Is Life One Big 'Merry-Go-Round'?
What would life be like if God had not revealed Himself to mankind, if Jesus Christ had never come to earth? Life would be one big merry-go-round of futility, despair, cynicism and sorrow! There are many today who are trying to live life without God–and even though all may appear fine on the surface for them, reality shows that their lives are 'coming apart at the seams'. "Life is not what it is 'cooked up to be", is sometimes heard by these cynics. Many of these alienated people are saying, if not in actual words at least by their actions, "Futility of futilities, all is futile! Life is like chasing after the wind"! The utopian dreams of many modern- day secular philosophers have gone up in smoke, and talk of utopia has become now talk of oblivion! Listen to some of our modern-day philosophers:
"Brief and powerless is man's life. On him all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way." (Bertrand Russell) "Current indications are that the world is bent on going to hell in a hand cart, and that is probably what it will do." (Gordon Rattray Taylor) "You are the orphans in an age of no tomorrows." (Joan Baez) "Today even the survival of humanity is a utopian hope." (Norman O. Brown)
These words are modern-day commentary on the ancient book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes, perhaps the strangest book of the Bible, describes what life is like without belief in divine revelation. Not all, but most of the book of Ecclesiastes, describes the philosophy or viewpoints of the cynic, skeptic, and pessimist. 'Futility of life without God'–this theme is ably carried out in the book of Ecclesiastes. A man who looks at life without the eyes of faith is likely to come to many of the same conclusions as the writer of this book.
The only relief we get in our heavy spirits as we listen to the pessimistic conclusions regarding life which the author describes, is the occasional flash of faith which he occasionally affirms in God whose inscrutable purposes will eventually prevail in spite of the inexplicable mysteries of life which he observes!
Have you ever travelled on a mountain road that was broad, beautiful and surrounded by evergreen trees, with the sparkling sunlight dancing all around you, but as you continued to travel, the road narrowed and became rocky, the sun became obscured from view as the clouds darkened and finally you came to the end of the mountain trail? The road, you discovered, was a dead-end road. All you could do was to turn around and go back from where you began!
"O God (if there is a God!), I have travelled many roads in life, most of which appeared to be broad, beautiful and full of pleasure, but the longer I have travelled these roads, the narrower they have become; and the less enjoyable they are. I have discovered by experience that these roads are dead-end roads! If there is an open-ended road which leads to increasing happiness and meaning, lead me to that road!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Amidst all the dead-end roads of life, there surely must be one road which, while it may appear narrow at first, increasingly becomes broad, expansive, more beautiful and full of purpose and destiny!
The Way Of Materialism
The book of Ecclesiastes describes several dead-end roads–the roads which many in all generations have travelled. Disillusionment and despair are at the end of each of these roads. In this chapter we must take a look at some of the popular dead-end roads which people by the masses are travelling today, and note that faith alone is the answer to the disillusionments which these ways inevitable bring. Four popular roads which the book of Ecclesiastes discusses are the roads of Materialism, Pleasure, Power and Knowledge.
Consider first the road of Materialism. Men are breaking their health and selling out their honor to make more money. Success in a secular culture is determined by a materialistic standard. The quantity of ones bank account is more important than the quality of ones life. Notes Evangelist Billy Graham: "A leading magazine carries an advertisement with this revealing paragraph: 'Is automation, the use of electronics to run machines, going to fill your home with pleasant surprises? Will magic eyes light each room? Will you own a portable piano, cordless electric clocks and a telephone you can answer without lifting the receiver? Discover how this exciting new development can make your life happier'". Asks Billy Graham, "Has happiness been reduced to portable pianos and the blinking of magic eyes?" (World Aflame, pg. 46)
Notes Mavis: "Modern man has a clear vision for secular goals, but dull vision for spiritual goals. It seems that some evil spirit, to use Kierkegaard's figure of speech, has put a pair of glasses on the nose of this generation. One of the lenses is a powerful magnifying glass; the other is an equally strong reducing glass. Our generation looks at the secular things through the strong lens and at the spiritual things through the reducing one". (Psychology of Christian Experience, pg. 103)
"In 1923, a very important meeting was held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Attending this meeting were nine of the world's most successful financiers. "It is noteworthy to recognize what happened to these persons 25 years later. "Charles Schwab, the president of the largest independent steel company, died bankrupt and lived on borrowed money; Samuel Insull, the president of the largest utility company, died a fugitive from justice and penniless; Howard Hopson, the president of the largest gas company, went insane; Arthur Sutton, the great wheat speculator, died abroad insolvent; Richard Whitney, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, was finally released from prison; Albert Fall, a member of the President's Cabinet, pardoned from prison so he could die at home; Jesse Livermore, the greatest 'bear' in Wall Street, died a suicide; Ivar Kruegar, head of the world's greatest monopoly, died a suicide; Leon Fraser, president of the Bank of International Settlements, died a suicide!" (A Challenge to Men from Proverb; Foster, pg. 11)
"O God, deliver me from the futility of materialism! Help me to know from observation of others rather than from bitter personal experience, that accumulated wealth, instead of giving happiness, often times is the chief thief of happiness!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: "Material things are regarded as the chief good in life only by those who do not have them." (William Sangster)
"The Soul Is An Immortal Guest"
'Everything has its price. Money can buy anything. Unhappiness is caused because of economic deprivation.' This is the sentiment of many Americans. Too many think that more money would some way solve their problems. The wealth of America is sometimes a cause of envy in other lands, but it is revealing to know that the American best-sellers are books on how to be happy.
