My hunch is that we all want to have a life that’s worth living. I mean, you don’t have to think too much about all that do you? If we weigh up our lives, each one of us, there are things that are worthwhile and enjoyable and then there are things that we would rather not have there but I guess we can live with and then there are things that are downright awful that we just wish would go away forever. And depending on the mix between those three – the good, the mediocre and the bad – we either feel as though our lives are worth living or they’re not.
The problem is – and this is a universal problem; it’s a problem that each one of us faces – as time goes by, the mix, the balance between the good, the mediocre and the bad changes; our circumstances change, our emotions change, our health goes up and down. And sooner or later, the old body will give out. And so if we live our lives based on our circumstances; if we judge the value of our life based on what is going on and how we are reacting to it, well, we are pretty much at the mercy of the elements.
And so if I were to ask you right at this moment, do you have a life that’s worth living, what would your answer be? And not only that, what are you basing that answer on – how you feel, what’s going on in your life, or something else?
That’s what we are going to be tackling the next few weeks on the programme – the value of the life that you are living – but in quite an unusual way. I say unusual because we are going to go to what I think frankly, is simply one of the most extraordinary Books of the Bible. It’s the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes. It was written by King Solomon, we believe – one of the wisest men who ever, ever walked the planet. In fact, when Solomon was a young man, God gave him the opportunity to ask Him for anything that he wanted. This is how it happened. I’m reading from Second Chronicles chapter 1, verse 7:
“God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I should give you.” Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to my father David, and have made me succeed him as king. O Lord God, let your promise to my father David now be fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come to in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?”
God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honour, or the life of those who hate you, and you have not even asked for long life, but you have asked me for wisdom and knowledge for yourself so that you might rule my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge will be granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honour, such as none of the kings had before you, and none after you shall ever have the like.”
So the wisdom of Solomon was actually the wisdom of God. He spends a lifetime serving God as king – diligently working as the King of Israel. But later on in life … later in life things go a bit awry. He starts to worship idols, he gets carried away with his wealth and all his possessions and all his wives and he becomes something of a confused, bitter and twisted old man.
This Book, Ecclesiastes is extraordinary because it’s written is this later state of Solomon and you can see his wisdom interwoven with disillusionment. What makes this Book totally extraordinary is the fact that it is in the Bible at all. But it’s there for you and for me to show us what happens when we take our eyes off God and go chasing after other things. It is a powerful Book and it’s one that at different times in our lives, I think we all relate to.
So, this is how Solomon kicks it off, the opening narrative, if you will, of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Have a listen. I wonder how much of this resonates with you – Ecclesiastes chapter 1, beginning at verse 1:
“The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to its place where it rises again.
The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run into the sea, but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow, they will continue to flow.
All things are wearisome; more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it can be said, “See, this in new?”
It has already been, in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.”
Do you see where Solomon is coming from? He has spent a life time doing his best; exercising his wisdom and ruling over Israel and he is coming to the end of it all, asking himself, ‘So, what’s the point? Why did I work so hard?’ We are really just on some great big cosmic treadmill – the wind blows around in circles, the rivers run into the ocean but the ocean never fills up, the sun goes up, comes down; goes up, comes down; goes up, comes down and …’ “Is there anything new under the sun? No!” he concludes. And when we die, no one is going to remember us.’ Great! Brilliant! So what was the point of all that, huh?
I love … I absolutely love the fact that God has this particular Book in the Bible, especially, since, as we will see later, Solomon never really comes up with an answer to his dilemma. He has a few suggestions along the way – but really, he never nails it.
And I think … I think a lot of people are living their lives just like Solomon. You look at your life and it goes round and round and round and round the same mulberry bush and really, nothing ever changes. Our hair goes grey, our skin gets old and wrinkly but fundamentally, nothing ever changes. Some days are good; some days are okay; some days are rotten but at the end of it all, as life heads into its last stages – as was the case with Solomon here – what was the whole point to it? Was it really a life worth living? I mean, come on, really?
On the one hand, being at that point is pretty tragic. On the other that point of futility, of vanity, is exactly where many, many people are right now in their lives. Oh, we kind of try to sweep it under the carpet and ignore it, but it’s there and if we were truly honest with ourselves, many people would be saying right now, just like Solomon:
‘Vanity of vanities! Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?”
And let me say this from the bottom of my heart: if you are in that place at the moment, then that’s the very question … the very question that should be asking yourself. It’s time to bring this to a head; it time to stop ignoring that sense of futility; that sense of, ‘My life has no value; is of no consequence. Like a thin vapour; here today, just and gone tomorrow,’ and to do something about it.
That’s why over these next few weeks, in this series of messages that I’ve called, “From Vanity to Victory,” we are going to be looking at just this, because God’s plan … God’s plan is for you and for me, that we should have a life that is worth living and it’s time to lay hold of that life – a life of victory – irrespective of what the circumstances are that we happen to be facing.
