Yes! There Is Good News!
Bill Rollins has been publishing each week a column in the local Elk Horn, Iowa paper for the past several years.
Note the original publication date on each blog post
Note the original publication date on each blog post
The opening words of the book of Ecclesiastes let us know that “everything is meaningless, yes utterly meaningless.” Verse 1 along with verse 12 gives us the understanding that it was King Solomon who penned the book. He is the man who was given great wisdom from God and yet went astray. This in itself should cause us to sit up and take notice of what could lead a man of wisdom to walk away from the true God. Something to think about!!
But as I said in our last installment, “It is my opinion that Solomon came back to his senses and saw his error. And so the book of Ecclesiastes may be seen as his book of repentance.” In his book of proverbs Solomon makes this observation: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Solomon was trained by his father, King David, in the ways of God and when he was older he came back to it.
So why, pray tell, should a book that opens up by telling us everything is meaningless, be the one that can lift us up and help us find satisfaction is all that we do? Good question, I’m glad you asked!!
But before we tackle that issue, let’s do a short outline of the first two chapters. Chapter 1 verse 1-11: everything is meaningless! Chapter 1:12-18: wisdom is meaningless! Chapter 2:1- 11: pleasures are meaningless! 2:12- 16: wisdom and folly are meaningless! 2:17-26: toil is meaningless! OK, enough of this Bill, where am I going to find the good news?
There is a clue to this answer in a phrase that Solomon uses 29 times in this short book of only 12 chapters. The phrase “under the sun” is inserted by Solomon in very strategic positions to help us see where the vanity and meaningless activities come from. Let’s consider some of these examples. The first instance is found in chapter 1:3, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” Well, the answer to this rhetorical question is “he gains nothing.” In other words, you can’t take it with you. (This reminds me of the story of the rich man who meets St. Peter at the pearly gates with a wheel barrow of gold ingots. St. Peter takes a look and asks the man why he is bringing paving material into the kingdom. Ah yes, streets of gold!!!)
We are ultimately just consumers. We earn, we spend, and we leave the rest to others when we die. Jesus put it this way in John 6:63, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” The term “flesh” is used here to indicate our life here on earth – it is a wonderful experience that we have been given; but without God, without the hope of eternal life, without the hope of glory, there is no profit in our fleshly existence. As Solomon put it, “no gain from labor under the sun.”
In Chapter 2 Solomon writes this, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. … yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” We will consider this catch phrase some more in the next article.
There is an innate desire within each one of us to find satisfaction through the things that we accomplish. I have had the opportunity to visit with and to counsel people who find their lives unfulfilled. Perhaps you have found yourself in this situation, wondering what it is all about. Is there a meaning to our routines that we attend to each and every day?
Do you enjoy your work? Perhaps the first question to ask is; do you have work to do? Work in itself can be a great help in finding some inner peace and satisfaction. Unfortunately, many today feel that it is all about a paycheck. This is a false motive. There is a line in a song that I very much enjoy; it says, “Work like you’re worth more than money.” Think about that. Is the life you live only worth the money you earn? Money is just a medium of exchange – I exchange my time at work for money, and then I exchange that money for things. And some people think that the more money they have the more they will feel fulfilled or the happier they will be.
A long time ago I learned a precious lesson and it has accompanied me these past many decades: the more things you own, the more they own you! What is it you really want in life? Well, I began this article talking about finding satisfaction through the things we accomplish.
There is a book in the bible that, in my opinion, addresses this subject. It is a book that I enjoy reading when the things of this life have gotten me down. It has the tendency to help me center myself in the true meaning and reason that God has placed us here on earth. The book of Ecclesiastes is a part of the bible called “The Wisdom Literature.”
This book was written by Solomon and I believe it was written during the latter part of his life. Perhaps we all know that when Solomon was very young, he was given rulership over all the nation of Israel from his father King David. God came to him in a dream one night (the episode is found in 2 Chronicles 1) and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” In verse 10 Solomon said, “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” First of all this is an amazing request, and second, Solomon had the understanding that this nation belonged to God.
Solomon started off really well and impressed all he met with his wisdom and with his wealth. He reigned very wisely until his wealth and power went to his head. In 1 Kings Chapter 11 we learn how his many foreign wives turned his attention away from God and toward false gods. But it is my opinion that Solomon came back to his senses and saw his error. And so the book of Ecclesiastes may be seen as his book of repentance.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says the teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccl. 1:1) This first line of the book doesn’t sound like a real pick me up at first blush but hang on – God willing, in the next few weeks, we will do a little study of this book to see if it contains any good news.
Why take on something and do it half-heartedly? That is the question I asked several articles ago, and I believe we should ponder it awhile. There seems to be a huge disconnect in our society today. I am used to sitting with some of our teenagers these days and being virtually ignored because they are very busy with their phones. But just recently I had the opportunity to be in the company of some adults (by this I mean an over the age of 50 group) and found myself wondering what to do while all of them were texting or reading texts. Wow, you talk about doing something whole heartedly; we seem to be a society glued to Facebook, Twitter and any other self-inflicted form of the small screen!
OK, I got that off my chest – I just wish we could have as much zeal for our God and Father as we do for the many forms of entertainment we have surrounding us.