It was Hannah More who noted that "the soul on earth is an immortal guest, compelled to starve at an unreal feast; a pilgrim panting for the rest to come; an exile anxious for its native home".
Man's soul, unattended and ignored, becomes shriveled and starved. The materialist is one who values temporal things more than spiritual things. Materialism may fatten the body, but it starves the soul. It may gratify the senses, but it will rotten the fiber of moral character. It may outwardly give fame and fortune but inwardly it imprisons the poverty-strickened spirit. The result of conforming to cultural standards is mediocrity. To be squeezed into the world's mold is to be formed into a stunted, dull and manufactured person.
The greedy materialist, who has grown fat on the accumulation of material goods, remains dissatisfied because of the leanness of his soul. To his bitter disappointment he learns that life does not consist in the abundance of things that a man possesses. His riches have only given ulcers to his stomach and taken peace from his mind. His false friends stand by to mock him, and his sad delusion turns to suicidal despair. The crackle of the dollar and the glitter of the coin have lost their appeal, for he finally learns that everything does not have its price and that there are qualities that have no monetary value. Sliding down the slope of life on his bed of perpetual pain, caused from his indulgent living, the disillusioned secularist realizes that he has been the subject of a cruel tyrant. The sweet wine of frivolous living has left a bitter taste in his mouth. The swinging music of his youth remains as a strange echo in his mind to mock him as a fool. Too many learn too late that "the lover of money shall not be satisfied with money nor the lover of wealth with his gain; this, too, is futility". (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
"O God, I have often eaten at earth' s tables, only to be left starving. Let me feast at your table. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God is my native home. I am only a pilgrim passing through, anxious for my heavenly home.
"Cherries Are In Better Shape Than You"
There are many people in our modern world who would never out rightly deny the existence of God, but these same people are living as if there were no God! They are 'practical atheists'. They believe in no reality other than that which they can perceive through their five physical senses. They are the thoughtless, common people of today who live only for today! Of such people Paul wrote, "Their future is eternal loss, for their god is their appetite… and all they think about is this life here on earth", (Philippians 3:19, Living Bible) These people are earth-bound materialists!
Rev. Harold Brockhoff spoke one time on the nationwide 'Lutheran Hour' on the subject of 'Authentic Life'. He noted, "A minister in our neighborhood was out making calls one afternoon and he rang the bell of a certain house and a woman came to the door, her apron on, flour on her hands–she was holding a can of cherries. She very shortly told him that she didn't know anything about what he had come to talk about and that she wasn't interested in finding out either. Then after a few minutes of conversation, as she was about to close the door, the minister asked 'Do you mind if I ask you what you have in your hand?' And she answered 'A can of cherries'. He said, 'Do you mind if I ask you where you got them?' She said, 'Down at the corner, at the store'. And then he asked 'Do you mind if I ask what you're going to do with them?' Still polite even after this third question she answered 'Why, I am going to put them into a pie.' And then the minister said 'If you don't mind the observation, those cherries are in a better shape than you are. We know what they are–they are cherries. And we know where they came from–they come from the store. And we know where they are going. And from your conversation you have no idea of who you are, you don't understand your roots and where you came from and how you got here, and why you're here and you don't know where you are going, or why you're going there.' After a short moment of stunned silence, the good woman said 'Won't you please come in'."
Are you, like the woman in this story, living only for this life? Are you so preoccupied with the trivial things of time that you have forgotten the weightier matters of eternity? 'Only one life to live, t'will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last!'
"O God, in thee I live and move and have my Being. Help me to know who I am, why I am here, and where I am going. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The God who created me, knows me, and knows why I am here. In finding God, I will discover my purpose for existence.
Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Timothy 6:6-12
The Dead-End Road Of Materialism
The road of materialism is a dead-end road, first, because of the inheritability of laboriously-gained riches. Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, bitterly proclaimed this fact when he wrote, "And I am disgusted about this, that I must leave the fruits of all my hard work to others. And who can tell whether my son will be a wise man or a fool? And yet all I have will be given to him–how discouraging! So I turned in despair from hard work as the answer to my search for satisfaction". (Ecclesiastes 2:18-20, Living Bible)
The road of Materialism is a dead-end road, secondly, because riches cause sleepless anxiety. "He who loves money shall never have enough. The foolishness of thinking that wealth brings happiness! The more you have, the more you spend, right up to the limits of your income, so what is the advantage of wealth–except perhaps to watch it as it runs through your fingers! The man who works hard sleeps well whether he eats little or much, but the rich must worry and suffer insomnia." (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12, Living Bible)
The road of materialism is a dead-end road, thirdly, because riches can be easily lost. "There is another serious problem I have seen everywhere– savings are put into risky investments that turn sour, and soon there is nothing left to pass on to one's son. The man who speculates is soon back to where he began–with nothing. This, as I said, is a very serious problem, for all his hard work has been for nothing; he has been working for the wind. It is all swept away. All the rest of his life he is under a cloud–gloomy, discouraged, frustrated and angry." (Ecclesiastes 5:13-17, Living Bible) Paul instructs us not to set our hopes "on the uncertainty of riches". (1 Timothy 6:17, NASB)
The road of Materialism is a dead-end road, fourthly, because money cannot be taken with you when you die. "Do not be dismayed when evil men grow rich and build their lovely home. For when they die they carry nothing with them! Their honors will not follow them. Though a man calls himself happy all through his life–and the world loudly applauds success –yet in the end he dies like everyone else, and enters eternal darkness. For man with all his pomp, must die like any animal." (Psalms 49:16-20, Living Bible) "We didn't bring any money with us when we came into the world, and we can't carry away a single penny when we die." (1 Timothy 6:7, Living Bible)
"God, help me to be a wise investor, laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth, living for eternity, not for mere time. Then my life shall be worth living!1I
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: There is a way that seemeth right unto man– Materialism–but the end thereof is futility and utter frustration!
