Achieving everything you desire by mid-career – not a recipe for finishing well

A month ago, SEND U conducted a mid-career retreat for those missionaries who had served at least 15 years with our organization.   This week, as I was reading about Solomon in 1 Kings, I was struck by how much this leader accomplished by the time he hit “mid-career.”

When Solomon had finished building the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, the LORD appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon.  (1 Kings 9:1–2)

Twice in 1 Kings 9, the Scriptures tell us that Solomon accomplished all that he desired to do or build (1 Kings 9:1, 19).   Solomon could have been no more than 40 at this point.  I read this, and my first reaction was envy.  I wish that I could say that I achieved everything that I had desired to do by age 40 or even by age 60 for that matter.  It must have been great to have such immense resources at your disposal.  Imagine a yearly income of 25 tons of gold!  Manpower was no problem. He had conscripted no less than 150,000 labourers to work on his building projects! Then on top of that Solomon possessed such great intelligence and wisdom that he had no difficulty or frustrations with putting any those resources to accomplish what he intended. Clearly Solomon is a far more effective leader than I ever will be.
Solomon and the plan for the first temple
But after Solomon accomplishes everything that he had hoped to achieve, God reminds him that he still must finish well (1 Kings 9:4-9).   If he does not finish well, if he does not remain faithful to God, this newly built temple will become a pile of rubble.
But despite the warning, Solomon does not finish well. He seems to lose any motivation to press on in his wholehearted commitment to follow the God of his father.
Ecclesiastes says he found no lasting satisfaction in what he has built.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:10–11)

So what do you when you accomplish everything you want to achieve by the time you are 40 and you find it meaningless?   You start looking for new things to distract you.  In his old age, Solomon’s many foreign wives steal his heart.  He begins building places of worship again, but this time they are for other gods (see 1 Kings 11:7-8).
How does such a wise man go down such a foolish road?   Romans 5:3-4 talks about the importance of difficulty and suffering in instilling perseverance, character and hope in our lives.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.   (Romans 5:3–4)

But what did Solomon know about suffering?  His achievements had met with very little resistance up to this point. Because of his immense resources and wisdom, he had lived a life of instant gratification of whatever he desired.  So he had not had the “opportunity” to develop perseverance or character.  Dependence on God was not a deeply embedded value in his life.  Hope was also missing. What did he still have to hope for, since he had already accomplished everything, and could buy whatever he wanted?  No, Solomon is not at all in an enviable position, despite all of his early “success” and achievements.
Sometimes I wish I did not have to deal with the continual lack of sufficient resources and manpower in missions: the ongoing need for raising support (or partner development as we now call it), inadequate staff for the teams we seek to field, overloaded leaders or too few leaders, etc.
But I look at Solomon and I am thankful for the obstacles and even the scarcity of resources we so often face. By God’s grace, they are designed to develop perseverance, character and hope in me so that I don’t end up like Solomon.It is truly unfortunate if a person gets to the middle of their life and they have already accomplished everything that they desired to do.   How does such a person stayed focused on finishing well?

I am so thankful that even at age 55, I still hope to see God produce more fruit in the coming years. By God’s grace, I am still growing and becoming the person God has designed me to be, being molded by the obstacles and shortages that I struggle with.  I am not yet at the finish line, and God has more work for me to do.   So he continues to work on my character, and remind me of my dependence on his resources.

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5 thoughts on “Achieving everything you desire by mid-career – not a recipe for finishing well

  1. I find it interesting that you draw the conclusion that accomplishing what Salomon wanted to do and achieve in his life leaves him with lack of motivation to press on following God and therefore lack opportunity to grow. It makes me wonder if this is a particular danger for people who tend to invest most of their lives and wholehearted commitment into what they want to achieve and might neglect the part of their life where they ARE before God and with people in a way which is glorifying to God – in thought and behaviour. Obviously a lack of striving for “God Character” made Salomo to a man who took many wives for many reasons. In Ecclesiastes 2:17 Salomon writes ” So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me….” does show that Salomon did have struggles in his heart, not on the financial side obviously!, but sufficient incentives to grow and complete himself in “Gods character”.

