An Inventory Our Blessings
What Means Something
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14, 2:18–26
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus demonstrate to you that your life, in Christ, has meaning!
- A man at the end of his wits!
Solomon, the wisest man in the world’s history, had a severe problem. He is the Teacher of all of Israel, as well as the ruler of that country at its absolute greatest point.
He has riches; he has power; he has a level of wisdom that is beyond anything anyone has ever imagined. The leaders from all over the world come to him for advice.
And He is exhausted, mentally, physically and, most the critical—spiritually.
He is at the ends of his wits, hear His own words from our Old Testament reading:
So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world. Ecclesiastes 2:20 New Living Translation
I am not anywhere near Solomon’s intellect, nor do I run a nation. But I’ve known the despair he is discussing. I’ve known it when I was in the administration at Pepperdine. I’ve known it pursuing my Ph.D., and during and after covid, as I look at the church at large, and at Concordia, I’ve known it.
And I’ve been delivered from that despair, time after time.
- Does Devotion to a cause mean anything?
There are two different issues that cause Solomon to fall into this deep despair.
The first he described in verses 13-14 of chapter 1,
13 I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. 14 I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.
I don’t care how smart someone is, or they think they are, there are limits to a person’s intellect, and to the point of which they can apply that intellect.
We hate that we are limited, but it is what it is. We are now different than Adam and Eve, wanting to know it all, and why!
When we let that frustrate us, when we let pride mix with curiosity, it drives us to know as much as God knows, rather than trusting Him.
The effect when it becomes an issue of pride is devastating, for it is sinful, a lack of trust in God. And when we declare it is not worth it, when we declare it meaningless, we dive into despair!
- Does Hard Work mean anything?
The second issue Solomon has is with his hard work. He hated it, for He could not see a long-range benefit. He wrote,
18 I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. 19 And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! Ecclesiastes 2:18-19
Have you ever felt like that?
It is as if Solomon knew his heir would shatter the Kingdom by listening to foolish advisors! That is exactly what happened!
Solomon’s son would shatter the promise given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. That those actions would lead to captivity.
Something you worked hard on, invested your life in, wanted to see come to fruition, only to realize that you won’t be able to make it continue after you are gone…
That insight can cause great despair, and as often as Solomon says life is meaningless, he complains about the difficulty of the job even more than He complains about how meaningless it all is!
And there are days like that—maybe it isn’t because you are about to retire, or move on, maybe it is that things at work, or at home aren’t working the way you thought they would, and you wonder if anything will ever change…
And it doesn’t.
Without God’s presence, everything we do, everything we think and ponder, is meaningless. With Solomon, we move from despair to hating where we are in life.
For our attempts to understand leave us without knowing what matters, and our work only makes a difference for a moment, if that.
- Recognize What God is doing and will do!
Two weeks ago, we heard the gospel story about Martha and Mary, and that Mary was drawn to listen to Jesus, and it was good, what had meaning.
Martha was moving towards Solomon’s despair. Whereas Mary was content, receiving the grace that Jesus poured out with every word.
Solomon comes to that conclusion in verses 24 and 25.
“24 So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?” Ecclesiastes 2:24-25
He figured it out!
You can’t enjoy anything apart from God.
You cannot find joy or meaning In life, without Christ in your life!
This means that the answer to finding life’s meaning, and joy in that life is revealed
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:14 (NLT2)
In that same way, Jesus promises this at the end of Matthew’s gospel. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NLT2)
Jesus came and lived and died and rose for one purpose, to live with us, both now and for eternity!
As we sit in His presence, he gives our minds something to think, to dwell on that means something—we are loved.
We are cared for…
Jesus does so much for us! From cleansing us of sin and its companions of guilt and shame. That includes our times where we forget to trust Him and enter seasons of despair. Or when our pride crashes our lives spectacularly. God cleans us up.
But that is only the beginning.
God makes every part of our lives holy. That means He sets it all aside for a purpose. He gives it meaning. And that meaning is the key—to walk with Him.
That is when our thoughts have meaning, because God is involved in them with us, sharing the moments, sharing the time.
HE makes it all happen; He gives us all the meaning and the joy that goes with it.
That is what the Christian faith is all about, helping us realize what God has done to become an intimate part of our life.
For that makes our life have all the meaning there is in our lives.
And then that life has meaning and incredible joy, and a peace that passes all understanding, even as Jesus guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:8-11 NLT
Without argument, most things are at their best when they are fulfilling their purpose and design.
For instance, a piano is made with a specific purpose: to produce music. However, I happen to know that someone once stood on a piano in order to put a fastener of some kind in the ceiling. Some artistic women have used piano tops as family picture galleries. I have seen piano tops that were cluttered filing cabinets or wide library shelves.