"I Smell The Scent Of A Flower"
The road of Materialism is a dead-end road, fifthly, because material possessions do not have the ability to satisfy the inner longing of the soul.
Man is searching for reality. Earth's riches do not satisfy the questing soul of man. Said Jesus, "Beware! Don't always be wishing for what you don't have. For real life and real living are not related to how rice we are. (Luke 12:15, Living Bible)
Listen to the testimony of a young businessman, seeking satisfaction in earth's wealth, while all the time realizing that God alone can really satisfy him.
"In my life the process goes on. My faith is in frequent conflict with my obsession to participate in the consumption of this world's fruit. I often feel like a child in a candy store. I wander past the fields of sweet delights, gazing at the vast assortment of choices. All the while in mind the echoes of my mother's words warn me against the consequences of over-consumption. Yet, the warnings go mostly unheeded, and I continue to confidently, if not somewhat guilt-tinged, select items which I feel sure will satisfy my desires ('surely this one will be the last… Oh, just one more'). It's only when the toothache attacks, or the stomach revolts that I consciously pursue my mother's care, knowing that her caring arms and infinite wisdom will sooth my injuries. Her loving character will forgive my errant ways and soon everything will be alright again. In chagrined humility I wish I could follow her will, knowing full well that if I don't give in to her will and wisdom completely, I will soon make the same mistakes again. Oh, the tribulations of being an undisciplined child!"
"Fortunately my life is not always this way. I do feel growth frequently. I truly believe God has a plan for me, and even now his works are taking place. I long for greater understanding of his will here on Earth. It's as though I smell the scent of a flower and am trying anxiously to find it. I've only seen glimpses of it, but the fragrance is so strong and satisfying that I must continue to pursue. When I possess it (and I will), I will share its beauty with the world. I will promote it vigorously with the pleasure of knowing that it is truly right for those receiving it. In my heart I know that flower is worth pursuing even though the search is trying."
"The fragrant scent of the flower is so strong that I will not be satisfied until I find the flower! Please guide me to the Flower! Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: However hard the search is, the 'flower' is worth pursuing!
1 John 5:9-12
"Born Thirsting For Infinity"
Man is built for eternity! There is within every man a 'God-shaped vacuum' which seeks to be filled with God! Man cannot live by bread alone, but must live by the eternal Word of the eternal God. Man is restless until he finds his rest in God. Man is overbuilt for time; he is built for eternity.
"And here at last we find Strict diagnosis of our malady, Which is, in short, that man is heaven-starved --Men are born thirsting for infinity."
Inherent in every man is a basic desire to live–and to live happily and permanently. A well-known atheist in France confessed his most deep- seated urge: "I have in myself a great need of permanence. I mean a need of believing that there are products not subject to decay and degradation, works on which temporal changes have no influence".
Notes William Sangster, famed Methodist preacher in England, "Earth does not satisfy us. I cannot help but feel that that is an impressive fact. I warn you against supposing that, if only you had more of this or that, you would be completely satisfied. It is an illusion. Earth cannot satisfy you. William Watson–in his poem 'World Strangeness'–asked:
"In this house with starry dome, Floored with gemlike plains and seas, Shall I never feel at home, Never wholly be at ease?'
Never! You weren't meant to." (Sangster's Daily Readings, pg. 104)
Materialism is a perversion of the God-given acquisitive urge with which humans are born. The Creation Story (Genesis 1-3) talks about God's will for man to dominate and to manage. Sin has turned this basic urge into the desire to possess and to own, rather than to manage. Sin blinds man to the meaning of material things, causing man to forget that he is steward of material possessions and God alone is the owner of all things.
Faith in God is the only answer to the challenge of Materialism. Regarding Materialism, Faith says: (1) Contentment does not depend upon the abundance of material things which a person possesses (read Luke 12:15; 1 Timothy 6:8; Philippians 4:11b-12); (2) Earthly resources are to be used, not selfishly, but unselfishly to help others (read Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 6:18-19); (3) Don't worry about things; rather, trust God to supply all your needs (read 1 Timothy 6:17; Philippians 4:19; Matthew 6:25-27; 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, 2 Corinthians 9:10-11); (4) Focus on heavenly treasures, not earthly treasures (read John 14:1-2: 1 Timothy 6:7).
Real life is found only in Christ who is the very essence of Life. When you have Christ, you have life and are enabled to live to the full. Without Christ, you merely exist!
"O God, don't let me be disillusioned into thinking that earth's treasures can satisfy me. Let me see Reality. Let me see You! Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I am made by God and for God. Therefore, I will give myself to God.
