Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wind and Toil: Hidden Rebellion

"Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind." ~ Ecclesiastes 4:5

Most of the time, we know when we are in rebellion against God. We come up against a temptation and we say to ourselves, "I really shouldn't do that," and then we do it anyway. This is the sort of rebellion of which Paul speaks in Romans 7:15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."

But sometimes Satan leads us into rebellion in ways so subtle that we do not even realize we are diverging from God's Will. This sort of rebellion doesn't typically encompass "sin" in the way we often think of it: specific acts of disobedience to the Will of God, such as greed, lust, anger, or jealousy. The sort of "sin" we are dealing with is like the two handfuls of Ecclesiastes 4:5. God offers us tranquility, and we unknowingly reject it for toil and wind.

We can recognize this type of rebellion in three ways. For the first two, I borrow again from the words of Ecclesiastes: toil and wind.

Toil. Have you ever noticed that you can be doing some task (let's say making dinner) and it is enjoyable, and then you can do the same task another day and it feels like absolute drudgery? This is the first sign of rebellion. Notice it. Take some time to pray about it. Journal if need be--and refer to previous journal entries you've written that might shed some light on the situation. Likely, you will find that either your attitude toward the situation is the manifest rebellion, or you may discover that the situation itself is contrary to God's Will. With the example of cooking dinner, it's likely that the attitude would be the culprit. In this case, you would want to pray for God to turn your heart and perhaps meditate on Proverbs 16:3: "Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts shall be established." But, let's pick a different scenario. At the risk of being controversial, let's say that you are a new mother. You have just gone back to work following your allotted maternity leave. The job you once found so pleasurable, you now loathe and you desperately miss your sweet baby while you're pumping milk in the women's lounge. Now, did you return to work thinking, "God wants me to be at home with my child, but I'm going to go back to work anyway. Ha!" Surely not. But, some prayer and reflection might reveal that God's Will is that you put aside your toil for the tranquility He has in store for you. (If you can call taking care of a newborn tranquility!)

Wind. More specifically, "chasing after the wind." This phrase comes up again and again in Ecclesiastes. If the book weren't so poetic, I'd critique that Solomon even begins to sound like a broken record with it. In fact, the constant repitition gives the reader a sense of just how chasing after the wind feels: you do it again and again, and while the first time it might have "sounded" clever and the second time it might have seemed lovely, after numerous chasings after the wind, it just seems hollow. Ultimately, there is no satisfaction in chasing after the wind. Have you ever had a dream that you couldn't get out of your head? You pine for it, you research how to make it come true, you scheme and wheedle and prod...But even when you achieve it, you find you are not satisfied? It could be your desire to be successful in your career, gaining financial security for your family, moving to that "perfect" city, getting back in shape, or any number of other things. Now, none of these desires is "wrong." That's where the subtlety of the rebellion comes in. The desire is not the problem. God wants to grant the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4), but first we must seek His Will. Sometimes we are so focused on our dreams and desires that we forget to listen to where God may be leading us. Again, prayer, reflection, and Scripture study are needed. When pursuing and even fulfilling our dreams brings no fulfillment, it's time to reconsider whether they are dreams that God shares for our lives.

Distance. Sometimes the only way to notice that we are in rebellion is to realize that we have become distanced from God. We forget to say grace before a meal. We pass a couple of days before realizing we've neglected our quiet time or lectionary reading. We turn to a self-help book without even thinking about cracking the Bible. We spend less time in prayer. We get frustrated or careless about those parts of our spiritual life that we used to treasure so dearly. Now don't mistake me for being legalistic. Any of these things could happen for any number of reasons which do not involve rebellion or sin. But, when you notice a piling up of behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes that are uncharacteristic of your typical spiritual life or you find that your time in prayer and worship seems hollow, then it's time to evaluate the situation. Especially when we're not committing knowledgable, easily recognizable sins, it is very difficult to know when we are straying from God's Will. In my life, this feeling of being distanced from God is my biggest red flag. When I notice myself neglecting my relationship with the Lord, I know that I've strayed somehow, and I have to repent so that He can lead me back to "paths of righteousness for His name's sake" (Psalm 23:3b).

The good news is that God is faithful and never moreso than in bringing us back to Him when we stray. He is truly the Good Shepherd. And, we are truly sheep at times. But, God knows this about us, and He loves us anyway. We needn't be ashamed or self-depricating. No, we should echo the words of the psalmist with a heart that is full of trust in God's goodness and mercy:

"Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults."
~ Psalm 19:12


  1. Very wise posts. I think that it is so easy to confuse what we want(which isn't always good for us) with what God wants.

  2. Hey, Bethany!

    Back from Europe and just catching up on your lovely posts! First of all, welcome home! I am happy to see you back at the mill with new insights and growth to share.

    Anyway, hope all is well! There are pics of the trip on facebook. I have had so much other writing to do lately I haven't been up with the blog....ho hum.



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