What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? (Ecc 1:3)
This may come as a surprise to many, but any time God is about to speak a truth into my heart so that I can write about it under the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, I go through a period of deep depression. Why this is, I do not know.
When a person goes through a deep depression, he tends to separate himself from life for a while. He isolates himself. He doesn’t want to be around the world and all of its noise because his spirit cannot handle or tolerate it. And so, he gets alone with God. He shuns the world and draws closer to God because his spirit is hurting and nothing else will bring comfort to him.
But it is there, at the feet of Christ, bruised, hurting, raw, and helpless, when God will often speak to him. It is there, where Christ has his undivided attention. And where Christ has a man’s undivided attention, Christ can speak. It’s agonizing, and it’s painful, but while I’m going through it, the education that I receive at the feet of my Lord is priceless.
He reveals truths to my heart that no book or man could ever make known to me; he shows me things that a man cannot see except by His Spirit. And so, when the depression came, I welcomed it, for I have come to recognize it as a portent, a sign, that God was getting ready to speak His Word into my heart. It was time for class.
Time & Place
If someone were to ask me what my favorite book in the Bible was, I would have to say the book of Ecclesiastes. This Biblical book studies the meaning of life. Solomon looks at wisdom, pleasure, work, power, riches, religion, and other things.
He shows that all of these have some value and are useful in the proper time and place, but they have lasting value only if God is at the center of man’s life. Reverence and respect for God and a real devotion in serving God are the most important in making life have meaning. Without God, everything is meaningless.
In the beginning of the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon speaks about the toil and labor of man. He shows that toil and labor, like everything else in life, only has value if God is at the center of it.
Much of the toil and labor which takes place under the sun is not for God, but for self, and this is what God’s Spirit birthed into my heart in the “classroom”. When I speak of this “for self” toil and labor, I do not speak of the world, but of many who are in Christ. Only eternity will disclose how much of what we have done was truly for God, or for self.
In today’s Christian community, there is much striving for success. Many are striving to write books for God, sing songs for God, paint pictures for God, sculpt for God, go on radio for God, and speak publicly for God. There is much striving when it comes to working for God, but very little striving for God Himself. Many have lost their focus, believing that they were placed here for their service to God instead of intimacy with God.
The Catholic Church teaches that man’s purpose in life is threefold. He was created to know God, to love God, and to serve God. But only when we are truly loving God, delighting in Him, and making this our chief aim in life, will our work for Him have any value.
God has not called us to “religious busyness”. He has called us to Himself, to His heart. Our chief purpose in life is to love and adore Him, not to neglect these things in order to do great works for Him.
Long ago, God issued a warning to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jer 17:10)
These are sobering words, are they not? In them, God is warning us that when we stand before Him in eternity, He is going to look past our deeds and our conduct in order to see the motive that was behind them. In that great and terrible day, He will look beyond a man’s ministry, his accomplishments, and his “success” and into that man’s heart and mind in order to see what his true motives were in the day he performed those deeds.
Christ Himself warned that many would cast demons out in His Name and still not be acknowledged as His own on the day of their judgment. Many will say, “Lord, I did this for You, and I did that for You. I wrote books for You, I publicly spoke for You, and I painted for You. I sang for You, made movies for You, and created websites for You. I homeschooled for You, sang in the church choir for You, and headed up various church committees for You. I even became a deacon for You.”
But Jesus will look at them plainly and say, “No, what you did was not done for Me; it was done for you.”
Whatever was done for us will be burned up, and we will receive no reward from God on the day of our judgment. Only that which was done for Him will be acknowledged and rewarded.
All that we do which is not done for the love of God is worthless and will get no reward. We may toil for long years and receive great praise and honor from men for our labors. We may look like an outward success, but if our work is not done for love of God, it is utterly worthless.
A poor old woman who sits at the feet of Christ praying to Him night and day, who carries her cross faithfully and patiently, and who lives a quiet Christian life unseen by anyone save God will have a higher place in Heaven than many who wrote books, cut CDs, went on television, spoke before the multitudes, went on radio, and stood behind pulpits.
A Bigger Fool?
Brothers and sisters, let us listen to what the Spirit is saying to us in regard to these things, and let us stop thinking like men when it comes to our ideas of “success” and the things for which we toil and labor. A woman who writes a simple note of encouragement to one who is hurting, and who does so for love of Christ will receive a greater reward than a man who writes a religious book that reaches millions, but who wrote that book for his own glory, not for God’s.
We all would do well to stop and think long and hard about the things for which we toil and labor under the sun. If we want to discern the value of those things for which we toil, we need to examine them beneath the glaring light of Eternity.
A wise man will spend every day of his life thinking about the day when it will be taken from him. In this way, he will make sure that he doesn’t get distracted and go astray from the only things that will matter once his soul separates from his body and his casket is lowered into the ground.
When I see Christians toiling and laboring in order to renovate and decorate their homes lavishly, filling them with priceless works of art and imported and expensive furniture, I have to wonder what they’re thinking. Which of these things will descend with them into the grave?
When I see Christians toiling and laboring in order to acquire riches, win trophies in sports, and reach celebrity-status, I have to wonder how any of these things will benefit that part of them that will last forever long after their body has decomposed in the ground. To spend a lifetime pampering the flesh, thrilling the flesh, bringing pleasure to the flesh, and seeking the honor of one’s flesh, while neglecting the soul encased within that flesh is akin to spending all of one’s energy cleaning, polishing, and scrubbing a ceramic vase while neglecting the plant within the vase.
What is the purpose of the vase? Is it not to encase the flower or the plant? If I refuse to water the plant and give it the proper sunlight that it needs in order to flourish, and if I allow the plant to wither and dry up while I continue to exert all of my time and attention on the vase, will I not look like the biggest fool the Earth has ever seen?
And yet, what can be said of the man who simply focuses on the needs and wants of his physical life while ignoring his spiritual life, his soul, the part of him that will last forever? Is this not the biggest fool of all?
The Right Motive
The only thing that we can take with us to our grave is a life that was lived for the glory of God. But if we are determined to live such a life, let us make sure that our motives are right. Living for the glory of God is not the same thing as giving ourselves over to religious busyness for God. There is a lot of striving taking place in Christian circles today, but the Lord has made known to me that very little of it is for Him; it is for ourselves.
We are called first and foremost to an intimate relationship with Him. This is the express purpose for which we were created. God wants to love us, and He wants us to love Him in return. The love that He has for us is sweet, tender, affectionate, and all-consuming, and He demands this same love from us in return.
If we’re so busy doing this and that for God, that we have no time for intimacy with God, then we are not fulfilling the purpose for which we have been created. It’s as simple as that. God isn’t interested in our service if He doesn’t have our hearts. We cannot use our works for God as a substitute for true love, worship, and adoration of God. If we do, then we have been deceived.
Judgment Day is coming, brothers and sisters. On that day, when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ in order to offer up every class we ever taught, every article or book we ever wrote, every song we ever sung, every picture we ever painted, every conference we ever spoke at, every website we ever created, or anything else we ever toiled and labored for, understand that only that which was done for His glory, and not our own, will survive.
It is good for a man to toil and labor, but only if he labors for the right things, the right causes, and for the right reasons. It is a man’s motives that give value to any of his labors for God. If that for which he labors is not done for love of God, and if it is done to promote and glorify self, rather than God, then it is worthless in the sight of God and will not be rewarded.
He who has a listening ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.