Life is Weird. (Leadership Lessons from Ecclesiastes)

Every once in a while, I need a good dose of Ecclesiastes.

I like to remind myself that the purported wisest man in the world, the one about whom the Queen of Sheba said, “you have far exceeded the report I heard,” and the one about whom God himself said “I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be” (1Kings 3:12), this man, Solomon, is also the writer of Ecclesiastes.

I like to picture him walking on the royal grounds or pacing the parapets and wringing his hands, “Meaningless! Meaningless!”

It makes me feel like I’m in good company. Because although my grounds aren’t royal, I do sometimes pace them in wonderment at just how weird life can be.

So with that as my foundation, I set out to see what this wisest of the wise had to say. Rather than draw from the wisdom literature known for its pithy sayings and quotable insights, I bypassed Proverbs and dove straight for Ecclesiastes. I wanted to know what this wisest of leaders had to share, not in the enlightened moments known for their wisdom, but in the shadows that are not.

I invite you to come along. Whether you’re leading your family through dynamics, your company to the next level, or yourself out of a bad day, I bet you’ll find something here for you too.

My top 3 Ecclesiastes picks:

What has been will be again (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

You’ve got to read the verse in context to appreciate the sense of futility that Solomon captures so poetically. The sea that’s never full, the sun that rises and falls, the wind that blows round and round… But amidst this long lament, the thing that captured me about this verse was the click of a “snap out of it!” realization.

If what has been will be again, then that includes good things too. It’s so easy to dwell on the negative, to wring our hands at the meaningless futility, but for every revolution of the cycle, good things are coming back around. Things we want to see and experience and hold again. If the drudgery of the mundane are the spokes that drive the wheel forward, then so be it. We can embrace it knowing that good things are coming if we don’t give up.

Go near to listen (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

Solomon offers this advice when we go to church or to commune with God. I’d argue it’s good advice regardless of where we’re going. Too often I approach others – God, family, friends, coworkers – with what I have to say. We should actually draw near first to listen.

Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

I’ve always liked this verse. For those times in life where I feel lost and don’t know which way to turn, I remind myself to start with what I have, wherever I am. There is something to be done, right now. Do that. Then see about the next thing, and the next. Before you know it, that wheel has rolled another rotation and you are in another time and place.

Work is a gift from God. We often define work as something that we don’t want to do, but that isn’t God’s definition. Work was first given as part of the perfect creation in the garden, and it is still given to us today. How much would our perspective change if we looked at work not as something we have to do, but as something we receive?  

“What do you have that you have not received?” Paul wrote many centuries later to the Corinthians. That includes the work along with the play, the tears along with the joy, the spokes along with the turning wheel. It is all gift. We cannot add to it or subtract from it. We cannot of our own accord make something of it. We oftentimes cannot even understand it. The only thing we can do is receive it.

Life, my friends, is weird. I’m grateful anyway.

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Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s Word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her two- and four-footed friends. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org

3 comments

  1. Thank you both. I love how God gives us so many different styles and tones across the books of the Bible so we know we’re not the first to ever wrestle with things like “meaningless!” There is, after all, nothing new under the sun –another Ecclesiastes golden nugget 🙂

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