I enjoyed a lovely encouragement recently from the word ‘vanity’. It came from the words of the wisest man that ever lived, King Solomon, in his book Ecclesiastes.
“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Ecclesiastes 1:14
Solomon saw that all our best efforts are temporary in their effect. No matter how delicious your breakfast this morning, you will want another tomorrow. No matter how much work you get done today there will be more to do tomorrow. You will die, and so too will your children, and your children’s children. Your team may win the trophy this year, but there is another whole competition ahead for next year’s trophy. You lovely garden will not stay that way without continued care. The grass that was cut today will need to be cut again.
Here is the positive spin on that truth that helped me. There is no great reward for achieving all those things we stress over trying to achieve, like success, prominence, noteworthy accomplishments, etc. They are just vanity. They are no big deal.
What is a BIG DEAL is the will and purpose of God. In God’s plan there are things we need to do for His Kingdom and doing those things is Really important. Putting our faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, for example, has eternal impact on us. Sharing our faith with others has eternal impact on them. So those things are not ‘vanity’. But most of what we do on a day to day basis is vanity, and so we can relax about it.
Let me explain what I mean by referring to some famous people whose lives are recorded in the Bible. Consider Joseph, son of Jacob. He was hated by his brothers and sold as a slave into Egypt. But in God’s great plan Joseph rose to being second in command of the land and was able to save his whole family (the children of Israel) from a devastating famine.
Once Joseph had achieved his purpose of bringing the Israelites to Egypt the rest of his life’s work was ‘vanity and vexation of spirit’. It doesn’t matter how well he administered Egypt in the next three decades, or what honours were placed on him at his death. That is all ‘vanity’.
I don’t mean he was wasting his time and should not have done those things, but in the big picture of what God was doing on the earth it did not matter if he invented a sport, taught business administration, sang in a local choir, enjoyed fried fish, drank pineapple juice, kept up with the latest fashions, held dinner parties, had a swimming pool, coached a junior football team, or whatever.
Let’s suggest that he did do a bunch of extra-curricular activities, such as sport, entertaining, performing, art and craft, continuing education, investing, business enterprise, creative writing and so on. And let’s suggest that he became quite absorbed in some of those things and even lost sleep over different problems they presented from time to time.
All of that time and activity was nothing more than vanity. And all the angst he felt about them was simply ‘vexation of spirit’. There is no lasting impact from any of those things.
Yet there is lasting impact from him being where God put him for the task God had for him. The people of Israel survive today because of Joseph.
And He Begat
In several places in the Bible people get their names listed because they are in the lineage or genealogy of Jesus or Abraham or King David. They are significant in God’s plan because they were a generational step in an important lineage. If they had not been born and had not given birth to a son the lineage would have stopped. Imagine if Jesus had never been born because someone simply didn’t get born or didn’t have a son.
These people are important yet all we know of them is their name. Consider this example from the Book of Ruth.
“Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.” Ruth 4:18-22
In this list of names leading to the birth of King David we know a little about Boaz, Obed and Jesse, but we know nothing more than the name of others on that list.
Speaking of the significance of these men and their whole lives let me put it poetically, “God simply summarises that by saying just ‘And he begat’!”
Surely these men deserve some recognition for their character, enterprise, intelligence, inventiveness, management skills, salesmanship, attention to detail, creativity, talent, good looks, popularity, wealth, political power, social impact, contribution to their local community, etc. But No, their entire lives, happiness, tragedy, accomplishments and relationships are completely overlooked. Those things we get so hung up about are, in the big picture, just ‘vanity and vexation of spirit’.
Look at it another way. For Joseph and for these men who gave birth to a son who were significant to God in a key lineage, once they had done the main thing God had for them to do the rest of their life was unimportant to the big picture. The rest of their life was ‘vanity’.
So, let’s assume you have achieved your core purpose in life. You have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you share your faith with others, you have fulfilled all those things God has asked you to do and you are ever ready to dive into any new purpose He has for you, then the rest of what you are doing is simply vanity.
It may be vain for you to join a choir, learn Italian cooking, decide to start your own gym, or start coaching a junior sport team, but then everything else you do will be vanity anyway!
If the rest of your life was ‘vanity’, then it may as well be vanity that you enjoy and that blesses others.
If whatever I do today is a waste of time, then I may as well enjoy the day anyway! If there is nothing I can do that is critically important today (since this is a day of ‘vanity’) then why not make it a day when I encourage someone else, stop to smell the roses, help someone in some small way, sing my favourite songs, or drink my favourite coffee?
The notion that ‘all is vanity’ takes the pressure of ‘I must perform’ off our backs and allows us to enjoy the days of our vanity in as productive and pleasant a way as possible.
On Eternal Duty
While we may think that what we are doing is vanity be aware that God is ordering your steps and you are always on duty, ‘eternal duty’. At any moment God may require you to do something that has lasting impact, and your key purpose in life may not yet have arrived.
So go through your days enjoyably, diligently, faithfully, contentedly, without stress, but always stay alert to the moment when God wants you to help someone, share your faith, worship Him, obey Him, or otherwise fulfil a divine destiny, even if just for a moment.
God Loves You
I recall the testimony of a young man named Jonathan who took the train into the city one day. The peak hour train was crowded and he travelled in the mindless way most people do in such situations. Unexpected he noticed a young lady sitting opposite him and felt a strong impression to tell her God loved her. He refused to do so, as it is out of character with the way people behave on a peak hour train. But the impression persisted.
Jonathan told me he did not want to say anything to the lady, but she noticed him looking at her and she scolded him with the words, “What are you looking at?” That put him on the spot so he told her, “God told me to tell you He loves you.”
At that the young lady began to cry and in the ensuing conversation she confided that she had planned to commit suicide that day, but his intervention saved her life.
That’s a divine moment, breaking into our vanity. And you are always on duty for such things.
But sometimes what God has for us to do is not dramatic, just a simple smile, or word of encouragement. Many people have felt greatly blessed by a small act of kindness, being noticed, being appreciated, having someone listen to them, getting good advice, or feeling safe and protected. You can do all manner of little things while enjoying the vanity of your life, and so be a blessing to many.
Once you are free from the performance pressure associated with all those vain things you are doing, you will have more time and more presence of mind to notice others and help them and bless them.
So, may I suggest to you that you realise what a waste of time most of what you do is. Take stock of that and start to live more meaningfully, and determine to enjoy the life God has given you, even with the useless things you are doing. Learn to be content, and do be good at what you do, but without getting hung up about it.
And keep your antenna twitching for all the opportunities God will send your way to be a blessing to Him and to people you don’t even know.
Among those chance encounters may be many divine moments where your vain life takes on great effectiveness in the lives of others.
Note that this post reflects my thoughts also shared in Getting On With Life. You might like to read that post too at http://chrisfieldblog.com/2015/10/23/getting-on-with-life.