In a previous article, I discussed the importance of accepting our toil as a gift. This came from Ecclesiastes 3:22: “...a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot.” In the passage, we can also observe the concept of accepting one’s lot. We see this also in a similar passage later on.
“Find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. … To accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:18–19).
What does it mean to “accept my lot?”
The term “lot” is translated from the Hebrew term heleq, and it means “portion, share, or territory.” It is similar to the English word “lot” as used to describe property. If you purchase a city lot to build on, it is a specific piece of real estate with clearly established boundaries. When you buy a lot, you are buying a portion of land but not the whole city. You do not have the right to build on the property across the street. You are limited to your lot.
In the story of Jacob and Laban, there is a dispute about the property to be inherited by Laban’s sons and the property that was owed to Jacob and his wives who were Laban’s daughters. The daughters use our word for “lot” (here translated “portion”), when they ask Jacob, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house?” (Genesis 31:14).
As a first conclusion, we can see that accepting my lot means knowing that I don’t get everything I want. In an inheritance, a person typically receives some of their parents’ property but not all of it. It is shared. Likewise, we have to recognize that we are just one of God’s children, and not every possible gift we can imagine will come our way. We must accept our lot, our portion of God’s blessings.
A similar discussion surfaces in Ecclesiastes 7. There, the Teacher asks, “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13). I think this is at least partially a joke of sorts. God does not make poorly constructed things, but sometimes my perception is so skewed that something God has done looks crooked to me. The Teacher is reminding us that if God made it, we can’t “fix” it, even if it did happen to be crooked.
Accepting my lot means knowing that my lot is not up to me. The boundaries of my life, my work, my wealth, my health, and my years are all set by God. God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). Not only the physical creation but also human history and individual human lives have been set in their place by God. We will not “fix” it, no matter what scheme we hatch in order to try.
Speaking specifically of wealth, the Teacher writes, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (Ecclesiastes 7:14). Our blessings and hardships are the result of God’s hand in creation not the cleverness of our manipulations or the discipline of our best efforts. Accepting my lot means being satisfied with whatever God gives me.
The Teacher continues, “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing” (Ecclesiastes 7:15). There is no better proof of my inability to control life than the frequency with which life surprises me! From time to time, I will make a bold prediction about an outcome in a situation.
I predicted that Donald Trump would not get the Republican nomination in 2016, but then he did. I predicted that he would lose the general election in 2016, but he won. I then predicted that he would win the election in 2020, but he lost. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I predicted that the end of this disaster was just a few weeks away. I repeated that prediction to our church leadership about a dozen times between 2020 and 2022. I was wrong every time.
Accepting my lot means accepting the uncertain mystery of outcomes. I think that I am especially clever, maybe even wise enough to know the future. Maybe even wise enough to change it! My life has proven me wrong time and time again. My desire to control the future is vanity, a grasping for smoke and a pursuit of the wind.
Try as I might, I am a human, and my life is beset by failures. Even on occasions when I set a wise course of action for myself, I do not always accomplish it. Morally speaking, I do not live up to my own ideals, let alone God’s. “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Accepting my lot means acknowledging my own failures.
So, does that mean we can keep doing whatever we want? Why does seeking righteousness matter? This does not mean that we should tolerate sin and welcome it. This does not mean that we stop trying to be righteous. John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8). Yet only a few sentences later he writes, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1a). Of course we should strive and work to become better people and less often victims of sin. But accepting my lot means acknowledging failure and seeking reconciliation and aid from God as the first part of my efforts. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1b).
Our pursuits in life must be the pursuit of God. He is our guide, our judge, and our ideal. We do not measure our lives by our own standards, and we do not measure our lives by the standards of others. “Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others” (Ecclesiastes 7:21–22). Accepting my lot means worrying less about the opinions of others. My lot is not set by my neighbor any more than it is set by me. My lot is a gift of God.
Finally, I would want to add that accepting my lot means learning something from the priests of old. When the land of Israel was divided among the tribes, each was given a portion except the tribe of Levi, the tribe of the priests and custodians of the Tabernacle. “And the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel’” (Numbers 18:20).
Most importantly, accepting my lot must mean finding my satisfaction in God. If I can’t rest in him, I will rest nowhere at all. If I cannot accept him as all I need, no portion will ever be enough. On our best day, we must sing with David, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot” (Psalm 16:5). On our worst day, we must weep and pray with Jeremiah, “The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:24).
To truly accept my lot in life is to accept that God himself - not his varied gifts - is my true joy in all seasons of life. Our goal is to become like the early Christians who joyfully accepted the plundering of their property since they knew that they had a better possession and an abiding one (Hebrews 10:34). More than that, our goal is to become as Christ, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
In short, accepting my lot in life sounds like a simple prayer uttered in Gethsemane. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:41-42).
Dr. Benjamin Williams is the Senior Minister at the Central Church of Christ in Ada, Oklahoma and a regular writer at So We Speak. Check out his books The Faith of John’s Gospel and Why We Stayed or follow him on Twitter, @Benpreachin.