40. God of Death (& Life)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  40. God of Death (& Life)

Gen 2:17  you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Eccles 3:2 (There is) a time to be born and a time to die

Eccles 7:2   It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.

Heb 9:27 people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,

Mt 20:18 the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death

Death? Death is one of those things that postmodern man tries to reject.  Some speak of science extending and extending life and maybe even eventually denying death completely. How terrible a picture! In Ecclesiastes 7 Solomon confronted death declaring, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccles 7:4) Both there and in the earlier verse above, he is saying that a wise person thinks about death because it helps bring a right and better perspective to life. It is often the person who has been confronted with their own death who truly appreciates the wonder of life.

Death at the Beginning: However we view the early chapters of Genesis (fact or parable) there is a challenging picture portrayed because when God warned Adam against taking the fruit of one particular tree else they would know evil (which happened), He warned that that evil would produce death which implies that up until then the potential for Adam and Eve was that they could have everlasting life. Now the separating of the couple from God (by being banned from the Garden) suggests that the life of God was what conveyed life to them and while they were in close relationship with Him, they would have that same life source. Being separated from Him meant being separated from that life source and so physical death would follow eventually.

Death Now: The testimony of Scripture accords exactly with reality: death comes to every living being without exception. It is the only thing of which we can be sure. Solomon, in the Old Testament,  testified to it – “There is a time for dying” – and so did the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament – “people are destined to die”.  Why? Because of the presence of Sin – “the wages (or payment or consequence) of sin is death.”  And yet for us today, that need not be the end for there are numerous references to eternal life, a life that will continue on after physical death.

Eternal Life? Let’s let the truths of Scripture sink into us:  they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Mt 25:46)  Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mt 10:29,30) God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (Jn 3:36) “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14) “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (Jn 5:24)  “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day….. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.(Jn 6:40,47) “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25) Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jn 17:3) When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.” (Rom 2:7) “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)

There are just some of the references to eternal life but even from these we can see that this is not some periphery doctrine but something that is at the very heart of the Christian Faith. We see it set off against eternal punishment (a punishment that is always there waiting for unbelievers and which cannot be withdrawn only replaced by eternal life). Eternal life, these verses add, is the life yet to come for us, the life that follows this one, or continues it! The message is quite clear, it is granted to those who believe Jesus and believe in Jesus.

Death at the End: Death was not there at the beginning; it only came with the Fall. Having come with the Fall it is now the experience of every single human being. Yet in the present age for those who will believe in Christ it is supplanted by eternal life, the continuation of the life that has been granted here on this earth, a life that goes on and on, a life outside the limitations of time. But what about death? “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 215:25,26) Jesus is now reigning in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2) and will continue to reign until he returns in triumph (see Rev 19). As we read on in Revelation we see an ultimate judgment before God and then we read, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:14,15)

Hades?  Sheol, a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, is normally simply defined as ‘the state or resting place of the dead.’  When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, ‘Hades’ was substituted for ‘Sheol’.  Hades is similarly ‘ the state or resting place of the dead’. However we view this Jewish belief of ‘the place of the dead’ at the end, any place, location or existence (apart from the Lake of Fire containing the banished spirit beings) is utterly removed so death or any other potential area of concern is removed. Fire, as I have commented previously is always seen as a means of complete destruction. The fact that ‘death’ is consigned to the fire means the end of it.

Death appears the end but ‘the first death’ is merely a doorway out of this existence on earth. The ‘second death’ (Rev 20:14) is the end from which there is no return. This leaves us speculating further about Hades, ‘the resting place of the dead’. Our problem when considering these things is that we cannot comprehend the absence of time. Possibilities appear to be that the redeemed pass immediately into God’s presence (“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Lk 24:43) but all others pass into a timeless zone, ready to be raised again later (Rev 20:5,13) for final judgment.  Don’t think in time and space.

The Beginning of the End? After this, all that is left is the New Heaven and the New Earth and the New Jerusalem (see Rev 21:1,2) This is the dwelling place of the people of God with their God for eternity. (Rev 21 & 22)  The past experience of time-space history, of limited-term-lives, brought to an end by death, is now all past. Material life is past and now all  (all?????) that is left is timeless eternity and the wonder of all that means, that will only become clear when we experience it. A word we have avoided but which arises a number of times in the above contexts, is ‘resurrection’ and so we will consider that in the next study.

11. Resurrection = Power

(We pick up the threads again of the series we started before Lent, particularly appropriate after Easter))

PART TWO: Lifted up – for Resurrection

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 11. Resurrection = Power

Phil 3:10    I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection

The Resurrection Parallel: As we move into the second Part of this saeries, we remind ourselves that we are basing these studies on Jesus’ words about “when I am lifted up” which can have three applications. The first was about being lifted to die and the second one, which is a quite natural follow-on when we consider Jesus’ life, is about resurrection. The parallel with Jesus death and resurrection and the same happening, in spiritual terms at least in our lives, is strong in the New Testament.

