“What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has kid on men.” Ecclesiastes 3:9-10
When the final examination grades at Cambridge University were published, Henry Martyn’s highest ambition had been realized. He was the honors man of the year. Strangely, his first sensation was keen disappointment. “I obtained my highest wishes,” he said, “but was surprised that I had grasped a shadow.”
This is part of the “burden” that seemed to dog Solomon’s steps. Everywhere he turned he found more evidence that nothing in this life seems to satisfy. Even the highest achievements often leave us feeling empty. Missionary friends wrote recently that upon completing the translation of the New Testament into a tribal language they felt exhausted and depressed. Where was the feeling of satisfaction such a monumental achievement should bring?
There is another side to the story. A young man came to Christ on the streets of Chicago. I had the privilege of baptizing him, knowing that he would go to prison for a crime committed before his conversion. Writing from a maximum-security prison, he offered my congregation these words of encouragement:
I want you all to know that you and everyone at the church are in my prayers always. It isn’t any easier out there. I just finished fasting for three days successfully. It was hard, especially not smoking. But I make it through the power of God. I really feel good about that. I mean I feel cleansed in my mind and stronger in the Lord. You all will always be in my prayers. Keep up the good work for the Lord. I got him covered in here. I’m starting with my cellie. God bless and thank you. Your brother in Christ, Shane.
Those words are remarkable, especially his statement that “it isn’t any easier out there.” Here’s a young man in prison for up to fifteen years, yet he is fasting, praying, and setting out to win his cellmate to Christ. That kind of boldness comes only from knowing God personally.
I do not doubt that my missionary friends have gained a better perspective after their work of many years. And I’m sure that Shane has many rough moments awaiting him behind bars. Henry Martyn was right about one thing: We live in a world of shadows where the ultimate significance of a given day’s work may be hard to see. If we trust our feelings, we will soon give in to despair. But true faith rises above feelings to declare that what we have in Christ will last forever.
Lord God, in a world of passing shadows, You are the ultimate reality. Fill me with grace that I might serve You with joy 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.