I for one would hate to get to the end of my life and be in the place that Solomon was at, looking at all my efforts and thinking, ‘What a waste!’ How about you? Now please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not preaching some happy-clappy gospel here. I’m not suggesting for one minute that we won’t have trials and sufferings, you and I, because we will. Jesus promised us that.
But what I want to know is how, you and I, given who we are, where God has put us, what He has given us and hasn’t given us – given all that, how can you and I have a rich, full life in the middle of all that? That’s what we are going to be talking about next and for the next few weeks in this series of messages called “From Vanity to Victory.”
A Season for Every Purpose
Can I ask you something? What’s your favourite season of the year – spring, summer, autumn or winter? Do you have one particular time that’s your favourite? I have two that are pretty close together, but if I had to call it between one and the other, I’d have to name spring as my absolute favourite, followed very closely by autumn or fall as you might happen to call it if you live in the U.S.
Why is spring my favourite? Because coming out of a long, cold winter – mind you, it doesn’t get very cold where I live but it feels that way – spring is about new life and new hope. The days are getting longer, the trees shoot young, fresh, new leaves, it starts to warm up and the smell of those spring flowers is in the air. I absolutely love spring because it’s the season of promise.
But you know something, I love autumn too because after a long, hot, humid summer, the days start to cool down and the mornings freshen up and become crisp. And the beautiful autumn colours take over and I start to think about stews and pasta, rather than BBQs and salads.
I love the fact that God gave us those different seasons to enjoy – I like summer and winter too, by the way. But it’s the seasons of transition that I love the most. You know the funny thing, in the seasons of life, though – and life absolutely does have its seasons –change is often the season we like the least. So, will you join me today as we discover why that is?
Over about twenty years of being in management and I.T. consultant, I guess I have worked in somewhere around, I don’t know, three hundred-ish different organisations, large, small, government, private sector – mostly in Australia, but around the world as well. And so you see a lot of different organisational cultures. Some are healthy, some are terrible. And you see even more people working under pressure in the different environments. And across all those organisations and people, the number of people who I have met who absolutely relish change, I could probably count on my ten fingers.
It turns out that most people absolutely hate change. Change is threatening, whereas the status quo; even if the status quo isn’t everything we would like it to be, the status quo at least we know; at least we’re comfortable in it. But the moment someone talks about change – and as a consultant I was mostly working in client organisations to bring about change – people start feeling threatened.
What does that mean to me? Will I still have a job? Will I have more power or less power? Will my roll change? Am I going to be having to use different systems? Will I like the new environment? They are all the questions that people would have. And quite often, when change was forced on people by a competitive market situation or new government regulations or a drive for efficiency and improvement or whatever it was, people would become incredibly threatened and defensive and often quite aggressive. The number of people, as I said, who embrace change – even good change – was by far in the minority. That’s the work environment.
It turns out that things are almost the same in our personal lives. Moving house is one of the most stressful things we can do. Even a great change like getting married can be an incredibly difficult one for people to cope with, as they adjust from their life of singleness – and the freedoms that brings – to the constraints and the blessings of marriage.
So why am I harping on about change? Because most of us live in a world that is changing rapidly! The job market is in huge turmoil – as manufacturing moves from the West to the developing world; as technology displaces more and more workers. And so many people are wandering through life, not just drained by the apparent mundaneness and futility of the same old, same old, same old grind of life, but tense about the change that is going on around them.
Surely if God is God, He would protect us from all this change, right? Have a listen to this great bit of wisdom from one of the wisest men who ever walked the planet – we met him earlier – King Solomon. It comes from something he wrote towards the end of his life when he had gone a bit off the rails, but it’s still an important piece of wisdom. Have a listen to this with me. It’s from Ecclesiastes chapter 3 in the Old Testament, beginning with verse 1:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to pluck up what has been planted;
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to break down and a time to build up;
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones and a time to gather the stones together;
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek and a time to lose;
A time to keep and a time to throw away;
A time to tear and a time to sew;
A time to keep silent and a time to speak;
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace;
What gain have workers from their toil?”
Now, that is quite a list there. And there are some times in there that we would rather leave than take – thank you very much! Let’s stand back … and really, isn’t that a pretty comprehensive list of how our circumstances and situations sway from one season to another – from winter to summer, from summer to winter – with plenty of autumns and springs in between.
See, so many people look at their lives and weigh their lives on the basis of their circumstances. When it’s time to laugh – huh, my life is going great! When it’s time to weep, huh, my life isn’t worth living! Am I right – isn’t that how we react?
I want to tell you quickly about Russell – not his real name but it will have to do. He is well into his nineties this guy, his wife passed away years ago, he is blind, he is incontinent, he lives alone in an empty house. He gets around by feeling his way along the corridor walls. It takes him a while to answer the phone because it just takes him a while to get there. If anyone had a reason to complain and to grumble, it would be Russell. If anyone had a reason to think that his life wasn’t worth living, it would be Russell.
