When hard work doesn't pay off
and what to do about it!
There is a rhythm to life with the work we do and the joy and rest in the fruit of our labor. When things are swaying in rhythm we work hard, we reap fruit, and we take a break to enjoy the fruit, then we get up again the next day and repeat, taking an occasional day-off. The wisest man that ever lived, or ever will live - King Solomon (1 Kings 3:12), said "I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him - for this is his lot." (Ecclesiastes 5:18). This 'lot' in life, being nothing more than finding fruit and satisfaction from toilsome labor, seems something of a letdown - like a sarcastic slogan on a holiday T-shirt: 'All this hard work, under the sun, and all I get is a lousy dinner.' Surely all my hard work should yield a bounty well beyond a good dinner?
I know many of us aspire to a joy that goes well beyond the day-to-day rest after a hard day's work, and perhaps that's something we need to recalibrate before the Lord; to just be at peace with the evening sunset, thankful for the day that is passing, and with a joyful anticipation for tomorrow's work, fruit, and rest. It's something to consider when we don't find joy, fruit, or rest from our labor - what happens when this most fundamental element of joy in life escapes us?
not finding joy in our basic day-to-day life makes for an unfulfilling life of "meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless" (Ecclesiastes 12:8) - this is our modern day sadness, worthlessness, depression, and despair.
So how do we break from this and reclaim our basic lot in life - joy in the day-to-day?
There are several reasons why our joy may not be full; we could be in the wrong job, we could have a higher threshold for what constitutes joy, we could be self-righteous expecting a higher reward than is due, we could have a lack of gratitude for the lowly good that abounds, we could be seeking self glory rather than God's glory. Whatever the reasons, we have the perfect remedy outlined in Deuteronomy chapters 8 and 9 as Moses prepared the Israelites for stepping into the bountiful promises of God.
For forty years the Israelites roamed the desert. They didn't have a home, or work; they didn't labor for their food which was provided everyday by God, nor did they need to work for clothes and shoes (Deuteronomy 29:5). This generation of Israelites, the children of the slaves who left Egypt, had never known the hard labor of slavery under Pharaoh. In fact, they didn't even know what non-slave regular work looked like - God had provided all of their needs in the desert - without expectation. Now they were poised to enter into the Promised Land, with a new rhythm of work, fruit, and rest - a lifestyle that was unknown to them - so God outlines how this rhythm of work, fruit, rest, and joy is to operate.
Moses presents a 6-point navigational framework for making our lot in life yield what God designed it to yield. In chapter 8, Moses tees up what lies ahead "a good land - a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey, a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills" (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). But there are parameters that the Israelites must follow in order to make good on this promise of God.
Moses outlines six parameters that they, and we, must fulfill in order to receive the promises of God:
1. Trust God. Moses tells the Israelites to "remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years" (Deut 8:2). When we look back in life, we can see God's hand in our lives, we are comforted to see that He was there, providing for us, caring for us, and shepherding us all the way. This is not a memory game Moses is playing when he tells them to 'remember', he is calling them to look back and see the evidence of God at work in their past - this grows trust in Him. Stepping into a new place is possible when we trust that God is indeed with us.
2. Read the bible. Moses then challenges the Israelites to know the Word of God: "to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deut 8:3). Knowing God's word, and being able to follow God, leads to prosperity (Psalm 1:1-3).
3. Walk in His ways: Knowing what God has commanded, the mandate then becomes "walking in His ways" (Deut 8:6). Moses provides a reinforcer to making the choice to walk in His ways rather than their/our ways, by outlining the abundance of the promises of God (Deut 8:7-9).
4. Be thankful. "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you" (Deut 8:10). Moses is aware that when times are good, we are less reliant on our Lord and can quickly forget about God. Moses warns the Israelites "Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God . . . otherwise, when you eat, and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud" (Deut 8:11-14). Moses presents a simple antidote to becoming proud - acknowledge God for all the blessings we receive: "You may say to yourself 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth" (deut 8:17-18).
5. Follow God. At some point, the preparations, the lessons, and the waiting for God are done, and we have to get up and go: "Hear, O Israel. You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in" Deut 9:1). We cannot reap a harvest without working the fields, with energy and diligence.
6. Have faith. Moses shares a statement of faith, himself being sure God is in this plan. While the Israelites may not see God face-to-face, faith provides the evidence that He is our guide "But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you" (Deut 9:3).
God has a plan for each of us, He has prepared the way for us to walk in it, and He will go ahead of us, and be with us every step of the way - just as He has been with us in the past, leading us to a joyful life in Him if we choose to follow Him.
What about you?
Do you agree with King Solomon that everything under the sun is meaningless except to enjoy the simple fruit from our labor? Why would the wisest man who ever lived have such a simplistic view of 'the meaning of life'? How does this viewpoint of Solomon's fit with his own "conclusion of the matter" noted in Ecclesiastes 12:13?
Do you receive joy in day-to-day life, or does that seem like a mundane place to search for excitement? Could you even be bothered to pen ten things of beauty about your day today?
Jeremiah 29:11 states "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.'" Has God ever revealed to you what your promised land is? If not, have you asked? If so, is that what you're pursuing?
How can the six parameters outlined by Moses be leveraged in your life to bring you into your promised land? Are there one or two that are your go-to for living life? Which is the hardest for you to do? How can you regain balance ensuring that all of these are used effectively to get you into your promises from God?
"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers." (Psalm 1:1-3)