Oppression, Control, and God – Ecclesiastes 4:1-8

Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business (Ecclesiastes 4:1-8 ESV).

Oppression is defined as a prolonged cruel or unjust exercise of power. It is a control tactic where people put their personal agendas ahead of what’s best for society as a whole. Oppressed groups can be because of race, sex, religious preference, or essentially any differing of opinion between people. It seems the more successful some people are in their efforts, the more oppression may actually be encouraged. You’re likely familiar with the expression of how it’s lonely at the top. This is because man’s attempts to be prosperous on his own could alienate the people who surround him. Man may view success as being “by any means necessary”. Without compassion and meaningful relationships, those who are oppressed and the successful who fight their way to the top may both find themselves alone.

Does this imply that pursuits of success should be avoided? No, but as Christians, we should stop working in our own strength and allow God to pick our battles for us, in society and in our toil. We should focus on God being the center of our life, and try not to become god to ourselves or others. We need to serve God completely for His glory, not our own personal gain.

I have written about this before, but I think it deserves a second mention. I’m generally pretty slow when it comes to realizing that God is trying to tell me something important!

As I’ve previously mentioned, I am an incredibly passionate person in everything that I do. I fully submerge myself in my hobbies, my church, friendships, and most importantly, my career. I want to give my absolute best effort to make a difference in everything I do. I don’t believe I do this selfishly or for the wrong reasons, but perhaps not everything I do is completely Christ-centered and it should be. There have been times that I have become discouraged or burnt out trying to make a positive difference and that may imply that I am working outside of God’s will for me at that moment.

My career tops the list where I experience this frustration! While sitting through “Death by Power Point” training today, everything clicked perfectly for me! I was reminded that I work for an organization that I am not going to change. There’s too much history; it’s too large; there are too many managers, too much politics… I’ve known this for a while, but it’s hard for me to accept. Let me say it again – There’s nothing I can do to significantly improve my employer! Trying too hard to “fix” my organization will only result in backlash towards me.

Should I find a new career, one that I can exercise more authority over? No, God led me to this position in an amazing way. There were so many bizarre “coincidences” and all of the timings related to my job change fell perfectly into place. I am completely at peace with everything, and God is carrying my through all of my work challenges. His hand is all over this!

Should I give less than my best effort at work? Absolutely not! My work is meaningful and deserves my total focus and commitment. It may not be perfect, but I am definitely making a contribution to society. I should give it my all for 40 hours per week (plus any mutually agreed upon overtime); but, I should not lose heart because I cannot “fix” my organization. I also feel that God is not leading me to be on the fast track to management within the organization. As long as I do my best in my current capacity, that is enough!

I should look to God for guidance as to where to focus my passion and endless energy. Some of His answers may be work related (especially regarding a colleague of mine whom God has placed in my life), but there is so much more to my life than my career.

I feel that God is leading me to become more involved in my family, my friends, my community, and with “strangers” through ministry. The time I am not working should be spent investing in the lives of others, especially my son. All of this should be done prayerfully and completely under God’s direction – because if He leads me somewhere, He will bring me through it. God has shown me time and time again that He is faithful. While I have come a long way in submitting to Him, I know there is more that I can surrender. I’m ready…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:8).”

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