Ecclesiastes: how the world really works

We all have a dainty picture of how our lives should pan out, of how all of life should operate. We expect to do good and experience good, to love and be loved, work hard and prosper, build up wealth and enjoy it. We expect that good things should happen to good people, and evil people should reap the work of their hands. And we’re not alone in our thinking. Large portions of the Bible hold and teach the same viewpoint – that it will be well with the righteous, and that the wicked will eventually self-destruct.

But no sooner are we born into the world than we begin to experience the unfairness, instability and imbalance that characterizes this fallen world of ours. The very idea that life can be random and not predictable, that our faith doesn’t guarantee happier lives, or that a relationship with God doesn’t mean we will get all we want, can be discouraging or depressing in our pursuit of purpose. We are all shocked with this reality at some point in our lives and may even begin to question the meaning of life.

This search for meaning is what the book of Ecclesiastes is all about. The writer explores critical themes of our lives and declares with a brutal finality that “All is Vanity!”. He draws from his own experience of pleasure and wisdom and wealth and introspection, and then arrives at the discomfiting truth that all human endeavour and accomplishment ends with a sobering submission – death and return to the dust. Whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, wise or foolish, careful or carefree, all will end up in the grave.

He goes further to examine the static nature of our world through its various encounters with humanity. At its best, the rise and fall of kingdoms and nations mirrors the rise and fall of sea waves. From where things come, there they return. We are rather minute in the grand scale of things, even though we would like to exaggerate our own impact on the earth. Then the writer goes on to strike a final chord, which is for me, the most disconcerting note of all: nothing is guaranteed in life.

The strong does not always win. The smart does not always get wealth. The fastest does not always win. Nothing guaranteed; nothing assured. So, he encourages his readers to enjoy their days and take pleasure in whatever blessings they have received from God: food, family, friendship, wealth – whatever it is they are privileged to have, knowing well that nothing is guaranteed, and that all good gifts come from above. It is somewhat of a contrarian view, asking people to enjoy knowing nothing is assured.

Yet this seemingly conflicting counsel is the hallmark of the book of Ecclesiastes: asking us to give our best in all we do and rejoice in all we have after painting us a picture of gloom. He closes the book in a similar manner, calling the young to remember their God in the days of their youth and asking everyone to fear God “because this is the whole duty of mankind”. It is a call, not to despair, but to hope and trust in God who gives us all things richly to enjoy.

The book of Ecclesiastes is an adventure into realism and invitation to humility, seeing that we will all die and be forgotten someday, and we cannot even control the outcomes of the life we are living. It is an invitation to abandon worry and fear and sorrow, to embrace joy and diligence and faith, not slacking in our daily work but giving our best, not careless in the way we live but honouring God, knowing that we will all give an account of our lives to Him someday and receive appropriate rewards for all we do.

Jonah – the prophet who rebelled

The Bible is full of the stories of many prophets, many of them with eponymous books in the Bible, full of the messages God sent them to deliver to various recipients. While a few of them had some of their personal stories told, majority are known mostly for the messages they delivered. But one man included among the prophets is known more for his own story than for his message – his story of disobedience no less. From resisting God’s instruction to taking offence at God, Jonah’s story is more like a 21st century millennial than an Old Testament prophet, one we will do well to pay attention to in our days.

Continue reading “Jonah – the prophet who rebelled”

Compelled by the Spirit

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. Acts 20:22 (NIV)

Have you ever gone to a place solely on account of God’s will? Or maybe taken a decision only because you were persuaded it was what God wanted? An action without benefit or profit for you, one that you have to take at great risk to your life or possessions – would you ever take that kind of action? This is what we hear Paul say in the verse above. Let’s look a little closer…

Paul was bidding the elders of the Ephesian church farewell. Convinced he would never see them again, he gave them parting words, sharing his commitment to preaching the gospel as he went from place to place. Although he lived with a lot of uncertainties, Paul knew one thing was sure – prison and hardships awaited him as he spread the gospel. Yet he was was unwavering. He was set for the defence of the gospel, willing to complete his God-given task at any cost.

Just like his master Jesus, Paul was headed to Jerusalem, knowing the danger that awaited him there, but convinced that he was being led there by God in fulfillment of purpose. He was ready to embrace pain, hardship or even death, that could become his fate as he headed to Jerusalem. He no longer counted his life dear to himself neither did he strive to preserve it – he only lived to obey the Lord’s command and follow his bidding. Like Jesus, Paul was sold out to God – a willing slave.

The lesson is clear; the application is challenging; the demand, unwavering. God wants our all – a total commitment to obeying his commands and doing his will regardless of the cost to us. Although He works with us at every stage to accomplish his purpose, God always desires for us to become more yielded by the day, letting go of everything until like Paul, we too can say, with full devotion and complete sincerity: “I consider my life worth nothing to me”.

Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13 (NIV)

Further Reading: Acts 20:17-24, 21:10-14

A Requirement for Stewards

Moreover, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful (I Cor. 4:2)

The simplicity of the statement above belies its depth. Apostle Paul earlier mentioned that he should be considered a servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God. Then he mentions, as a matter of fact, that faithfulness is a requirement for stewards. It is indeed logical, that a steward should be found faithful. The real question is, “What does this mean for us as believers today?”

A quick word on stewardship: it is the bedrock of intentional and meaningful living. Understanding that we have nothing we did not receive, and that we are accountable to God for everything we receive from Him, helps us steer the course of our lives in the most profitable manner. Like Paul, we too are stewards of time, relationships, money, divine mysteries, and many gifts and graces imparted to us by the Lord. We are accountable to Him for what we do with all we have received.

On faithfulness, I am persuaded it is one of the most significant traits the Lord desires in the saints (who are all called to serve). That ability to stay true to what we have been asked to do and to do it with fervor, with or without glamour and fanfare, is priceless. It requires first, that one recognizes what he/she has been called to steward, just like Paul. It also requires that one possesses a commitment to finish the task regardless of how challenging it might appear.

Faithfulness in our lives is often challenged, on the one hand, by distractions, and on the other hand, by difficulty. We may be distracted by the attention we get while serving, or we could get from doing more “exciting” tasks. This requires focus on the task we are called to. We may also be discouraged by the difficulty of completing our assigned tasks, or the trials that come as a result of our service. This requires grit to stay the course as we continue our stewardship.

Both challenges described above require that we draw upon the grace of the God who calls us to serve Him as stewards in various capacities. God gives grace for us to stay faithful to our races. We must recognize our need for Him daily and commit to being faithful to our course – only then would His grace be available for us to stay faithful as stewards to the One who called us. Amen

P.S.: Seeing as this is my first post of the year, Happy New Year to all my dear readers! I wish you a prosperous and fulfilling New Year ahead!! Godspeed!!!