June 22, 2019 • Life for Leaders
What do workers gain from their toil?. . . Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
Ecclesiastes 3:9, 19b-20
Almost six years ago, a friend called me up out of the blue and offered me a job working for an organization in what many people call the “faith and work movement”—a loosely connected group of people, publications, collaborative groups, publishers, and nonprofits all committed to the idea that our daily work matters to God.
The fact that daily work done well, and leadership performed with excellence, matter to God is a motivating idea behind not just the faith and work movement in general, but the De Pree Center in particular. Believe it or not, it was not an idea I had encountered very much in the first forty years of my life until that fateful phone call. My idea of work was much closer to what the Preacher (as he is often called) expresses in our passage from Ecclesiastes.
We all know well the first eight verses of Ecclesiastes, a beautiful meditation on time and change, loss and gain that Deidra Riggs had us ponder in her recent farewell Life for Leaders devotion. But when we go on to read verse 9 and the verses that follow, we find that our Preacher is actually not very happy about his life or his work. He finally in Ecclesiastes 3:22 comes to the conclusion that we might as well enjoy work—not because it matters to God, but because, although we know God exists and is in charge, we have no idea whether God actually intends anything better for us than our current toil.
I’ve been there from time to time. Have you?
The great surprise that has been dawning on me in the last six years is that there is a chance work doesn’t look like the general overall tone of Ecclesiastes (and, if you want an extended meditation on what it looks like when life and work seem ultimately hopeless, you can read the entire Biblical book, which gets that message across just as well as many current books on the topic.) There is a chance—more than a chance, in fact—that your work and your leadership really do matter to God—matter on that deep level where we all hunger to know that we are loved, known, and guided.
How do we know? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. In the meantime consider these questions.
Something to Think About:
When have you found work meaningless? When have you found it meaningful?
What would it feel like to know that you and your work truly mattered?
Something to Do:
Tell someone you know today that their work matters to God. Maybe the person you need to tell is yourself!
Lord, sometimes my day and my life and my work feel like toil, and I raise my voice with the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, asking: what will I gain for all my trouble? Be with me in my suffering, and help me feel your love and grace. In your holy name, Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
Introduction to Ecclesiastes
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.