You want me to give the what?!
My husband and I recently agreed to lead our church service in our pastor’s absence. The funny thing is, each of us assumed the other one was going to be the one giving the sermon.
You might think that after nearly 23 years of marriage, our communication would be a tad more insightful and thorough by now. We are still working on that!
Needless to say, with my husband’s encouragement and confidence in me (and a nudge from God), I agreed to be the one to deliver the message to our congregation.
Thankful for How the Spirit Took Over
I can’t really explain how much my body ached in pain with the nerves running through me before I got up and spoke, but when I opened my mouth to speak – the Holy Spirit sent His peace and calm and spoke through me. I actually even enjoyed myself despite my dislike for microphones and large groups of people.
What I do love is sharing truths from God’s Word (preferably in the safer territory of my pen or computer), but God empowered and equipped me to speak to our congregation.
I am now sharing the message God gave me here in this safer zone of my computer screen. I pray that it would be an inspiration and encouragement for you wherever you are in your journey to finding joy and purpose in life.
Finding True Joy and Meaning in Life
If you’ve read Ecclesiastes before, you’ll know it sets a pretty depressing outlook on life. If you haven’t read it in awhile, read this passage: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11. We might question why is this book even in the Bible? It doesn’t sound like something God would say – “meaningless, meaningless – utterly meaningless” ????
Yet we know that,
“All scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”2 Timothy 3:16 NIV
So what does a book declaring life to have no meaning – mean for us?
The book of Ecclesiastes is the most quoted book of the Bible among atheists and Bible skeptics, because it seems to deny life after death and that humans really have no purpose or meaning.
However, is that really what this book is saying?
The Author of Ecclesiastes
Let’s first look at who the author of this book is. We read in the first verse that the author is the son of David and a King of Jerusalem.
If we go back to 1 Kings 2:1-4, we learn that when King David was about to die, he gave a charge to his son Solomon, who would take over for him as King. He encouraged him to walk in obedience to the Lord and to keep his decrees and commands.
Shortly after Solomon becomes King of Israel, the Lord appeared to him and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
If you’ve ever dreamed of a genie in a bottle offering you anything your heart desired, Solomon had that chance.
Wisdom Rather Than Wealth
Yet, rather than asking for wealth, power or fame, he asked God for wisdom as he took over the throne. He wanted a discerning heart to govern God’s people and to distinguish right from wrong. Not only did God give him great wisdom, but God was so pleased with Solomon’s selfless request that he gave Solomon wealth and honor as well.
So Solomon not only became the wisest of all men that ever had been or ever will be, but also the wealthiest.
Why then, with a Godly passing of the crown, and a great humble, wise start to his kingship, does Solomon utter these chapters about the meaninglessness of life? A man who had it all can certainly be the one to help us understand if that’s really what it’s all about! We see that the accumulation of all his wealth and power brought him to the conclusion that all of it was meaningless.
Under the Sun
One phrase we see repeated in this book is, “under the sun”.
I have seen all things under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
This book is written from a secular perspective. It is written about a life without God – as if our life on earth is all there is. If we examine all of life under the sun, apart from God – everything IS meaningless.
It’s as if Solomon was looking down on his life, examining all the stuff he had acquired and recognized that apart from God, it meant nothing.
Human desire is never satisfied. It is the consequence of the restlessness that is built into life. God gave us that restlessness so that we would be drawn to Him. He wanted us to fill that void with Him. Yet we so often look elsewhere.
Lessons Learned From Sheep
We became sheep farmers about 8 years ago. The more I am around sheep, the more offended I get when God compares us to them!
Sheep can be so greedy. They rush to the feed being dispensed, pushing others out of the way to be the first one to fill their hungry bellies. They often knock down their lambs and break fences to be the first to get what they want.
Later we can walk by and they begin to beg for more. I know their bellering is not to tell us how grateful they are for what we have already given them that day, but to share with us their desire for more.
They are also rarely satisfied with the boundaries we have set for them. They will often find a way out, thinking there might be something a little more satisfying on the other side.
As much as I hate to admit it, isn’t this just like us? We forget to thank God for what He has already done and rush on to more requests. We often become dissatisfied with the boundary lines He has placed for our own good and protection and seek pleasure and satisfaction outside those lines.
I believe this is what Solomon is getting at. In his quest for more and more and never finding satisfaction, he finally comes to the conclusion that everything under the sun is meaningless.
What Does Solomon’s Conclusion Mean For Us?
It means we need to look beyond this world to find meaning and purpose for our life.
We need to look to our Father in Heaven – the creator and author and sustainer of life, to find our purpose.
Solomon had studied and explored everything under the heavens and determined everything to be meaningless.
