Tag Archives: Ecclesiastes

Seasonal labour..

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

(Ps 123.1&2)

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

(Ps 126.4-6)

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

(Ps 127.1)

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:..a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to mourn and a time to dance..a time to search and a time to give up..a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate…

(Eccl 3.1-8)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matt 28.18-20)

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

(1 Cor 3.7-9)

I was blessed this week to spend time with a wise woman – one who has walked long with God and proved his faithfulness – who encouraged and helped me as I wrestled with the heaviness of these days. God grant that I may be such a friend in turn to others in their need, as he uses us to bless one another! Two things in our conversation were particularly helpful and also connected with recent readings in the Psalms, and I share them with you now.

Firstly, the idea of seasons. As a gardener, I come close to the rhythm which God has placed at the very heart of our planet, and the mysteries of soil, water and life. I know that a seed must die if a plant is to live and bear fruit; I know that ground must lie fallow in between crops; I know that rain, cold and time must be allowed to do their work on soil which has been cleared and fertilised. There are activities which are proper to each season, and it is pointless and even destructive to engage in the wrong labour for that time – where would be the use in digging up daffodil bulbs to see if they are going to flower only 3 weeks after planting them? Those days call for expectant and patient waiting, not faithless digging!

As one who believes in a God who declares himself both Almighty and Sovereign, so that EVERYTHING that happens comes within the sphere of both his knowledge and great plan and purpose, I choose to trust him for this season in our world’s existence. I cannot know how long it will last, nor what will follow – perhaps there will be a time of glorious harvest as many find faith and hope in Jesus, what joy that would be! But this whole time – the political, economic, ecological, moral and social turmoil across the globe – is under his dominion, is part of his plan. I will only find peace in this season as I choose to accept that sovereignty, trust that He will prove his goodness and justice one day, and look for the ways He is already at work in it.

And this brings me to the second idea we spoke of – the choice to focus on what CAN be done in this season, rather than on what CANNOT be done! Yes, there are many restrictions on us, and our lives are not what we expected at this time. But that doesn’t mean that we are helpless and aimless, that God has nothing for us to do! I cannot say what your particular tasks in this season will look like – each of us has a unique place and a particular calling as God’s fellow workers – but they will be there.

Listen – to God’s word, ponder and be open to correction and surprises..to the stories of God’s people around the globe, let the stories of your brothers and sisters inspire and encourage and motivate you.

Pray – talk to Him about everything and everyone, asking for direction to be active and in tune with His plans.

Live – act on what you read and hear – love those around you, reach out to encourage and bless; rejoice in the life you have been given, instead of resenting what is withheld.

We look to God, as to our master, to see where He would have us act; remembering that it is He who builds, not us, He who gives life and increases the kingdom, not us. We may weep as we sow, but God can still grant fruit and we may hope for joy in harvesting .

It’s not my job….

A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord

(Pr 17.24; 20.24)

Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?..When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labour that is done on earth..then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

(Eccl 8.7,16&17)

The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear….Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?

(Isa 2.17&22)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear..Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?….do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink, do not worry about it…your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well..

(Lk 12.22,25,29-31)

We are called to live in exceptional days, placed here for this time and purpose by God who holds all time and space in his hands and is at work to bring all things to their completion in Christ. The bible narrative encourages believers to continually consider what God has done, and to remember that all that happens is part of his great redemptive plan – each detail of our lives has a place, and in his hand nothing is wasted.

To me, the global experience of pandemic illness has been such a graphic demonstration of the truth which lies behind that instruction of Christ to his disciples – all our worrying achieves nothing, and our job is to trust God and instead look to our role in his work here and now. In the face of this ‘plague’, where governments, armies, wealth and privilege are powerless to  defeat an invisible enemy, we see most clearly that humanity is not in control, cannot be trusted for ultimate security, and must fail. We see our limitations written in the statistics of deaths, in the as yet unseen economic costs, the long term social costs, of this extraordinary time.

A discerning person looks to wisdom – which in the bible is described as the fear or proper respect of the Lord – rather than scanning all the range of human achievement in search of meaning and solutions. When we rightly fear God, recognising that we are mortal, limited and flawed while he is holy, almighty, just and good, then we regain some perspective on all that happens in the world. We STOP thinking that it is our job to fix things, or even to understand why they are happening. We ARE NOT GOD – and what a relief that is! When there is so much pain and suffering to be borne, who could be sufficient for this? Only the Lord Almighty, whose thoughts are emphatically not our thoughts, but whose love can be utterly depended upon.

So in these days, I rejoice that it is not my God-appointed task to find the reason for this pandemic – or any other source of suffering. I give thanks that I can trust God through all my unanswered questions, and instead ask what my job is. While mankind is not meant to know the answers to “Why?”, we are incredibly gifted in finding out “How?”, and so I give thanks and do what I can to support the efforts to address the consequences of the virus – in prayer, in financial and practical support, and by obeying the instructions of our own government.

