Last night, as I was finishing my work, I was talking to a customer who said, “You don’t seem to be as frustrated by the chaos of Christmas like your coworkers.” Does that mean I don’t see the stress? Hardly. But today’s passage gives the very reason why we should not allow our circumstances to control our attitudes and responses!
If a tree falls over in the forest, where is that tree going to be if you find it the next morning? Exactly where it fell. It isn’t going to magically move or change. If the rainclouds are full, guess what? It’s going to rain! These may seem like obvious statements, but how true they are. Solomon uses these “duh” statements to illustrate our lives. To a great degree, much of your life is outside of your control. This might return our mind to Solomon’s common theme in this book: “Life is frustrating and worthless.”
Does this mean we should approach life with apathy? “Since I can’t control what happens, why bother trying?” On the contrary, in this passage Solomon gives us three good reasons why we should invest ourselves in whatever God calls us to do.
First, you should work hard because God may bless your effort! I had a couple of teachers in school who would pray, “Lord, bless these students according to how hard they studied.” I didn’t always like that prayer. (Maybe I didn’t study as hard as I should have!) If a farmer doesn’t plant any crop in the spring, how can God give him an abundant harvest? If a business man doesn’t have any clients, how can God bless that business? Similarly, whatever God has called us to do, we should work at it diligently, no matter how mundane or frustrating it may feel.
Secondly, we should invest because at the end of our lives, we can remember the good times. That’s not to say forget the bad times though. The bad times make the good times seem that much sweeter! If you are a child, you love recess. But in the summer, when there’s no class, you don’t appreciate the free time the same way. If you’re an adult, well…you probably already understand! The difficulties we face along the way – the frustrations, heartaches, and setbacks – make the joys feel that much more enjoyable.
Finally, Solomon says that the preacher was wise to pass on wisdom and understanding. In order to pass it on, he had to invest himself in learning. Learning is not the end, as he points out in Ecclesiastes 12:12, but if you haven’t learned anything, it is very difficult to help others learn. That teaching can poke and prod them in the right direction so that maybe they will not face the same frustrations you did!
If Solomon were asked to summarize this book in one sentence, it would be this: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” If we would simply follow that simple pattern, our lives might seem less worthless in spite of the frustrations (vanities) we face.