Day 3

The Emptiness of Work

from the Ecclesiastes reading plan


Ecclesiastes 2:1-26, Genesis 1:26-28, John 15:9-11

BY Ellen Taylor

I turned sixteen the summer before my junior year of high school. Along with the new excitement of being able to drive came the responsibility of having my first “real” job. I worked as a cashier at a neighborhood pharmacy and gift shop in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, taking phone calls for prescription refills and stocking the shelves with face lotion and hand soap. But the best part of this summer job was something we lovingly referred to as “Christmas in July”—receiving all of the seasonal products for Christmas at the pharmacy, pricing them accordingly, and keeping track of inventory until they put out the Christmas items in late fall.

I was constantly confused by the juxtaposition of the stifling Alabama summer heat with the Santa Claus figurines and snowflake ornaments. Even so, I loved that job. The fragile ornaments and figurines needed special care while unpacking, and even though it meant I left covered in glitter every day, I paid special attention to them, lifting them gingerly out of their boxes and placing them on the storage shelves where they would sit until they made their debut in the pharmacy. It might not have been the most important job, but I found purpose in it.

King Solomon had one of the most important jobs in the Old Testament. God called him to build the temple where God’s presence would dwell among the Israelites (1Chronicles 22:6–10). This was an incredible honor, one that God didn’t even entrust to King David, who was considered a “man after [God’s] own heart” (1Samuel 13:14).

Despite all this, Ecclesiastes 2 tells us that King Solomon struggled with the purpose of work. He writes, “I hated all my work that I labored at under the sun because I must leave it to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will take over all my work that I labored at skillfully under the sun. This too is futile” (Ecclesiastes 2:18–19). To the author of Ecclesiastes, leaving his work behind after death made it meaningless, a pursuit of the wind. But he goes on to explain that while he felt as though his work was meaningless, there is “nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work” (v.24).

In Genesis 1, after the creation of humankind, God instructed Adam and Eve to work, telling them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). God’s design for humanity always included work—it preceded the fall! Our work is not meaningless; we are called to it. And when we do our work for the glory of the one who worked first to create us, it has eternal meaning and significance.

Post Comments (84)

84 thoughts on "The Emptiness of Work"

  1. Brooke says:

    Hi all,
    I’ve loved reading everyone’s responses!
    I am a student in high school, and sometimes I feel guilty about doing homework. I think of all that is going wrong in the world and how I am just at my desk doing math homework. I know my “job” and my work during this season is school, and I know that completing it is obeying my parents, which pleases God. However, I still sometimes feel guilty about doing it when I could be “doing something for God.” It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I can glorify God through schoolwork. I do love learning about science and praising Him and how intricately he designed creation… but the busywork sometimes leaves me feeling guilty.
    Can anyone give me advice? Bless you all!

    1. Bernadette BeckstedPerry says:

      Hi Brooke, you are doing what God wants you to do. He wants you to be filled with wisdom from both the secular world and with HIS word. I struggled with those thoughts when I was a stay at home Mom. I think we all struggle and wonder if we are doing what he wants. Trust me, you are. Do everything with love and the best you can. ❤️

    2. Allie Gregg says:

      Hi Brooke! I think doing your work in high school and really working at it with all your heart is great preparation for whatever God has planned for you to do in the future as well! You are learning the valuable skill of focus, perseverance and dedication! Keep up the good work!

  2. Megan Saller says:

    I have been learning to rest in the fact that I am glorifying God with my work over the last few years – coming out of college, studying day and night, and starting my first job as an engineer. Today’s reading helped validate some of my feelings, but ultimately reminded me that my work glorifies God.

  3. Anise Daniel says:

    I completely understand this message now, it’s blessed me tremendously. Sending love, blessings and prayers to you ladies! ❤️

  4. Yolanda Harbon says:

    Nothing like a bit of truth to hit you right where you know it’s right and it’s of God! Wow. I’m struggling with work at the moment, so much, but I’m so lucky to still have a job. I really needed to read this today!

  5. Natasha R says:

    The main point I got from this passage is that work and its fruits will not in themselves bring us joy. God meant for us to work and reap the rewards, but the real joy will come from
    Him, and not from the work itself.

  6. Jenna says:

    “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

  7. Krissy R says:

    Been struggling with feeling any sense of work lately. I’ve had many jobs, addictions counselor, nanny, barista and lately as a substitute teacher but for now no out of house work. God guide me towards your plan.

  8. Makenzie Benish says:

    So let me just start by saying I’m a control freak. I like to do everything, organize everything, because I want it to be done my way. (Think Monica on friends…. just not as crazy) This passage was such a great reminder to me that I must deny myself and take up my cross, to follow Jesus! The message version of verse 9 says “everything I wanted I took- I never said no to myself. I gave into every impulse, held back nothing.” Here I am, reading the rest of the passage and thinking… “well I know I’m supposed to find purpose in work, but dang it sometimes I just hate it!” And then I realized that sometimes work is not fun and I want to complain and a lot of times I give in. I let the bad attitude settle in and ruin a perfectly good day. And it’s because I didn’t say no to myself! I didn’t say, “god put me here for a reason” and ask him for help. Instead, I gave in to what I wanted to do and complained and had a bad attitude. i loved that Ellen said “when we do our work for the glory of the one who worked first to create us, it has eternal meaning and significance.” What a great reminder that I am never toiling in vain as a child of God and that I can loosen the reigns and deny myself that pleasure because God has given every day lasting meaning and significance.

    1. Kinda Johnson says:

      Amen!

      1. Andrea Clark says:

        Amen! I love your perspective

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