied with gladness of heart! Let’s ask for this!
Over and over again, the wisest king tells us about enjoying work. I highlighted every phrase.
During all of Solomon’s refections, he seems to return to what he commends: enjoying the work God has given us to do. He also talks about trying things out in our work–which I just love. He famously writes, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well” (11:6).
I left my time with the Lord in His word asking Him to also make me glad in my work, to accept my lot, and be like the one occupied with gladness of heart.
What a great prayer for us both!
Can you imagine being so occupied with gladness of heart that you don’t have time for depressing reflection? That you don’t have time to wallow or worry?
And what is the work for today? It might look differently during COVID-19, but I thought about the joyful busyness of laundry and dishes and groceries and cooking, of the gift of curriculum development and of writing, of grading even. What a gift it all is from the Lord. And I asked Him to inspire and confirm the work He wished for me–not just for today, but for my lifetime.
And I left wondering what seed I might sow today in word or deed. I thought about sowing seeds of creativity and new writing. I thought about sowing seeds of encouragement and wisdom into my children. I thought about sowing seeds of prayer.
I will cast it all on the waters with joy.
Then I went about my work occupied with gladness of heart.