Gratitude in the Grind

When searching for meaning in the day-to-day ordinariness of life, make sure to life your eyes heavenward.

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).

REFLECT

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)?

RESPOND

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?

REVISIT

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. 

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2 Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."

8 Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, all is vanity!"

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2 Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."

3 What advantage does man have in all his work Which he does under the sun?

4 A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.

5 Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; And hastening to its place it rises there again.

6 Blowing toward the south, Then turning toward the north, The wind continues swirling along; And on its circular courses the wind returns.

7 All the rivers flow into the sea, Yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, There they flow again.

8 All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing.

9 That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one might say, See this, it is new"? Already it has existed for ages Which were before us.

11 There is no remembrance of earlier things; And also of the later things which will occur, There will be for them no remembrance Among those who will come later still.

12 I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.

13 And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.

14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said to myself, Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge."

17 And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind.

18 Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.

1 I said to myself, Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself." And behold, it too was futility.

2 I said of laughter, It is madness," and of pleasure, What does it accomplish?"

3 I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives.

4 I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself;

5 I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees;

6 I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees.

7 I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem.

8 Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men--many concubines.

9 Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me.

10 All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor.

11 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.

12 So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done?

13 And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.

14 The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.

15 Then I said to myself, As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?" So I said to myself, This too is vanity."

16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die!

17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.

18 Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me.

19 And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity.

20 Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun.

21 When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil.

22 For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?

23 Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.

24 There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.

25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?

26 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God's sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.

1 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven--

2 A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.

3 A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up.

4 A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance.

5 A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.

6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away.

7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak.

8 A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.

9 What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?

10 I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.

11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.

12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one's lifetime;

13 moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor--it is the gift of God.

14 I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.

15 That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope

21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?

25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,

24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

15 Then I said to myself, As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?" So I said to myself, This too is vanity."

16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die!

17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.

10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.

11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,

13 each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.

14 If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.

15 If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.

19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;

21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

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