Genesis 1:27-31; Ephesians 5:1-12
The Delights Of Men – 'Wine, Women And Song'
The second road we must consider is the Road of Pleasure. Solomon travelled the road of 'wine, women and song'. Wrote Solomon, "I explored in my heart to stimulate my body with wine and to lay hold of frivolity… I acquired singers, both men and women and the delights of men–mistresses galore". (Ecclesiastes 2:3, Ecclesiastes 2:8)
There are many people today who are 'lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God'. The philosophy of many is: "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die". Such pleasure-obsessed persons engage in endless attempts to gratify their lusts, only to find themselves forever frustrated and heaven-starved. Feeding on the sensual husks around them, they could be feeding on heaven's satisfying manna. God created mankind, male and female, and intends for the human couple to find fulfillment within the bonds of a God-established marriage. But, seeking to be free from the restraints of marriage, many have found themselves slaves of passion– lonely, isolated, unloved and guilt-ridden!
The road of Sensual Pleasure is a dead-end road! Wrote Solomon, "Of laughter I said, 'It is madness', and of amusement, 'What does it accomplish?'" Solomon found out that the temporary sweetness of sensual pleasure turned to the bitterness of remorse.
Says Millard Sall, Christian psychologist, "The modern 'free love' philosophy that states that 'any act is all right as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else' is false. Immoral acts always hurt someone else besides hurting the person who commits them, although he might not recognize it at the time. A perfect example is that of Sally and Mike:
'We love each other; we want to express that love sexually; nobody else is being hurt, so why shouldn't we go ahead?' said a young man of nineteen to his girl friend. A few months later Sally came to my office broken and confused. She said that Mike and she had engaged in sex relations and at the time she could not see how anybody could be hurt. She had thought that the idea had just been a carry-over from her Puritan past. 'Now' she said, 'I am beginning to see it differently. As soon as Mike got what he wanted, he no longer seemed to be interested in marrying me. I also began to become confused as to my feeling about him. Did I really love him for him- self or were we just using each other? Another thing that bothers me now is whether I could trust Mike to be faithful to me after we were married. I never thought I would be guilty about this, but now that I have done it I can see I really am. I'm terribly upset.'
The effect of these acts may not show up immediately, but the disintegration of the person's se1f-image and character occur eventually", (Faith, Psychology and Christian Maturity, pg. 43)
"God, you created sex to be enjoyed within the sacred confines of marriage, not to be abused outside of marriage. May I respect your laws and delight myself in your gift–given to me to be used at the right time and in the right way. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Sex is mighty dynamo–either to create endlessly or to destroy totally. I will allow the Creator of my urges to control and to cleanse my urges!
Ecclesiastes 2:1-8; Hebrews 11:24-26
Faith's Answer To Pleasure Pursuits
There is pleasure in sin only for a short time (Hebrews 11:25). Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them'". One who continues to pursue the world's pleasure, independent of God, will eventually awaken to the fact that the 'evil days' have come and he no longer has pleasure in them. These words will come from the disillusioned sensualist: "Laughter is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?" (Ecclesiastes 2:2)
Said John Lennon on one occasion, "The dream is over. I'm not just talking about the Beatles, I'm talking about the generation thing. It's over and we gotta–I have personally gotta–get down to so-called reality". The road of Sensual Pleasure is not the way of reality; rather, it is a dead-end road! The temporary sweetness of sensual pleasure turns to the bitterness of remorse.
Following the ways of Christ leads to genuine pleasure and lasting joys. A joy that is unspeakable and full of glory! Notes William Sangster: "The fact that there is a cross at the heart of the Christian faith, and that following Christ involves some rigorous self-denials, does not alter – and cannot alter – this central truth; the fruit of the Spirit is joy… Tertullian said 'The Christian saint is hilarious'… The summons to rejoice is sounded no less than seventy times in the New Testament… Honest men at Pentecost thought that the apostles were drunk and, whenever the living water has burst fresh from the rock again, the same exuberant gladness has been manifested". (Daily Readings, pg. 144)
Said Jesus, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete". (John 15:11) "Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24)
Wrote the apostle Paul: "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment". (1 Timothy 6:17) God is the source of real enjoyment in life! The Holy Spirit is the Agent of joy: "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". (Romans 14:17)
The way of Christ is the way of joy and peace and pleasure. "Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
"O God, I must confess in all honesty that it is not only a statement of faith but a clear observation of life that the lives of the righteous are filled with joy that lasts, in contrast to the fleeting pleasures of sin which I have too often bitterly experienced! Help me to find real and lasting joy!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: There is pleasure in sin only for a short time, but there is lasting and real pleasure in living for Christ!
Ecclesiastes 8:9-17, Ecclesiastes 12:1, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
"I Feel A Desert In My Heart"
The third road we must consider in this chapter is the road of popularity and power. One famous psychologist believes that the motivating drive of all human beings is the drive to power. It is true that the 'will to power and popularity' is very strong in many persons. Of course this drive is selfish and thus sinful, but it needs to be recognized that this power drive is a perversion of a God-given instinct–the instinct to be known and accepted by others. Selfish pride is a perversion of the self- esteem urge. "The search for significance is not wicked in itself; no evil dwells in the desire for achievement. To improve our performance adds to self-esteem while making us more productive in the process. If our climb is over the dead and mutilated bodies of other people, then the aspiration for significance has run amuck… The world has been saturated with blood by madmen scrambling for the top. The desire to get ahead, to move up, can incite the worst degrees of selfishness and cruelest forms of ruthlessness within us. The evil that flows from the quest can make our desire for significance nothing more than an animal-like lust to dominate… The quest for worth can become a lust for power; the desire for significance can make us egomaniacs, blind to everything but our own success". (The Search for Dignity; Sproul, pg. 21)
Everyone needs to feel important and all need to feel accepted and recognized by others. But power struggles, strife, competition, envyings and jealousy are the results of a man who is driven by selfish ambition. (Galatians 5:20-21) "For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work". (James 3:16) Popularity contests are not uncommon in our society. Many feel that if they were well-known, recognized and applauded, they would be happy and satisfied.
