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 L. 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 (94)

94 thoughts on "The Emptiness of Work"

  1. Hayley says:

    I’m reading this from Sydney Australia, and the first thing I picked up on was how you said it felt strange to have the Christmas ornaments in the stifling summer heat. This is our Christmas every year.

  2. Rachel Thompson says:

    It’s hard a perpetual grad student (what it feels like at times) to find meaning and value in my work, bc all I do is just preparing me for the end result while not feeling like I am accomplishing anything. But today I am reminded that any honest work I do for the glory of God is not wasted and God uses all things for his honor and for the good of those who love him…

    1. Laurel BaciulisBačiulytėSmith says:

      ❤️❤️

  3. Melissa Mcronney says:

    Amen…powerful. thank you

  4. Taylor says:

    Hi Brooke!

    Thanks for sharing your heart. God has placed those desires in your heart to turn into actions for His glory! Try to see high school as an opportunity to gain knowledge to use for His glory. I also remember how much time I had in high school to be involved in a lot of extracurriculars. I know during COVID it’s hard to get involved in things, but spend time volunteering for things you are passionate about, join clubs and church groups where you can use your gifts and talents to do work for Him. I try to see life as a balance of “filling up” with knowledge of Him and knowledge of the world and “flowing out” where we utilize our knowledge and talents to further His kingdom. Schoolwork (as meaningless as it may seem) is part of your balance of filling up. That way, you will have the energy and resources to flow out and serve others. I hope this helps!

    1. Grace T says:

      Taylor, I love this perspective. Thanks for sharing this encouragement with Brooke and the rest of us.

  5. Tracy Wietsma says:

    I’m sitting here in tears (happy tears) considering what I think of my job versus seeing it as the work God has for me. Thank you Father for entrusting me with your beloved children and asking me to love them, guide them, pray for them and take care of them. I am blessed

    1. Natalie Gandy says:

      L

  6. Megan Maze says:

    What a beautiful reminder that what we are called to do, even in the mundane of it and even if we will never see the fruits of our labor. It is not meaningless. It’s a seed planted that will grow long after we’re gone!

  7. 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!

    3. Alyssa Myers says:

      Hi Brooke! I’m 37, my husband is 42 (and believe me, you will be 37 before you know it!) last week, we sat around a table with my parents and my Grandma (89 yrs young!) and asked each other if we could go back in time, what would have we done differently… ALL OF US- said we would have paid more attention in HS & College. The education you are getting now is material you will never be required to learn again, so soak it up now! Dive deep into the sciences! Learn all you can, enjoy extra classes, go to additional lectures, and keep your eyes in God! …and I promise you will be happy you did! Xo!

  8. 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.

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