There is an intelligent design in the creation of a piano. The manufacturer did not announce: “This is a good piano. It has at least nineteen uses!” No, the designer had only one thought in mind: “This piano will have the purpose and potential of sounding forth beautiful music!”…
Do not miss the application of truth here. God was saying to Abraham, “You may have some other idea about the design and purpose for your life, but you are wrong! You were created in My image to worship Me and to glorify Me. If you do not honor this purpose, your life will degenerate into shallow, selfish, humanistic pursuits
556 The Way of the Cross. Here indeed is a strong and fruitful devotion! May you make it a habit to go over those fourteen points of our Lord’s Passion and death each Friday. I assure you that you’ll gain strength for the whole week.
I love Tozer’s illustration, but struggle with the application.
Simply put, we weren’t created to worship God, or to glorify Him. I have seen too many people over the years try and fulfill that purpose, only to burn out, then drop out.
We were created for a purpose, and understanding that purpose can result in the most amazing worship, and result in God’s being glorified, a glory we are promised to share in. (see Col. 1:26-29)
Our purpose, our erason for existence is simpler, and more amazing.
As the piano was made to make music, we are made to be loved by God! We are created to be His friends!
Nothing less that being the ones whom God pours Himself to, whom God has chased throughout History, planning each step to bring us into this wonderful relationship.
We can’t mistake our response for the reason. It doesn’t work backwards. St Josemaria wants us to encounter that passionate love, that is why He wants us to contemplate the cross. Not out of duty, but because we need to know we are loved. And the Way of the Cross shows it to us, step by step, as Christ embraces torment, because it will show that love in a way that is undeniable.
It may be a blunt and graphic illustration, but saying that worship is the purpose and meaning in life is like saying going to the bathroom is the purpose of eating and drinking. Worship isn’t the purpose, it is the consequence. The purpose is being loved – a completely passive experience, and something we have no control over. This even works into my somewhat profane illustration, because a major part of worship is relieving oneself of everything impure… for God’s love will cause the eliminating of waste in our lives.
Therefore His sustains us through the most painful points of life. In the places where everyone else abandons us, He is there, comforting us, drawing us into His peace.
Finally, the glory of God has someone to love. In fact He draws us to Himself and loves us, that is truly glorious.
That is our purpose – to be loved. That is what gives meaning to our lives.
Know that you are loved beyond measure, experience that love that is unexplainable… and find out why we praise His name!
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
21 Jesus looked straight at him with love and said, “You need only one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” 22 When the man heard this, gloom spread over his face, and he went away
498 You are writing to me in the kitchen, by the stove. It is early afternoon. It is cold. By your side, your younger sister— the last one to discover the divine folly of living her Christian vocation to the full—is peeling potatoes. To all appearances—you think—her work is the same as before. And yet, what a difference there is! It is true: before she only peeled potatoes, now, she is sanctifying herself peeling potatoes.
The rich young man couldn’t see his goal of eternal life gained because he couldn’t change how he defined himself. And so he walked away, saddened, gloomy, dejected.
The younger sister, doing such a menial task as pealing potatoes, was able to do so, she didn’t see herself as peeling potatoes, she saw her work as being with God, nseeing the work He was doing in her, making her holy.
So is the difference between the young man and the young lady simply economics, that those who are poor find it easier to respond? Or is there something else at work here?
Could it be the same question that assaults so many people today, the question that betrays our hollow lives?
“does who I am matter?”
The young man had locked his identiry in, he was inable to define himself in relation to Jesus, even though where he was in that moment could have continued eternally. Many of us do that, whether we are rich or not. We lock our identity into our jobs, our relationships, our status in society. And then, evaluating that idenity, we find it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t make any lasting change.
We see this more and more, as people jump
People want an identity that matters, they want to make a difference. They want to have a significant role in life.
And a girl found such peeling potatoes. Not because of the work, not because of the significance of any role she had, but because she found had meant something to God.
That makes all the difference.
You and I matter to God, He values us, and desires that we spend time with Him, time now, and time for eternity.
He loves us enough to make sure this is possible.
So sit back for a moment, and think about the fact that you actually matter to God.
And then, go about your day, letting this define you. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2163-2167). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
18† And Melchizedek, who was king of Salem and also a priest of the Most High God, brought bread and wine to Abram, 19 blessed him, and said, “May the Most High God, who made heaven and earth, bless Abram! 20 May the Most High God, who gave you victory over your enemies, be praised!” And Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the loot he had recovered. Genesis 14:18-20 TEV
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me. 25 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it. 26 Will you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not! There is nothing you can give to regain your life.