The wisest of all wise men saw life as meaningless apart from God.
This leads us to ask the questions, “What is the meaning behind what I do? Is what I do really what God wants me to do, or is it just a chasing after the wind?”
Think about your goals and ambitions in life. If you accomplish them, do you believe it will fully satisfy you or will you set out to make bigger and greater goals?
Is Setting Goals a Bad Thing?
Setting goals is not a bad thing. It’s when we believe we will find true fulfillment and satisfaction in meeting those goals that we become fooled. We need to align our goals with God’s purpose for us and seek to bring Him glory as we pursue them.
Pursuing more and more is not going to result in greater happiness.
Here are two things you can do to combat this restless feeling of discontentment and to pursue God’s purpose:
1 – Before striving for more and more – STOP – Acknowledge and thank God for what He has already done.
Make it a daily practice to offer thanks to God for what Has done in your life. This will give you confidence to face whatever comes your way as you continally look to see what God has already brought you through.
2 – Consider the purpose for which you do things. Without an eternal perspective, much of what we do is meaningless. We can learn about God’s purposes for us as we study His Word.
Consider these passages that give a few glimpses into what God’s will is for us.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.Acts 1:8 NIV
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.Ephesians 4:1
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
I am to be a witness for Jesus, living my life worthy of the calling He’s given me, rejoicing always, praying continually and giving thanks in all circumstances. That’s just in a few verses!
As we study God’s Word, He reveals His plan and purpose for our lives. It’s when we live out His purposes that we can find joy and fulfillment.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.1 Peter 1:18-19
We are redeemed from the EMPTY WAY OF LIFE! Amen!
What About Pleasure?
Solomon went on to test out pleasure.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure.Ecclesiastes 2:10
After seeking everything under the sun that he thought might give him pleasure – he found it all to be meaningless. He found no pleasure under the sun – in this world. He found no lasting, satisfying pleasure that is.
Is God against pleasure? Is He against us doing what we enjoy?
No, absolutely not.
God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.I Timothy 6:17
It is the pursuit of pleasure and happiness to find satisfaction that is futile.
When seeking the Lord becomes our goal, He bestows on His people His joy. He loves to see His people enjoying life.
As a parent, don’t you love to see your kids enjoying life, laughing and having a good time – under the parameters you have set?
When I smile watching my own kids enjoy life, laugh and have a good time, I think of my heavenly father looking down on me with great delight when I am enjoying the life He has given me.
When I grumble and complain – how must He feel after all He has done for me?!
Striving for more and more of what the world has to offer is going to leave us empty inside. However, when we recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord, and we respond with a thankful heart, that is what can lead us to fully enjoy life.
God gave us pleasure as gift. We worship the Creator, not His creation. We worship the Giver of joy, not the pursuit of happiness.
The Gift of Mission Trips
I went on several mission trips while in high school and college. There was usually something at the end of the trip that everyone looked forward to – an amusement park, water park or a large mall for shopping. While we looked forward to the fun excursion, it was the mission trip itself that made a lasting impression on us.
As we entered the dirt roads of Mexico, and met the people that inhabited small shacks, ate simple meals and waited each day for a water truck to deliver drinkable water and not always having a reliable sewer system – we didn’t meet people with gloom in their faces. Rather we met people that were radiant with joy. They had so little compared to us, yet they seemed to have so much more.
The relationships that we made and knowing we were doing a small part in helping the people build a church and host a vacation Bible school for their kids gave us so much more joy than the roller coaster we’d ride at the end of the week. Shopping in extravagant malls lost its appeal after being around people living with so much less.
It was those experiences that helped me realize what was truly important in life. I remember one of the Spanish phrases we learned and wanted to implement with the people: Ser Como Christo – “to be like Christ” – that was our mission then and it continues to me my mission today.
What About the Painful Things?
In Ray Stedman’s book, Is this All There is to Life?, he says if we accept the painful as well as the pleasant as God’s choices for us, we can discover 3 things:
1 – We will be able to enjoy all of life, even the painful things.
2 – We will learn to know God.
3 – This lesson will be repeated until we learn it, until we get it right.
I really hope and pray I can learn this lesson before too many repeats!
Life without God is dull, empty and vain. Life with Him, pursuing His purposes and having faith that what comes to me is from His hand allows me to live a life that is full and satisfying. Even the tears and the pain have meaning and value when we see they are chosen by Him.
My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you can find meaning and purpose in all that you do and in all the circumstances that come your way. May you experience true joy knowing you have a loving Father and He has your best interest in mind as you pursue His purpose for you.
Love to Hear From You!
I love to hearing from you! If you found this encouraging, convicting or helpful – I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!