Meditations in Meaning & Values 4: Contented?
Eccles 1:8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
There is a striving in the world that is wearisome; it is the striving for meaning. Modern culture watchers in the West say as we move from a ‘modern’ culture to a ‘post-modern’ culture people are giving up on trying to obtain pleasure, comfort and meaning through owning possessions and are focusing instead on experiences. For some it may be experience stimulated by drugs, for others it may be experiences in travel and doing the unusual. If you go online and Google either 100 or 25 things to do before you die, you come up with this exotic list of travel things – seeing the Northern Lights, visiting the Amazon and so on. For others it may be doing a bungee jump, or a freefall parachute jump or wind surfing or white water rafting. These are the things of the affluent West. We are privileged to live in the day in which we ‘do’, and for so many of us, with such affluence that we have money left over it enables us to do these things. And they are wonderful things because it is a wonderful world and God has made us to enjoy these things.
But here is the downside: if you make these things your life focus you become jaded, just like Solomon. No one encapsulates the phrase, “Been there, done it, got the tee-shirt” more than Solomon. He had had the possessions and he had had the experiences and then he comes up with our verse today: “All things are wearisome.” Well yes they are if you make yourself the central focus of all things. For some post-moderns the ‘experience’ to give a buzz may simply be doing good, going and helping refugees, helping to build an orphanage or similar ‘good works’ – and they are good. They are good things to do, but not if you are using them to solve the mystery of “Why am I here, what is my point, how can I have a sense of meaning and purpose?”
“The eye never has enough of seeing”. If you could record what a person two hundred years ago saw in their life and then compared it with someone in the West today, I would guess that today’s person sees hundreds if not thousands of more things, if not tens of thousands more things. We have television, communication devices etc. and we can travel anywhere on the planet. If you are interested in animals you do not have to leave your home; you will sit in front of a TV, watch a video, or scan the Internet and you can see any and every creature known to mankind. If we want to be entertained we have media devices and systems to allow us to watch films, series or talks, twenty four hours a day. Indeed there are some people who fritter their lives away in front of ‘the box’.
“Not the ear its fill of hearing.” TV, radio, personal devices bringing music or plays or talks, the list is endless. What applies to watching, equally applies to hearing. We can listen twenty four hours a day. Indeed clearly some people feel lost without a pair of earphones plugged in wherever they go. Whatever Solomon heard, we can hear a thousand times more!
But all the time we are watching or listening, we are being passive observers and passive observers soon become jaded. I think this is why one of Paul’s comments to the Ephesians always means so much to me: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) This is the wonder of the Christian life. We came to Christ through a crisis. It might have been expressed in a variety of ways but ultimately we were dissatisfied with the life we had and with ourselves. The Holy Spirit convicted us of our need to be put right with God and so we came to Him on bended knee and surrendered our lives to Him and received His forgiveness and cleansing, His adoption as His children, and His Holy Spirit to empower and lead us. And then we realised that with Him in charge, that was only the beginning. He had a new life for us to enter into, He had plans and purposes unique to us as an individual. He had new gifts and abilities for us to receive to enable us to step out in a new purposeful life as He led.
Suddenly there is a sense of purpose, meaning and fulfillment. In me He put a hunger for His word, and a hunger to share it which for one phase in my life meant traveling in Europe, Asia or America, teaching. I would never have dreamed of doing those things and going to those places previously. Now I look back and marvel. Today I look around me and like the President in that TV series, The West Wing, simply say, “Right, what’s next?” But He (the Lord) moves slowly. He knows it take time to change me, and that is as high on His agenda for me as the things to do. So I’m not in a rush. I hope I am available for whatever He puts before me, but I am contented as I receive what He gives me today and wait for what He has for tomorrow. As long as I keep my ear open to Him for the “What’s next?” the possibilities are endless.
But in the meantime? In the meantime, there is a wonderful world to enjoy. No, it is not wearisome because I am not making the ‘seeing and hearing’ the be-all and end-all of life. First thing in the morning, even before writing, I sit and pray and reflect or meditate briefly. This morning as I started to focus on the verse above and think about these things, I realised how much I appreciated the small things of life. I glanced out the window and half way down the garden my wife has a bird feeder which suddenly was covered with a family of long tailed tits and a goldfinch. I sat and marveled at their beauty and thanked God. But then, amazingly, for they do not come close to the house usually, two of the baby long tailed tits and the goldfinch came and flitted around on a bush less that three feet from my window. It was like a show was put on for me. How wonderful. Yes I have seen the Rockies in Canada and gazed in awe at their rugged enormity. I have gazed at endless miles of ocean, and I have seen the film of a great Whale leaping out of the sea and gasped. But this morning it was the beauty of some small birds that had me praising and worshipping. Wearisome? You’ve got to be joking! This is God’s wonderful world, an expression of His love for us. Amazing! Thank you Lord!