Be honest. Do you hop out of bed each morning, joyfully anticipating an exciting eight hours at the office? Or do you dread the sound of the alarm clock and another day on the job? Is your routine to wake up, go to work, come home, and crawl into bed each night, only to repeat the same process the next day?
We’ve all experienced seasons when life becomes mundane and draining, or even depressing. The constant demands of earning a paycheck or raising a family leave us exhausted and grumpy. What’s missing? Why can’t we consistently find happiness and gratitude in the “mundaneness” of life?
Solomon was a man who had it all—not just power, prestige, and riches but also an impressive job, stimulating diversions, a big family, and great wisdom. Yet even for him, life seemed meaningless. We find that theme throughout the book of Ecclesiastes; his well-known lament—“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”—appears in the first chapter and is echoed in the last (1:2; 12:8). Although Solomon recognizes God as the sovereign ruler and judge, much of what he writes emphasizes the futility of life as seen from an earthly perspective. The phrase “under the sun” occurs 29 times in this short book. But now and then, a few verses lift our eyes heavenward for a glimpse of God’s viewpoint. Seeing life from His perspective is the only way to have continual joy and gratitude in the daily grind.
READ Ecclesiastes 1-3:15
Solomon begins by asking this question: “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” (1:3). We all long for a sense of purpose in our activities—a feeling that we’re accomplishing something of significance and enduring value. But it’s hard to see a grand design in the tedious duties of daily life. From our limited perspective, endless routines seem dull and unsatisfying. Even if we are blessed with a job that offers new and exciting opportunities, the appeal eventually fades.
In his search for meaning, Solomon engaged in pleasures and extraordinary projects (2:1-10). And after achieving his heart’s desires, he was pleased with his labors. Perhaps you can relate: If you’ve ever stood back to admire your garden or home improvement project, you know the sense of accomplishment at seeing the fruits of your labor.
However, gardens must be weeded and replanted each spring. And that new home improvement soon becomes shabby and outdated. Perhaps this was how Solomon felt, and why he changed his tune in the very next verse: “Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (v. 11). Solomon’s great achievements alone couldn’t provide the purpose, satisfaction, and significance he desired. Yet he acknowledged that work—along with the ability to see good in it—is a gift of God, and no one can find satisfaction or enjoyment without Him (2:25; 3:12-13).
Since Ecclesiastes limits itself to what is perceived by the natural mind and senses, let’s examine a few New Testament passages to gain a fuller perspective.
• Romans 8:18-25 offers an explanation for what Solomon saw as the vanity of life. When will this futility ultimately be removed? What are we to do in the meantime (vv. 24-25)?
• In Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, Solomon sought to find pleasure and significance in his pursuits. How many times in this passage did he use the phrase “for myself”? In verse 11, what did he conclude about the value of living for himself? What alternative motive for our work is given in Colossians 3:23-24?
• Because God has set eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), we intuitively know that there’s more to life than this present existence, but we can’t see it while we are living “under the sun.” Solomon believed his achievements would be forgotten soon after his death (1:11; 2:15-17). What do 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and Hebrews 6:10 say about a believer’s works?
• Solomon was also concerned that after death, he’d have no control over all he had worked to accumulate (Eccl. 2:18-21). From a heavenly perspective, how can we ensure that we’ll never lose our treasures when we die (Matt. 6:19-21)?
• Has an earthly perspective made you feel as Solomon did? How has it shaped your motivation and perception of your job? What difference would it make if you looked at life from God’s viewpoint?
• Like Solomon, have you unsuccessfully sought a sense of purpose, accomplishment, significance, and satisfaction in your labors? Since the Lord is the only one who can meet these needs, ask Him to provide whatever you are lacking.
• Have you recently thanked God for the work He’s given you? How could gratefulness change your thinking and attitude about your job?
One of Solomon’s points was that the fruit of man’s labor won’t last. This becomes obvious when you see an abandoned house. Someone worked hard to build it, but eventually the beauty faded and the wood rotted. In contrast, Ecclesiastes 3:14 says, “Everything God does will remain forever.” In the coming month, focus on this truth and memorize Ephesians 2:10. Remember that you are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus, and before you were even born, He prepared good works for you to do. When you “walk in them,” nothing you do will be futile.