Delight in the light
Ecclesiastes 11: Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
A light reading of Ecclesiastes (if such a thing is really possible) leaves me with the feeling that the writer is a hardened pessimist who’s concluded that everything is “vanity.” While there are plenty of statements about how worthless things are, there’s also a positive, yet realistic theme here. He advises me to cherish every day. Some days, he says, are going to be dark, but there’s also plenty of light and I’m to “delight in the light.” I don’t want to be one of those people who only focuses on all that is going (or can go) wrong. God has blessed me with so much! I don’t want to take any of it for granted. True to form, the wise man adds, “most of what comes your way is smoke.” That is, most things in life are temporary, and a high percentage of those things aren’t all that important anyway. On one hand then, I don’t want to get so focused on the problems of life that I lose sight of the blessings. Those problems are pretty much “smoke” anyway and are temporary. On the other hand, I want to appreciate the little blessings while I have them. They too are smoke and will be gone before I know it and I don’t want to take them for granted.
Take Away: Cherish every day.
God, enjoying life with me
Ecclesiastes 9: God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
I know that a common view of God is that he’s against our enjoying life and that his favorite word is “no!” That is very mistaken. It’s true that God has a lot of “no’s” for us. Then again, a loving father has a lot of “no’s” for his children too. When his toddler picks something up off the floor and is about to put it in his mouth his mom and dad say, in chorus: “No!” Their desire is not to ruin his life, but to protect him from something that might be downright hazardous to his health. Even so, the Lord has some prohibitions for us and every one of them is for our benefit. The other side of the coin is wonderfully positive. When I enjoy some new discovery, or take pleasure in one of God’s many gifts to me; when I laugh out loud as one of my precious grandchildren comes up with a terrific one liner — at that moment God laughs with me. The writer of Ecclesiastes struggles with the meaning of life and is trying to understand just what it is that will bring real satisfaction. However, he has this one just right: “God takes pleasure in your pleasure!”
Take Away: All the joys of life come from our Heavenly Father who takes pleasure in our pleasure.
Good people and good things
Ecclesiastes 8: I’m still convinced that the good life is reserved for the person who fears God…and that the evil person will not experience the “good” life.
The conventional wisdom of Solomon’s day (and it is often still conventional wisdom today) is that bad people have bad things happen to them and good people have good things happen to them. In his wisdom Solomon sees considerable evidence that this approach isn’t true. He sees wicked people live pretty nice lives and he even attends some funerals in which it appears that the person “got away with it” — living an evil life yet having everything a person could ask for right to the very end. He has plenty of evidence that the common belief of “bad gets bad and good gets good” doesn’t really work. Still, though, he can’t quite give up on it. While he can’t prove that it’s true, he can’t shake the belief that there’s some truth in this philosophy. He reports, “I’m still convinced….” Today, I think Solomon is right to hang on to this belief. It doesn’t play out as he thought it would but I agree with him that serving God has great advantages. It isn’t that those who trust God have more money and better health but in the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people. There’s wealth in going to sleep at night knowing that no matter what tomorrow brings things will be okay. There’s wealth in being at peace with God and there’s wealth in knowing one is a child of the King. I believe the conventional wisdom is both right and wrong. It’s right in its belief that good things happen to good people. It’s wrong in having such a narrow and material view of just what those good things are.
Take Away: In the intangibles of life there are riches for God’s people.
I did it God’s way
Proverbs 10: God’s blessing makes life rich; nothing we can do can improve on God.
The greater part of the book of Proverbs is made up of wise “one-liners.” Well, they’re actually “two-liners” that follow the format “This does this, but that does that.” One of the many wonderful strengths of “The Message” is how beautifully Peterson handles the parables, giving them new life for his readers. Today, I’m reminded that all the good things in life come from the Lord. He’s the “Blesser” giving us so much to enjoy. One of the lies of the Garden of Eden is that people can pull themselves up to God’s level and thus “bless themselves” in doing things their own way. The truth is that nothing I do on my own to create a satisfied, happy life equals what God can do for me. Getting my own way won’t give me a rich life. Instead, I’ll have spent my assets on a bag of worthless rocks. It’s only when I realize that God is the only One who can make my life worth living and that he desires to do just that that I have a hope of living the “rich life.” Sometimes, I have to simply accept God’s blessings in a sincere spirit of thanksgiving and not try to do it my own way.
Take Away: When the Lord blesses me the proper response is to say “thank you” and then go about enjoying the blessing.
Grabbing the gusto, looking to eternity
Proverbs 1: When you grab all you can get, that’s when it happens: the more you get, the less you have.
As I read this passage I can’t help but think of the beer commercial that tells us we only go ’round once in life so we’d better grab all the gusto we can. I actually think there’s some truth to that. Life is a gift of God filled with many wonderful opportunities and blessings. I can’t sit around talking about “pie in the sky” and get the most out of my life. There’s a lot of living to do right now. The wise man of the Proverbs, though, gives me the other side of that coin. If I make my life completely about living in the here and now, ignoring all that is yet to come, well, I’m setting myself up for a great fall. Life is more than “right now.” This life might be considered to be a warm up for eternity. So, grabbing the gusto can make sense, but that approach must be kept on a leash and not allowed to just run wild because there’s much more to our existence than just going ’round once. Or, as Jesus says in Matthew 6:20, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Take Away: One way to live the best life possible in the here and now is to live with an eye on eternity.
