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Ecclesiastes 2: Happiness & the Work-Life Balance

The Good Life: Happiness and the Work-Life Balance Pastor's Corner

This study on Ecclesiastes Chapter 2 discusses the topics of happiness, fulfillment in work, and living a vibrant life
  1. The Good Life: Happiness and the Work-Life Balance
  2. Finding Meaning in Life: Study on Ecclesiastes Chapter 1
  3. The Fall and Rise of Man
  4. The Millennium Bible Study #1
  5. The Geopolitics of Good Friday

Today I’d like to continue our study of the Book of Ecclesiastes. If you haven’t listened to the first part, Finding Meaning in Life, make time do so as it will lay a solid basis for where I’d like to go in this podcast.

Ecclesiastes is written to give us a very sobering reality check, one that we need if we want to live a good life. Today I’d like to focus on the following three questions:

  • Should my job determine how happy I am (or am not)?
  • What does the Bible say about keeping a work-life balance?
  • And, while we expect Christ’s return at any moment, should we consider the fact that we may die before He comes?

A man of extremes

As I said before, I believe King Solomon is the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes and God gave him extreme wealth, power, and influence to prove that all these things that we so often long for are meaningless. None of us will ever have the natural success that Solomon enjoyed, and that’s okay. God gave it to him—and ensured that we had record of it—to prove to us the foolishness of prioritizing things in this world. We can learn from Solomon’s example. To him was given extreme wisdom, what we now call spiritual discernment, and yet he also made critical mistakes that would cost his son a kingdom (see 1 Kings 12). Let’s learn the answers to our own big questions as we look at the Bible.

Ecclesiastes 2 starts off with Solomon purposing to discover what we humans should do with our lives. He goes on to detail how he invested himself in building projects, business, and entertainment—all of which are familiar to us. How often has the message that productivity leads to a fulfilled life been presented to us? Many times we Christians are tempted to lose ourselves in the projects we undertake—maybe our jobs, our family, or the blizzard of entertainment options that now exist.

And yet, nothing satisfies.

Solomon shows us in verse 11 that the very things he had spent years building up now became a source of frustration.

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:11

We know that money doesn’t bring happiness, but why do we then spend so much time trying to gain the next dollar? Paul told us to live simply. In 1 Timothy 6:8-10 he writes,

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

1 Timothy 6:8-10

The drive to earn money is at the heart of the most sinful and pervasive parts of our global culture. A 2019 market analysis on PR Newswire  put the pornography industry revenue in the U.S. at 35 billion dollars. Globally, some estimates put it at almost $100 billion annually.

In a 2019 study by the RAND Corporation, the illegal drug industry averages around $150 billion in the U.S. alone each year.

Now, if you’re listening to this podcast, the studies referenced are hyperlinked in the actual article at thelwbc.com.

I don’t need to talk about the harmful effects of both the porn drug and the literal drugs—we know both are addictive, shatter lives, and ruin self-respect. My focus today is on what God expects from you and me.

While the world clearly will go to any lengths to make money, God has clear boundaries about how much of a role work and the pursuit of money should play in the lives of His children. I want to identify two boundaries as we answer our first two questions.

Again, those questions are: Should my job determine how happy I am (or am not)? What does the Bible say about keeping a work-life balance?

First boundary:

The work you do should be meaningful but not give you a sense of meaning. Also, you should enjoy your work but not be made happy by it.

Let me explain what I mean.

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment[c] in his toil. “ (Ecclesiastes 2:25 NKJV).

Your job should be something you enjoy doing—not just something you do to pay the bills. Now, I realize this isn’t always possible and I’m not saying you’re sinning if you don’t like your job—believe me, I’ve been there too! But, no matter how long it takes, try to get yourself in a job that you enjoy because this is part of the blessing that God has for you in this world. It may also lengthen your life and your health by minimizing the negative effects of stress that you’ll otherwise face.

Solomon warns us against keeping a job you don’t enjoy or that is high-pressure when he says, “For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. (verse 23)”

Ever lose a night’s sleep because of your job? As a teacher, I have many times. But that’s not God’s plan. Neither is remaining in a toxic work environment.

Think about it: how many times do you complain about your job? Does it make you feel happy or emotionally refreshed to gripe about your supervisors or the demanding hours?

 Probably not.

 As the Bible shows us in Philippians 4:8, we Christians are called to keep our minds on things that are good and not meditate upon things that frustrate us. If we don’t, we’ll constantly have our spirit in turmoil which works against our health.

God’s Work-Life Balance

The work-life balance that God calls for requires us to leave our job at our job. When the people we work with, their personal problems, or the work itself continuously drains you (and I mean in a negative way emotionally or spiritually), it’s time to stop and ask God to either change the circumstance or make a way for you to leave. God’s plan for work is a job that we enjoy and work that allows us to rest easy at night with a clear conscience.

We can see this from the work environment that God provided for Adam. I have a hard time imagining Adam complaining to Eve at night about the stresses of gardening, especially when weeds and miniature terrorists called bugs didn’t exist—at least, not as we know now! Even in a perfect world, where Adam “worked from home,” everything all stopped at night when it was time to worship God, spend time with his family, and rest easy.

Now, let’s look back at the Ecclesiastes 2. I’m going to repeat that earlier verse but also read the following.

24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment[c] in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him[d] who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25

Now, I mentioned that your work should be meaningful…but it should not give you meaning. I want to repeat that so you’ll be sure to get the difference. Your work should be meaningful but it should not give you meaning.

