“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God had given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of god. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)
I had a conversation recently with someone who was struggling to enjoy the blessings that were falling upon him and his family, particularly financial blessings. Guilt kept telling him that this was not right. It made me think of what I said yesterday in the sermon – something I’ve said many times and will continue to say – “Life is hard and then you die.”
That is certainly true, but that doesn’t mean that we live the life of the nihilist. Nihilism rejects all religion and asserts that life is meaningless. You don’t have to read very far in Ecclesiastes to get that message: one verse to be exact. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
Maybe that is why many of us learned this endearing children’s song when we were young.
Nobody likes me, everybody hates me
I think I’ll go eat worms
Big fat juicy ones
Eensie weensy squeensy ones
See how they wiggle and squirm!
But the point of the Preacher is not to get us to just feel bad about ourselves. It is show us that we have a much deeper need than just what the world can offer. If we strive to attain all that the world has to offer, life under the sun, we will be left empty and unfulfilled. He highlights the bad parts to show us how great our need is, and he highlights the good parts to show us how great our life can be. Both reveal God’s grace. We have a great need, and God has great grace. Both/and, not either/or. We find meaning in our life right in the middle of that tension. Jesus is not silent about what’s really going on in our lives at the level of our emotions and thoughts and actions. He knows us, and Ecclesiastes is proof. Ecclesiastes is Jesus saying to us that in all this crazy difficult world, there is a purpose to it. Life does have meaning. It is going somewhere. We just need to know where to look to find it.
Here’s something non-obvious but available: the enjoyment we want in life isn’t lying out beyond our grasp, but given graciously by the hand of God if we’ll take it. But we don’t always see that, do we? We scratch and claw our way for another dollar, asking this life to give more than it can. But what if the life we really want isn’t expensive at all? What if it’s as free as the grace of God? Well, good news. It is! It’s as free as the grace of God because it is the grace of God. The life we most want is the life that is most freely given, coming from God’s own hand. All the satisfaction we’re looking for everywhere else is found in simple openness to God moment by moment. Isn’t that so cool? God’s not making this too hard for us. He’s saying to us right now, “This world looks amazing. That’s because I created it. But because of sin, it’s dangerous. Don’t ask of it more than it can give. Instead, receive what I can give.”
In verse 18, the Preacher makes a turn to help us see this truth. The word “Behold” means he’s redirecting our attention away from the toil under the sun to the grace under God. He’s seen something else, something “good and fitting,” literally “a good thing which is beautiful.” And it’s surprising because, on the surface, it doesn’t look all that impressive. What is it? Look again at verse 18. “To eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil…”
The opposite end of life’s continuum is not a life void of toil. He’s not giving us the false dichotomy of toil vs. no toil. The difference is between a life of non-enjoyment vs. a life filled with enjoyment in the toil. If 5:10-17 shows us the covetous and unhappy life, 5:18-20 show us the content and happy life. What makes the difference? Verse 19 is the key. “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and the power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.”
If I asked you, “What is the gift of God in your toil?” how would you answer? Would you stop at enjoyment? But that’s the Preacher’s answer. Do you see what the Preacher is saying? When we ask of life more than it can give, we rip the enjoyment of anything out of our life. What good is a great steak when there’s another better somewhere? What good is a dream vacation when it’s over? But what if every day you held the same enjoyment as a day at the beach? Wealth is separate from the power to enjoy. They do not go hand in hand. God may give you wealth, but has he given you enjoyment? He can.
And we can enjoy life because our life is hid in Him. If we have Jesus, we find joy in the journey, even the difficult road called life. Look to Him today.