Enjoying Our Work
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink, and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.Ecclesiastes 2:24
This issue of Clarion comes to you around the time of Labour Day, after which the schools, colleges, and universities open their doors, and work begins anew in earnest. The time of the holidays is over; a new season of work has begun.
I know that there are many among us who have seasonal work. I think especially of farmers and landscapers, and others who work in related professions. Some of these must take their holidays in the winter time. But for most of us, the summer is the season to break from our daily work and to relax more than at other times.
Perhaps that is the reason why “Labour Day” has traditionally been held during the first weekend in September. When the summer is over, people become serious again about work. To mark the transition, Labour Day has been organized as a day honouring the many labourers who form the backbone of any industrial nation.
This day was instituted around 1882 as a recognition of the contribution of working people, i.e., the common labourer. In Canada and the United States, this day is always the first Monday in September. As an aside we note that there are countries which observe May 1 as a day to honour workers.
On Labour Day there is usually a parade with floats, bands, and other attractions. We also note that this is a day when leaders of the unionized labour movement love to stand in the limelight, deliver fiery speeches, and make general threats to management and ownership of various employers.
I have the overall impression that many people do not like their work. I know that I speak in general, for there are those who truly enjoy their daily task. But we have many expressions which indicate that people are glad when the (free) weekend comes, and especially so when it is a long weekend. TGIF: thank God it’s Friday. Beer advertisements will proclaim: hey, Canada, the weekend’s coming.
There are other expressions in this respect. All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy. We need our time off. Daily life with its work is called a “rat race.” This refers to a strenuous and wearisome activity, where there is no real progress or change. Everyday one performs the same boring tasks. But these have to be done, and so we bend and “put our nose to the grindstone.” Ouch.
How many people will genuinely say: thank God it’s Monday? Then a new work-week begins. Life resumes its normal course after the weekend break. It has been said that the hardest time to get out of bed is Monday morning, especially if we have carried the weekend over into the wee hours of the night.
Work and Vanity
In the Book of Ecclesiastes work and labour are mentioned many times. Generally speaking, work is considered to be wearisome, meaningless, and a chasing after wind. All that we build up in life is taken over by others when we die, and we do not know what they will do with it (Ecclesiastes 3:19). The preacher experiences a kind of despair over all his work under the sun; it seems so useless.
The work of some leads by God’s blessing to great riches in their lifetime, but in the end it means nothing. “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs” (Ecclesiastes 5: 15). Often the relationships are unfair and favour one above the other. The rich oppress the poor; the poor seek to outsmart the rich. Also in labour relations, this world is a sinful place where exploitation and sabotage occur daily.
Must we then take a worldly view towards work? We do it, but we hate it, and we cannot wait until we no longer have to work but can retire? Some people become experts at appearing to be busy, while they are in fact doing nothing. Pupils have refined this tactic at school. Others are so busy that they hardly have time for anything else. I’ve heard the saying: my work is also my hobby.
Focus on Enjoyment
Yet the very same Bible book tells us at various places that we should enjoy our work. This enjoyment must be vigorously pursued and graciously given. In Ecclesiastes 2:10, the preacher does admit, besides the vanity of toil and labour, "My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour."
And in Ecclesiastes 2:24 we read,
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink, and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him who can eat or find enjoyment?
Despite the hardship and toil, we are encouraged still to find enjoyment and satisfaction in our work. In Ecclesiastes 3:12 we read that finding satisfaction in all one’s toil is called, “This is the gift of God.” And in Ecclesiastes 9:7, we find a beautiful mandate, “Go, eat your food with gladness, with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favours what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun – all your meaningless days.”
Life remains meaningless and vain in many ways, but under God’s grace it can still be enjoyed, day by day and God’s gifts may be received with thankfulness and used with pleasure. We may pluck the day, enjoy the good times, especially when we are young and in the midst of the business of life. Time for toil does not exclude proper relaxation.
In the Lord
All this finds greater and deeper expression in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we are only at a halfway point in the history of redemption. The Bible tells us also about the coming of our Lord into this world, about his death and resurrection.
It is in the light of this resurrection, which is a guarantee of our own resurrection, that life gains new meaning. We may no longer simply say: vanity of vanities, all is vanity. For Christ has risen. This life of toil is lived under his dominion. And he promises us new life, even eternal life, free from sin and its effects, free also from the pain of useless toil.
After Paul has at length demonstrated the truth and the meaning of Christ’s resurrection, he ends with this word,
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not vain.1 Corinthians 15:58
I know that “the work of the Lord” means especially work done in ministry and service to build Christ’s church. But our daily work is to be seen along that line also. All our work has taken on a new meaning: It is not vain in the Lord. We may build with Christ the kingdom of heaven, and be assured that he will return to exclaim, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”
Perhaps we should in our daily work focus more on the Lord Jesus Christ and the coming of his kingdom. This gives sense and direction to our word, at home, on the job, in the factory, at school, or whatever we do. When you work with Christ, you can enjoy your work. There will still be dreary days, but we may always look to the Lord who gives strength and blessing. This alone gives enjoyment to our work.