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!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
20 So I came to regret that I had worked so hard. 21 You work for something with all your wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then you have to leave it all to someone who hasn’t had to work for it. It is useless, and it isn’t right! 22 You work and worry your way through life, and what do you have to show for it? 23† As long as you live, everything you do brings nothing but worry and heartache. Even at night your mind can’t rest. It is all useless. Eccl. 2:20-23 GNT
5 I would like for all of you to speak in strange tongues; but I would rather that you had the gift of proclaiming God’s message. For the person who proclaims God’s message is of greater value than the one who speaks in strange tongues—unless there is someone present who can explain what is said, so that the whole church may be helped. 1 Cor. 14:5-6 GNT
I once thought that when I left management behind to become a pastor, I would leave behind the feeling of futility that often plagued me.
You know, the feeling of having to juggle three balls at once, and then someone throws in a torch, and another person toss in two pieces of your wife’s china, and then another person tosses in three sticks of TNT?
I mean you know you can do a little, but you keep on thinking the torch is going to hit one of the pieces of TNT and then…
I don’t care if you pastor a church of 150 or 1000, or administer a computer system, or a washing dishes on graveyard shift at a Denny’s. There are times where you feel like you are spinning your wheels, and you being to regret that you work so hard, and it all seems useless. And if you are about to go on vacation, and are struggling to get it all ready, and your daily Bible reading gets to Ecclesiastes, you are probably feeling this way!
God does have a sense of humor!
And the feelings Solomon writes about are very real. Most of us have to deal with them on a regular basis. Anxiety, heartache, feelings of unfulfillment, uselessness and even the idea that while you don’t gain from your dedicated work, someone else will – all these feelings can crush us. And they often do.
Yet, in the midst of that stands our “proclamation”. And in all of those places, in 1981 at Denny’s in New Hampshire, (and again in 85-86), at Pepperdine, and as a pastor, I’ve seen God at work in the lives of people. It’s not about certain vocations proclaiming Christ, or even people of a certain age. It is about being in the moment, and recognizing the grace of God, and sharing it, “proclaiming” it, to those who need to see it as well.
I heard a long time ago, that while we work, we are ultimately there because God sent us there. The pastor said that while we are employed by Company X (I think it was Ford) who we are representing is God. Therefore we work in a way that would bring glory to God) So while we are devoted to our job, (washing dishes, analyzing financial and security reports or preparing a sermon or study) and work hard, the ultimate reason we are there is to bring God glory, and as appropriate, proclaim how great His love and mercy are.
It is those moments we cherish, the moments that make a difference. For example, as you help the guy at the counter sober up, and go home to talk and pray with his wife, because there is now hope that God can bring healing to his broken marriage. Another example could be the young college student, who thought their world was over because their boyfriend dumped them, or they didn’t get a good grade in that class. Because God had someone there, they knew that God wouldn’t forsake them. The stories live on, and even to this day, I don’t remember what I said or did, I remember the look in their eyes, and the release of all the tension built up in their bodies. It is how they left, knowing that they were there as well, in the presence of God
So look for those moments, look for the people God has sent your way this day. Find ways to share with them, as St Peter advised, the Reason your have hope in the midst of a broken world. Pray for them, and as you have the opportunity, pray with them.
This is what matters, this is what makes a difference, and this is what is not vain. You are sent were you are, by God, in order to be a blessing to others. To help them, slowly at time, to discover the love of God. As they do, the joy you will know, is beyond words.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke. 3 What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? 4 One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth. Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 (MSG)
Then suddenly, filled with a holy love, and a sober shame, in anger with himself cast his eyes upon his friend, saying, “Tell me, I pray thee, what would we attain by all these labours of ours? what aim we at? what serve we for? Can our hopes in court rise higher than to be the Emperor’s favourites? and in this, what is there not brittle, and full of perils? and by how many perils arrive we at a greater peril? and when arrive we thither? But a friend of God, if I wish it, I become now at once.” (1)
As I sit in my office this morning, looking at perhaps a busier week than last, I am overwhelmed with thought’s like Solomon’s this morning.
Older translations use the word vanity; all is vain. Others use futile, or emptiness.Most of us on Monday can easily sympathize, why are we here? Is it just to earn a small paycheck, to buy food, pay for a roof over our heads, and find our “escape” whether it be television, or a vacation, or something less positive, like drugs, alcohol, gambling or other addictions.
On Mondays, we tend to be more aware of this futility. Even those of us who work in “noble” jobs, which strive to help. The work is unending, the pain we observe just seems to move from one family to another.
Augustine’s recounting of a friend shows a similar revelation, as they realize their futility. Even if they rise to the highest of heights, there they find the probability that such a place is fleeting. That the favor of those they would count on could shift like the wind, and they could be on the way out, terminated by the boss. In their day, termination was more than going on the unemployment line. It was an actual termination, with prejudice.
So why do we do what we do? What is the end reward, besides simple survival? Occasional moments of pleasure which cost us more in the end?
Augustine’s friend found an answer, simpler than he ever expected, and something I need to remember as I struggle on Mondays.
Being a friend of God.
TO know that we are loved, that we are the children of a promise.
15 I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17 This, then, is what I command you: love one another. John 15:15-17 (TEV)
To walk with God, to talk with Jesus, not as some great Lord, but as with a friend. To hear His encouraging voice, to know that He walks with us, His people. That He draws us together to be His family. What a blessing to be reminded by a hundred voices yesterday that God is with me, to hear them bless me, reminding me of the peace that is mine. To see God’s love revealed, through those who know the love of God!
