The Vanity of Toil – Ecclesiastes 2:18-26

“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26 ESV).”

I am blessed to have a great job, working with many coworkers who are believers in Christ. This makes the day generally go very smoothly, although we are never without challenge. The nature of our work is meaningful, and that definitely helps with our overall focus and moral. However, there are days when frustration seems to loom at every corner, and I’m being pulled in multiple directions!

I have always been diligent in my work and strive to give everything my absolute best effort. While I achieve separation between my work and personal life, I have always been incredibly passionate about my career. If I have unresolved work problems, I think about them and research them, even when I’m at home. It’s hard for me to turn my brain off, so much so that I used to really struggle with sleeping.

I can definitely relate to the Qohelet’s words regarding “the one who comes after me.” Honestly, this would trouble me from time to time. I have even wasted energy worrying if all of my striving will end up meaningless because “the one who comes after me” did not continue in my legacy.

That sounds so terrible, just to type it – that I could think so highly of myself to feel that only *I* could do a good job; my way was better than everyone else’s! Part of me worried that “the one who comes after me” will be negligent and erase the progress I’ve made, but the other part of me was concerned that they will find fault with my efforts. It’s silly, really, meaningless – a chasing after wind!

My job, while important, should not be the central focus of my life. One of the greatest aspects of my current job is that the day’s toil is over when I walk out the door at 4:00. I have never had a 9-5 type job before, and at first, I had to become acclimated to the structure, but I’ve really begun to appreciate the first ‘schedule’ I’ve ever had in the workplace!

I do not have a work laptop or cell phone, so I cannot work from home. This encourages me to be as productive as possible during my time at work, and then leave everything at the office when I am done for the day. At that point, I can go home and spend quality time with my friends, family, and God. This schedule has allowed me to start and end my day in the Word, and has really brought balance and peace to my previously chaotic life!

The Qohelet closes this chapter with a profound truth. The pursuit of anything on earth is meaningless when done in the absence of God. For without God, what does one gain? Personal strivings and victories do not last; everything that is accomplished will be erased by death.

Consider Adam and Eve… they pursued of wisdom apart from God. They were intrigued by the fact that there could be more to life and were drawn to the serpent’s temptations. Eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil essentially gave them exactly what they were seeking. They were illuminated to their nakedness and achieved separation from God. Their quest for wisdom brought sin and mortality for all generations to come.

It’s time to stop hiding from God. The only chance we have for true and perfect wisdom is through a maturing relationship with Christ. God will bring us wisdom, knowledge, and happiness if we live our lives for His glory. This doesn’t mean our lives will be perfect on earth, but if we focus our attention on our perfect God, our rewards will be amazing in heaven. We were created for God’s glory! I hope everyone will embrace this truth and life it out daily. A heart poured out for God and others is a beautiful expression of the love that He has given us.

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