This is a big subject, that I’m going to slant toward the men in the audience for a moment, because, generally speaking, we tend to judge our self-worth by our accomplishments (which are often job related) more than women do.

Brothers, God expects us to do our best at our jobs but don’t let the drive to provide for yourself or your family consume you. Keep everything in balance.

Let me share a personal story. Like most of you know, in 2016 I left my job because of my Christian principals. As painful as it was to separate from students I genuinely cared about, the hardest part was dealing with the fact that I had no idea what to do next. Without realizing it, I was equating my own self-worth with being a teacher. When that was taken from me, I floundered in depression for several years. Somewhere in the chaos of my churning emotions, our gracious Lord opened my eyes to understand where I had been erring.

You see, like many others, I depended on my job to give a sense of meaning to my life. Teaching. Coaching. Encouraging. Correcting. It’s all part of my nature. But, while those are natural human tendencies that God placed within me for His purpose, God calls us to draw every scrap of our sense of meaning from Him alone. And, through this experience, He showed me that I subconsciously gave to my work what belonged to Him.  

 Remember, the very God-given aspects of your character can work against you if you don’t constantly keep an eye on them. For example, a caring, open-hearted person can be drawn into a wrong relationship if he/she doesn’t keep that part of his/herself under control.

Now let me swing this thought over to my sisters.

Women often draw their sense of meaning from their relationships (romantic or otherwise). But what if all that was unexpectedly stripped away from you? What if you lost every person you ever cared about or your friends and family decided to shun you? Would you still feel that your life mattered?

It would. It does.

Sometimes the service that is done to others is what fuels a woman’s sense of meaningfulness, giving her a sense of value because she feels needed. But, remember Sister, your true value lies in simply who you are—not what you do. As a daughter of the King, who is living a surrendered life to your Heavenly Father, your true value comes from being His light in this dark world. Think of Martha who found meaning in serving others while Mary found meaning in her spiritual relationship to Christ.  Both were good women but one, Mary, had truly grasped the understanding of a valuable life.

Which woman are you?

Please understand that it is right and good to serve others, and it is totally normal for that spark good feelings within us as Christians, but again that isn’t the source of our life’s value—it is an expression of it.

Men and women, if the day comes that you can’t work because of a disability or serve because the relationships in your life no longer exist , you can still have a meaningful life if you draw meaning only from God.

You see, as long as we draw meaning from anything else but Christ Himself, we Christians are vulnerable. Our enemy will have the power to disrupt our minds and our lives until we accept that our life is meaningful because Christ is revealing Himself to us and through us.

Remember the Scripture, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33).

 As long as we have Christ… everything else will be alright.

The last thing I want to point out from this beautiful chapter is Solomon’s reminder that our work and efforts are all temporal.

You may remember King Henry 8th of England, the Tudor monarch who married 6 times and had some of his wives beheaded in his relentless pursuit of a legitimate male heir. After endless intrigue, assassinations, family divisions and war, this family line died out when Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth refused to marry. Perhaps that’s not too surprising, given that her father executed her mother!

The point is, all his efforts to build a kingdom fell due to the choices of someone who lived after him. How many thousands died in war and civil strife to preserve a kingdom that would would only last about 120 years?

It was temporal.

The same can be said of our work, be it government, healthcare, business etc. You can devote 30 years of your life to an organization and they may never promote you. Or, if you’re a manager or VP the day will come where you’ll have to retire and someone else will simply take your place. So how much does that contribute to a good life in the end?

Because of this inability to control what happens after we leave our jobs or even this world, Solomon realized that life is meaningless if we define it by our work. As he writes in verse 18-20:

“Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.

20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:18-20

When we live with this reality constantly in our thoughts, it will make us cut back on those late hours at the job and devote more time to aspects of life that really matter. Instead of getting more things off our to-do lists, we’ll think more about what we put on our lists.

Instead of fitting God into our schedule, we’ll give Him more of our attention. Instead of surrounding ourselves with people who carry toxic atmospheres, we will replace them with people who will reinforce our faith and deepen our fellowship with each other OR use our time with them to point them to the better life Christ offers.

Finally, Solomon reminds us that life is brief. Now, as Christians who live in the shadows of the Coming of Christ, we believe that He will come before our life is over. But that is not guaranteed.

Many sometimes feel that it is a lack of faith to have things such as life insurance or a Will, but that is not written in Scripture and therefore should not be taught. If you have been born again, your soul is immortal (for God’s life dwells within it) but your body is not. Ecclesiastes 2:14 and many other scriptures tells us that all die:

14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.

Ecclesiastes 2:14

Therefore, outside of a Simeon-like experience—with God promising you that you will not die until Christ returns—keep in mind that you can leave this world at any time and make appropriate preparations both spiritually and naturally.

The Bible keeps repeating this theme of a temporal life. I believe God knows our nature as humans—without constant reminders we become oblivious to our reality and will treat life as though we are immortal. Even with tombstones all around us, and terrorism claiming lives each day, billions still live without thinking about their coming appointment with a furious God.

But if you remember that life is temporal, you can make the choice to live for Him and also to make each moment of your natural life as full and vibrant as possible.

 Do you have a dream you’ve been putting off? Why not start the journey? An activity that you’ve been wanting to do? Get going!

 We weren’t just born to pay bills and die. Making each moment vibrant, as God’s Word allows, is all part of having a good life.

Next time we want to delve into Ecclesiastes 3. Why does life have phases? How do those phases affect us and how can we Christians navigate them while living in an ungodly world?

Until then, live simply, live well, and may God bless you.