I am, today, looking at a hard week, as I will deal with family after family struggling with death. It would seem vain, meaningless, even painful, where I not living in the shadow of Easter, the place where God proves His love for me, and for all those He yearns to call his friends. Because of that, I know why I work so hard, why I endure.
It is to give others the hope that all is not futile, that all is not vain, that it all will not just go up in smoke. It isn’t just a pastor’s job to do this, but the life of those who Jesus called friends, who someday He will welcome home.
As St. Peter said,
“simply concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you. 1 Peter 3 (Phillips NT)
And may you realize you dwell in God’s peace – a peace that goes beyond all logic, yet a peace where your hearts and minds are kept safe, guarded by Christ. AMEN
(1) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine
. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Discussion/Devotion Thought of the Day:
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” 3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 (NLT)
Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility. (1)
425 To realize that you love me so much, my God, and yet I haven’t lost my mind!
I am not a natural born philosopher. Matter of fact, my “favorite” quote on Philosophy sums it up – I may be wise simply because I know I don’t know it all. ( Paraphrased of course)
I once did, well, at least I thought I did know it all. I knew a lot back then. No, let me rephrase that, I picked up an retained data, and found uses for it faster than some others. But knowing data is not the same things as having complete knowledge, much less being wise.
Solomon had this problem as well, at least in the early chapters. For his wisdom and knowledge, recognized by all, still led him into discontent, a sense of failure, a sense of meaninglessness.
In the same place are all philosophers who try and hold the position of judge, as Benedict XVI points out clearly. Philosophers must be observers of reality, to live in awe of it. To ponder its depth, not rule over it. Solomon would eventually get there, (tomorrow in my readings perhaps?) to the point where he will define himself by his relationship with God. But even that is a position of suppliance, of faith, of dependence.
The philosopher who approaches reality without the reverence and humility that Benedict recommends ends up in Solomon’s position, a place where we indeed lose our mind, our psyche, and perhaps, our soul.
I am not saying we are to give up on philosophy, on deep thought, on exploring, with great awe, the existence and meaning of life. To search out what is real, what is true. We need to do this, and St. Josemaria gives us the place to start, in realizing the love of God, for us. That is where philosophy and theology should, no must start. In the depth of a relationship with the God who not only defines reality, but creates it. As St. Paul encourages,
18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (pp. 166–167). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Location 1053). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition
Discussion/Devotion Quote of the Day…
4:13 Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.
Philippians 4:13 (MSG)
Some people do only what lies within the capacity of poor human creatures to accomplish, and consequently waste their time. What Peter experienced is repeated once more, word for word: Praeceptor, per totam noctem laborantes nihil cepimus.—Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing. If they work on their own, without being united with the Church, not reckoning with the Church, what possible effectiveness could their apostolate have? None at all! They need to be convinced that on their own they can achieve nothing. You should help them to go on listening to the rest of that Gospel story: in verbo autem tuo laxabo rete—at your word I will let down the net. It is then that the catch will be plentiful and effective. How beautiful it is to mend our ways when we find we have, for whatever reason, done apostolate (our being light in theon our own account! (1)
We live in a day and in a place where people regularly live beyond our means. We have loans for our homes, for our transportation, what we once used for emergencies, our credit cards, are now maxed out – and we find ourselves facing more and more stress and anxiety, because we try to do what we want without the resources necessary to do so.
Likewise, we often try to do the same thing spiritually, that we do economically. (It should be noted as the church, and as individuals, there is no difference) Except of course we start in absolute bankruptcy. As long as we continue to try to survive on our own, we cannot. Yet we try. We are like the story reference in the quote above. We find our nets empty, we find ourselves spinning our wheels. Day in and day out we wonder, will what I do today make any difference. Will today improve, will it get better.
There are days where I contemplate my brokenness, the brokenness of the Church, and I wonder – can it ever change? Can we live up to our “potential”, to our calling?
Are we so tired, so burdened, so in prison to our anxiety that we forget our master is in the boat? We hear him teach, we watch Him working in the lives of others, but do we bother Him to help us with our burdens? Do we realize He has already told us how to let down the nets?
I do not believe the “nets” are what most evangelicals think it is. It is not the right missional program, it is not finding the correct model for small groups, or niche marketing our congregation. Any more that it is in finding the right “self-help” book, or the right “coach”, or the right church. As long as we look at it from what we can do, we are binding ourselves to our own self-centered tendencies, and we are relying on our own weaknesses. We forget who is travelling in our boat, and doing that is making the choice to continue to be broken, bankrupt, oppressed.
I would suggest that the net is that which comes from the depth of being in God’s presence, in listening to Him as the people of God. It is realizing that our potential is not ours – the potential of Church, where we can go – was already designed and that which is necessary invested by the Father, by giving us Jesus, by sending us the Holy Spirit. The more we listen to Him, the more we fellowship with Him, the more we live with Him,
Remember, Jesus knew the night was rough, He knew they had caught nothing, He knew their labor was in vain. Similarly, He knows our lives are very rough, He knows the struggles we have, and the struggles we have with our lives seeming meaningless and vain. He also knows the nets that you need to let down – working with Him
And the meaning and abundance of life – that is promised and assured… and is more than we can ever believe possible.. in ways we cannot ever expect. Far beyond and far different than what you think is your potential. For it isn’t yours, but His…