However , the road of popularity and fame is a dead-end road. Fame is elusive and short-lived. The Miss America of last year is soon forgotten, as a new Miss America takes her place. One's accomplishments, even though they are spectacular, are soon forgotten by future generations which become preoccupied by their own selfish interests. The world's fame is subject to the whims of the shallow-minded crowd. One who is popular to the crowd today, may be despised by that same crowd tomorrow. What is 'In' today may be 'Square' tomorrow! The world's styles, tastes and modes are constantly changing. A ballerina dancer was asked if her fame had not given her much pleasure. She replied, "It is a strange thing, but after many curtain calls, much applause and tremendous acclaim, I go to my room. There, when alone, I feel a desert in my heart". A popular 'rock-and-roll' recording artist, whose record sales numbered in the millions, was asked what he thought about his unusual success. He replied, "I feel like 'warmed-over death!". A great actor was dying and said, "Let down the curtain, the farce is over. There is no reality in life; it is a farce".
"God, I see that the modern-day 'success syndrome' leads to bitter disillusionment. Help me to seek, not my happiness, but Your honor; not my power, but Your praise! Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will seek, not the applause of men, but the approval of God!
God's Answer To Man's Power Struggles
Why do men desperately seek power and popularity? Perhaps because these power pursuits are attempts to gain recognition and acceptance and remembrance and permanence. Inherent in every man is a basic God-created desire to live–and to live happily and permanently. How can this God- created urge for permanence be satisfied? Not by seeking the world's recognition through power struggles, but by surrendering to Christ and living for Him–even if this means serving Him in obscurity, unrecognized and unapplauded. He who serves the Lord God, not seeking the world's applause, will surely be recognized by the God of the Universe! "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:17) Here is the answer–faith's answer–to the misguided struggles for power and recognition which are so often observed in the world of worldly men!
The power struggles which Jesus condemns are seen, not only in the world of worldly persons (Galatians 5:19, Galatians 5:21), but they, unfortunately, are at times witnessed within the company of professing believers! (Read Mark 10:35-45)
He who leads all must serve all. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4)
How do we find ourselves? How do we guarantee that we shall have lasting identity? Is it through the method of fighting for our own advancements, looking out after Number One (Self)? No! A resounding No! Said Jesus, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it". (Matthew 10:39) We gain by losing, we find ourselves by giving ourselves away!
We are to serve God with no motives of gaining power or recognition, but we can be sure that the God-created urge of wanting permanent identity (which the worldly power struggles seek to fulfill in perverted ways) will be granted to the believer. "He who does the will of the Father shall abide and remain forever!" (1 John 2:17) To the one who has been faithful in serving the Lord, in the spirit of love and humility, the Master will someday say, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:23) There is a God-given drive to power which is often perverted among worldly-minded persons–both unsaved persons and carnal Christians (Philippians 1:17), but this drive to power and rulership will someday be rightfully satisfied when humble Christians will share Christ's rulership in the hereafter. (Read Revelations 20:6, Revelations 21:7, Revelations 22:5; 2 Timothy 2:12 a; Matthew 25:23)
"God, help me to find myself, not by asserting myself, but by surrendering myself to you and to others."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Any old 'dead fish' can float downstream, but it takes a 'live fish' to swim upstream. I will swim against the popular current of worldly power pursuits and be a real servant of God!
Matthew 19:27-30; Revelations 20:6, Revelations 21:7, Revelations 22:5
Reigning With Christ In Great Power
What a thrilling thought to contemplate: Humble Christians will share Christ's rulership in the hereafter. Wrote Paul, "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?… Do you not know that we will judge angels"? (1 Corinthians 6:2a,3a) What this means I do not know, but at least we can say that the saints will exercise great power someday–not because they are seeking that power, but because they are humbly seeking to serve Christ faithfully here on earth! Christians may be called upon to suffer on this earth, but it is certain they shall reign with Christ in great power hereafter. "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Revelation 2:10)
What about the person who has renounced worldly power and who has accepted a humble servant role? Will there be no recognition, no rewards, no fulfillment of that God-created urge for permanent identity, no satisfaction of that God-given instinct to power? For the answer to that important question, re-read today's scripture–Matthew 19:27-30!
Rewards–unspeakably great rewards, including the exercise of dominion and bestowal of honor–await the humble servant of God. No work done in Jesus' name will go without its reward. Said Jesus, "And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward". (Matthew 10:42)
The story is told of a missionary who returned from the mission field to America by ship. Standing on deck after getting off the returned ship, he noticed a huge crowd of people standing on deck welcoming the President of the United States who had just returned from an overseas trip. The crowds were acclaiming the American President, but there was not one person who was present that day to welcome home the American missionary. The American missionary began to feel sorry for himself: "Lord, here is this large crowd of people welcoming the President who has been gone a few days from the States. Lord, I have been gone from the States for years, laboring hard for you, in a difficult area of the world and there is not one person here today to welcome me home"! Then the quiet, understanding voice of the Holy Spirit spoke to the missionary: "But, Henry, you are not home yet"!
For the one who has renounced worldly fame and fortune to take the 'way of the cross' in humble service to his fellowmen, there awaits a 'Grand Homecoming' in heaven! The crowds in heaven, as well as Jesus Himself, will be on hand to welcome the faithful pilgrim! That is the day of true popularity!
