I don’t read as many blog posts as I used to, but not too long ago, I enjoyed reading 14 Lesser-Known Details about J.I. Packer. Number 9: Packer’s favorite book of the Bible was Ecclesiastes.
What the Preacher “says about life’s best being an enjoyment of the basics—one’s work, meals, marriage” made Packer “want to laugh and cheer” because this is what he had felt all his adult life. The text “that runs most constantly around [his] heart is Ecclesiastes’s exit line—‘Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man,’ meaning everybody.”
I love Packer’s simple and realistic application of enjoyment from Ecclesiastes. It’s brutally honest, but also doable. No, you can’t have your deep longings always fulfilled in this life. But you also don’t have to be miserable all the time. Enjoyment is possible through simple means.
We could possibly extract more ways to find enjoyment from Ecclesiastes than just meals, marriage, and work — but let’s stick with the list. Building on Packer’s observation, here’s how we could pursue enjoyment in a fallen world.
The most obvious application of how to derive enjoyment from food is to genuinely thank God for it. Most of us in the Western world don’t pray for our daily bread because we don’t think we need to, but centuries of Christians before us wondered about their next meal. It’s no small thing to have an abundance of food. Keep asking God for daily bread and provision even if you earn a good salary. Praying for provision has a way of increasing your thankfulness once you get it. Be thankful — genuinely thankful – that you have food to eat.
Be thankful for tastebuds, too. God could have ordained a world in which humans needed tasteless food for survival, but he didn’t. Our tastebuds point to common grace and the goodness of God.
For years, people have told me I eat too fast. It’s true. I used to wear it as a badge of honor. I don’t anymore. It took me years to see the folly of eating too fast. Though breaking bad habits is hard, I try to eat slower and savor my food. If food is one of the best parts of life, then why rush? Savor your food by eating slower and reflecting on God’s goodness. Here’s how the wise man puts it: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Ecc. 2:24-25).
Eat quality food. I get being on a rice and beans diet if you’re in your younger twenties and just got married. But as the numbers in your bank account grow, budget for high-quality ingredients. Live frugally in other areas of your life so you can spend more money on quality ingredients. Financial stewardship is important, but consider going out to eat here and there to enjoy your favorite foods. Although we want to avoid the sin of gluttony, as we practice self-control and eat good food, we can experience enjoyment in this fallen world.
Some are called to singleness, and others are suffering through unwanted singleness. So I get that not everyone gets married in a fallen world. But if you’re married, you should see your marriage as an investment, a stewardship, as the most important relationship in your life.
In his article, The Sandra Bullock Trade, David Brooks writes about the significance of a good marriage for personal happiness, providing an example from Sandra Bullock’s life. Brooks says:
Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.
Obviously, you shouldn’t idolize your spouse. And joy in Christ is possible during hard moments of marriage. But I suspect most married people would agree that a good marriage makes personal satisfaction feel more attainable.
Money, status, and vocational success won’t make up for a poor marriage. On the other side, you could be struggling financially with your spouse, live in a one-bedroom apartment, and have no sense of stability and establishment in your career, but if the marriage is great, you’ll have a sense of inner peace and joy. Who you marry is incredibly important; that person will have an inordinate amount of influence on your happiness in this world.
Don’t take your spouse for granted. Don’t settle for a subpar marriage. Don’t blame everything on, “But I’m just too tired.” As best as you can, put the energy into your marriage required to thrive. Or as Ecc. 9:9 states: “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun” (Ecc. 9:9).
Work is hard. It brings “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:18). It can be so utterly frustrating and stressful that we desire to quit. And yet, work can be enjoyable. Too often we focus on what we accomplish and not on the process. We focus on the results of our work, and not the work itself. Instead of being fixated on how our work will be received, we need to simply enjoy the work for the work itself.
If you are a writer, for example, you may stress about the numbers: Will this blog post get any traffic? Will my book win an award? Ecclesiastes teaches this is the wrong way to view your work. Since life in a fallen world means you have significantly less control over the results of your life than you may realize, enjoyment in work comes from the toil, not the results. The writer’s ultimate joy is the writing.
Stop thinking about your success. Just enjoy the work as you do it. What Ecclesiastes teaches about joy and pleasure is frustratingly simple, yet relieving. Let’s repeat the wise man’s words: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God” (Ecc. 2:24).
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