Stop and Enjoy the Ordinary

Article by

Professor, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

It’s Friday evening. God has carried us through another week of work, and we are greeted with a new weekend. For many of us these next two days are free from work duties. It’s an opportunity for rest and leisure, and for taking time to think about our lives in the sovereign God’s story.

And thankfully we are not left to our own speculation. God wrote a book, and within that book is another book, the book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes is realistic. It teaches us that life under the sun is often empty, futile, and absurd, and yet it does not run us into the rocks of despair either. The conclusion of the book functions as the lens, the perspective, by which the whole of the book should be read. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14). When we understand that this world isn’t paradise on earth, we are reminded that nothing is more important than a right relationship with God.

Ecclesiastes reminds us of our limitations and finiteness. We read in Ecclesiastes 3:11, God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

The Joy of Beauty

Life is a blend of beauty and mystery. We see the beauty of life in the waves of the ocean crashing ashore, in the rain cascading down in a thunderstorm, and in seeing shafts of the sun streaming through the trees while hiking in woods. We see the beauty of the created world, but at the same time we yearn for eternity. We long for something that transcends time. We sense there is something more than just this life.

I was looking at an intensely purple iris this year and thought how indescribably beautiful it was. I longed for the beauty in the flower to be in me. We realize that such beauty is found only in God himself, in Jesus Christ. He is beautiful, and he offers us beauty in the living water of union with him, which quenches the thirst in our souls (John 4:14).

The Mystery of Life

Notice also that though God has put a desire for eternity and a desire for beauty in our hearts, our lives contain many mysteries we cannot understand. We can sense beauty in the world God has made; we cannot master our lives.

We often cannot trace the fabric of God’s work. Life doesn’t always make sense to us. And we can’t make what is crooked straight (Ecclesiastes 7:13). Life is full of many puzzles and mysteries and sufferings which we can’t solve.

We cannot explain why babies die, why the godly suffer, while the wicked are spared. Many of the deepest questions in life are beyond our understanding. None of us can articulate what God is doing from beginning to the end.

We do know that God does everything for his glory. We don’t always understand how the specific things that happen in our lives bring him glory in the end. As Pascal says, “Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things that are beyond it.”

The Joy of Life

Ecclesiastes teaches us that life on earth is full of suffering and tragedy. And yet at the same time we are called upon to enjoy everyday life. The call to enjoy life is a persistent theme in the book (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26; 3:12–13, 26; 5:18–20; 7:14; 8:15; 9:7–10; 11:9–10). We find these words in chapter 3, “I perceived that there is nothing better for [human beings] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:12–13). We are not being told here to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:32). Instead, we are being told how to live our lives during this present evil age.

God gives us time to enjoy the fruit of our toil, whether we are a salaried laborer in the workforce or a busy mom at home with the kids all week. Whatever our station in life, there is joy God intends for us to experience from our toil.

The Joy of Humility

The key to joy is humility. God calls us to be content as creatures. Pride makes us want to be gods, but humility accepts the truth that we can’t master time. We are flesh and blood creatures; we are made of dust. So we accept our work every day from God. To be a creature means we cannot unravel all the mysteries of the universe, but we can live and work and rest in God.

We give thanks to God for what he has called us to do. We thank him for the jobs we have. We don’t master life, and we don’t know what the days ahead will bring. But we put our trust in God, and eat and drink every day with joy. We give thanks for our daily bread. We find joy in the ordinary things of life: in taking walks, in exercising, in regularly attending church, and in meeting with friends. If our days are good, if we are spared suffering, that is a gift of God. Ordinary days have their own glory. Every piece of toast with jam on it is a gift of God. Every sweet apple and tasty clementine. When we receive life as God’s gift, we see the glory in the ordinary.

Extraordinary Joy in the Ordinary

To husbands, we read: “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” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).

As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and his ordinary wife and their ordinary children.”

There is a glory and joy in the ordinary things.

Ecclesiastes says, “Don’t try to unravel and figure out the reason everything happens in the world.” It is beyond your ability; “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). When days are good, enjoy them. Enjoy the days God has given you with your wife, your family, and your friends.

Receive them as a gift of God and see God’s goodness in such days.