I pray that God will be at work to fulfill his own mysterious purposes, and that along the way, we will see God’s love in action as people care for one another; as churches reach out in new ways to show Christ; as scientists race to find vaccines and medical professionals put their lives on the line to save others. God will do all that he plans through this great trial…will I do what he asks me to do?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6.8)

In caring, praying, speaking and acting, may I do what the Lord requires of me in these days, and may I be given grace to let God be God, to leave the unanswered questions at the foot of the cross, where the blood of Christ silences them.

Stumbling across glory…

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary…worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth…Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord for he comes…

(Ps 96.4-6,9, 11&12)

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end…That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure for ever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him..Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

(Ecc 3.10-14; 5.2)

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream…

(Jer 17.7&8)

Beautiful in its time…which means that beauty will come to an end, will pass away, and that ache in our hearts which is briefly assuaged by it must return. The writer of Ecclesiastes explains just why the fleeting quality of beauty is so painful for us to bear – because God has set eternity in our hearts, that reflection of his nature which is designed for an everlasting expression and experience of love.

We seek to prolong our experience of beauty – by trying to capture it in a photograph; finding words to convey it others; creating methods of remembering and reproducing it in the case of music – and even by trying to prolong our own lives in order to increase the amount of beauty we may experience! But ultimately, none of these can satisfy the eternal appetite which is placed within us by God, an appetite which can only be appeased when finally we find in the new creation the full expression of all those things of which beauty in this world is only a shadow.

The author, academic and christian apologist, CS Lewis gave his biography the title “Surprised by Joy”, because it was through these ecstatic, and fleeting experiences of beauty (which he calls ‘Joy’), that he first hungered after an other-world, a place from which this joy came and to which he belonged. It was in the gospel of Christ that he finally found the source of joy, and his adoption into the kingdom where the great Author of joy, the source of beauty and glory reigns. And in many writings, especially his ‘Narnia’ series, he reflects on the purpose of these moments when the beauty of this world grabs us and take our breath away.

God’s creation must reflect his power and character, his essential beauty is revealed in so many ways in his handiwork. Is it not natural that those whose hearts are formed to mirror this divine nature should thrill in response to such glimpses of glory? We are not the Creator, but the creatures, and our own attempts to generate true beauty can never satisfy in the same way as the real thing. So we respond in celebration to the glories around us, and we gladly acknowledge our inability to match God in creation. We remember that God is in heaven, and we on the earth, so that our words – and our ambitions – should be few!

When I stumble into the presence of glory, I worship with a full heart. When my heart aches in contemplating the beauty of this broken world, I rejoice because one day, Lord make it soon, I shall be at home in the unimagineable beauty of a perfect, re-created world, and I shall be sharing my joy with the Author and Creator himself, face-to-face. When I have to pass on, when the beauty is gone, I do not grieve as those who have no hope, but allow the experience to feed my home-sickness for heaven, and to nourish my soul with fresh hope and expectation.

My God knows my need; and I choose to trust him for the supplies I need along this journey – especially for continual discoveries of glory along the way, as his power, splendour and majesty are revealed in his creation, and my appetite for my glory-home grows stronger. Let us worship along the way, and press on towards the goal!

In Everything….Give thanks!

Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.

(Ps 1.1-3)

“The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long.

(Ps 35.27&28)

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.

(Ecc 7.14)

A wife of noble character who can find? she is worth far more than rubies…she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

(Prov 31.1, 25&26)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

(Phil 4.12&13)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment…to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share..

(1Tim 6.17&18)

My circumstances may change, but the God in whom I trust remains the same, and his purposes are eternal. He delights in the well-being of his servants, and only he truly knows what that consists in – I cannot know, but  may choose to trust his wisdom and knowledge of all things. Other people may be trusted to do their best for me, but only God can be trusted to do what really IS best for me, every moment of every day for the rest of my life. Since this is so, I can also choose to give thanks in all circumstances, and to be content.

Perhaps when our lives are full of material blessings, we are sorely tempted to self-reliance, conceit and pride; to selfishness and indolence. In these circumstances, the danger is that our contentment develops into arrogance and we become distant from God. Here the wisdom of scripture teaches us to remember that all we have is a gift from God, certainly for our enjoyment, but also for use in his kingdom and the blessing of his children. We hold good things as stewards bear responsibility for another’s possessions, and we are accountable to the Lord of all for our use of his gifts.

It is imperative that we do not base our faith in God on the gifts we receive from him – or where should we be when troubles come and our gifts are gone? Our true security – the strength and dignity of the wise woman of Proverbs; the joy and peace of the Psalmist – come from the right-doing character of the unchanging God in whom they (and we) trust, revealed in his word and ultimately in Jesus Christ, the living Word.

