“So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless." Ecclesiastes 2:20-23
The king sounds a little depressed in the above verses, doesn’t he? I can’t blame him for his down-to-earth honesty. Nothing numbs the heart more than realizing that your children don’t appreciate what you have done for them. As Ecclesiastes makes clear, there are no guarantees in this life-except that one day we will die. Everything is up for grabs.
The foundation of gratitude is the expectation of nothing. Often we live in disappointment because we expect more than life has to offer. Many of us complain about the thorns when we ought to give thanks for the roses. If we expected less, we would be more grateful. We complain because we think we deserve more than we have. The less you expect out of life, the more you can be grateful for every blessing you receive.
In the end we all receive far more than we deserve. The Christian gospel teaches us that God gives us what we don’t deserve (salvation) and withholds from us what we do deserve (punishment). Somehow we accept this truth when it comes to salvation but neatly overlook it when we evaluate our lives on a daily basis.
Some friends moved to Ireland to begin a new ministry. It hasn’t been an easy transition. In a letter the wife wrote without regret of what she is missing-especially her two-year-old nephew’s birthday party. Her heart longs to be with her extended family, but she has no doubts about the path she and her husband have chosen. “There is the calm assurance that this is where we’re supposed to be (most days, that is).” I appreciate the parenthetical comment and the little smiley-face she drew beside it. That makes it very real.
Is it worth it? she wonders. Then she ponders what Jesus said about losing your life for His sake and gaining it in the end. Here is her conclusion: “That compels me to recognize the joy I have in living where He wants me- even on the days when I don’t feel happy to be here.” How wonderful that statement is. Because she is where God wants her, she can have joy even when she isn’t particularly happy to be there.
If you know that God is sovereign, then you can be content-and even find joy-in the midst of circumstances that are less than ideal.
Lord, I do not pray for a lighter load but I do ask for stronger shoulders. Amen.
Ray Pritchard pastored in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Married to Marlene for 38 years, he enjoys being a husband, a father and a grandfather, riding his bike, and playing with Dudley and Gary, beloved basset hounds.