Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 says to not be overly righteous, nor overly wicked but to come out of both extremes. The instruction is to fear God and keep his commandments, which is wonderful by itself, but when laid against the necessity to bring a transforming influence into everything we touch, it meets headlong into our personal ambition. Ambition as we all know so well, moves so easily into idolatry and to making good things into god-things. Which become futile pursuits.
The life experience of every person in the world is that any sort of real advancement is very arduous and difficult. So how do we gauge significance? If it takes so much time, energy and effort to barely move the ticker, then doesn’t that beg the following questions?
- Isn’t it fair to ask if our endeavors cost us so much yet yield so little influence, then are we not correct to question whether God is actually behind the endeavor? Be careful! That question can evoke self-pity and nothing good follows self-pity, its a nasty, slippery slope.
- It is also fair to ask whether God is even real, or whether our beliefs about God are flawed and thus we have yet to really come to know who God is.
- Are slackers or those who avoid endeavors beyond self-preservation somehow more wise by not trying to be overly righteous? Since they avoid the risk, they also avoid the great disappointment that failure brings.
- If so, then progress cannot happen. If not, why do those who strive find so much disappointment? Why doesn’t God seem to want to help us when we desire to do good things?
Scripture tells us in Daniel 4:32 that God does whatever he will and that no body can stay his hand. So is the bible telling us that our lack of success means God has forsaken us?
We all want success in our endeavors. But at some point we all hit a wall or an impasse. We know that faith without works is dead (James 2), but what about when we apply great faith and effort to endeavors that appear fruitless? Is it that we have the wrong motives? We better find out. If God wasn’t in the endeavor, can we ask if he was in our faith?
People resolve this in the following ways:
- Retreat into Spiritualism: This is where we convince ourselves that a mystical faith has value and it isn’t supposed to make a difference in the real world. We forfeit our physical and material life for spiritual prosperity.
- Retreat into Religion: This is where we convince ourselves that it is our duty to continue the endeavor regardless of how we feel or what results come of it. We forfeit our expectations and our hopes now and trust it will work out in the next life.
- Give up altogether: This is where we throw our hands to our sides in self-pity and stop trying because we’ve been burned before like a jilted lover who will never love again. We forfeit the deepest part of our selves–the part that knows it can be better and seeks to be creative. We kill the image of God within us.
Every great advancement in humanity has come at tremendous cost and effort. So wisdom and life experience tell us that it is foolish to conclude that our present failures preclude future success. It was the 1000th light bulb that finally worked.
We also can’t assume we will find success without winning some internal battles. Overcoming fear, learning to embrace discipline, integrity to the truth, enlisting the support and help of others, and battling our dark side.
Since the bible says that a man can plan a way in his heart but it is the Lord who directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9), I have learned to focus on my output while remaining open handed to the outcomes. This keeps me diligent, but not rigid nor dependent on a particular result. It keeps me hopeful, but steady. It keeps me from extremes. It keeps me in a place where I feel like God is attending to me and designing the obstacle course. It’s a good place.