Ecclesiastes 12:1; 8-14
Meaningless, meaningless; everything is meaningless - or - vanity of vanities; all is vanity. Not the most encouraging way to begin and end a book... but it’s how the Preacher/Teacher from Ecclesiastes does it! He ends where he begins...
Of course, meaningless-ness or vanity is his way of expressing the futility of life in a fallen world... In other words, life without God.
But... if we’re perfectly honestly... most of us would have to admit, that we all spend a huge chunk of our lives in meaningless pursuits... like... striving to make more money than we need, or worrying about what new t-shirt or tennis shoe or purse is “in style” - or lusting after things we don’t have or need... trying to keep-up with our neighbors.
The grass always seems greener on the other side, doesn’t it? But why is that? Have you ever wondered why it looks so much more appealing to be in some other situation than the one that we are in?
The answer (I think!) is simple. We tend to believe the grass is greener on the other side... because we tend to focus on the good things we don’t have... and we don’t always see the difficulties those things bring.
We often fail to see that the grass may be greener, NOT because it’s better... BUT because it’s growing over a septic tank. It could even be greener because your neighbor has a much larger water bill than you! Or... it may even be greener, because it’s not real. It’s fake... it’s artificial.
I read recently that out in the Western US, where water restrictions are much more prevalent... and watering your lawn is heavily regulated due to drought and desert conditions... that “artificial lawns” are becoming more and more popular. The grass is sometimes greener, because it’s plastic!
But as tempting and as attractive as never having to mow the lawn again may sound... such artificial things are symptomatic of a much larger issue: Satisfaction! Which always reminds me of the Rolling Stones’ hit from way back in 1965, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction!”
One of the surest ways to be un-satisfied... to miss out on happiness... is to be so busy lusting after greener grass... that you and I fail to enjoy and appreciate what’s right in front of us!
Of course, for some, the greener grass represents the future. We’re waiting for some future event to make us happy. When I get that new job, when I get that car or house or promotion, then I’ll be happy. I’m not happy yet, but I will be when I meet the right person. Or when I get married... or when we have children! Then we hope we’ll be satisfied when the children are grown!
Of course, we’re all getting older... every single day. No matter how many pills we take... or lotions and beauty creams we spread all over ourselves... we’re still getting older. And the greener grass of yesterday starts to beckon... we harken back to “the good old days.” If only I could be young and carefree. If I could only hear... or see... like I used to. So it goes. We can spend our lives living for a future or past that we think will make us happy.
But instead of always looking ahead or looking back... have you ever thought about LOOKING UP? Focus on Christ... He came to offer us life that’s full, abundant, and good! He’s the Good Shepherd and He can make us lie down in green pastures. His sheep know His voice and they find “pasture” (or “security” or “satisfaction”) in Him... in Christ... because of Christ.
Ecclesiastes offers us a bigger picture... showing us how vain the temporal pursuits of life can be... how it’s all fleeting... pleasure, knowledge, wine-women-and song, power, or money. Nothing on earth can satisfy our souls.
It’s the truth of God’s Word! It changes lives. Truth makes life better. The Teacher/Preacher tells us that he chose His words carefully... He had tremendous knowledge and wisdom to share! And God’s Word calls us to be happy... to be joyful... to enjoy life... to be the person God created us to be. But that doesn’t mean that anything goes. You don’t have to answer to all the “would-be” judges who try to run your life, but you and I do have to answer to the only Judge that matters.
Enjoy life while you can. Don’t make yourself miserable if you don’t have to. And live for the Lord while your body is strong and your mind is clear. The Bible appeals again and again to those who are young and in their prime, because faith is a challenging and exciting adventure. Of course, as we get older, we certainly need the Lord... but it’s WAY easier to handle the changes of life if our relationship with God is established early-on in life. It’s tough when everybody in your generation is vanishing and your own health isn’t getting any better.
Of course, modern medicine tries to help us. There are dentures and eyeglasses and cataract surgeries. There are hearing aids (which a few of us need). There are pills to help you sleep or get you going again. For worn-out knees and hips and shoulders, there are replacements. We may live longer, but no matter how long any of us live, the time comes when we will breathe our last breath. It’s that simple. And in light of all of these things, we are told to remember our Creator.
Of course, the Preacher says that his words were designed to do 2 things: to be goads AND nails. Goads were sharp sticks, cattle prods, used by farmers to drive oxen. They’re not designed to hurt, but to cause enough discomfort to get cooperation. Goads are meant to prod you in the right direction. They prick your conscience, convict your conscience, and stimulate action. Goads point you in the right way. They are meant to direct you.
Of course, “firmly embedded nails” keep things in place. Nails anchor things in place... And God’s Word anchors us to the truth of God. Life may be like a vapor, but God’s Word pins us to something solid.
That’s why, as Reformed Christians, we believe in the doctrine of inspiration... that the words of this book... the Words of the Bible... come from the mouth of God. It’s breathed-out words from God. We don’t just admire the words, but must submit to their authority.
Most authors don’t warn their readers not to read their books. But the Teacher/Preacher of Ecclesiastes it telling us that these words are holy truth. These words are good for the soul. It’s not the one who studies for the sake of studying who necessarily gets the benefit, but the one who meditates upon these words. Be content with what you read in God’s book. It’s not just the reading person, or the talking person, but the covenant-doing person who will be blessed. Jesus even said: If you know these things, you’re blessed if you do them.
Bertrand Russell was a philosopher who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950. He was born into a Christian home, but he rejected the faith as an adult and became an outspoken atheist. His daughter, Katherine Tait, said of him, “Somewhere at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space that needed to be filled by God, and he never found anything else to put in it.”
The Preacher’s words aren’t meant to amuse or just make us smarter. They’re meant to change us... to change our lives. A relationship with God is meant to be life-transforming.
Ecclesiastes is all about the restless, weary, emptiness of life... and how God uses it all to turn us toward Him. He has put eternity in our hearts. We can only find satisfaction in Him. What’s at stake isn’t just satisfaction. What’s at stake is how you and I will spend eternity. For some, the day is coming when the frustrations of this life will seem trivial compared to an eternity without God... and the day is coming, for others, when the joys of this life will seem like meaningless compared to the joy of eternity. Remember your Creator. Fear Him and keep His commandments. Now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
That’s the solution to a meaningless life. And it’s how we find satisfaction. It’s only found in relationship to Christ.