Heaven will surely be worth it all
Psalm 84: These roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn — Zion!
The psalmist is thinking about journeying to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. Oh how the pilgrim looks forward to being in the Temple of God. He can’t help but think of how blest are those whose serve in that place day by day. However, there’s more than even that here. The song writer finds himself thinking about people who are living their lives in the Lord, journeying with him along the dusty roads and through the lonesome valleys of life. Not that there aren’t some blest times along the way because there are some “cool springs” that refresh the weary traveler. Then, there’s one last mountain to climb, one last curve to navigate; and then Zion comes into view. That “lonesome valley” journey is quickly forgotten as beautiful Zion is seen. What a powerful picture he’s painted. Today, I thank God for walking with me on my life journey. I thank him for the blessings of cool springs along the way and for his faithfulness to me even in the lonesome valleys. For me, and for most of us, the blessings far outnumber the trials. But whether or not that is true for you in particular we all have this hope: one of these days we’ll climb that last mountain and round the final curve and our Zion will come into view. As the old gospel song says, “Heaven will surely be worth it all.”
Take Away: We are a people with hope; hope both in this world and in the world to come.
Looking back, remaining faithful
Psalm 71: I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray.
David’s story is one of the “complete” stories of the Bible. We know him as a child and then journey with him through his rich, eventful life to old age. This psalm is written in his later years and the long shadows of this evening portion of his life are evident in his words. The early part of the song is retrospective. David remembers his childhood and God’s blessings. Then, skipping his full life, David asks the Lord to continue blessing him in his senior years. There are no more wars for him to fight, no more giants to be slain, but David is now in a fight that he will not win. Is God only interested in young, energy-filled people? Will David, as his vitality slips away, be put on the shelf and forgotten by not only man, but by God too? David knows that’s not going to happen. Even as an old and grey headed man he enjoys the faithfulness of God. These days he isn’t out taking on the enemies of God in battle, but he has plenty to say. People need to be reminded of the story of God’s goodness and they need to know what it means to really worship. Gray headed or not, David sets out to lift the Lord, showing the way to praise and worship.
Take Away: The way to conclude life is to continue setting an example of trusting and praising the Lord.
How wonderful to be the people of God
Psalm 33: Blessed is the country with God for God; blessed are the people he’s put in his will.
Our Western culture thinks in terms of the individual. The Psalmist, though, has no such view of the world. He sees God as a national God and his nation as a people of God. In that relationship Israel, he says, is especially blessed. Their military wins major battles, not because of their strength, but because God picks them to be his people and is watching over them. His nation depends on that relationship (and later on will take that relationship for granted – leading to their destruction). Still, it’s a dependable relationship that makes Israel a special nation on the face of the earth. I know that people like to use this verse to call America to God, promising that if the nation comes to the Lord that it will be blessed in all kinds of ways. No doubt, the great need of my nation is to come to God. Still, there’s a big difference between being a nation that chooses God and being a nation chosen by God.
Take Away: How blessed to be the people of the Lord!
Is it about what I’m getting out of it?
Job 1: So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart?
While the audience Satan has with the Almighty is challenging from a theological viewpoint, I think it, and this question in particular, is the absolute key to the whole book. We tend to think that the book of Job focuses in undeserved suffering and how Job responds to it, but even more basic is the issue here. The Lord points out Job’s righteousness to Satan, says that Job is his friend, and is an outstanding servant. Satan, that old accuser, replies that the only reason Job lives right and loves God is for what he gets out of it. Certainly, God has blessed Job, delighting in bringing good things into his life. Is Job a righteous man simply because it’s good business, the smart thing to do, or is he righteous because he loves the Lord and chooses to serve him? What if Job wasn’t getting anything out of his service of God? What if, instead of blessings, curses are brought to his life? Will Job then turn his back on God and curse him? While the issue of undeserved suffering is a basic one I think this issue is even more basic. Why do I serve the Lord? Is it to escape hell and go to heaven? Is it so I won’t be plagued with guilt over my sin? What if all the “perks” are removed? Again, this is about as basic a question as there is.
Take Away: Why do you serve the Lord?
And they all lived happily ever after
Esther 8: For Jews it was all sunshine and laughter.
As I wrap up my devotional reading of the story of Esther I find a “happily ever after” kind of conclusion. The tables have been turned on the enemies of the Jews. Their enemies had expected to exterminate God’s people but the Jews were given permission to fight back and they’ve done so with stunning success. The two most important people in Xerxes’ kingdom are now Jews: Queen Esther and his first adviser, Mordecai. The Jews have become so popular that many are converting to their religion. These are good days indeed. Clearly, this is a mere snapshot of history, but it’s one worth remembering so the Jews create an annual holiday to commemorate these events. I think that’s a pretty smart thing to do. We know that life isn’t always filled with happy endings. The very race of people we’re talking about here has a history of way more than its share of loss and destruction. However, they know that it’s good to remember special days of blessing. Frankly, good and bad constantly mix in our world. Even as we celebrate the birth of our Savior we comfort families who have lost loved ones, we make hospital visits, and we pray that for some very good people that the New Year will be better for them than was the old one. Remembering the good days brings balance and perspective to our lives. That doesn’t mean that we pretend all is well when it’s not, but it does mean that we step back and see the whole picture of our lives rather than focusing only on our problems.
Take Away: Don’t let the problems of life blind you to the blessings of life.