When God chooses to bless me with health, how do I use it? When God chooses to bless me with wealth, how do I spend it? When God chooses that my loved ones should also enjoy these blessings, how do I pray for them?

I do not need to feel guilty when I am in pleasant pastures, and there are no storms on the horizon. But I must cultivate a spirit of humble gratitude, and open-hearted generosity, so that all the gifts entrusted to me are being used for God’s glory. I believe that for a mature follower of Jesus, the true enjoyment of God’s generous blessings is dependent upon this sacrificial attitude, this willingness to surrender all to God’s service. How is it possible to be glad in one’s own good things when others in the family of Christ are in need? Or to relish my own rich inheritance of faith when there are so many around me who know nothing of salvation and the free gift of forgiveness? I may not be in a position to make a big difference, but I can be willing to do my part!

So as well as thanking God for his many material and physical blessings, I thank him for a tender conscience, and the gift of wisdom to see that unless all these things are held by me on behalf of the body of Christ and for the mission of God, then they will be spoiled for me.

And I also choose to thank him for the overwhelming gifts of love which I receive every day – the personal touches from the Lover of my Soul, which are given to gladden my heart and strengthen my faith. They prompt me to praise, and encourage me in striving to live for Christ and with Christ.

In everything dear friends, let us rejoice in the Lord who does all things well!

There is a time…

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend,

A time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

(Ecc 3.1-11)

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands…Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.

(Ps 31.14-16)

Jesus…prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you…

(Jn 17.1)

…You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

(Rom 5.6)

When my spirit is filled with an ache of longing, and wearied with the unruly, ugly and frightening deeds of humankind, dear Lord, let me remember that you have set eternity in my heart, and that is why I am homesick.

When it seems that the pride of man, and the prince of this world have frustrated all potential for good, for redemption, for hope, dear Lord, let me remember that you are the eternal God, and they are nothing in your sight.

When the pattern of my own life is not what I had hoped, or expected; when it holds gashes and stains, rough and dark streaks, when the threads are weak and like to break, dear Lord, let me remember that all my times are in your hands and none of this is wasted.

When my own persisting sinfulness, the temptations within and assaults from without would bring me to despair, dear Lord, let me remember that you have died for me, declaring forgiveness and cleansing, and that nothing can prevent you from bringing me triumphantly home at last.

 

We are creatures burdened with a divided loyalty – to our own time and place within an earthly span of years; but also to the place which God is preparing for us at his side in the new earth, where time has no meaning, and in a glory which our limited minds cannot begin to comprehend.

To this time, belong the peculiar mixture of gladness and mourning; building and tearing down; living and dying. In this sphere, we are given the privilege and opportunity of receiving all things from God as opportunities to glorify him, even as Christ prayed on the eve of his greatest ordeal.

The times of plenty, of peace, of fulfillment – these are an opportunity to push past the gift and to glory in the Giver. I need not be ashamed of the blessings I receive, but rather hold them thankfully, humbly, and seek to share them. Our suffering too, in its own small way, is a platform on which – by his grace – God may be exalted. I do not write this lightly, for I know that God’s children have experienced incredible trials, and yet the testimony of the saints remains – God is good, and worthy of our trust. All that happens to us can be surrendered to this supreme purpose, and our obedience, submission and sacrificial praise are an acceptable, fragrant offering to God. Will I not, in my turn, seek to honour my beloved Lord when he chooses that I should suffer?

May I choose not to question what my God may send me in the days ahead, but accept all things as from him – rejoicing in the hope which Christ has birthed in me; fortified by the presence of the Spirit; and resting in the tender love of the Father who may be trusted to do all things well.

My heart is full of thankfulness..

Then I realised that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart..

(Ecc 5.18-20)

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

(1Tim 4.5&5)

As someone who lives in a relatively very rich country (in world terms), and who has not been required to find paid employment in order to keep a roof over her head and food on her table, I am well aware that I occupy a very privileged position – and as a follower of Jesus, it is not a very comfortable position! What am I to do with all I have? What is it for? I can’t send away everything I possess, it is not solely mine to give, and much of my riches consist of things which cannot be physically shared – good health, loving friends, the beauty of the natural world, the gift of music, and above all my salvation and heritage as a child of God.

For this reason, I was delighted in the course of a recent time of preparation for a bible study, to come across this passage in Ecclesiastes, a challenging but ruthlessly truthful portrayal of the futility of human existence apart from God. It seems to sit very comfortably alongside Paul’s advice to Timothy, the young pastor, exhorting him to accept and enjoy God’s  generous provision – and to teach his congregation also to do so.

