My biggest fear is the fear of failure.
Whether it’s about challenging someone to a board game, choosing between a few options when I’m shopping, or making life-altering decisions such as whether or not to move to another country, sometimes I’m so paralyzed by the fear that I might be making the wrong choice, I end up doing nothing at all.
Often, I spend so much time in my head weighing the risks of my choice, brooding over the possibility that it may end in “disaster” (v. 2), that I miss out completely on an experience or a move.
In other words, I’m just like that person the Preacher describes in Ecclesiastes 11:4, the one who ends up neither planting nor reaping because they’re too busy watching the “wind” or looking at the “clouds,” waiting for the perfect conditions before taking action.
However, as much as I think that I’m being careful and wise, or that a life lived in this way insulates me from the pain of disastrous decisions, I’ve come to realize that no matter how well I’m able to anticipate the possible risks of a situation or chances it might lead to success, it doesn’t guarantee the outcome that I’m hoping for.
This truth was brought home to me when I lost my first job after just nine months of employment. When I was applying for the job, I thought I had done all the right things—I prayed, I consulted mentors and leaders, I did my research on the company. In fact, everything fell into place so quickly that it felt like God was holding the door wide open for me. Surely, that meant it would lead to long-term success?
Unfortunately, as the Preacher points out again and again—the one guarantee we have in this life is that nothing is guaranteed! As much as we try, we “cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things” (v. 5).
What’s the solution then? Instead of analyzing every detail before taking action, monitoring every “weather forecast” to prevent the possibility of rain ruining my work, he says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well” (v. 6). This means we are to take every opportunity we can to sow diligently—and leave the outcome in the hands of our Maker.
Having tasted both success and failure, I’m beginning to see the wisdom of his words. Even though losing my first job left me feeling disheartened and anxious about my future, I’ve learned that if I keep working faithfully wherever God has placed me, He will always lead me closer to what He’s called me to—using the gifts He’s given me to glorify Him.
With the benefit of hindsight and a job that turned out to be a much better fit for me, I now see success and failure, open and closed doors, for what they are—tools that point us towards God’s heart for us.
Perhaps that’s how we can make sense of the Preacher’s confident declaration to “banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body” (v. 10). Instead of allowing ourselves to be held back by the failures we’ve experienced or circumstances we can’t control, we can move forward with this truth in mind: As long as we make the right decision in one decisive area of our lives—choosing to live in the fear of the Lord—it will weather us through any uncertainty in life.
—By Rebecca Lim, Malaysia
Questions for reflection
- Do you consider yourself a risk-taker or someone who’s so risk-averse you only stay in the comfort zone? How might Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 help you step out in confidence, even when you don’t have all the answers?
- How does today’s passage help you “banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body” (v. 10)?