When we begin to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8), and when we “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), we experience contentment even with “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor. 12:10). It is in our weakness that God’s grace and power shine brightest (vv. 9-10).
One of the most difficult things for people to do is to cease striving and rest. Yet striving after the things the human heart craves, like significance, security, and success, has not brought people contentment. Instead, people are frustrated, hate their jobs, despair of life itself, and grieve their failures and losses. The Preacher, whose words are recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, is no stranger to such emotions. He could not stand to think that after working so hard he would have to leave it to another person to enjoy, not knowing whether that person would be wise or foolish with the assets he had worked so hard to attain (Ecc. 2:18-23). The fact that we cannot control the outcome of our endeavors, particularly after we have died, drives us crazy.
How do we learn the contentment that David learned when he testified, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up” and “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother” (Ps. 131:2)? David gives us the answer, “hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (v. 3). The Preacher gets at the same thing when he points us to God in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26.
The key to finding enjoyment in our work, as well as in eating and drinking, is to recognize that these are gifts “from the hand of God” (Ecc. 2:24). There is no enjoyment of these things apart from Him. Only the believer who is walking in His ways, pleasing Him in all that He does and says, receives the gifts of wisdom, knowledge and joy that gives work, food and drink meaning. In contrast, the unbeliever, who has also been given business to do by God, will experience hatred, despair, sorrow, frustration, and discontentment. Significantly, God uses the work of unbelievers to bless His people (2:26).
Psalm 1 characterizes these two kinds of people, the believer and the unbeliever, as the righteous and the wicked.