“For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.
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. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? 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.” – Ecclessiastes 2.22-26
The musical Oliver is Charles Dickens’ story of Oliver Twist. The story follows the life of a young orphan boy named Oliver Twist as he navigates London’s underworld of theft and violence, searching for a home, family, and love. One of the musical numbers describes what life is like for these orphans during the victorian age of London. The song is entitled, “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.” Some of the lyrics go like this:
It’s a hard-knock life for us…
‘Stead of treated
We get tricked
‘Stead of Kisses
We get kicked…
Don’t if feel like the wind is always howl’n?
Don’t it seem like there’s never any light!
Once a day, don’t you wanna throw the towel in?
It’s easier than puttin’ up a fight…
Perhaps you feel, like Oliver and his orphan peers, that you sometimes want to throw in the towel because life is so hard.
Perhaps you’re thinking that you aren’t receiving your fair share. That was the mindset of Charlie Brown’s younger sister. In the classic Christmas cartoon, Sally responds to Charlie concerning her Christmas wish list to Santa by saying, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”
Maybe, you thought by now we should be living like the Jetson’s, another classic cartoon from the 60’s that depicted what life would be like in the future. Though we have some of the modern advances, life doesn’t look as easy as it did in the cartoon.
Whether your mindset is like Sally or you feel we should be further along in the 21st century, life in 2020 thus far has been anything but easy.
Why is life so hard? What advantage do I have from all the work I do? Shouldn’t life be easier and more rewarding? These questions and more are some of life’s topics that Solomon addressed in Ecclesiastes.
Why is life hard? I believe the answer is found in the word, “labor.”
Labor is difficult. Think about how difficult work can be: the hours, the pay, the employees, and employers. Not to mention the conditions, stress, and pain. The word “labor” used by Solomon here is “amal.” It literally means to toil anguishedly in troubled misery. For some, this may exactly describe your life now. You are in anguish. You are miserable. You feel like you are being kicked rather than kissed. Why is labor so difficult?
First job review gone bad. To answer why labor is so difficult, we need to go to man’s first job review in Geneses 3. Adam basically had several tasks.
That’s it. Easy tasks. Even cultivating the ground would be easy because God would make everything grow without any pests, weeds, or disease.
But, mutiny and deception changed everything. Enter the serpent who deceived Eve and caused her to rationalize God’s command. She gave in to the temptation. Adam seeing this also participated and did nothing to stop her and ate of the fruit that God simply commanded not to eat. God, the boss, called everyone into human resources to not only question all involved but also to reprimand everyone and hand out pink slips.
The serpent was cursed more than all the beast of the field, made to slither on its belly and eat dust. For the woman, God would greatly increase the pain of childbirth (Genesis 3.14-16. For the man, Adam, his job in cultivating the ground would become much more difficult.
“Then to Adam He said, ‘because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘you shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.'” – Genesis 3.17-19
Pain Introduced to the Joys of Life
Because of their disobedience to God, both the man and woman (Adam and Eve) would now experience pain for the first time. The pain in childbirth and the pain of working. Both the words “pain” (Gen. 3.16) and “toil” (Gen. 3.17) are the same Hebrew word that means hardship. Words like worrisome, labor, pain, and sorrow are also used for this word.
Thus the pain you feel. The stress you experience. The hardship you face in life comes from our first parents who chose to believe a lie rather than truth. Doesn’t this speak the truth for us all?
Do not be fooled. The serpent, though slithering on his belly, still seeks to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10.10). This has and will always be Satan’s strategy. His one main purpose of existence is to undo all that God has and will do. But, he will not win in the end.
Yet, do not be fooled. He is slithering around causing people to second guess truth and wisdom. Tantalizing them with false sayings and half-lies. He gratifies himself with the pleasure of seeing people in pain and watching them implode as they fight among themselves. He is the author of lies and destruction. The deceiver of men and nations. The destroyer who masks himself as light.
Do not listen or give in to his seductive words. Do not allow him to have a foothold in your life. Expose him for who he is and call him out with the truth of the gospel in Jesus’ name. Do not allow him to cast on your soul the dark cloud of despair. The accusations. Nor be the reason for your fear and anxiety. Look to the light and truth of Christ who is our hope and joy no matter the pain we may experience in this life.
Going back to our passage in Ecclesiastes, in the midst of the pain and labor of life, Solomon offers hope. Look again at what he writes:
“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 is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? (Ecclessiastes 2.24-25)
How do you receive your fair share as Sally Brown wanted? You receive it as joy from the Lord. Is life hard? Yes! Is working difficult? Yes. Should I let it define me? No! It is how you look at it from God’s perspective.
We know that life is hard because of sin and deception. There is nothing that will change that until Christ comes again and makes all things new. Until then we have this hope and this calling as followers of Christ. Our hope is not laid upon our life and what we can get out of it, it is laid upon the hope we have in Christ by faith. Our joy is not in the flesh, our joy is from the Spirit. Our joy and satisfaction come from God.
We can labor hard but still have joy. We can suffer much but still have joy. It is not in what we labor for that brings us joy, it is in our Creator and Savior that our joy is found.
In closing, I want to share several quotes I hope will encourage you right now.
How long O Lord: David prayed, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?…but I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me” – Psalm 13
Learning to kiss the wave: Charles Spurgeon tells us that trials teach us hard lessons. He said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the rock of ages.”
Kissing the wave: Dave Furman is the pastor of a church in the Middle East. He knows what is it like to kiss the wave every day of his life. He knows what it is like to grasp for air because he experiences debilitating nerve pain. Life is hard for him as his condition invades the simplest of functions in life you and I take for granted. Pastor Dave writes about his trials and suffering in a book that borrows from Spurgeon’s quote of kissing the wave (Kiss the Wave).
When we are weak, God is strong: The apostle Paul writes, “If I have to boast, I will boast what pertains to my weakness.” (2 Cor. 11.30). He does so that God will receive glory and keep him from being prideful.
Really? Do you really want what is coming to you? I don’t think you know what you are asking. Ignorantly, Jesus’ disciples said to Him that they were able to drink the cup, not knowing that Jesus meant the cup of suffering and persecution and martyrdom. I for one do not want my fair share. I want God’s will to be done. I pray that this is your desire too.
Someday, the Lord will make all things new where there will be no more pain and suffering, but until then kiss the wave of this hard-knock life.
Grace and Peace! – GT
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