I don’t know if you’ve ever read Ecclesiastes, but I laughed out loud the first time I saw the subheading in my bible: “Everything is Meaningless.” When I began reading, 2020 was about to end and people were all up in their feelings almost everywhere trying to come up with ways in which 2020 had meant something. Real talk: maybe it was meaningless. I read Ecclesiastes for a few days (a real good hang), and one verse stuck out among the rest.
“That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil- this is the gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 3:12
When Eve ate the apple way back in Genesis, we were left with a curse: toil until you die. Super. Because of sin, there is no real way to get that ultimate fulfillment without Christ. Because of sin, we can’t reach perfection. And in this toil, there is no end. But surprise, God provided a way to give us gifts within the toil. He provided a way for his children to get a taste of heaven here on earth.
One day in the park with my kids I watched them chasing each other and giggling. I watched the girls catch their little brother, fall over, and erupt into peals of laughter. I felt full in that moment: fulfilled and thankful for these kiddos God entrusted to me, just me. I remembered that it is truly a gift from God to feel any sort of satisfaction on earth. The original sin and the curse should prevent that from occurring.
But I believe God knows how to “give good gifts to his children,” and amidst all the hard moments with my kids this year, he wanted to give me a good gift (Matthew 7:11). I have watched my kids fight, and be nasty toward each other trapped in our house with very little social interaction. But that day in the park, God gave me an earthly gift. In all of my toil, he gave me a way to find satisfaction.
And it was fleeting, of course, minutes later I’m sure someone fell, or someone played the game wrong, or they got bored. And that is the curse right there. Because of our sin we can’t be perfect, can’t have full satisfaction, and can’t reach heaven without Christ. We need Christ to give us grace, to fulfill us, to love us unconditionally, so we can go to heaven and experience him when this toil is over.
God loves us so much that he couldn’t leave us to toil here on earth for nothing. He gave us tiny “satisfactions” to find in our days, to remind us what heaven we’re working for. He gave us pride in career achievements, baby giggles, Girl Scout cookies, really good coffee, and romantic dates with our spouses to remind us that everything is not in fact meaningless. He gave us those precious gifts to remind us that the toil is not in vain, and that even those moments pale in comparison to what is awaiting us in heaven.
He also gave us his Spirit. He gave us quiet moments in his presence to remind us that we are to glorify him. We are here to worship and praise him. We are here to do good works, and rely on a grace-filled, compassionate, and faithful God to get us to the end. His Spirit allows us to walk closely with him all of our days, and his Spirit is available to all who believe in him.
When I’m having a particularly hard day, I need only to remember who is with me, and it feels a little less hard. The God of the universe is with me through tantrums, Covid exposures, toddlers who don’t take naps, illnesses, and sassy seven year olds. He is there in hard ministry decisions, difficult conversations, heavy tragedies in the world, and the deaths of loved ones. These are things that exist because of the original curse, but he wants to give us the gift of small satisfactions, and the gift of his spirit. We only need to accept these things, and be grateful for them; we don’t have to earn them.
So as we all toil on this earth, and as we ask forgiveness, receive grace, and walk closely with our Father, let’s remember these gifts. And when we receive them, when we feel the presence of God on the playground, or in our office, or in our home, let us praise God who is the giver of perfect gifts. And let it be a whetting of our appetites for the feast that awaits us in heaven.