“Meaningless? Really!” James 4:13-17 Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
Ecclesiastes 2 sounds kinda depressing, to me! All the pleasures of life, all the hard work, all the wealth and material possessions, all the projects and adventures, all of it, “meaningless.” Like chasing after the wind, nothing’s gained, nothing’s accomplished.
The KJV says it’s all “vanity” - all of our efforts at making it big, all of our devotion to making money, and building a respectable, well-rounded life... it’s all meaningless. Doesn’t say much for the stuff we spend the majority of our life doing, does it?
Let me ask you something this morning: what’s the most valuable thing in your life, the most valuable material possession? If you had to lay out all your possessions all your stuff, and choose one thing… What would it be?
Of course, one question that may help us decide what our most valuable possession is to ask ourselves: if our house caught fire, and we could only take one thing, we could only save one thing, what would it be?
I read a story in a devotional book that said during a fire one man grabbed as many of his families photo albums and home videos as he could on the way out the door. And his wife was just beside herself with joy and was so grateful for her husband’s thoughtfulness. Because those videos and albums contained a lifetime of memories, that were simply irreplaceable.
Of course, another question to consider this morning, is: what’s the most important thing you’ve ever done in life? If you had to choose among all the experiences all the accomplishments of your life, what would be the greatest?
The fact is, most of us don’t like to deal with these types of questions, because they remind us of the things that we haven’t done, that we really wanted to do! Sometimes, asking questions like these forces us out of our “comfort zone” - it forces us to take a long hard look at who we are, and where we are in our life - and many times we don’t like the answer. Especially when we know we’re not where we should be, especially if we know where not where God wants us to be.
All of us have lots of things in our lives that are important to us, and we’ve experienced all kinds of life-changing events throughout our years that have molded us, and shaped us, they made us into the people we are today. Some of those experiences and events are positive and holy and worthy. And we wouldn’t change, or alter, those times in our life or anything. But other experiences aren’t so worthy, and we’d rather not talk about those. We’d love to go back and correct a few things... right a few wrongs... undo a few mistakes we’ve made along the way.
In our scripture for today, Solomon was doing some “soul-searching” as he lamented over the meaninglessness of his life. He was testing his own motives, intentions in life. And as a result, he was asking some hard questions of himself. I think most all of us are aware that Solomon was known for his wisdom. Today we even speak of someone who’s wise beyond their years as having “the wisdom of Solomon.“ And in our scripture, we see Solomon using his wisdom, to think through all the different ways he had invested his living, all the ways he spent his life. But in the end, Solomon came to depressing conclusion: All of his efforts, were meaningless, as vain as trying to catch the wind.
Think about it, Solomon, of all people, should have been the happiest person alive! He was the king of Israel, the son of David, he grew up a child of the king, with all the honor and privilege that comes along with royalty. He knew he had been blessed, he was powerful and rich. He said it himself and verse nine, “I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.” He lived in a palace. He built a temple, and ruled a kingdom. If anyone should’ve been happy, if anyone should’ve been content and satisfied with life, Solomon was that person.
After all, most of us teach our children that in order to be happy in this life, all you really need, is a good education, a good job... so you can make lots and lots of money, buy a nice house, and a boat, a car, and all the things in life make people happy! But in reality, money and stuff helps (at times), but it doesn’t really fill the void. It doesn’t truly satisfy.
Everything we spend a lifetime building, and acquiring - at the end of the day - it’s just stuff. Sometimes it’s just junk! The apostle Paul said in Philippians 3 that everything he was, everything he’d accomplished, was all rubbish (KJV: dung). In the end, it was meaningless, useless, just a waste of time, vanity, just like Solomon said.
And that same thought is stressed throughout the New Testament... specifically I’m thinking of our first Scripture lesson from James, that reminds us, for all our labor and plans, we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow: for life itself is just a mist or a vapor... here for a moment, then it’s gone!
Doesn’t speak too highly of life, or what we call life - or the pursuits of this life, does it?
I suppose the next logical question to ask ourselves this morning would be, “why”? Why would Solomon say that all of his works and endeavors were like “chasing after the wind?”
Well, one reason could have been his motivation, I suppose. I mean, have you noticed how often Solomon used the words “I” and “me” or “myself” while describing his life? The KJV, starting with verse four, reads, “I made me great works… I builded me… I planted me… I got me… I gathered me…” With Solomon, much of the time, life was about me myself and I.
That doesn’t sound familiar, does it? Doesn’t hit close to home, does it? It may not with you… but it sure does with me.
More times and I would like to admit, I catch myself thinking of my needs, and my will, and my desires, when I know, that I should be thinking of others - OR - at least I should be thinking about God's will, and God's desires for my life.
What is it that God would have me do with my life... and my resources... and my time and talents? Because when you and I spend our life (and all the things we’ve been blessed with) on anything besides what is holy, and godly, and righteous... we’re wasting our life. We’re wasting our giftings, we’re just chasing after the wind.
You know... it’s all too easy for us, at times, to become so wrapped up in ourselves, that we never even consider God‘s will for our lives. At times it’s all about what we want, what we need, all about what we’ve got I have… But listen: that’s not God‘s will for you, or me, as followers of Jesus Christ. That’s not how we find joy and happiness and fulfillment in this life. It’s not how we find purpose. We find our purpose in imitating Christ, and following Christ.
Deuteronomy 8:3 reminds us, “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Jesus himself used this verse chastise Satan. Our material possessions, our wealth, our achievements in this life… are never enough. The more we get, the more we want! The more we want, the less were satisfied. We just want more and more. No matter how hard we try we can’t fill the void in our lives with stuff. The only thing that can truly satisfy... the only thing that can truly fulfill our lives, is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Isaiah 58:11 tells us, “the Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs.” Everything else is just fluff. Our wealth, our health, our happiness, all of it is just temporary… But the Word of the Lord last forever!
There was once a woman named Betty who had been diagnosed with cancer and had been given three months to live. Her doctor told her to get her house in order. So Betty contacted her pastor and had him come over to discuss her final wishes. She told the pastor which songs she wanted at her funeral, and what scripture she’d like read. Then she told her pastor that she wanted to be buried with her favorite Bible…
Everything was in order and the pastor was getting ready to leave, when Betty said, “there’s something that I almost forgot that’s very important… When I’m buried... I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”
Of course pastor was a little shocked… Had never had such a request, but Betty explained: “in all my years of attending church socials and functions were food was involved, my favorite part was when whoever was cleaning away the dishes of the main course, would lean over and say “you can keep your fork.” It was my favorite part because I knew something better was coming! When they told me to keep my fork I knew something great was about to be given to me! It wasn’t Jell-O or pudding… It was cake, or pie, or something with some substance. So I just want people to see me there in that casket, with a fork in my right hand, and I want them to wonder, “what’s with the fork?”
So… at the funeral… as people walked by Betty‘s casket… over and over again, they wondered, “what’s with the fork?” In the pastor’s message at Betty’s funeral, he was able to tell the people of the conversation he had with Betty just before she died. He was able to tell them about the fork, and about what it meant to Betty. And he promised them, that they I would never look at a fork again and not think of Betty.
So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you that there’s something better coming! There’s more to this life than just living and dying! There’s more to this life that is trying to make it through each day with more and more wealth, and more and more stuff!
When you and I come to the realization that the only way our lives can ever have true meaning, and real value is through an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ, then, and only then, will we ever truly start living.
Solomon, the teacher, the preacher... ended his book with some good advice that we all need to be reminded of from time to time, I think. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
“Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.“
Everything else is just vanity.