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Working for worth… “Life is a series of inspired follies”

01 Feb

A mother overheard her son’s little six-year-old friend ask why babies are spanked when they are born. The youngster replied, “To get them used to it.”

From the human point of view, life appears futile; and it is easy for us to get pessimistic. The Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem once described life as “a blister on top of a tumor, and a boil on top of that.” You can almost feel that definition!

enthusiasm4final1The American poet Carl Sandburg compared life to “an onion—you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” And British playwright George Bernard Shaw said that life was “a series of inspired follies.”

When you were studying English literature in school, you may have read Matthew Arnold’s poem “Rugby Chapel” in which he includes this dark description of life:

Most men eddy about Here and there—eat and drink,

Chatter and love and hate, Gather and squander, are raised

Aloft, are hurl’d in the dust, Striving blindly, achieving Nothing; and then they die—

 

What a relief to turn from these pessimistic views and hear Jesus Christ say, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Or to read Paul’s majestic declaration, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Do you have a dream? You need one. Dreams give hope. They display a powerful image of what life can be. Has your dream been shattered? Worse yet, has your dream turned into a nightmare and come true? For all of us dreamers, there is hope.

We need to find meaning and purpose! It gives us daily direction. It gives us worth.

Life is “not in vain” if it is lived according to the will of God! This mind-set makes all the difference! It gives us a focus as we wake each morning and begin pondering the new day. It makes calculation easier when we wonder what lies ahead – and helps erase those things past, over which we no longer have control.

A little girl was working very hard and could not be induced to stop and rest. This was before the day of electric lights. When asked, “Why do you not stop and rest?” she replied, “I have just one little candle, and it will soon be burned out. I wish to do what I can while the candle burns.” So it is with us. Our little day will soon be gone. May we do what we can while the candle burns. [1]

We live in a time of unprecedented discoveries, many of which tend to make life longer and living more comfortable and enjoyable. But with change and progress the inexorable law of change and decay also operates. Strange that so few in this world prepare for the inevitable. [2]

Henri J. Nouwen is credited with a profound statement: Sometimes I think of life as a big wagon wheel with many spokes. In the middle is the hub. Often in ministry, it looks like we are running around the rim trying to reach everybody. But God says, “Start in the hub; live in the hub. Then you will be connected with all the spokes, and you won’t have to run so fast.” [3]

I want to accept the challenge offered by Mark Twain: “Let us so live that when we die even the undertaker will be sorry.”

If we make that choice, we might prefer to adopt the positive lifestyle of Jeanne Hendricks, who said that “Living is not a spectator sport.  No one, at any price, is privileged to sit in the stands and watch the action from a distance.  Being born means being a participant in the arena of life, where opposition is fierce and winning comes only to those who exert every ounce of energy. “

Or perhaps we like the Yiddish Proverb: “Life is the biggest bargain.  We get it for nothing.”

 

Developing The Proper Outlook

One of the many outlooks we need to pursue is the one by Solomon offered in the overlooked book of Ecclesiastes. It’s often presented as a book for those in their 20’s to help them avoid coming mistakes or one for those in their 50’s due to their coming “midlife crisis.” It seems certain that this wise and powerful king seemed to go through one.

In his Unfolding Message of the Bible, G. Campbell Morgan perfectly summarizes Solomon’s outlook: “This man had been living through all these experiences under the sun, concerned with nothing above the sun … until there came a moment in which he had seen the whole of life. And there was something over the sun. It is only as a man takes account of that which is over the sun as well as that which is under the sun that things under the sun are seen in their true.[4]

    Since it is one of the Old Testament wisdom books, Ecclesiastes would have something to say about both wisdom and folly. There are at least thirty-two references to “fools” and “folly” and at least fifty-four to “wisdom.” King Solomon was the wisest of men (1 Kings 4:31) and he applied this wisdom as he sought to understand the purpose of life “under the sun.” The Preacher sought to be a philosopher, but in the end, he had to conclude, “Fear God, and keep His commandments” (12:13).

Because we live so close to the biblical text, we often fail to note its power to summon and evoke new life. The Bible is our firm guarantee that prophetic construal of another world are still possible, still worth doing, still longingly received by those living at the edge of despair, resignation, and conformity.[5]

John Locke once said, “The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of man. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without mixture for its matter. It is all pure; all sincere; nothing too much; nothing wanting.”

From the human point of view, nothing seems more permanent and durable than the planet on which we live. When we say that something is “as sure as the world,” we are echoing Solomon’s confidence in the permanence of planet Earth. With all of its diversity, nature is uniform enough in its operation that we can discover its “laws” and put them to work for us. In fact, it is this “dependability” that is the basis for modern science.

Nature is permanent, but man is transient, a mere pilgrim on earth. His pilgrimage is a brief one, for death finally claims him. At the very beginning of his book, Solomon introduced a topic frequently mentioned in Ecclesiastes: the brevity of life and the certainty of death.

Abraham Lincoln had ten guidelines by which he lived and governed his life He followed these guidelines until the day he died:

 1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.

 2. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.

 3. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

 4. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.

 5. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.

 6. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.

 7. You cannot further the brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred.

 8. You cannot establish security on borrowed money.

 9. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.

 10. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

As far as wealth and pleasure are concerned, God gives to us “richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22). The wealth and pleasures of the world do not satisfy, and the quest for power and position is futile. In Jesus Christ we have all that we need for life and death, time and eternity.

 So I suggest that we seek God and discover Him and make Him a power in our life. Without Him all of our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest nights. Without Him life is a meaningless drama with the decisive scenes missing.

 But with Him we are able to rise from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope. With Him we are able to rise from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy. St. Augustine was right–we were made for God and we will be restless until we find rest in Him. [6]

Contentment

To a large extent, we’re searching for that elusive place of contentment. The Holman Bible Dictionarydescribes contentment as “an internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.”

Hebrews 13:5-7 summarizes the teaching in advising believers to be free of the love of money and to depend on God’s promise not to forsake His people: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

Worry has become an obsession in our modern world. A look at the self-help section in any bookstore will reveal its prevalence. Hospitals and waiting rooms are filled with people who have physical problems caused by overwhelming anxiety. In addition, there are many people whose lives are disrupted or made unenjoyable because of paralyzing fear.

Christians like to hide their worry by labeling it Christian concern. In spite of protestations to the contrary, Christians do worry. But, do they have to? Not if they learn from Jesus how to win over worry.

Paul spoke in similar terms in 1 Timothy 6:6-10: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

The believer can be content no matter what the outward circumstances: Philippians 4:11-13: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  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, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

When we look at life against the message of the life of Jesus and His teachings, the risen life is not easy: it is also a dying life. [7] We should make it our priority and purpose.

Contentment finds an opposite in the form of worry. The words of Jesus early in His public ministry suggest that food and lodging should be enough for the godly: Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

There is plenty to worry about (vs. 25). There is no shortage of potential items to worry about. Jesus mentions several matters of common concern: life, health, possessions, We could add our own list of concerns: accidents, aging, weather, or criticism.

There is nothing accomplished by worry (vv. 26-33). It is senseless. The rest of God’s creation does not worry, but God provides for them. Will he not do the same for us. This does not say we should not work, only that we should not worry while we work (v. 26, 28). It is fruitless. It will not add an inch to your height or a hour to your life. In fact, it may well take away from your life (v. 27). It is harmful. Worrying makes us look like the heathen, and it destroys our witness. [8]

Worry, he says, is characteristic of a heathen, and not of one who knows what God is like (verse 32). Worry is essentially distrust of God. Such a distrust may be understandable in a heathen who believes in a jealous, capricious, unpredictable god; but it is beyond comprehension in one who has learned to call God by the name of Father. The Christian should not worry because he believes in the love of God.

Worry gives a small thing a big shadow. Worry is an indication that we think God cannot look after us. Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.

Jesus goes on to advance two ways in which to defeat worry. The first is to seek first, to concentrate upon, the Kingdom of God. We have seen that to be in the Kingdom and to do the will of God is one and the same thing (Matthew 6:10). To concentrate on the doing of, and the acceptance of, God’s will is the way to defeat worry. We know how in our own lives a great love can drive out every other concern. Such love can inspire a man’s work, intensify his study, purify his life, dominate his whole being.

We must trust the heavenly father to provide for us as he has promised (v. 32b). We also need to live one day at a time. Handle each worry as it comes. Many will never come to pass. Those that do occur can only be handled in the present (v. 34).

It was Jesus’ conviction that worry is banished when God becomes the dominating power of our lives.

Simon Patrick said, “It is distrust of God to be troubled about what is to come; impatience against God to be troubled with what is present; and anger at God to be troubled for what is past.”

What seems clear is that we often worry about things over which we have no control, or about events and circumstances that never occur. For this, we lose the joy of today and add a burden to an already difficult day.

Life’s too short for worrying. “Yes, that’s what worries me,” we reply.

Rather we should know that one is given strength to bear what happens to one, but not the one hundred and one different things that might happen. [9]

John Dryden commented that “Only man clogs his happiness with care, destroying what is, with thoughts of what may be.”

Only one type of worry is correct: to worry because you worry too much.

We should leave tomorrow’s trouble to tomorrow’s strength; tomorrow’s work to tomorrow’s time; tomorrow’s trial to tomorrow’s grace and to tomorrow’s God.

It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains.[10]

Solomon got involved in all kinds of projects, hoping to discover something that would make life worth living. He started with great works (4-6), including houses (1 Kings 7), cities (2 Chron. 8:4-6), gardens, vineyards, orchards and forests (1 Kings 4:33), and the water systems needed to service them. Of course, Solomon also supervised the construction of the temple (1 Kings 5ff), one of the greatest buildings of the ancient world.

Solomon accumulated wealth (7b-8a), in flocks and herds (1 Kings 8:63) as well as gold and silver (1 Kings 4:21 and 10:1ff). He was the wealthiest and wisest man in the whole world, yet he was unhappy because activity alone does not bring lasting pleasure.

There can be joy in the doing of great projects, but what happens when the task is finished? Solomon found delight in all his labor (2:10); but afterward, when he considered all his works, he saw only “vanity and vexation of spirit” (2:11). The journey was a pleasure, but the destination brought pain.

“Success is full of promise until men get it,” said the American preacher Henry Ward Beecher, “and then it is a last-year’s nest from which the birds have flown.”

 

Work

We must not conclude that Solomon was condemning work itself, because work is a blessing from God. Adam had work to do in the Garden even before he sinned. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15, niv).

In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon exalted diligence and condemned laziness; for he knew that any honest employment can be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). But work alone cannot satisfy the human heart, no matter how successful that work may be (Isa. 55:2).

Solomon’s conclusion: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole of man.

This is what makes man whole. And the secret is to enthrone God in the days of our youth. If you want to find the secret of living so that the heart is satisfied and the spirit is enriched and fulfilled according to God’s intention for you, then “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come.” Enthrone God in the center of your life and you will discover all that God has intended your life to be. And you will be able to rejoice all the days of your life.

——————

[1] William Moses Tidwell, “Pointed Illustrations.”

[2] L. Nelson Bell.  Christianity Today, Vol. 1, reprinted Vol. 40, no. 10.

[3] Henri J. Nouwen in “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry”, Leadership (Spring 1995).  Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 13.

[4] Fleming H. Revell Company, 1961, p. 229.

[5] Walter Brueggemann, Finally Comes the Poet, in Christianity Today, “Reflections,” Vol. 44, no. 9.

[6] Martin Luther King, Jr., in The Words of Martin Luther King Jr., compiled by Coretta Scott King. Christianity Today, Vol. 43, no. 1.

[7] Thomas Merton in He Is Risen. Christianity Today, Vol. 43, no. 5.

[8] Sermon Outlines For Seekers by J. Michael Shannon.

[9] C. S. Lewis (1898–1963)

[10] Alice Caldwell Rice

 

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2015 in Encouragement

 

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