The title sounds catchy and I’m sure you have heard it or have said it yourself. Did you know it comes straight from the Bible – from the small, power-packed book of Ecclesiastes? Just this week my “reading the Bible in a year plan” had me read this short book. I was blown away at its relevance to our world today. The notes in my study Bible brought even more clarity to the message Solomon delivered. Most everyone acknowledges that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. Even so, he was not perfect. But doesn’t it make sense to read and learn from his wisdom and experience?
Here are just a few highlights that caught my attention:
All efforts to find happiness and contentment apart from God are dead ends. True in Solomon’s time and true today. We may find short-term happiness but not lasting peace and security apart from God. On the flip side, acknowledging God as God provides hope and security even when circumstances of life are challenging.
God is the giver of wisdom; trying to out-smart Him ends in disappointment. Our world is filled with people of great intelligence. The “very smart” often consider themselves too smart to believe in God. But reality is that God is the giver of life and intelligence. Solomon confirms that all theories have “holes” without God. Human achievement alone is never enough.
Self-indulgence is tempting but not satisfying. There is nothing wrong with pleasure, but seeking pleasure solely for self leads to emptiness. “I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine… I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks,…I had also great possessions…I also gathered for myself silver and gold….” Sound like anyone you know? Trying to draw satisfaction purely from pleasure will never work. Becoming “great” according to our culture’s definition often leads to destruction. Why do so many “successful” and “high profile” people in America commit suicide, have drug and alcohol problems, fail at family life? And why are they portrayed as role models? Something is wrong in our culture. Solomon’s message of truth is on target. We would be wise to read and heed!
Something is wrong in our culture!
Searching for fulfillment and reward totally in work is also a losing proposition. “I hated all my toil…seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?” We live among workaholics, but at the end of life “you can’t take it with you.” There is much more to life than work and Solomon strongly recommends acknowledging God and enjoying life according to his directives while trusting in his sovereignty.
“To every thing, turn, turn, turn; there is a season, turn, turn, turn. And a time to every purpose unto heaven.” Obviously the Beatles did not write all their songs on their own! These lyrics came straight from Eccl. 3. God designed us to set goals and work hard, but to acknowledge that he is the ultimate keeper of the world’s timetable.“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” He is God and we are not. Apart from God our efforts will always be inadequate. We are much better off when we recognize and honor him with our lives. So Solomon said to his generation, and it is a message our generation desperately needs also.
Apart from God our efforts will always be inadequate
Looking out for Number One will not bring desired results. Among the self-sufficient, self-seeking ones in our world, many render death more appealing than the oppression of life. Others fall into envying everyone around them. That was true in Solomon’s time and it is true today. “…his eyes are never satisfied with riches.” Can’t we learn from those who have gone before and see the wisdom of turning our lives completely over to God?
Going it alone is not a good plan.“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.” We all need friends and companions; we need to be able to give and to receive advice.
“Let not your mouth lead you into sin.” Enough said.
“God is the one you must fear.” Solomon urges people to remember who God is and to honor and respect him with their lives. We need a good dose of that today!
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” There he goes again with the clear message that money does not buy happiness. Yet, here in America, what is the typical response of young people when asked about goals? “To be happy and make lots of money.” How is that working out for us?
Isn’t human nature amazing? Seems we don’t change much and there is truly nothing new under the sun! We tend to make the same mistakes generation after generation. God’s word is even more amazing! His plan and instructions are clear. Will you choose to follow the culture or follow God?
Currently there are several “situations” surrounding me that could easily be discouraging. Among these are a few prayers that have been prayed for a long time and yet no progress is evident. Additionally, something has happened at my house that is disappointing and concerning. The details aren’t important, but maybe you can understand and relate. Do you have any “situations” that are nagging at you and pulling you down? In conversation yesterday with someone who is dear to me, we considered, “when do you give up?” Maybe we misunderstood a promise or did something wrong. Maybe our expectations were just too high. Maybe we deserve the disappointment or unanswered prayer. In a matter of minutes we were tempted to go down the path of a good old pity party in our desire to give up.
But God, in that very moment, brought to my mind the idea of surrender. What is the difference in giving up and surrendering? Giving up is quitting and is all about me – I can’t do it, I’m not worth it, I deserve the bad stuff, etc. Giving up means no hope; it is despair.
On the other hand, surrender is giving the situation to God. When we surrender, we choose to trust God rather than ourselves. Surrendering means we place our “situations” into the hands of almighty God and believe him to work things out, regardless of whether we understand his ways. He is God and we are not!
There is a reason why the Bible has been the bestseller for centuries. It is true and it is God’s word to humanity. I believe God and have found him to be faithful, trustworthy, just, loving and caring. His word is the bread of life. To surrender all to him is an act of the will and brings relief, comfort, strength, and joy – even in the midst of not understanding some situations.
Let me remind you of a few stories from the Bible and a few verses that encourage me not to give up but to surrender all my worries, fears, longings and situations to God:
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and suffered many injustices. BUT GOD, after many years (l-o-n-g wait) used him to save his family and his people. He surrendered his situation to God, did not give up, and later said to his brothers, “you meant evil against me BUT GOD meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.”