Matthew 16:24-26 (TEV)
Gregory the Great: “In comparison with eternal life, earthly life might just as validly be called death as life. For what else is the daily wear-and-tear and deterioration of life but a long drawn-out dying?” … The question about death is, therefore, imperiously raised by life itself. It presents itself inescapably to anyone who is really concerned about life. But if one is not concerned merely exteriorly with caring for and preserving this life but seeks to fill it with meaning and so to give it its true greatness and potential, such a one will not ignore the question about the sense or senselessness of death.
285 Although you don’t amount to much, God has made use of you, and He continues to make use of you to perform fruitful work again and again for his glory. Don’t put on airs. Think what would an instrument of iron or steel say about itself, when a craftsman uses it to set golden jewelry with precious stones?
One of my favorite treatises on philosophy and apologetics is Douglas Adam’s much acclaimed five-book trilogy known as the Hitchhiker’s Guide ot the Galaxy. With the exception of an odd comment in the prologue, one might think it an Agnostic’s version of Pilgrim’s Progress, or Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress.
Journeying through the universe, the characters are searching for meaning, (except the Vogons who simply love to write modern poetry and contemplate the dried snot that escapes them.) It is a hilarious, cynical and sarcastic look at the world, and manmade religions. But it gets to the question – why are we here? What meaning does our life have?
Or a better question, do I have significance in this world? even in my small lonely corner of it?
Can we really stop caring about preserving this life, can we stop trying to delay this long drawn out process of dying, long enough to fill our lives with meaning?
Abraham found significance in life, after having rescued Lot and his family from captivity, as the King/Prince of Peace comes and gives him a meal of bread and wine. It was significant enough for Abraham to give a tenth of his earnings, recognizing this man as having come from God, to provide for and minister to Abraham. (for that is what the tenth is!)
That time with God, eating at His table, with the bread and wine, Body and Blood of Christ is the place where we find significance, it is the place where we are ministered to, because God values us. It starts there, and then, as we dwell in His presence, God uses us, even as the jeweler uses tools of iron or steel ( or aluminum today) to work with the gold and gems.
Our significance comes, not from what God uses us to make, the works he’s planned for us to do, but from the relationship, we have with God. THat He will then use us, our gifts and abilities to do things are indeed wonderful, but it doesn’t matter what is made… it matters the fellowship we have with Him in the process. We are guided by His hand, His eyes not only see what we are doing but imagine the end result we can’t see.
That is an amazing thing…
And as we go about our day, it is what we need to recall, what we need to remember, this presence of God, this walking with Him, because we are loved by Him… we are significant.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 353). San Francisco: Ignatius Press
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1378-1381). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for the Day:
8 Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
10 But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness 12 as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God. The heavens will be on fire and be dissolved because of it, and the elements will melt with the heat. 13 But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell.
14 Therefore, dear friends, while you wait for these things, make every effort to be found at peace with Him without spot or blemish. 15 Also, regard the patience of our Lord as an opportunity for salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. 2 Peter 3:8-14 HSCB
187 Listen to me carefully and echo my words: Christianity is Love; getting to know God is a most positive experience; concern for others—the apostolate—is not an extra luxury, the task of a few. Now that you know this, fill yourself with joy, because your life has acquired a completely different meaning; and act in consequence.
Patience is one of those things we don’t like to talk about. Simply put, it is something that is beyond us. Our culture thrives on impatience. Cell Phones (remember having to wait to get home to call someone?), DVR’s (so we can fast forward past the stuff we don’t like), microwaves and now insta-pots all serve our desire not to wait. We might try to justify it as “not wasting time” but in reality, it is our god of impatience that we continually try to find ways to serve.
Into this comes a passage about God’s patience, and the fact that He is patient with us, His people. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, to be destroyed on the day to come.
Be sure, all will be destroyed, this He has promised.
Judgment will happen, this too is promised. Some to be judged as lacking trust in God’s mercy, and therefore, trusting in themselves they stand condemned. And some, trusting in Christ’ intercession, in His death which erases our sin, and in His resurrection, which brings us to life, they will be judged righteous and welcomed into heaven.
So if God is patient with His church, and yet, will fulfill His word, we find the meaning of life as we imitate His. We, the church, need to be both patient and yet focused on drawing people to Jesus. For the day is coming.
It is hard to see the truth of the second coming without wanting to badger people, to not just draw them into Christianity, but to drive them into it, like a rancher driving his cattle. It takes the patience of a shepherd, who uses his voice and staff guides his flock and leads it into the presence of God. Or a parent guiding a child to learn to walk, and then ensures where they walk is safe.
This work requires love and thereby provides the new meaning in our lives.
To love those caught in sin, those in bondage to grief and shame, who are caught in selfishness and greed. This is the meaning of our lives, to love God, to love those whose lives are broken, and help them find the healing that is in Jesus, even while we heal ourselves.
