The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Never miss a thing!


Ecclesiastes | Toil, Pain, Joy, and Glory

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

Ecclesiastes 2:22—25



Last week, a project I had responsibility for fell apart completely.

I’d tried to delegate the constituent parts to colleagues who could make it happen in my absence. I’d hoped that with some clever manoeuvring, we could overcome the practical hurdles. I was looking forward to my two weeks away.

It was as if the boomerang I’d launched came back and hit me in the face.

Staff shortages, logistical difficulties, miscommunications, my own over-reaching and under-organising added up to a fumbled finale. The reward for my ‘toil and anxious striving’ was indeed grief (the loss of that work) and pain (the humiliating sense that my colleagues think I’m incompetent, and the worry that I really am).

The Teacher warned me that boomerang was coming.

And yet, despite warning us all of work’s anxieties and frustrations, Ecclesiastes points us to the satisfaction, even joy, that we can find in our work. Not to mention the food and drink that our work earns us. How can this be?

The Teacher invites us to live in this tension, and others like it: life might be meaningless, but enjoy it anyway. There are no guarantees under the sun, so choose faith rather than fatalism. All you have is a gift from God – so while your work is toil, it needn’t be toilsome.

No wonder building our sense of self-worth on our work is like trying to grasp the steam from that cup of coffee – it’s fleeting at best. But enjoying our work is like drinking that cup of coffee slowly, savouring the aroma, the flavour, the moment – honouring the giver by enjoying the gift – even though we know it will be gone soon.

And so, whether our work is changing nappies or changing organisational cultures, we can approach it with the Teacher’s perspective. Our projects may or may not amount to anything. Our work may or may not be remembered. But if ours is good work, done well, for the right reasons, we give glory to the one who gave us that work to do.

If we can live in that tension well, we might find joy along the way. And to our colleagues who know more about anxious striving than joy and satisfaction it might model something profoundly hopeful.

So as 1 Corinthians 10:31 reminds us, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it to the glory of God. That’s good living – and working – under the sun.


Tim Yearsley
Head of Innovation, LICC

What helps you to live well in the simultaneous joy and pain of your work? Join the conversation in the comments below.


  1. I listened to David Pawson in his series that went through each book of the Bible.
    For Ecclesiastes he concluded that in this life, we need to invest in things that last for eternity ie God and people. I’ve always found that a really helpful perspective on what might be an otherwise meaningless life.

    By Becky  -  5 Sep 2022
  2. Thank you very much. Just what I needed this morning!

    By Patrick Kimber  -  5 Sep 2022
  3. Many thanks Tim. I’m in my final year before retirement as a parish priest – over the years I have been in a fair few projects and many have seemed fruitless. I keep having to learn over again that the things that seem so important to me may not be the things of lasting significance. I’ve almost certainly wasted a lot of time on things that were not of eternal significance but also I have become aware that sometimes the outcomes were not what I had planned for – indeed could not have planned for. I am sure I sometimes hear God chuckling to himself.
    Life and ministry is a bumpy road but the Cross says (among other things!) that God takes even our most serious blunders and redeems them, turning them into something more wonderful than we could have imagined. I have to keep telling myself that because – as you said – we can loose confidence even in the gifts God has given us.
    Many thanks for the honesty and encouragement of your reflection today

    By Richard Jordan  -  5 Sep 2022
  4. This wonderful piece brings to mind (and acts as a reminder for me) of your wonderful LICC video describing ‘The 6 M’s’ in life.
    SO meaningful and true and has given me fresh impetus and renewed my belief and strength in my faith after a very recent ‘wobble’ in my life – thank you!

    By Gillian Lawton  -  6 Sep 2022
  5. What helps me is that when I talk with other people whether they are believers in Jesus or not, they also experience the joys and heartaches at work, just like me. I think what helps for me is being vocal of the blessings that occur during our work day, and to point them out! Being grateful for the small things, the things that almost escape our attention, really puts into perspective how good life is, how good our God is, and that we’re alive! And even when the other person is a negative person, sometimes just talking about the positives really opens up the idea, that the situation and life – it’s not so bad afterall! And, we can get through this, and guess what? Tomorrow is another day. Thank you for this devotional!

    By Renate Ramdhan  -  6 Sep 2022

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *