Finding Success in the World of Vanity

Finding Success in a World of Vanity
Ecclesiastes 9:10-12
“I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.”

Having extolled the virtue of enjoying the life God has given us in a world marked by uncertainty, Solomon now points to the key to finding success in a world marked by absurdities.  In a broken world, there are no guarantees for success.  We like to think that success and promotions come to the hardest workers on the job.  We want to believe that loyalty is rewarded with advancements.  However, in reality, that is often not the case.  We work hard by working overtime, demonstrating our reliability to the company by going the extra mile and taking on the most challenging projects. Yet when the opportunities arise for promotions, they go to those less deserving. Success and failure are often determined more by being at the right place at the right time than by our efforts and work (verse 11).  Business success seems to be governed more by chance and circumstances far beyond our control.
The paradox is that the race often does not belong to the fastest runner, leading to frustration and futility. Like a bird caught in the net, we are caught in a web of circumstances that remain outside our control. Ultimately, we do not know our time (vs 12). In other words, we cannot control what will happen.  Solomon confronts us that our abilities and efforts cannot guarantee our success. Often, the opposite is true.  Those who rely upon their skills are the very ones caught in the snare of their own devices.  Those who appear to be doing the best often end up as the greatest losers.  They fail to recognize that the time of their judgment will come when they will be trapped like a fish or bird in a net (vs12).   However, this inability to guarantee our success does not lead us to throw up our hands in frustration and cry, “What’s the point.” Instead, it points us back to God.  As Solomon has pointed out repeatedly, God is the one who is in control of our lives.  He determines the times of life (see 3:1-11) and controls the events.
In verse 10, Solomon gives us to key to living within this paradox and reality.  The key is to diligently perform the task that God has set before us.  Paul affirms this same truth: "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ you serve” (Col 3:23-24). We are to perform what God has ordained, recognizing that after death, there will no longer be the opportunity to serve God and work for Him.  Without God’s control and involvement in our lives, it is a waste of our work, resources, and talents to pursue the things of this world.  Yet equally true is that it is a waste of the lives He has given us to do nothing with it.  We are to work wholeheartedly but leave the results up to God, trusting Him to achieve His desired outcome. God has given us responsibilities and tasks to serve and advance His kingdom.  While we may not know the outcome, or the result may be radically different than what we expect, we are still to work to serve him so that we do not miss the opportunities He set before us.

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