Many years ago, I heard the story of a gal that was cooking a Christmas dinner. She planned on carrying on her family’s tradition of having ham. She planned to prepare the ham as her mother had done for decades. Her mother always cut off the ends of the ham before putting it into the oven. She wondered, “Why did her mom do it this way?” So, she called her mother.
This story reminds me of my own life, continuing to do things without pondering my motivation. My Bible reading schedule frequently takes me through the book of Ecclesiastes. I find Solomon’s search for the meaning of life incredibly challenging. It can be challenging to understand many of his metaphors and sayings. The reward is the insight gained on embracing the Creator’s purpose for my life.
Ecclesiastes may be best known for the saying, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2) It communicates that perspective that life is meaningless! The word translated “vanity” is used 34 times in 27 verses of Ecclesiastes. It is a word that questions the value of human endeavor. The Psalmists uses it this way, “So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror.” (Psalm 78:33). Solomon’s writings are a testimony of his expedition to discover the meaning and purpose of life. His plunge into wisdom, pleasure and even accomplishment led him to the same conclusion. There is no meaning, significance or purpose in life apart from a relationship with God.
He states, in evaluating why we do what he do he concludes, “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4) Let me encourage you to pause and take a few moments to ponder the truth in these words. He is reminding us that our drivenness is a response to others. It could be to impress others. It could be to fit in. Culturally, we referred to this as “Keeping up with the Jones.” Solomon identifies that “peer pressure” is not a struggle limited to teenagers. Think about all the ways that culture presses us into its mold. The drive to fit in, be recognized or to be loved come from our desire to be accepted. The Bible refers to this motivation as the “the fear of man.” Even Solomon who was proficient in everything he did was not immune to this disease of the heart.
Solomon’s antidote is repeatedly giving throughout his musings. It is to live life surrendered to God. “And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 8:15) He also reminds us that the chores of life are actually God’s gifts, “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12–13) Our greatest challenge is that we are tempted to desire more than God has appoint for us. And that is the answer to the question for most of us, “Why Do I Do What I Do?”
So, the daughter called her mom to ask about the ham. He mother replied that she did not know the answer, but it was the way that grandma always did it. A call to grandma revealed that she cut the end off the ham so it would fit into her pan! So, how much of your life is driven by the desires to please others or be accepted by them? Let me encourage you to stop and ponder why you do what you do? And then determine to embrace and enjoy what the Creator has given you. “But godliness with contentment is great gain,” (1 Timothy 6:6)
-Pastor Joe Parkinson