And yet, every time I speak with him – whether it happens to be when I’m passing through the city where he lives or by phone – I’m so powerfully encouraged by this man. You see, Russell has a fire that burns in his heart for Jesus; he has a fire that burns in his heart for the lost; he is constantly praying for me and the ministry of Christianityworks and the many other ministries that he supports. He is not backward in telling me there is something I can do better on the programme – he listens to every one of them.
Russell is in the end season of his life here on earth. He is alone most of the time; he is physically infirm but he is living a life that counts. Do you see that? He is living a life, not of vanity; he is living out a life of victory. And the man inspires me so greatly on those days when the going gets tough in ministry – in the seasons that I would rather leave than take. I swear I will never, ever lose the vision of this frail, elderly giant, sitting on his couch in the lounge room, sharing with me his passion for Jesus and his passion for having the Word of God proclaimed across the globe.
There is indeed a season for everything; a time for every purpose under heaven. And my prayer is that, having heard Russell’s story, you will be as inspired as I am to accept the seasons as they come and go. To accept the change and to journey through that change with a powerful sense that God … God plans for you to live out a life of victory in that place. Not a life of vanity; a life on consequence and impact. Not a life of self-absorption and self-pity. God’s plan for you is to live out a life … a life that is truly worth living; a life like Russell’s but in your very own way.
Living in the God Dimension
Life has a habit of draining the life out of us. Have you noticed that? I know it sounds a bit odd, but you know what I mean, right? It’s like our zest for life, our energy, our sense of wonder and anticipation and joy and delight are all drained by the sheer grind of living out our lives and putting food on the table … and to be honest, serving the many idols and gods that we have set up for ourselves. Huh, don’t believe me?
How many people are labouring under huge debt for no other reason than they just had to have the new dress or the new car or the new house and now they are working long, long hours just to make ends meet – just to pay the interest on the debt that comes from serving those idols? A bit grim when you look at that way, isn’t it?
Every now and then I like to remind people – you in particular – of the thing that the wise, old Apostle Paul reminded his young protégé Timothy of, when Tim was going through a bit of a rough patch in ministry; when life was squeezing the life out of this young man, Paul wrote to him this – you can read it in Second Timothy chapter 1, verse 6:
“For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”
You see, deep down inside, you and I have a gift, an ability, a dream, a passion – something we love doing; something we have always wanted to do; something that gets us excited and fired up and … are you getting this? Are you feeling this? Is this simple Scripture sparking something in your heart that God put there long ago? Something that perhaps you had forgotten about; something that’s been lying dormant and every time it tried to raise its head, it was drowned out by all the other things clamouring for your attention and your priorities.
Maybe, just maybe, God put us in this place together today, just to remind you of the gift, the dream, the passion that He handcrafted into your DNA all those years ago. Maybe, just maybe, God wants to wake us up to the life that He planned for us; the life that is truly worth living.
Oh, that gift, that dream, that passion will always require sacrifice – they always do; they always drag us out of our comfort zones. Jesus ached for His people; Jesus wept for His friend Lazarus; Jesus lamented over His people in Jerusalem; Jesus suffered for you and for me, so that by His sacrifice, we might be set free from the power of sin and death over our lives. Always involves sacrifice. And somewhere deep inside, as we meet this Jesus, as we walk in His love; somewhere deep inside, there is a little of that in each one of us.
Life isn’t meant to be full of vanity; life isn’t meant to be just some meaningless existence that’s here today and gone tomorrow. Life is meant to be lived to the full, using all that we are and all that we have and all that we hope for, to glorify God; to love Him and to bless those around us for His glory. That’s what life is about.
And when we start discovering that life – right in the middle of the realities that we face – then life starts getting some meaning and direction back. And just in case … I mean, just in case, you should come back to me and say, ‘Yea, Berni, great for you, but you want to see my life! You want to see the pile of dirty nappies I have to contend with. You want to see the accounting reconciliations piling up in my in-tray at the office – all those boring emails that are sitting on my email in-tray or …
Next week on the programme, we will be chatting about discovering meaning in the midst of the mundane things of life because almost always, God’s plan is for us to bloom right where He has planted us. However unfavourable conditions might be; however boring or mundane things might be, God is a God that has an amazing plan for life – for your life and for my life. It is not a plan for you and me to drift through each day wondering what’s going on; wondering what the meaning of life is; wondering as we wake up, ‘Is this all there is? Isn’t there supposed to be something more to life than just this?’ The answer is, ‘YES, there is!’
God has created you and created me to do the good works that He prepared beforehand for us to walk into. God has a plan for meaning and purpose and fulfilment in our lives. I come back to it – it almost always involves sacrifice; it almost always involves a tough choice.
But God has a plan … He has a plan for you and me to live a life that’s worth living!!
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