Experimenting on oneself
Ecclesiastes 2: I said to myself, “Let’s go for it — experiment with pleasure, have a good time.”
One of the experiments of Solomon is to see if pleasure produces lasting happiness. As a powerful king he has all the resources necessary for this experiment. He builds exquisite palaces and gardens, acquires an army of servants, amasses enormous wealth, and fills his life with beautiful women. He reports, “Everything I wanted I took.” Many people at least attempt this approach to happiness, although few have the resources to pull it off. Because of that, they remain convinced that just a little more of this or that will do the trick. They think that once they arrive at that point they’ll be truly satisfied. Solomon, though, does have it all. Not only that, he goes into this experiment with his eyes wide open. His verdict? Solomon says it’s all like collecting smoke. He’s left empty and even dejected. He says he worked hard at making it all happen, expecting to arrive at a place of personal happiness and satisfaction. “Surely,” he thought to himself, “just one more palace, just another million dollars, just the right woman and everything will come together.” However, he ends up thinking it’s all a waste of time. In spite of this ancient verdict of Solomon, we still tend to believe the big lie that not only is pleasure the answer, but that it’s all there really is to life. It’s no wonder that “taking up the cross” is such a foreign language to us.
Take Away: Happiness isn’t found in possessions. It can only be found by the way of the cross.
Psalm 4: I have…more joy in one ordinary day than they get in all their shopping sprees.
Now here’s a current application of an ancient truth. Possessions don’t give true joy but God does. My society is in love with “stuff.” People stand in line in the cold all night to be one of the first to own the latest toy. When that expensive bit of plastic is six months old, do they still think it was worth all that discomfort? I doubt it! David reminds me that living an “ordinary day” in the joy of the Lord is better than having an extraordinary day without him. The thing is that these people standing in line are doing so because they don’t know any better. They think that the latest gadget is the best life has to offer. When I see them sacrificing so much for so little I’m not to feel superior. Instead, I’m supposed to feel compassion. By God’s grace I know something they don’t know and I have a commission to somehow show them that there’s something better.
Take Away: Possessions don’t give true joy but God does.
Jeremiah 10: No matter how fancy the sticks, they’re still sticks.
Jeremiah’s comparing handmade idols with God Almighty. He says they’re like scarecrows in cabbage patches, homemade and lifeless. He says some craftsman might fancy up the wood; carving and sanding and painting. When he’s finished though, a stick is still a stick and a stick is no God. I’ve heard that household idols are making a comeback among some groups even my country. By and large though, such things are considered weird. Of course, that doesn’t let us off the hook here. In the broadest sense an idol is that which comes between me and the Lord, especially that which demands my time and money and loyalty. As I read this passage with that more general definition in mind lots of things begin to fit in. Relationships, possessions, pleasures, and position all can make “god-like” demands on me. The old time prophet reminds me today that those things are also stick gods and mustn’t be allowed to rise above their actual worth in life. If a modern day “Jeremiah” followed me around today, what parts of my life might he condemn as “stick gods?”
Take Away: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Friends and family
Ecclesiastes 4: A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
There’s power in relationships. I’ve heard it said that some people are “married to their jobs.” That is, their work is the most important thing in their life and because of that the most important relationship in their life has suffered. The writer reminds those with type “A” personalities that relationships are what make life worth living. A person who gives everything up to climb the cooperate ladder is chasing after smoke, wasting their life. Accomplishments are worthwhile only when there’s someone with whom to share them. Also, family and friends help us get up again after life has knocked us down. There’s more to life than work, position, and financial rewards. In fact, these potential blessings can become a curse if they dominate our lives. Our most valuable possessions are our relationships. The greatest mistake a person can make is to neglect and lose the real “gold” of life for some job or due to an unhealthy devotion to the ladder of success.
Take Away: Our most valuable possessions are our relationships