"God, help me to serve you because you deserve to be served, not because of some reward which I will receive for serving you. And yet, let me know that my deep need for recognition, power, permanence and identity will abundantly be met by you, both in time and in eternity!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God is in debt to no man. It has not entered into the mind of man what rewards God has prepared for those who humbly and faithfully serve Him.
Ecclesiastes 1:3-18, Ecclesiastes 12:12; Proverbs 2:1-6
Knowldege of Means Without Understanding The Ends
Many feel that Knowledge and Education is the answer to man's problems. Wrote King Solomon: "Look at me, how I have increased and added wisdom more than all who ruled Jerusalem before me, and my heart has observed an abundance of wisdom and knowledge". (Ecclesiastes 1:16)
Modern man has increased in knowledge in a most incredible way! The total knowledge of man is now doubling every few years! Howard Snyder, in his popular book "The Problem of Wineskins", notes that more significant change takes place within one year than occurred in literally hundreds of previous years. He further notes that the few years between now and the year 2000 will see more change than has occurred since Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees. He says that it will be as though all the political, scientific, industrial, social and religious revolutions of the past four thousand years were crowded into one short lifetime. (The Problem of Wineskins; Howard Snyder, pg. 180)
There is a great flux of knowledge. Current knowledge is soon old information–irrelevant, antiquated, incomplete. Great attempts are made to 'keep up' with the ever-increasing growth in knowledge and discoveries. Solomon found such an attempt frustrating, even in his time: "I said to myself, 'Look, I am better educated than any of the kings before me in Jerusalem. I have greater wisdom and knowledge.' So I worked hard to be wise instead of foolish–but now I realize that even this was like chasing the wind. For the more my wisdom, the more my grief; to increase knowledge only increases distress". (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18, Living Bible)
The road of Knowledge is a dead-end road. Knowledge is not to be despised, but knowledge apart from God is both dangerous and futile.
There was a time when sociologists believed that ignorance was the main cause of crime. A general increase in knowledge would automatically result in a decrease in the crime rate. But this naive theory has often been disproved. It is a well known fact that often times the average IQ of prison inmates is higher than the average IQ of the general American populace. Increased knowledge can simply make an increasingly dangerous criminal! The Chief Executioner of the Jewish people in Hitler's reign had a PhD degree!
The road of knowledge is a dead-end road, for knowledge separated from God leads to madness and folly. Man has never had greater knowledge than he has today, but that knowledge can become man's curse! Knowledge of Means without understanding of Ends can result in mankind destroying itself! Science, divorced from Morality and Theology, can result in the total destruction of the human race!
"God, never allow my mind to be educated beyond the understanding of my heart. In finding human knowledge, let me also receive divine wisdom, in order that all knowledge may be used for right ends. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: My quest for knowledge will be matched with my thirst for wisdom!
Unyielding Despair Or Unending Hope?
For too long the 'sacred cow' in the West has been Science. Science as a methodology is fantastic, but science as a god is folly! An 'emancipated' Hindu who repudiated the ancient gods of his people and turned cynically against all religion, said, "The real gods worshipped in the West are chemistry, electricity, nuclear fission. Let us fall down and worship them". However, as Sangster reminds us, "The swift and terrible destruction of all our civilization is at the end of that road". (Sangster's Daily Readings, pg. 81)
Those who have bowed at the shrine of Science have thought that Science could produce the 'Abundant life'. They have believed that there was "no sin at all–just a bit of selfishness which time would correct; that the Golden Age was inevitable and that, by gradual steps, man would move un-aided to perfection… And then we woke up. First in 1914, and then again in 1939, we found ourselves in hellish war… a world of atomic submarines, air-raid shelters, gas-masks for babies, guided missiles, and hydrogen bombs… The incredible folly of it; the ignorant conceit; the puffed-up egotism"! (Ibid, 217)
When will man learn that he is not the 'master of his fate' or the 'captain of his own soul'?
Notes E. Stanley Jones, "Some of the makers of the atomic bombs called together the ministers around Chicago and in a two-days' conference announced: 'Frankly, we're frightened. We can produce the means in atomic energy, but we can't produce the ends for which those means are to be used. Unless you ministers can produce the moral and spiritual ends for which atomic energy is to be used, then we're sunk'. Science turned to religion and cried, "Save us or we perish"'. (Conversion, pg. 25-26)
Wars and rumors of wars, famines, the threat of nuclear conflict, a changing economy, the general instability of life, and the unfulfilled promises of Science–these have all combined to create a general sense of despair in many.
The "USA Today" newspaper reported that the cost for military defense in the United States has soared in recent decades. Before World War II, the average cost for defense per person in America averaged out at $75 per year. In 1984, the cost per person per year for military defense was approximately $850!
Knowledge without God can lead to man's eventual annihilation! Notes R.C. Sproul, "If we compare the degree of destructive power of the primitive bow and arrow with the atomic bomb that dropped on Hiroshima, we begin to see something of the 'progress' of human ingenuity. It required eons of time for man to advance from the bow and arrow to nuclear power. What is terrifying is that in the space of fourteen years, from 1945-1959, the gap was bridged again. That is, the bombs developed by 1959 were as many times more powerful than the atomic bomb which fell on Hiroshima as the Hiroshima bomb was more powerful than the bow and arrow". (In Search of Dignity, pg. 86-87)
"Is there no hope for modern man? None at al1–except in Christ! Outside of Christ, there is unyielding despair! In Christ, there is unending hope! God of the Universe, forgive me for worshipping matter rather than the Creator of matter."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will honor the methods of Science, and enjoy the benefits of Science, but I will never turn Science into a god!
