My last blog told the story of our eventful and somewhat trying transition to the Hill Country, and the outcome that made all the waiting worthwhile.
Today I find myself at another moment of decision and transition, this time regarding my professional and ministry life. With so many interesting options presented to me, what to choose?
Wouldn’t you know that Holy Spirit responds perfectly, bringing Scripture to life as I just “accidentally” happen to find myself in Ecclesiastes this morning.
This book is avoided by Christians sometimes because of its seemingly cynical, depressing message. I happen to love Ecclesiastes for its realism. It describes so well the age-old struggle to find a life of meaning, purpose, and joy that honors God, and what it feels like to come up short of that goal.
The Preacher who authored the book (King Solomon) doesn’t cut to the chase. He gives us in gritty detail how and why he comes to see much in life as meaningless and “chasing after the wind.”
He tries everything. He tries study to gain greater wisdom and knowledge than any other person on earth at the time. He works hard on this pursuit only to find, “the greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Eccl. 1:18).
He gives pleasure a try, going after happiness and fun. Wine, women, song, and dance. No deal’ it doesn’t satisfy. “What good does it do to seek only pleasure?” (2:2)
Next, he gets busy building homes and planting vineyards, gardens, and parks. Being a rather brilliant individual, he engineers irrigation systems for all of them. He adds livestock and precious metals to his lavish estate. In order to keep all these things running, he enlists the help of many servants. To serve his own sexual desires, he lies with countless wives and concubines.
He exclaims, “I had everything a man could desire!” But it didn’t satisfy him.
He didn’t cut to the chase, but I will. After spinning his dark philosophy he lands on two notable conclusions.
Conclusion #1: “There is nothing better for people than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God” (3:12).
Conclusion #2: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad” (12:13).
There you have it. Enjoy the life and work God has provided. Love and obey him in everything.
I’m not a king, and my desires are much simpler than Solomon’s, so I speak the truth when I say that I have all I need, and pretty much all I want. I feel truly blessed, and I’m convinced that the life God has given me is far from meaningless.
Sometimes I’m chasing several things at once, but I don’t spend time chasing after the wind! I aspire to enjoy each day with gratitude and do my best to live in a way that is pleasing to him, and not just to myself.
Allow me to jump to Chapter 3, the most famous portion of the book of Ecclesiastes, partly because of the song by the Byrd’s, “Turn, Turn, Turn” which directly quotes this biblical text. I’ll copy the passage here for your reference:
For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace. (3:1-8)
The overarching message is that at any moment in our journey through life, we can discern that it is time for a particular activity.
Time, time, time. A commodity we can’t restore once it is gone.
Now that I’m settling into my new home, there are of course some domestic projects to complete to make our home as peaceful, comfortable, and inviting as possible. But we have time to let this unfold at an unhurried pace and enjoy the creativity of the process.
The more time-sensitive decisions relate to work and ministry. Throughout my adult life, I’ve always been multifaceted in how I use my time and talents. I rarely do only one thing at a time. I’m usually doing some combination of counseling, supervising, teaching, writing, playing gigs, leading worship, teaching the Bible. That’s just how God made me, and so I don’t fight him on it.
I’m also used to being quite autonomous. I’m a hard worker, but not a great employee. I set and seek to maintain my own standards in whatever work I’m producing, so it’s difficult for me to have to conform to someone else’s standard at the same time. If the standards or rules of engagement of an employer come into conflict with my own, I have developed the confidence to choose my own, come what may.
Last week I was told that I have to increase my availability to seek clients significantly if I want to keep my current level of employment. I get it completely; they want more productivity for the same price. I work for a for-profit company, and the level of clinical engagement that has worked well up until now is no longer sufficient because of recent changes in the company’s financial outlook.
The other option, short of leaving entirely (which I’m not inclined to do, because it would mean abandoning clients I have come to care for very much), is to go to hourly, and work only as much as I wish. I’m very glad that’s one of the options. The downside is that I’d lose my benefits.
I asked my wonderful big sister to weigh in. She confirmed for me that if it’s a problem that a little bit of money can solve, that I should go after my greatest joy, and not let something like health insurance be a hindrance! I can find more money somehow if I need it, but I can’t replace time once it’s gone.
I have opportunities to play music with dear friends, complete a couple of books that have been in the hopper for quite a while, get involved with worship and Bible study in my local community, exercise regularly, and even do a bit of private practice where I’m again sitting in the same room as the person with whom I’m talking! What a concept!
So, back to Ecclesiastes, and this dreary preacher in one of his rare moments of inspiration. Here is an inventory of the time I am living through, and how I will both enjoy the life God is giving and honor him through it.
If there’s a time to plant and a time to harvest, I choose to do some of each. I’ll plant new things, and harvest things that have been in the ground or on the tree and are ready to pick!
If there’s a time to kill and a time to heal, I’ll pick the healing, thank you very much.
If there’s a time to tear down and a time to rebuild, this moment is for rebuilding.
If there’s a time to cry and a time to laugh, I will respond with whichever the moment requires.
Ditto on the time to grieve and time to dance.
If there’s a time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones, I’m mostly gathering them (there are thousands on our lot) to move them to other places where they will be more pleasing.
If there’s a time to embrace and a time to turn away, I’ll embrace those who come near to share life with me in this special season and turn away from those prone to arguing and stirring up strife.
If there’s a time to search and a time to lose, I’ll do some searching for things that got misplaced during our long moving process. (e.g., I’ve got about a dozen pairs of earbuds for my phone and can’t seem to find a single pair!) I’ll search for new friends, new joys, new ways to serve and grow.
If there’s a time to keep and a time to throw away, I’ll keep what “sparks joy” (thank you Marie Kondo) and throw away (or more likely, give away) things that no longer do.
If there’s a time to tear and a time to mend, I reckon I’d like to do more mending than tearing.
If there’s a time to be quiet and a time to speak up, I will be quiet about SELF and all its nonsense. I’ll speak up about the amazing goodness of God in all of its many manifestations!
If there’s a time to love and a time to hate, I can’t think of when I’ll have time to hate.
If there’s a time for war and a time for peace, that’s an easy one. You know what I’ll choose. You?
I hope you find my analysis of Ecclesiastes edifying. The clock keeps ticking. Like me, maybe you’ll find that this is a perfect time for finding out what time it is.