Just what is it that you and I own? I suppose our answers might contain things such as our house, car, furnishings, some land and whatever toys and trinkets we may have. But I find it interesting that in Psalm 24:1, we read, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world and all who live in it.” In other words, God owns everything in this physical world! Oh, and yes He even owns us. So can we claim to own anything? Well, as I see it the answer is yes; we do own one thing and that thing that we own is time.
Each and every one of us has a 24 hour day to live in and to utilize. How many of these days we may have is not, for the most part, up to us to determine. God has determined the length of a day – one full rotation of the earth around its axis. God has determined the length of a week, “For in six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” (Ex. 20:9-10) God has determined the length of a month (originally it encompassed the time that the moon took to make its circuit around the earth). And lastly, God has determined the length of a year – the full circuit of the earth around the sun.
God has given all of us the gift of time - 24 hours in a day - and just what are we doing with it? Sleeping, eating and working take up a large portion of our time; this we know. But how about the rest? May I suggest that we might categorize the rest of our time as opportunities to give of ourselves; in other words, our time is broken into increments of love. If we are married, we give of our time, in love, to our spouse. If we have children, we give of our time, in love, to our kids, etc. (You get the point.), and the time we work must be incorporated here. The critical two questions then become 1) how much time do we devote to self-love and 2) how much time do we devote to our love of God?
Might I suggest at this point that our time really becomes the only commodity which we are able to invest. Where will we get the greatest return for our investment? The answer to this is in your hands alone.
In our previous article we took a look at a couple of prayers given by a couple of prominent men of the bible – David and Daniel. So, we know that they were men of prayer. But how often did they pray?
We are all familiar with the episode in the book of Daniel concerning him being thrown into the lion’s den. But do we know why this happened? A decree was issued by the king of the Medes and Persians that anyone found praying to any god or man beside Darius the king, would be thrown into the lion’s den. This episode is found in the book of Daniel, chapter 6. In verse 10 of this chapter we read, “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem, Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had once before.” Daniel’s practice was to pray three times a day and he did so openly, even though it might cost him his life.
And what about King David? This man who wrote the lion’s share (Excuse me, Daniel; no pun intended.) of the Psalms tells us this in Psalm 55, “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me for my thoughts trouble me and I am distraught … But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and He hears my voice.” We find here that David prayed as Daniel did, three times a day!! Do you pray three times a day? Let me include myself here – do I pray three times a day?
How near do we want to draw to our Heavenly Father? The bible tells us in several places, to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our strength and all of our life. (Deut. 6:5, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30) It tells us to serve the Lord our God with all of our heart and with all of our soul. (Deut. 10:12) It tells us to seek the Lord our God with all of our heart and with all of our life. (Deut. 4:29)
I once brought up these examples of praying three times a day and a listener raised his hand and pointed out what Paul had to say. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 Paul writes, “Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In Colossians 4:2 he writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” In Philippians 4:6 he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, devoted to prayer.”
Paul sets the bar pretty high for us as we consider our relationship with our Heavenly Father and talking with Him in prayer. But, let’s remember where we started out; “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe …” (Acts 2:42)
Oh, this “awe” thing, and being filled with it; I am sure it is good news!! Don’t forget to pray.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe …” (Acts 2:42)
We picked up this scripture last week as we began to examine ourselves to see if we were “all in” when it came to wholeheartedly serving our God. We touched on the first three items: the apostles teaching, fellowship and the breaking of bread, in that article but saved the fourth item, prayer, for today. So let’s consider the concept of a “prayer life/”
If we begin by looking into the Old Testament for the word prayer, we will find the first use of the word in Genesis 20:7. God tells the king of Gerar that Abraham is a prophet and he will “pray for you and you will live.” We find in verse 17 of this same chapter that “Abraham did pray to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife … so they could have children again.” This first use of the word prayer expresses the idea of interceding on behalf of another. We may use this type of prayer when we find that someone near and dear to us has become ill or has lost a job, etc. and we intercede with God for them.
Another type of prayer may be for ourselves because we have sinned before our God and we need forgiveness. We find this type of prayer in what many consider the book of prayers, i.e. the book of Psalms. In Psalm 51 (of David) we read, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
We see an example of both types of prayer in the book of Daniel, chapter 9. Here Daniel is interceding for the people of God who have been exiled to Babylon because of their sins. In verse 4 we read, “I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: ‘O LORD, the great and awesome God who keeps His covenant of love with all who love Him and obey His commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. … LORD, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame … .’” In humility, Daniel includes himself here.
In these two prayers – of David and of Daniel – we can almost hear how sincere they are and how from their innermost being they pour out their hearts to God. In this prayer of Daniel we begin to get into a third type of prayer, a prayer of praise and adoration to the great and awesome God who has created all things. In considering this type of prayer, I would like to take you to my favorite prayer in the entirety of the bible.
This is a prayer of David in 1 Chronicles 29:10-20, “Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” David goes on from here with more praise and thanksgiving but I will let you read it for yourself so you may be lifted up with his words. They are good news indeed.
Bill Rollins resides in Elk Horn, IA, with his wife, Sally, and has pastored the Church of God of Omaha, NE for more than 35 years.