We have seen it previously in Romans 6; now see it in Ephesians 3:  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”  (Eph 3:18-20) i.e. the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that now indwells you. There is a hint of what is coming in the final Part that we will consider – ascension and ruling in heaven and that is put as a parallel by Paul when he speaks about our inheritance. At this point in time, this is expressed as hope for the future which we are encouraged to believe in, as we take hold of it today in the power of God that we experience. Do you see how all these things are inter-related?

Death essential: Of course without death there cannot be resurrection. We see that from earliest preaching: This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2:23,24) and the apostle Paul, as we saw previously, follows on from that: We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  (Rom 6:4) It sounds an obvious thing but when you apply it to the spiritual parallel of our lives, it becomes vital. If we do not put to death all those things we considered in the first Part, they will act as a hindrance to us being able to enter into the experiences paralleled by resurrection which we will consider as we go through this Part.

Indeed, when we start thinking about resurrection parallels in our lives, the thought that death MUST go before, puts a new emphasis behind all we said in that first Part. Our starting point had been the picture of the seed falling into the ground and ‘dying’ and without that happening, it cannot possibly ‘germinate’, get nourishment from the soil, be watered and grow. The burying and ‘dying’ is vital.

God’s Sovereignty must mean Our Surrender: But then we considered the matter of sovereignty, and this is where a unique dynamic comes in. Unlike a do-it-yourself activity or working from a self-help book, living out the Christian faith is not only about following the instructions of the teaching in the New Testament but also taking the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit; it is a personal relationship thing and that can’t happen unless we are willing to put aside our own hopes, desires and dreams and submit to the Lord’s plans for our lives – which are always better!!!! But for His will to prevail, ours has to die.

Available to all People: When it comes to people, it is so easy to let personal likes or dislikes prevail, but Jesus is open to all and wants us to be available to all, but we cannot do that and be his instrument unless we are willing to die to those likes or dislikes in respect of people, our own prejudices. If it applies generally to people, it certainly applies where we have a need to be forgiven or to forgive. Failure to die to self means the Lord cannot raise up new life in the form of reconciliation and healing.

Don’t Lose the Resources: Then there was the subject of allowing people or systems or methods to replace our reliance on the Lord Himself. While we rely upon or look to anyone or anything other than the Lord as our resource, we will not be able to receive the flow of His Spirit, His power, into our lives. We have to die to those other ‘resources’ if we are to become recipients of the Lord’s resources. Jeremiah had to bring the word to God’s people, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water,” (Jer 2:13) which was all about substitutes.

Reliance in all areas = blessing in all areas: Anxiety and worry, and the whole subject of trusting the Lord is, at the heart of it, all about knowing the Lord in daily experience, not merely in reading about Him in His word. Death to self means turning to Him, relying upon Him, turning to Him with all problems and difficulties, whether intellectual, material, spiritual or emotional, and not making our own intellect or cleverness, or our own will-power, the resource we will rely upon.  Anxiety closes us down. Reliance releases resources.

This is a very real issue. Another way of putting it is to ask are we godly or godless, selfless or selfish, when it comes to running our lives? Death to the godless and selfish approach to life is essential if we are to let the Lord move in with resurrection power to deliver us in the trials we face in life and shine as His children.

Pleasure, a supplementary gift: Finally we considered the difficult path of enjoyment and pleasure that can exclude the Lord from our lives. In such a case it is death to excess, death to making pleasure the source of meaning and fulfillment for our lives. Where the seeking after pleasure through goods or experiences has subtly grown to fill our lives to the exclusion of the Lord, then balance is never going to come and all we can hope for is a jaded ‘existence’ if we fail to put to death such a reliance. In today’s age that is a particularly hard thing in modern life.

Life Options: So there it is: failure to face and deal with these very real issues means we will be consigned to a mundane life of ordinariness, jadedness and frustration, a life where the glory and wonder of the Lord cannot break through in resurrection power. Clearly the opposites of these things that we have considered, and which need putting to death, will be goals of the resurrection life and so, having dealt with them thus far, we will endeavor not to repeat them in the following studies. Instead we will consider what the resurrection life means and how it can be experienced, even in what we might consider the ordinary aspects of the Christian life, so they can become less ordinary and become a source of excitement, faith and hope, rather than drab, taken-for-granted features of formal religion. Remember, this second Part is all about power to live the new Christian life.

3. A Question of Sovereignty

Lessons in Growth  Meditations: 3. A Question of Sovereignty

Mark 2:14  As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

An Imaginary Conversation: I have more than a few times, as I have written these studies, thought how easily we either read or hear words without taking in the reality of what is being conveyed. I mean, take the verse above. Here is Levi a tax collector and Jesus walks up and says “Follow me,” and so he leaves his booth and goes. Too easy! If I was writing a novel I would want to enlarge what happened:

“Hullo, I’m Jesus.”

