“What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:22-23
Years ago, I read a chapter in David Collins’ book Reflections that has never left me. It was written similarly to a devotional, and I want to share some of it with you.
David writes the chapter as if he and God are having a dialogue with one another. David, trying desperately hard to be a follower of Jesus, is frustrated that nothing seems to be going as he planned. He’s trying everything he can, he’s doing things for God, he’s putting all this effort in, but for what?
And God says to him, “Quit.”
Quit? says David. Quit what?
“Quit trying to be a Christian.”
At this point, David thinks that God’s gone insane. Does God know what people will think of him if they hear him speaking like that? People will think he’s betrayed his faith, or maybe he’ll stop believing that God even exists. Why would God want him to quit?
But then God shares what his desire is for David. “Walk with me,” He says.
I don’t know how, says David.
“Try putting one foot in front of the other.”
But where are we going?? sputters David.
“Does it matter?”
Our natural instinct to that question, as was David’s, is always to shout, “Of course it matters!!” What if I take a wrong turn? What if I don’t end up where I’m supposed to? What if I mess up and suffer the consequences and have to back-track and start over?
“But if you’re walking with me,” says God, “can you really mess up? How wrong can you be if I am walking with you?”
The dialogue continues in a deeply relevant and humorously truthful way, and I’d be more than willing to share the full chapter with you if you’d like. But the gist of it is that David is struggling to balance what God is asking of him and what others will think of him.
And this is in large respect because David wants what most of us want. He wants to be liked. He wants to be valued. He wants to be seen as someone important, someone who cares, someone who has worked hard.
But all God wants is for David to rest in who he already is, and to walk with Him.
The writer of Ecclesiastes cries out in similar ways. What’s the point of all this striving and work? Why do we try so hard to be somebody, to do great things, to strive so that others will notice, when all we have left at the end of the day is angst and grief?
Doesn’t it just feel meaningless? If recognition and favor aren’t there, what’s the point?
How many of us lie in bed at night with anxious thoughts running through our minds, worrying about what others think? How many of have moments of despair when we think of all we’re trying to accomplish and yet aren’t experiencing the fruit like we thought we would? Or because we’re worrying about tomorrow? Because, perhaps, we’re not actually walking with God but running ahead of Him?
Although the writer of Ecclesiastes doesn’t find an answer to his angst, Jesus offers us hope in the midst of our toil by simply saying, “Follow Me.”
That’s it. “Walk with me,” says Jesus. “Journey alongside of me. Don’t run ahead of me. Stop thinking about tomorrow; do you see how far you’ve just jumped ahead? I can hardly see you, you’re so far away.”
We will continue to feel alone and fail to see Jesus so long as we keep running ahead of Him, choosing to blaze our own paths and make our own decisions (with the subsequent anxiety as a consequence) unless we choose a different path. Unless we offer our grief and angst to Him and walk with Him through it.
There’s an old hymn that says, “I want Jesus to walk with me.” But I think we need to flip it around.
Jesus, rather, is saying to us, “I want you—my child—to walk with me.”
We don’t need to know where we’re going. We don’t need to know what’s happening tomorrow. We don’t need to have it all figured out.
“Quit trying so hard,” says God. “All I ask is that you walk with me.”
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to walk alongside of you as if I’m following your strides, to follow you as if I’m following in your shadow, to step as if I’m stepping in your footprints. May I cease to run ahead of you and quit trying to prove myself to you. Help me, Jesus, to walk with you. Amen.