Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
The wisest and richest man looked back over his accomplishments and declared, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
If King Solomon, who had achieved so much in life, came to that conclusion, what is the average person to think? What if we aren’t trying to accomplish anything big? What if we are only trying to stay one step ahead of disaster? What if we never seem to get ahead in life—no matter how long or how hard we try?
What if it seems we have become friends of futility?
The starting point is the answer to the question, “Where does success come from?” The common answers range from “Working hard!” to “Just plain luck!”
The real answer is: “From an unseen hand!”
For every lucky lotto winner, there are thousands of losers. For every hard-driving workaholic who succeeds, there are the many who declare bankruptcy. Further examination reveals that even the winners and the successful are not guaranteed happiness or contentment. The refrain, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” keeps ringing in one’s ears.
Then, there is the story Jesus told of a man who said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”
Should he be called a success? God called him a fool, saying to him, “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
The lesson is: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:18-21).
The Lord God is the unseen hand involved in every success and failure. He makes this very clear when he tells us, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).
The prophet Haggai was writing to the people of Israel who had returned from the Babylonian captivity. One of them wrote, “When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”
They knew the unseen hand behind this deliverance. They announced, “The LORD has done great things for us and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:1-3).
But they were not filled with thanksgiving—at least, not for long. When they got back to their homeland, the Promised Land, they turned their attention to themselves and their needs. They tried to better themselves. They worked long and hard. They built their houses.
They forgot that the house of God was still lying in ruins. Solomon’s magnificent temple had been trashed and demolished by the invading Babylonians. The released and returning captives gave it little thought. It was forgotten amid the rush to rebuild and succeed.
But not forgotten by the one who had told Solomon at the dedication of the first temple, “I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there” (1 Kings 9:3).
The Lord God had big plans for the new temple. “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Haggai 2:6).
Jesus, the Son of God was going to preach and teach in this new house of God. Thus, its glory would be greater. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Haggai 2:8,9).
Those returning captives placed their own wants higher than what God wanted. They ended up with empty pockets. The houses they built? The wealth they acquired?
Now dust. Now ashes. Now in someone else’s hands. Now it means nothing. Now, as they lie in their graves, it’s all meaningless. They were friends of futility.
The Lord God placed our salvation as the highest priority. He still does. We end up with glory and riches beyond what Solomon could have dreamed.
We will have that forever.
We have a friend better than futility.
What a friend we have in Jesus!
Holy and gracious Lord God, keep our eyes fixed upon the glory that was won for us, the treasure that awaits us. Keep us in the grasp of Jesus, Friend of sinners. Amen.
Points to ponder:
- Why might one assume that success or failure is dependent only upon the individual?
- Why might God withhold success from the person who is trying to serve him?
- Why might God, at times, grant great success to those who are rejecting him?
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Stillwater, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.