Paul went from trying to destroy Jesus to serving Him in total surrender. He faced rejection, prison, beatings and asked the Lord for relief. The Lord answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Don’t give up! God’s power is available but we must recognize our weaknesses in order to receive it. His grace is realized through suffering and waiting. Thus, in surrendering to God and trusting Him we ultimately see Him work, even through long waits and painful situations we do not understand. In the end, trusting is much more valuable than understanding.
God is always working things ultimately for our good. Believe him, trust him, and don’t give up! “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” All things are not good, but God can and will work all things for our good if we surrender our will to him and trust him. Easy to say but hard to do.
Remember God’s promise, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We don’t want to miss this!
Our plans and God’s plans are not always the same. That is just the way it is. But, as for me, I’ll take God’s plans over mine any day. I mess things up too often, even when I have good intentions. God, on the other hand, is perfect and his ways are best, even when I do not understand.
So, I will keep praying, trusting God’s plan as well as his timetable. I will surrender to him not only my hopes and plans, but also the uncomfortable “situations” that I do not understand and long to be resolved. A good thing about surrendering is that the issue is now “off my plate” and into the hands of one far more capable.
A hymn we sang often when I was growing up takes on new meaning today:
All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give
I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live.
Will things always work out the way we want? Probably not. What are you going to do when things seem unmovable or just not right? Give up or surrender to “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us ….”
My friend Martha is amazing and she continues to bless me and teach me as she “does life” one day at a time. When we moved to Georgia several years ago she urged me to get involved in Mom2Mom, a ministry of older moms mentoring younger moms. She had been a group leader for almost ten years and I found out quickly that loving these young moms was her PASSION. All caps are necessary because hers is a blazing love for these girls; just ask her husband Ed and he will tell you! Before too long Martha and I found ourselves as co-directors of this ministry at Dogwood Church in Peachtree City, GA.
We have lots of girls in M2M – over 100 each year and a wonderful team of 18 leaders. From August to April the girls bond with the other 7-8 girls in their small group and their mentor leader. Each week we have an applicable lesson/message for moms and then they spend time discussing in small groups. The small group becomes a safe place where girls share their joys and triumphs along with their fears and insecurities, problems and challenges, tragedies and disappointments. Mentor leaders have unique opportunities to share wisdom, encouragement and compassion. They also get to share Jesus with these girls and see some flourish in their faith and others come to know Him personally for the first time. When a mom has Jesus in her heart she has what is essential to navigate best the journey of marriage and children, in good times and in bad.
So, back to Martha. She takes M2M very seriously and loves her girls each year deeply, intentionally, and sacrificially. It is not a Thursday morning gig for her. She makes soup and visits when someone is sick; she babysits when needed; she meets her girls individually to get to know them personally; she plans group activities and sits back quietly to watch “her girls” bond with each other. No surprise, by her love, Martha has led many girls to their own personal relationship with Jesus and she has watched as they have grown and gone on to lead others to the life-changing reality that Jesus + Nothing = Everything (borrowing title from Tullian Tchividjian’s book).
All that activity and commitment may sound a bit “over the top,” but Martha does not complain that she needs more “me time.” She obviously finds joy and has her cup filled by loving deeply, serving selflessly, laughing joyfully, and crying empathetically with her girls. What memories she is making and what treasures for the kingdom she is storing up!
A little back story is that Martha and I met when we were single girls living in Atlanta, years ago. We can laugh for hours about all the fun things we did “back in the day.” We married within six weeks of each other and I am the one who moved away – for nearly 30 years! We kept up with each other over those years, but it was a sweet reunion and like no time had passed when we re-connected in 2011. When our M2M adventure as co-directors began, Martha convinced me that it gave her the stomach ache to talk in front of the whole group. Since I don’t mind AT ALL speaking in front of a crowd and I did not want her to get the stomach ache, I just announced to the girls early on, “Martha tells me what to say, and I say it!” And believe you me, if I say it wrong or leave something out, she will let me know!
As a public speaker and teacher I enjoy preparing and delivering messages that will help, encourage, and inspire women to be all God wants them to be, regardless of the circumstances of life which are sometimes good and sometimes awful. Speaking the truth and living it are two different things. When surrounded by circumstances that are horrible, I sometimes have to go to a mirror, look at myself and repeat the words, “Shugie, practice what you teach!” And I can say, from much experience, that God has never left me but has provided, even in the darkest places.
So, here is my Martha story today. For weeks my family had our family vacation in Daytona planned, and my schedule included a few days tagged on after everyone else left. Martha was flying down to spend a few days and then we would drive home. The time with family was wonderful and the last of my crew left yesterday. But Martha, faithful Martha, did not come. One of “her girls” from this past year suffered a personal tragedy and Martha, after much prayer and seeking God’s direction, decided to stay home to help all her girls walk through this difficult time together.
Years from now will Martha remember a few days at Daytona, walking on the beach and sitting in the sun? Maybe, but not necessarily; in fact, we can do this some other time and hopefully, soon. BUT, years from now I think of the impact her decision will make on so many others. The girl who is suffering sorrow now will never forget that Martha showed up and brought comfort with her presence. The girls in the group will learn how to show the love of Jesus to others by the example Martha sets.
No, she’s not perfect! I know her too well to ever think that. But she is a transparent woman, transformed by the grace of God into one who lives and breathes to bring glory to God. And those of us who know her are blessed by her gift of mercy. Thank you, Martha, for not just telling others what God’s word teaches but for practicing what you teach. You spoke a huge lesson by your choices this week.