Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chasing After Wind

Better is a handful with quiet
than two handfuls with toil,
and a chasing after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 4:6)

This verse from Ecclesiastes called out to me this week, begging to be reflected upon.

It makes me think of Jesus saying, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."

It reminds me of a part of my sermon a couple of weeks ago, from 1st John 5, "God's commandments are not burdensome."

It makes me think about so many people I know who work until 6:30, 7:00, 7:30 at night, or even later, relating to their families like the proverbial ships passing in the night. Chasing after wind.

It makes me think of a lot of pastors I know who work 60 hours a week or more thinking they have to work themselves into worthiness. How many of them burn out early and spend the last years of their ministry cynical and bitter?

Why do we tend to place unqualified value on hard work? We wax on about a high work ethic as if people who work hard are to be emulated without critique. There's nothing inherently wrong with working hard, to be sure. But there's nothing inherently right about it, either.

Better is a handful with quiet ...

(Give us this day our daily bread ... just enough for today ... a handful.)

...than two handfuls with toil.

(Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin...)

I mean, sure. You've got your two handfuls, but at what cost? Love your house! Great car! But have you worked so hard that you are unable to enjoy it? Wouldn't it be better to have a handful and be able to enjoy life in the meantime?

I know that some with the metaphorical "two handfuls" are content with life, even happy. I'm not saying that those who have done materially well in life are automatically sad work-a-holics who never spend any time with their family. I'm saying that it is all about balance.

When the scales tip over to the side of material gain and work to the detriment of contentment and harmony, then you've got problems.

And it doesn't have to be just affluent people affected by this insidious condition. Pressure to work hard and produce results affects us all. I feel it. Middle managers feel it from their bosses. Every day working people feel it all the time. The expectation of hard work is pervasive.

And a lot of it comes from within, to tell the truth. Much of the pressure we feel comes from expectations we place on ourselves. Although those self-expectations are learned from somewhere, likely imprinted upon us at an early age.

In an environment of pressure, expectations, and hard work, a verse like Ecclesiastes 4:6 is refreshing. Better a handful with quiet - in other words, a happy life with just enough - than two handfuls with toil - in other words, a miserable life with excess. How much time are we going to waste chasing after wind?

I for one have better things to do.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good word, as always, Andy. ~Andy

Stresspenguin said...


I needed to hear that.


Professor RJ Gumby said...

Good verse from my favorite book of the Bible. The tension comes...and for me the growth as well...in trying to stop my own efforts and overwork and learning instead to trust God. And as I slowly get better at it, my witness also gets a little bit more believeable. Yet it is hard when you work in Corporate America and instead of annual goals, you are given "annual committments".

Anonymous said...

Truly helpful - however, when you feel overwhelmed due to the burdens of these days, ie. job loss, medical needs, foreclosure, etc. what do you say to those suffering the pressures of all or some of the above, or other issues? Trusting God to meet our needs is easier said than done, so how do you say it so other strugglers believe it? Lead by example, prayer and what else? Sorry, I am struggling and seems I have lost my rose colored glasses.


John said...

The old Protestant Work Ethic can be distorted to mean that hard work is inherently good, regardless of the rewards that result. If you're not making more money, or achieving something else that is important, or if you're losing ground in other important sectors of your life (e.g. health, family), then hard work is counterproductive.

There's a difference between busyness and productivity.

Physically, mentally, and socially, and financially, I've never been healthier than I am now (other than immense debts from seminary). And I've never worked less in my life.