A daily devotion for February 9th
1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
2 And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
3 But better than both
is he who has not yet been,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun.
4 And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
5 The fool folds his hands
and ruins himself.
6 Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.
7 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:
8 There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
"For whom am I toiling," he asked,
"and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?"
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
And I saw that all labor and achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:4)
How accurately this records what is happening in human history! People really do not want things; they want to be admired for the things they have. What they want is not the new car itself but to hear their neighbors say,
How lucky you are to have such a beautiful car!
I clipped from Newsweek magazine an article by a reporter on life in Washington, D.C. Here is what she says drives people in the nation's capital:
Ambition is the raving and insatiable beast that most often demands to be fed in this town. The setting is less likely to be some posh restaurant or glitzy nightclub than a wholly unremarkable glass office building, or an inner sanctum somewhere in the federal complex. The reward in the transaction is frequently not currency at all, but power, perquisites, and ego massage. For this, the whole agglomeration of psychological payoffs, there are people who will sell out almost anything, including their self-respect, if any, and the well being of thousands of others.
This quote confirms exactly what this ancient Searcher is saying. The drive to be admired is the true objective of life. But, he says, this too
is meaningless, a chasing after wind.
Sometimes, however, when people become aware of this, they flip over to the opposite extreme: they drop out of society, and let the government support them. But that is not the answer either, the Searcher says:
The fool folds his hands and ruins himself (Ecclesiastes 4:5). Many young people who were part of the youth revolution, the counterculture society, have found this to be true: that when you sit in idleness you ruin yourself, your resources disappear, and your self-respect vanishes. They had to learn the painful lesson that the only way to maintain themselves, even physically, let alone psychologically, was to go to work and stop ruining themselves.
It would be much better, says the Searcher, to lower your expectations and choose a less ambitious lifestyle: Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 4:6).
Yet so powerful is ambition and the desire to be envied that people actually keep working and toiling even when they have no one to leave their riches to:
Again, I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. 'For whom am I toiling,' he asked, 'and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment'? This too is meaningless--a miserable business (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8)!
How true! Some people keep on toiling although they have no one to work for and nothing to do with the money they make. They even deny themselves the pleasures of life in order to keep laying up funds. What a sharp example is given to us in the story of billionaire Howard Hughes. He did not know what to do with his money. His heirs, whom nobody can even identify for certain, are left to squabble over it. Such is the folly of toiling for riches.
Lord, forgive me when the motive of my work is simply to be seen and recognized. Teach me to invest my life in that which matters.
Life Application: To what degree are admiration and ambition a driving force behind our activity in life? Do we need to redirect our motivation & resources to invest in things that matter?
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Daily Devotion © 2006 by Ray Stedman Ministries. For permission to use this content, please review www.RayStedman.org/permissions. Subject to permission policy, all rights reserved.