Recently when I overheard some folk talk about their rights and the things they’re entitled to, it brought me back to when I was sixteen. I’m now eighty-four. Sixteen! can you think of a nicer age? It’s the age when you know everything. That naïve confidence allowed me to live in blissful ignorance for a little while before I found out the truth of a saying that goes like this: Those who know not that they know not are fools and heading for trouble.
The simple lesson the University of Life dished out to me was this: a preoccupation with rights and entitlement divorced from effort, duty, and responsibility is like a one-winged airplane: it will never fly.
Yes, I knew, having grown up in a Christian church-going family, that God said, “In the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat” (Gen 3:19). But I never applied that to myself. I figured I had rights, and I was entitled to the best this world had to offer—regardless of sweat on my brow, or lack thereof. Now, it’s obvious even to me that sweat only comes as a result of effort—lots of it. But sweat and effort weren’t part of the thinking of the “rights and entitlement” crowd to which I then belonged.
It wasn’t long before I discovered that a preoccupation with rights and entitlement divorced from effort, duty, and responsibility will produce only poverty and discontent.
Rights like respect have to be earned, and can easily be lost if not sustained through effort, responsibility, and attention to duty. Just as the fisherman or farmer is not “entitled” to abundant fish or to an abundant crop but must exercise responsibility and put in the necessary effort, none of us has a “right” to the prosperity and happiness we crave without responsibly making the effort to help bring them about.
God’s word says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your power and all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It sure doesn’t talk about rights or entitlement. It also says that “by the sweat of your brow will you have food.” If we take the attitude, “I have rights, and I’m entitled to be looked after,” we will never learn how to accomplish anything, how to persevere towards a goal, how to develop our abilities, or how to function as responsible individuals. We will be forever dependent and trapped in poverty.
May you be among those who live in obedience to God’s command: whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, as unto the Lord.