“Rat Race” was a dance popular among teens during the 1930’s, along with the “Turkey Twist” and “Bunny Hop,” but our current usage of the term “rat race” has nothing to do with the dance, but likely refers metaphorically to the futile existence of laboratory rats that are doomed to run mazes, get a reward at the end and then repeat it over and over, never making any progress, and having to live in a cage in between tests.
The term “rat race” is thus used to refer to the working routine of humans performing the same, often meaningless, routine over and over for a reward but never making any real progress. To some, it not only applies to their work but to the sum total of their existence. Such was the experience for much of King Solomon’s adult life. He attempted to find significance and satisfaction and purpose in wealth, in women, and in work, but, because He left God out, He found that it was all “vanity of vanities” (Eccl. 1:2). Being disillusioned by the futility of the routine cycles of life, he wrote: “All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun… I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind…And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. And thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (Eccl. 1:8,9,14; 2:10,11). Life for Solomon was indeed a “rat race.”
Wow, if anyone was candidate for “most likely to succeed” it was Solomon. Blessed with wisdom and wealth and women and power and prestige and position, he had everything a man could want–or did he? Note his observation in Eccl. 5:10: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.” His final conclusion? “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth…The conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person…” (Eccl. 12:1, 13,14).
You see, we are each built for significance, and the problem isn’t that we search for it, but that too often we search for it in all the wrong places: position, power, pleasure, possessions, pride, and passion. Ty Cobb, one of baseball’s all-time greats, made a revealing admission: “For years I ate baseball, I slept baseball, I talked baseball, I thought baseball, I lived baseball.” But then he added, “When you get beyond those years of playing professional baseball, you can’t live on baseball.” Certainly there is a vast multitude of purposes to which we can devote our energies, but the end of none of them will prove sufficient. We were created with a God-shaped vacuum in our heart which only Jesus Christ can fill. One purpose alone gives meaning and significance and enduring motivation to life. The Apostle Paul stated that lasting purpose in Phil. 1:21: “For me, to live is Christ.” Knowing Jesus Christ, trusting Him, abiding in fellowship with Him, reading and meditating on His Word, and serving Him–this is the one driving purpose that saves life from being no more than a monotonous march of meaningless days–from being a “rat race.”
Interestingly, every time the word “God” appears in Ecclesiastes, it is the Hebrew word meaning Creator. The personal name “LORD” (Jehovah) never appears. Solomon is speaking not of a God he knew personally, but of a God who was far above–like many speak of God today. In I Chron. 28:9,20, Solomon’s dad, King David, just before he died, challenged Solomon to “Get to know God, to place Him first, to be sold out to Him,” but Solomon didn’t take David’s advice. He didn’t realize his error until he came to the end of his life. You’ll notice that Solomon is not listed in Hebrews chapter 11 as a great man of faith. What makes a person great is his intimate relationship with God.
In contrast to King Solomon and his search for significance in all the wrong places, note the goal of the Apostle Paul, as expressed in his letter to the church at Philippi: “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” (Phil. 3:10).
Is your life a “rat race” and devoid of real meaning, joy and satisfaction? If so, there’s a solution and it is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came that we “Might have life, and might have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Start by trusting Him as your personal Savior if you have never done that and then let Him be your life. Get to know Him intimately and serve Him faithfully, no matter what your vocation or place in life. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father…. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:17,23) and you will find purpose and significance and abundant joy–and escape from the “rat race.”