1 Corinthians 2:6-16; James 3:13-18
The Essence Of True Wisdom
Paul wrote concerning God's wisdom in contrast to man's worldly notions and ideas: "I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God. For God says, 'I will destroy all human plans of salvation no matter how wise they seem to be, and ignore the best ideas of men, even the most brilliant of them'. So what about these wise men, these scholars, these brilliant debaters of this world's great affairs? God had made them all look foolish, and shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. For God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find God through human brilliance, and then he stepped in and saved all those who believed his message, which the world calls foolish and silly". (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Living Bible)
Paul further wrote to the Colossians: "Don't let others spoil your faith and joy with their philosophies, their wrong and shallow answers built on men's thoughts and ideas, instead of on what Christ has said". (Colossians 2:8, Living Bible)
Mere knowledge without wisdom leads to despair and disillusionment. Said the brilliant historian H.G. Wells, a non-Christian, shortly before he died: "A frightful queerness has come into life. Hitherto events have been held together by the golden cord of gravitation. Now it is as if that cord has vanished and everything is driven anyhow, anywhere, at a steadily increasing velocity. The writer is convinced that there is no way out or round, or through the impasse. It is the end".
However, knowledge is not to be despised, for all truth is God's truth. Noted the warm-hearted, yet tough-minded Wesley: "You are in danger of enthusiasm (i.e., fanaticism) every hour–if you lightly esteem reason, knowledge, or human learning; everyone of which is an excellent gift of God, and may serve the noblest purposes. I advise you never to use the words, wisdom, reason or knowledge by way of reproach. On the contrary, pray that you yourself may abound in them more and more. If you mean worldly wisdom, useless knowledge, false reasoning, say so; and throwaway the chaff, but not the wheat".
The book of Proverbs highlights the great benefits of finding God's wisdom: Knowledge of God (2:5); Protection from God (2:7-8,11); Guidance from God (2:9); Prosperity and pleasure in your soul (2:10); Rescue from wicked ways and wicked men (2:12-19); Steadfastness in righteous living (2:22); Physical health from the Lord (3:7-8); True riches (financial and spiritual riches alike) (3:13-18). True knowledge and wisdom and under- standing are God's gifts!
"God, give me a sensitive spirit which is intolerant to falsehood and error, and a diligent mind which is pursuant of truth and knowledge. Help me to throwaway the chaff of worldly philosophy and cherish the wheat of divinely-inspired wisdom."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will seek to be teachable without being gullible, and broadminded without being shallow minded.
Ecclesiastes 3:16-17, Ecclesiastes 8:12-13,
Ecclesiastes 11:9, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Faith's Answer To Life's Disillusionments
We have seen in this chapter that the person who seeks meaning in life without God will only find disillusionment and despair. The way of materialism is a dead-end road. The writer of Ecclesiastes denied himself nothing which his eyes desired–treasures of all kinds, houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, fruit trees, well-watered plantations, herds and flocks. Americans today are also walking the road of materialism–affluence, culture, fine homes, appliances, cars and campers, clothing, fine foods, property, bank accounts, investments, etc. But the way of materialism is futile.
And the ways of pleasure and power and knowledge are all likewise futile. God alone can enable one to turn materialism into compassion for the poor, to turn self-centered pleasure into self-giving sacrifice for the needy, to turn the pride of power into the humility of service, and to turn worldly pursuits of knowledge into godly pursuits of wisdom.
Faith is the answer to despair and disillusionment. Living by faith means revering God and keeping His commandments.
The writer of Ecclesiastes could find meaning in nothing except God. God, he declared, was his only hope. "To sum up the whole matter, all that was heard; revere God and keep His commandments, for this is every person's duty. For God shall bring every work into judgment, even everything hidden, whether it be good or bad." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
To revere God is to profoundly venerate, worship, adore, and respect Him. The ways of God and the happenings of life are sometimes past finding out–incomprehensible. Nevertheless, man is to submit to God and to serve Him. (Ecclesiastes 8:17, Ecclesiastes 11:5)
We are to keep God's commandments, despite oppression, for God sees the unrestrained oppression to the lonely. He knows that there are many injustices, that right too often goes unrewarded and wrong often goes unpunished. But God is still Ruler and He ultimately directs circumstances: "In the day of prosperity enjoy life, and in the day of adversity observe that God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not uncover anything that will be after him". (Ecclesiastes 7:14) Be assured that God will redress wrongs and that He will 'balance the books'. "Again I observed under the sun the place of judgment–there was wrong; and the place of righteousness–there was wickedness. I said to myself, 'God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work." (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17) "Although the sinner commits evil a hundred times and his life is prolonged to him, even so I know that it will be well with those who revere God, who are in awe before Him. It shall not be well with the evil doer; he shall not prolong his days as a shadow, because he does not revere God." (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13)
"God, help me to find faith amidst my doubts, to find your truth amidst the world's falsehoods, to accept your mercy despite my sins, to believe in your justice despite the moral inequities in the world."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The awesome fact of final moral accountability will motivate me to live morally, responsibly and righteously!
Proverbs 14:12; John 14:6
Christ–The Open-End Road
The roads of the world–the road of materialism, the road of Sensualism, the road of worldly Fame, the road of Knowledge–are all dead-end roads! These roads appear to be broad and expansive and delightful. But, in reality, they increasingly become narrow and finally lead to nowhere. They all come to an end!
