Why do you work? Is it just to pay the bills? Is it just so you can maintain your standard of living? Is it just because you’d go stir-crazy just sitting around the house? I recently heard on the radio about a lottery winner who got the huge jackpot, and he reported that he was still planning to continue working at his old job, at least for now. He didn’t have to do it, but he wanted to. If you won the lottery (and I’m not advocating it for one second), would you still be doing what you do?
Regrettably, most people don’t find that much satisfaction in their work, at least judging by how much they constantly complain about it. Of course, there isn’t a job out there that doesn’t have any negatives to it—That’s why someone has to pay you to do it.
If there was any guy you’d think would be satisfied with his job, it’d be Solomon, right? I mean, his job is to be king. That means he sets his own hours, gets out of bed when he wants, and takes breaks when he wants. If there happen to be any unpleasant parts of his job (which would be rare), he can always delegate!
But no. If you read today’s passage, his despair is about as subtle as a brick upside the head. He'd accomplished more than most anyone would dream of doing, and he still found it empty. There are two reasons listed here, and both of them merit consideration.
First, he saw the fragility of everything he had built. Not so much the physical weakness of the buildings he had constructed, or the possibility of losing his wealth. What about the next generation? He'd worked hard for what he'd accomplished. His son would have it all handed down to him. Would he take hold of the heritage given to him, or would he squander it? Would he throw it all away?
By the way, his fears turned out to be well-founded. If you’ve read 1 Kings, then you know what happened after Solomon passed on. His son Rehoboam turned against his father’s advisers and ended up losing half the kingdom. You can read the sordid story here if you’d like.
But there was something else, a much deeper problem. In fact, this goes to the heart of the entire book of Ecclesiastes. It’s not that work in itself is bad or useless. We were created to be creative. It’s part of the image of God with which he stamped us. But we need to acknowledge him in all we do, just like Solomon himself told us earlier in Proverbs. Put the Lord at the center of everything. Paul also told us “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” If you do that, then you’ll find meaning and purpose in whatever you do. If you happen to be a janitor, and that’s what God has called you to be (for now), then you can find fulfillment in that. If he's not the center of it, then you'll find nothing but despair in the end, even if you're the king of the world.
And here’s a final word for those who are worried about the first issue. Maybe you’re worried about the next generation. Will they appreciate the hard work that it took to give them the inheritance they have? Well, maybe and maybe not. But I do know this. You can give your children an inheritance which is worth much more than all the money and land in the world. This is something that Solomon didn’t give his children. You can give them an example of a godly parent, a parent who does things God’s way. A parent who reads God’s word and takes it seriously. A parent who has a biblical attitude towards possessions. If you succeed in that, then whatever else you give them will be icing on the cake, and they’ll be less likely to squander whatever else they inherit from you.
Father God, whatever task you put in front of me, no matter how small it looks, is the most important thing I can do. Whenever the next generation looks at me, let me point them towards you, not away. Please.