Ecclesiastes #2: Treadmill?
Have you ever known a “workaholic”? I mean, a true no-holds-barred workaholic. I’m not talking about someone with a strong worth-ethic! I think we often get these two types of people confused. There’s a significant difference.
Clinical psychologist Barbara Killinger defines “workaholism” like this: “These driven men and woman live a Gerbil-wheel, adrenalin-pumping existence rushing from plan A to B, narrowly-fixated on some ambitious goal or accomplishment. [And] Eventually [for workaholics] nothing or no one else really matters.”
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times... if you want to get something done, ask the busiest person you know to do it - because they have a strong work ethic, and they’ll get it done! Not a workaholic... they won’t have time, and they won’t care... for a workaholic no one else really matters.
Of course, Killinger’s image fits our scripture lesson today like a hand-in-glove. A little gerbil, running on a wheel... and getting nowhere!
Some of you may not know this, but Zoe’ (our music director) is a Pre-K teacher with the Troup County School System. And Zoe’ has a little hamster or (guinea pig) for her pre-K classroom, named Mr. Skinny Legs. And Mr. Skinny Legs loves to run on his little plastic wheel just running and running just as fast as he can. But he gets absolutely nowhere. I think that’s why I despise treadmills. I would rather walk, out in the open sunshine, and fresh air, any day of the week, than walk on a treadmill. The sense of getting nowhere is overwhelming. And like Heather Land says, “I ain’t doing it.”
Sometimes, our work feels like we’re on a treadmill: endless busyness and stress without any real results. We’re running as fast as we possibly can and getting nowhere.
And, honestly, sometimes church even feels like that. You preach, and invite, and share, and minister, and give, you participate... and do everything you can think of to help spur-on growth. And nothing. You sometimes feel like you’re on a Hamster wheel... or a treadmill.
The teacher, or preacher, in Ecclesiastes, gets it. Because in this 2nd chapter, the Teacher discovers that work carried-out “under the sun” (work done “apart from God”) is meaningless. He undertook “great projects” - he plants gardens and trees, made reservoirs, bought herds and flocks, and in the process... discovered that “the work that’s done under the sun was grievous”. It’s all “a chasing after the wind.”
The teacher comes to the place in his life where he begins to understand that work for the sake of work itself is done in vain. All of the things that the Teacher was building, creating, acquiring... were good things... BUT whom did he build them for? He tells us, doesn’t he? He said... I built MYSELF, I build-ed ME, I made myself, I acquired, I gathered. I counted 33 times that the Teacher used the personal pronoun “I” in our scripture for today (and that’s not counting all the times he said “me” or “myself”)! His work and toil was all about him!
Could it be, that instead of seeking God’s will... God’s greater purpose... instead of promoting the welfare of not only himself, but those around him, he seems to do all of the things that he does for his own pleasure in his own delight in order to achieve some type of satisfaction and pleasure that this world simply cannot provide.
It’s not that work isn’t important. The Bible dares to warn us that “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). That means work is pretty important! We’re called work. We’re called to be productive, to fulfill our calling, to work as if doing everything as unto the Lord. The main task that God charged to Adam and Eve out the garden of Eden, was to work… But that work was intended ultimately to glorify God... and our work is intended to do the same. We best serve God by serving other people, and the teacher’s pursuit of pleasure and achievement did neither.
But remember, the teacher has stressed time and again, that his work was done “under the sun”… Work done to only serve our selfish interest is ultimately unsatisfying.
Our scripture today takes the propositional truths that we heard in chapter 1, and gives concrete examples to back them up. And for me... it’s kinda like the childhood story of Goldilocks and the three bears, where each pursuit is partially fulfilling, but not quite right. It might even look good, might sound good, might seem like the right thing at the right time. But it’s not ultimately satisfying in and of itself.
I think in some ways, Ecclesiastes is an indictment on Western Civilization... or it surely seems that way (and maybe that’s why we’re prone to reject it?) Instead of seeing hard work, and earning a living, and building the American Dream... as a blessing, and a means to do good and build a better life and world, we seem to have come to view business and money making and material possession as GOOD in-and-of themselves - instead of tools from which good and blessing can come.
That’s why so many people when choosing a career look at how much money is to be made... you know, because, we all know that money equates to happiness, right? That’s why the divorce rate is so low among millionaires, right? That’s why the suicide rate, and depression levels, and drug overdoses are so uncommon among the rich and famous?!
Our scripture for today summarizes the Teacher’s realization and revelation, that stresses: “when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
Of course, our scripture for today ends with an important lesson that you and I should take to heart. While any work (or effort) put forth in this life “under the sun” or apart from God, is ultimately in vain, God has given work as a good gift that we should enjoy.
When our focus is on God, as the giver of all good and perfect gifts, and when our vocation and talents and giftings and efforts are done to the glory of God... we find meaning... and happiness and fulfillment in all such things... in Christ.
Do you sometimes feel like you’re on a treadmill - that you’re never getting anywhere... that’s there’s no point behind it all (other than keeping lights on)?
Give your work to God. Devote your efforts to honoring Christ, first and foremost. God blesses such efforts... and when you honor HIM... he honors you... and gives you a sense of satisfaction, no matter what you’re job may be!
Which means work’s not a curse (when it’s viewed correctly)... It’s a beautiful opportunity for each of us, as followers of Christ, to get off the treadmill... and to be as human as we were created to be, by working to honor our Lord, as good stewards and servants to those around us.
That’s work that pleases God... and satisfies our souls.