God has indeed made and given us lavishly of good things, how ungracious and foolish it would be if we were to reject them! Imagine presenting someone with a carefully chosen gift, reflecting your love for and relationship with them, only to see them shrink from accepting it, because they had already received a gift from someone else, or because they felt they did not deserve it..

None of what we have is earned, or deserved. All is a gift from our good and gracious God, given that we might enjoy it, and return thanks to him as the source, all the while recognising that our ultimate satisfaction is in the Giver, not the Gift. When I am receiving God’s gifts with a thankful heart, using them to return glory to him and to bless others in any way which I can find, then I find I can accept and be content with the life God has called me to. A disposition of thankfulness is a great aid to a cheerful and contented heart, and in keeping a godly perspective on life and “stuff”! Perhaps that is what is referred to at the end of the quote from Ecclesiastes, where the gladness of a man’s heart in what God is giving him now, enables him to live very much in the present, not dwelling regretfully on the past, or anxiously on the future.

The faithfulness of God in providing good things for us to receive thankfully, and enjoy generously, gives us confidence that at every stage of life, we can trust his care. He is our Father, who loves and knows how to give us good things – even though we may not at the time see in what way they are good for us!

Such contentment is indeed a gift from God, and one which we might usefully seek, by learning to rejoice in what we have and receive daily, so that there is a deep wellspring of joy – of delight in the God who gives so lovingly and personally to each of his children. When to this daily provision we add the unspeakably precious gift of forgiveness, redemption and hope which we receive through Jesus Christ, we have a continually refreshing source of thanksgiving. Let us say with the Psalmist:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures for ever….

to the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures for ever;

and freed us from our enemies, His love endures for ever,

and who gives food to every creature. His love endures for ever..

(Psalm 136. 1-3,24-26)

Seriously funny!

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:….A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance 

(Ecclesiastes 3 v 1 & 4)

Some months ago, I was in a situation which was proving very painful to bear. I could not leave it, but had to remain committed to the job I was doing, caring for and supporting my team, and trusting God for strength and patience to deal with my inner turmoil.

One evening, I had the chance to go for a walk in the countryside and I was baring my soul to my faithful and long-suffering Father God, crying and letting him see the pain, knowing that He understood and accepted me. This kind of prayer-walking is very therapeutic for me – and it helped also being out in a beautiful place. Then I rounded a bend in the road to find about 20 young pheasants coming towards me. They were big enough to be out on their own, but what a ridiculous sight they presented! Their necks were stretched in anxiety as they searched for a way off the road, darting hither and thither, looking for gaps in the fence, and clearly clueless about where to go.

I burst out laughing, with the tears still wet on my face, and admitted to God that he had found the perfect way to help me break the melancholy and self-pitying mood I had fallen into! I sat under a convenient tree and continued to watch the birds, enjoying the absurdity of their behaviour, and giving thanks for God’s perfect timing.

I am so thankful that God has chosen to give us the gift of laughter, the ability to appreciate the absurd, to make jokes and play with words. We know from experience that humour can be used to diffuse tension, to break down barriers and create a sense of community. And it is my experience that I feel the physical benefits of a good laugh – once my sides have stopped aching! My own sense of humour is perhaps a little unusual – hence the photograph of the savoy cabbage leaves which heads up this post… I happen to find the extraordinary shaping and texture of these leaves very funny, and just looking at the picture always makes me smile.

There can be a danger that I take the presence of darkness, pain and suffering in the world to imply that there is no space for feeling light-hearted, or appreciating the funny as well as beautiful things around me. But the writer in Ecclesiastes carefully balances weeping with laughter, and mourning with dancing. As does the apostle Paul when he writes to the church in Rome, reminding them to share in the gladness of those who rejoice, as well as to share in the sadness of those who mourn (Romans 12 v 15). The bible teaches that the victory over all the darkness is won, and that I can and must live in the light of that truth. My laughter over the young pheasants did not change my situation, nor did it diminish the real pain I had experienced, but it helped me to stop focussing on the troubles and to remember the love which is always with me.

I think that we should be deeply grateful for this gift, and celebrate the goodness of our amazing God in creating us to laugh! I am going to finish today with a list, which you can use to start off your own list of things that you smile just to think about.. And I pray that in your laughing, you will be eased, and enriched as you share the joke with the God who thought of it in the first place.

Penguins; lambs springing in the fields at dusk; baby animals; giraffe necks; elephant ears; the duck-billed platypus; babies sneezing; a large gathering of people all trying to do an action song at full speed; giant pandas; the fact that men’s ears continue to get bigger as they grow older; tubas and trombones; being able to pull faces; the idiotic smiles of dogs; the disdainful smirk of cats; whiskers; the way our ears stick out; hamsters; bagpipes; animals that bounce (rabbits, kangaroos); dimples…..   over to you!