God is with you.. never forget it, and help others know it. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 997-1000). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the day:
16 Then He told him: “A man was giving a large banquet and invited many. 17 At the time of the banquet, he sent his •slave to tell those who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’
18 “But without exception v they all began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out. I ask you to excuse me.’
20 “And another said, ‘I just got married, w x and therefore I’m unable to come.’
21 “So the slave came back and reported these things to his master. Then in anger, the master of the house told his slave, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame!’
22 “ ‘Master,’ the slave said, ‘what you ordered has been done, and there’s still room.’
23 “Then the master told the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will enjoy my banquet!’ ” Luke 14:16-24 HCSB
The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work.
For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them.
Vivification. That incredible blessing as the Holy Spirit pierces our heart with the law, and then creates life in a person, creating in them the ability to believe in God, and the ability to depend upon Him. We talked about Justification a lot, and Sanctification some, but Vivification? Not so much!
To put it in less technical language, Jesus brings us to life, all of us, through the work of the Holy Spirit. The older versions of the creeds talk of being quickened, and that is what we are talking about. We were dead in sin, and in baptism intimately linked with Jesus death, and then so united, we rise to new life again. This is how the Holy Spirit makes us born again!
Too often though, we don’t encourage each other to live this new life. We talk about being united with Jesus in life, but we too often forget we are united in His mission as well. To use the parable from Luke, we forget the importance of the party and choose instead to waste this new life away.
We come up with so many good excuses though! I can worship God on my own, I don’t have time for long prayers, or studying His word. We don’t have to do these things -because we don’t earn our salvation! We keep making the excuses, we keep telling ourselves we will get back to church later, that we will open that dust-covered Bible, that we will spend more time in prayer, and we will try to love our neighbor, and our enemy.
And with each excuse, we choose to not walk with Jesus, we choose to ignore His wonderful invitation, and we fail to see the Spirit work through us.
This isn’t “do this or you won’t be saved”, it is “this is what salvation is”, walking with God, knowing His love, ministering to others, empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is having a life worth meaning, a life we can look back on and truly say, God was with us!”
Lord, have mercy on us, forgive us of making excuses, and help us live in everlasting life, with you! AMEN!
Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2 Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3 Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)
83 Faced by all those men without faith, without hope; by minds desperately near the borders of anguish, seeking for a meaning in their life, you found your purpose: Him! This discovery will permanently inject a new happiness into your existence, it will transform you, and present you with an immense daily hoard of beautiful things of which you were unaware, and which show you the joyful expanse of that broad path that leads you to God.
There are times where the actions of people affect us. Times where evil or unjust actions cause us to struggle, to even despair and sink into depression. Some of us are more susceptible to this than others, as we do not understand how in the world they justify their actions.
This kind of trauma can paralyze us, make us ask unanswerable questions, we can even begin to doubt God, for how can he allow this level of brokenness, this sin to dominate and evil to flourish. As we ask these questions, out hearts and souls receive hit after hit, even as we try to determine if this is the time to fight, or flee.
I hate to say it is “natural” to enter such struggles but after 50 years, I find that I don’t have the strength to avoid such, nor the power to overcome the tendency to be so affected. Simply put, you can’t care for people, you can’t try to love them without opening yourself up to such burdens, to such struggles.
So how do you cope?
St. Josemaria and St. Paul agree. The answer is to look to Jesus, to find our purpose is Him. They agree that our relationship with Jesus is so precious that we can look to Him and discover the greatest joy. This is the same joy that Jesus saw as he walked to, and was nailed to the cross.
Looking to Him, finding our life our breath and very being located in Him, allows us to see that our trust in Him is true. He will sustain us from the beginning to the end, it will reveal to us the incredible vastness of the love of God, and we will experience it more as we see ourselves as part of His story.
That’s what I need to know, that is why we need to go to the cross when we are feeling this way. Our hearts and souls and minds need to understand what happened when God baptized us when God drew us to Jesus and united us to His death and resurrection, When God declared us righteous, cleansing us of sin, and declared we are His children. We need to allow His presence to dominate our awareness, to let, for then His peace settles over us. Assured He is our fortress, we can then begin to respond in love, and in prayer for those who actions or words drew us deep into despair.
This is what we need, to focus in on Jesus, and be forewarned, it isn’t easy. Satan will buffet us all the way. This is where the communion of saints is so precious, for their testimonies in scripture and in the millennia since demonstrates God’s faithfulness. This is where the sacraments and the word of God come into play, ministering to our hearts, souls, and minds, bringing the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Here is our hope and joy are restored, renewed, here in this sanctuary we call the presence of God, for know this my friends, “the Lord is with you!”
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 571-576). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.