If a dear friend asked you, how would you say you’re handling this season of life? (I mean—the signature combination of pandemic plus holidays plus lockdowns plus general chaos and unrest that we uniquely find ourselves experiencing as a world.)
If someone were to ask me (and I were to answer honestly), I’d say I’ve been thrown for a bit of a loop. I’ve been restless and anxious more than I’d like. I’ve questioned whether I can make any difference at all and been jarred by a realization of how much I’d bought into the illusion of my self-sufficiency BC (Before COVID). It has all left me searching for God’s guiding hand. In this season, God has been teaching me a lot about how restlessness can serve us by pointing us to our deep need for Him.
In the spirit of walking from restlessness to reward together, I offer these three lessons God has taught me from Ecclesiastes, and I pray by God’s grace they may serve you as they have me.
1. Learn to love your limits.
Ecclesiastes is a gift to us because it unceremoniously exposes many of the places that we usually flee for fulfillment as the fleeting fancies that they really are. In Ecclesiastes, we learn from a man who has experienced the best of what is offered in this life, drinking deeply of love, money, possessions, and meaningful work, only to find his cup empty time and again.
We see our own reflections mirrored in his never-ending search for meaning and mastery. Ecclesiastes tells us that no amount of overtime or Netflix or other’s approval or achievement will meet the deepest needs of our hearts. In fact, these pursuits simply represent a passing peak, much striving and work for a momentary joy that only leaves us wanting more.
This revelation is tinged with as much promise as prudence. In contrast to these fleeting pursuits, we see God and His intention for our lives. God has made us, His children, and this world to work in a certain way—full of rest and joy and sorrow and grace. If we accept (by God’s grace and love) the boundaries of life that God has given, we can then embrace ultimate joy in God’s presence and be satisfied. When we only put the weight of our ultimate satisfaction and joy on God, we can be free to enjoy our friends and families and careers and sitcoms and casseroles as gifts from Him, as smaller joys, to delight us along this (sometimes) tiresome sojourn through life here on earth.
When we gladly embrace God’s control (and our lack thereof) alongside His kind sovereignty and care, we can receive our emptiness as a gift that drives us to our Heavenly Father again and again. As Puritan pastor William Bridge so wisely put it, “I am empty … but Christ is full.”1 Our restlessness brings us to the end of ourselves time and again so we drink of Christ’s fullness.
The lesson of Ecclesiastes is to reckon with our emptiness, our frailty, our finitude, our need for God, and rejoice in God’s fullness and abundant generosity to His children. When we embrace our God-given place, we can say with the psalmist, “LORD, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Ps. 16:5-6, CSB) and gladly rest in all that it means to agree with God about who we are and what He’s graciously given us.
2. Lean into your longings.
If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to vilify the desires and longings that bubble up in our hearts and minds. But the longings and desires in and of themselves aren’t bad or good. The end to which we work out these desires is what can lead to our flourishing or get us into trouble.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (CSB). Part of learning our limits and leaning into our longings is guarding our hearts.
But what against?
Our ultimate goal is to love God with all of our hearts. So we guard our hearts against anything that might lead our affections, desires, and actions away from Him. This principle applies when we consider the desires of our hearts too. We can allow our desires to drive us to God or away from Him. As Pastor TJ Tims says, “For every hungering in us, there is a corresponding joy in Jesus.”
When you feel restless or find yourself more likely to focus on lack in what you’ve been given instead of abundance, try to shift your heart and mind to see this moment as a gift that can point you to Christ and as a reminder that whatever you feel you lack is not quite as ultimate as you thought.
Your ultimate joy and satisfaction lie with God alone, and that’s a gift.
3. Leave it all to God.
Last, and likely most difficult, as we agree with God about who He is—His kind leadership over our hearts and lives and how the world works—we can then ultimately rest confidently in His care for us. We can also admit that God knows best, even (and especially when) it’s in contrast to what we think and feel.
I love the way that Elisabeth Elliot says it:
“It is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself.”2
As we trust our joy to God—ultimate, eternal joy and everyday joy as we savor our belonging as His children—He invites us to a flourishing inner life, to a deeper intimacy with Him, and to a deeper understanding that there’s another story happening—that real life is what we read about in the Bible, and it’s outside of this world’s expanse. That the salve for the deep internal restlessness can’t come from online shopping or the next quick fix, but only from life in God’s ways.
So as we walk out this season, let’s keep our hearts open and stay engaged, avoiding the temptation to numb out. Let’s cooperate as the hard things in our lives do their work in pointing us to God as the only true source of life, hope, comfort, and purpose. And let’s draw near to God, asking Him to stoke the fires of the “eternity” that He has placed in our hearts.
Sarah Doss is the Editorial Project Leader for Lifeway Women Bible studies. She loves a quirky sitcom, baking, and travel (international or otherwise). As a recovering Lisa Frank enthusiast, she maintains a healthy affinity for school supplies and all things letterpress. Keep up with her on Twitter (she loves Twitter friends) at @sarahdossy.
1. William Bridge, The Works of the Rev. William Bridge (London: Forgotten Books, 2012, originally published 1845), 197.
2. Elisabeth Elliot, These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge? (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publication, 1998), 127.