The man without Christ is a loser. He loses in this life and he will lose eternally! "The way of the transgressor is hard." But, in contrast to the roads of the world, the road of Christ leads to a happy end! The road of Christ is easy compared to the roads of sin! Said Jesus, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light". (Matthew 11:28-30) Christ's yoke is our yearning, and His bur- den is our blessing!
After Solomon had travelled the hard roads of the world, he wrote: "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth; and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment… Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them". (Ecclesiastes 11:9, Ecclesiastes 12:1)
The day comes in the life of the unbeliever when he no longer has pleasure in his sins! The roads of the world are dead-end roads!
The man without Christ is the man whose life increasingly becomes filled with boredom and monotony. Life looses its glow and becomes gray. All of life grows weary with repetition. The excitement which each new day should bring is gone! With a sigh of weariness, the man of the world exclaims, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us". (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)
But in walking the 'Christ Road', there is always newness and freshness! The Bible reads of "a new song, a new heart, a new spirit, a new name, a new covenant, a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth… God is a God of newness. On the one hand he is the Ancient of Days, 'the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change' (James 1:17), and Jesus Christ is 'the same yesterday and today and for ever'. (Hebrews 13:8) "But this does not mean that God is static or stationary. The history of God's people in the Bible and the history of the Christian Church show just the opposite. In every age the true biblical gospel is a message of newness and renewal." (New Wine Skins, pg. 15)
"Christ, all other roads but yours lead to disappointment and death! Help me to look straight ahead–to You, who art 'The Way'."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will watch my step. I will not side-track. I will stick to the right Path and be safe! (Proverbs 4:25-27, Living Bible)
The Joy Of "Becoming"
On the Christ Road there is always a chance for a new beginning. Past mistakes or sins can be used by God to teach lessons for the future. Stumbling blocks can become stepping stones for future growth.
On the Christ Road there is always a new adventure. When Christ gets a man's attention, Christ gives a new vision of new opportunities. Every problem becomes a project. Around every corner there is a new challenge and a new opportunity. Hidden resources and potential are tapped by God.
On the Christ Road there is always new work. Man is created to be creative. Man is made for work. To work for God is man's greatest privilege. Reward for work well done is more work to do.
On the Christ Road there is always new friends. Christ promised that He would never leave nor forsake His children. Because the believer is never alone, he need never feel lonely. And because the believer is a member of the great growing family of God, he is given the privilege of broadening his friendships while at the same time he is ever deepening his friendships. Every new believer is a potential new friend. One of the greatest joys of the Christian life is to cherish old friends and to form new friendships in Christ. The Christ Road is open-ended because of constant newness which is found in Christ.
The Christ Road is open-ended because of the 'Joy of Becoming'. The believer is a 'Christian-in-the-making'. The believer is a person who is constantly becoming. Writes veteran missionary E. Stanley Jones, "Every stage of being is a stage of becoming. It is open-ended… I have been ascending, am ascending, and shall forever be ascending. I believe that heaven is a place of growth, the finite forever approaching the infinite, but never becoming that infinite". (Song of Ascents, pg. 18)
The 'Joy of Becoming' includes the totality of man's mind, emotions, and will. Take the mind, for example. Christ took a young school boy who was considered the slowest student in his school, and made him into a great commentator. That slow-minded school boy became the keen-minded Adam Clarke! Christ took a small boy who did so poorly in his school work that he was passed, several different years, on probation. But he studied hard, memorized Scripture and God quickened his mind. He graduated from high school with honors and did well in college. He became the great teacher of hundreds of thousands. He is the popular Christian seminar teacher, Bill Gothard!
"Christ, you are the only open-ended road! To go with you is to go on a glorious journey and to anticipate a wonderful destiny! What a thrilling Companion You are!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The greatest of all joys is the 'Joy of Becoming' –becoming more and more like Christ!
Discussion Questions On 'Man's Quest For Meaning'
In what way is the ancient book of Ecclesiastes such a relevant commentary on modern day skepticism and pessimism?
How is 'success' in a secular culture measured, and how does the world's definition of success differ from the "Biblical viewpoint of 'success'?
From your personal experience and observation, illustrate the truth of the following statement: "Modern man has a clear vision for secular goals, but dull vision for spiritual goa1s".
In what ways does the way of materialism lead to disillusionment in the life of the one who worships things and money?
Why is the road of materialism a 'dead-end road'?
What is meant by the statement: "Materialism is a perversion of the God-given acquisitive urge with which humans are born".
What is Faith's answer to the challenge of materialism?
Why is the road of sensualism and pleasure a 'dead-end road'?
What is the difference between sensual pleasure and Christian joy?
What is Faith's answer to Pleasure's pursuits?
Why is the road of Popularity a 'dead-end road'?
The "power drive' in man is a perversion of what God-given instinct?
What is God's answer to man's power struggles?
Why is 'knowledge of means without understanding of ends' so dangerous?
What is the 'sacred cow' in the West, and in what ways have the worshippers of this 'sacred cow' become disillusioned?
What is the Biblical attitude toward knowledge, and what are the benefits of wisdom, according to the Bible?
In the midst of a world filled with despair and disillusionment, what does Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 mean to you personally?
In what ways is a sinner a 'double loser', in contrast to a believer who is a 'double winner'?
What are the benefits of walking the 'Christ Road' in life?