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  2. Good questions. I agree that Solomon seems to neglect the development of his character and focus more on the things that he can see. He does not have the hunger for intimacy with God that his father had. But I also think that maybe he was overly confident of who he was. After all he was David's son. He was the heir of the promises of 2 Sam 7:12-16. He seems to act as if he is exempt from being punished by God. I don't think he realized that these promises in 2 Sam 7 about David's son were not fully fulfilled in him. Yes, Solomon was frustrated with life, and yes, we can call that suffering, but he saw his sufferings as basically meaningless, rather than developing in him the patient endurance and hope that Romans 5:3-4 and Romans 8:18, 23-25 talk about. In order to develop perseverance and hope, you have to 1) understand what God is promising and 2) you have to recognize that what you have attained or obtained up to now is much inferior to what God has promised. I think Solomon fails on both accounts.

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  3. Although I clearly see Salomons “failures” I still see in his persona great depth in personal growth wisdom and knowledge. Ecclesiastes 1:16- 18″I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me. ….For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” And then he goes on telling us how he explored to be folly still guided by wisdom and concludes, even striving for all of that we all share the same “fate”. We have to die. Could it be that Salomon somewhat in all his wisdom felt lonely on his journey? He knew there is a time for everything. He knew God will make everything beautiful in his time. He knew God had put eternity in hearts of men. He knew it was a gift of God when men was content to do good and live happily while they live. He knew whatever God does will endure forever (Eccl 3). I think he knew that even he who had great wealth, power, wisdom and knowledge could not change the whole world to the place which we call heaven and long for in our hearts where God's justice will reign and suffering and injustice, etc. will be vanished. Even the great leader hit the wall that he cannot do a lot or nothing really if God is not at work, and that men whatever they might achieve in this life time is really been powered by God. At the scene described in heaven before the throne in Revelation 4:6-11 the elders lay down the crowns before the throne and worship : You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power…and by your will they were created and have their being.” So, I would rather conclude that someone who wants to finish well, even when he /she is successful, efficient, effective, devoted, smart, wise, persevered, complete in Christ is in need of truly being humble to know your place before the throne. In learning to respect, honour and love our neighbour more than ourselves I think we can learn to deny ourselves in taking the pride for our doing and placing our crowns willingly at the feet of Jesus, even starting now in our hearts and prayers which raise up to HIM as our daily offerings .

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  4. I agree that humility and worship are very important to finishing well. Ecclesiastes definitely shows the limitations of man's ability to figure out life in his own wisdom “under the sun”. I think the book is a desperate cry for further revelation about what lies beyond the grave. I very much doubt that Solomon had received that revelation. At least he had not received nearly as much as we have in Christ. But the point of my blog post was that Solomon does not finish well, that he did not persevere. We do not see the humility and dependence on God in Solomon that we see in David, his father. I was suggesting in my original post that if Solomon had faced more difficulties and opposition in life, maybe his character and ability to persevere (and also his relationship with God) would have been more developed.

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  5. I think when we talking about King Solomo under the perspective of “How to finish well” we need to look at it from the broader picture. He was a politician and with his lifestyle managed to establish an empire which called many nations to turn away from their gods and give glory to the God of Israel. Through his tenure of governance thousands of Israeli working groups immigrated to nations as far as away as China, India, East Africa, the British Islands, etc. One interesting LINK to lead to the books of somebody who did a lot of research about this is here: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Ten-Tribes-Israel-Found/dp/0944379117
    King Solomo's legend is to be the king of peace of a vast empire that included most of Mesopotamia that paid tribute to him and much of the Arab peninsula, so his reign became the arch typos of Kingdom of Peace.Through his business connections all over the world (a kind of PAX SOLOMO) with the Phoenician fleet of King Hiram he was able to bring the law of God to all business and educational centers (often harbors) of the world of his times.
    This is what the disciples were dreaming of when they follow Jesus, that he would re-establish such a kingdom for Israel.
    The fact that Solomo allowed his women to turn his heart away from the undivided love to JAHWE is a sad part and should be a reminder to us, and accept our vulnerability as a fact. He should have led them all to repent and turn away from their gods. He had wisdom for much, but here he apparently was not really willing to ask for. Why? He enjoyed their different way of thinking too much. I think the reason why Solomo did not finish well is not because he did not have to learn perseverance.It was hard to build the temple and manage this through for so many years. He also learned the bad from his father David with his many women. There is nothing that can prevent men from committing sins, regardless how well the upbringing and education is. I rather ask myself how he took care of his soul on a daily base, seeking the LORD and “digesting” and “screening” what he was learning from the many professors he had in Jerusalem?

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