What is driving you?
I’m not asking you to think about what you tell people motivates you or even what you try and tell yourself motivates you. I’m asking, “what’s really driving you?” Based on what I know about myself (and every other human being I’ve encountered), you probably recognize that what’s actually driving you is -
Complex, conflicted, and messy.
At seemingly the same time, we can be driven by selfishness or selflessness, bravery or cowardice, humility or pride. Such is the nature of being created in the image of God while at the same time being fallen creatures.
No book of the Bible speaks more honestly about this reality than the book of Ecclesiastes. Throughout its pages, the author surveys all that goes on “under the sun” and describes the many different motives that drive us all. In chapter 4, he mentions a few of these impulses that often push us forward.
I Have A Competition In Me
“Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor” (Eccl 4:4). Not a whole lot’s changed in our world. In our own lives, we’ve decided to call the envy which pushes us forward, “keeping up with the Joneses:” John down the street got a boat, and suddenly you have this deep urge to own a boat too! Your neighbor is sending their child to an elite private school, and suddenly you feel the need to send little Joanie there too. Or maybe you just get jealous over someone having greater skill than you. That’s certainly has to be part of Los Angeles Laker Megastar Lebron James’ motivation as a player. In fact, he’s said as much: His goal is to be the greatest basketball player who’s ever lived, and he said that means he’s constantly “chasing a ghost from Chicago.” Any basketball fan knows exactly who that ghost is: Michael Jordan (personally, I think Lebron has caught up and passed the ghost already, but you get the point).
As ruthless, cutthroat oil baron Daniel Mayhue says in the film, There Will Be Blood, “I have a competition in me.” Yeah, so do we all.
But alas, as much as envy may drive us for a while to maybe even accomplish some monumental achievements, the author of Ecclesiastes declares what we already know deep down: “This also is vanity and a striving after the wind.”
I Want More, More, More!
Perhaps, you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t know that I’m so much driven by envy as just a desire to have nice stuff.” And you know what, as I get older and seem needier and needier of creature comforts, I understand the appeal. In fact, we can’t deny that the desire to “get rich” or to at least make more money can be a huge motivating factor. I mean we’ve all heard the rags to riches stories of those who’ve worked insanely hard to escape a life of poverty and have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. But just as being driven by envy will ensnare us, being driven primarily by riches will take us down too. A little while back, my youngest son Lincoln told me he wants a Lamborghini when he grows up. I said, “Wow, that’s a pretty expensive car, Link.” He said, “Yeah I know, I’ll just work all the time and then drive around my Lamborghini. It’s too bad for my family because they’ll never see me.” Besides making me laugh out loud, my boy is clearly on to something. What he’s saying hits on why being driven by riches can be problematic: It’s all too easy for riches to become the primary focus.
Acknowledging this reality, the author of Ecclesiastes (quite a wealthy man himself) writes, “Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business” (Eccl 4:7-9).
I’ll never forget one encounter I had with an older retired man at The Bean Cafe in Manhattan. I struck up a conversation with him, and soon he was telling me all about his life working in finance. At one time, he had run his own company and boasted that he had made a massive amount of money. Soon he was taking out old magazine clippings from his backpack about him and his business. He could tell that I was impressed, but then he said something that surprised me. “Ya know, I really regret all this. I mean, yeah, I became rich, but as a result of my desire to get rich at any cost, I never married, I never had children, I never spent any time with any of my family. Even when my own mother was dying, I was just too busy to be with her. And now I sit here as an old man with money, and nothing to show for it.”
That’s what the Preacher wants us to understand about making envy and riches the primary drivers of your life: They’ll never satisfy.
As The Door Turns On Its Hinges The Sluggard Turns In His Bed
If it’s vain and meaningless to be driven by envy and riches, perhaps it’s preferable to be driven by nothing. I can see someone’s natural response being, “What’s the point? Might as well seek to exert as little energy as possible, since none of this matters.” But the author won’t allow that either for the most practical of reasons: You still have to eat. Here’s how he says it: “The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh” (Eccl 4:5). Just picture it: You’re sitting there with hands folded, and so lazy that you just start biting into your own flesh to avoid the activity of actually having to get up to make yourself a cheese sandwich. It’s obvious that the end result of such a lifestyle is self-destruction.
Well ok fine, so what should drive us? I think the author hints at it in Ecclesiastes 4:6.
There he writes, “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” The author is saying even if it means not being the best or living with less, if you have peace and quiet internally, then you are better off than the person who is driven by envy, riches, or apathy.
But where on earth can we ascertain such peace? In Philippians 4:5-7, the Apostle Paul writes this: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine).
I know it’s a shocker, but the answer really is always Jesus. Though envy whispers to us that peace can only be found by “keeping up,” Jesus whispers to us a better word: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28). Because Jesus is the one who rested perfectly but was never lazy, we can see work not as a “have to,” but as a “get to” for the benefit of our neighbors. Because Jesus is the one who, instead of being driven by riches, willingly gave up everything to save sinners on his cross, we can see money not merely as a resource to be hoarded but as a gift to be shared. Because Jesus has declared peace between God and man on account of his resurrection, it is now our inheritance to live with a handful of quietness rather than two hands full of toil. Indeed, we can now say with the Apostle, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-13).