“Yes, I know I’ve heard all about you.”

“OK, well I’m looking for a band of men to train up to take over my work when I’m gone so I want you to come with me.”

“But I’ve got a job.”

“This will be a better one. Come with me.”

“Where are you going?”

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“What are we going to do?

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“When will I be fit enough to take over your job?”

“You’ll find out when you follow me.”

Varied Experiences: Maybe it was like that, maybe it was just as simple as the text shows. I find that people’s experiences of coming to Christ are like that. I had a friend who argued his way into a corner over several months before he surrendered to Christ. I have come across others who just seemed to hear the call and in all simplicity said yes. We’re all different but whether we realise it or not, we all respond to the same call.

Simplicity of Experience: If my own experience is anything to go by, it frequently isn’t a neat, concise experience but one that may have a dramatic moment, lacking by some, but even then the realities of it take a while to sink in. I had heard the gospel from the mouth of the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century and had gone home to make a decision. The extent, the depth, or the shallowness of my prayer that night is not, I believe, a measure of what was coming, but then perhaps it was. I simply prayed, never having prayed before and not knowing what one should say, “Well, God, I’ve heard it tonight and although I suspect I don’t understand half of it, all I know is if you want my life, I will say I believe in Jesus, and here is my life if you want it. Please take it. Amen.”  Or words very much like that – it is now fifty years ago! With that I climbed into bed and fell asleep.

All I can tell you is that when I woke next morning I was a totally different person. That day I was visiting a cousin and spent the day trying to convert him – with almost zero knowledge! I started going to church each Sunday, I bought a Bible and started reading it, I became involved with a youth outreach team which necessitated me moving. Within two years, somehow or other I was leading seven Bible studies a week, my desire was to share what happened with whoever would listen, and along the way I found a wonderful Christian girl who became my wife. A transformed life and it has carried on changing, as I say, for fifty years. Later this morning, I am going out for the first time to help set up a soup kitchen for the homeless. What tomorrow holds, I don’t know.

When I look back on that first prayer, the words that I do remember clearly were, “here is my life if you want it.” It was a radical surrender and, regardless of the words, we use, I believe that is at the heart of every conversion, that willingness to say, I believe, I surrender to you, please save me and take and lead my life, for all of that was in that little part of the prayer I’ve just recounted.

Who Rules? Now you may wonder where this fits in with this series. Well, in the two starting ‘studies’ I suggested that the first phase of the Christian life destined to grow, is death. We die to our old lives and at the heart of that, as my heading today indicates, it is all a matter of sovereignty – who rules, me or Him?  Now I wish it was as simple as that – and don’t believe any preacher who says it is! But it isn’t. On that night, all those years ago, my commitment was real. I had been moved, I had been convicted and all I knew was that I had to surrender – whatever that meant? – and give God my life and put my life in His hands – whatever that meant? We can only act and respond in the measure of the knowledge we have at the time. So, yes, I believe there will be this one-off initiating surrender and God knows the reality of it and impart His Holy Spirit and we are ‘born again’, but that is just the start.

I suspect there are countless times when we come to a fresh place of surrender where, one way or another, we say, “All right Lord, you win, I give in,” and that may be on a requirement to forgive, a need to give, a need to let go, or a whole range of other possibilities.  Each time we face a new challenge from the Lord or from His word, this same thing will take place; we will face the confrontation: “Follow me.” “But what will happen?” “Leave it with me.” “How will I be able to do it?” “I will enable you.”

My Need to Die: It is indeed a case of dying to my self-sovereignty. If I am to grow, it has to die, again and again and again. Now again, if my experience is anything to go by, don’t think that such decisions are split second, momentary things. I think the reality is that sometimes the Lord works on us for weeks or even years to bring changes about, and the amazing thing is that He is patient and loving – and persevering! He will get His way, because He IS sovereign. Whether it is arguing at a burning bush with a Moses, or wrestling with a Jacob through the night or re-equipping a fallen Peter, He will persevere when He sees the potential that you and I cannot see in ourselves.

More than Shallow Emotion: I’ve lost count of the number of times I have sat listening to preachers calling for “surrender” or “commitment” and I find it frustrating because unless the Holy Spirit is convicting us, it will just be an emotional response to please the preacher.  In general terms, I don’t know what it means to ‘surrender’ or ‘be committed’ (don’t be shocked). All I know is that there are times when He confronts me with a “Follow me,” and it becomes an issue, and somehow, with His grace even, I have to come to a point of conviction and saying, “OK,” and that’s it. We move on. I change. He relentlessly pursues His purposes for me and blessing follows.

You see, it took a lot of years, but I have become convinced (why did it take so long, it’s clearly there in His word???) that He has plans and purposes that perfectly fit me and they are for good – mine and for people around me – because He’s like that. When He says, “Follow me,” my intellect says, yes, that’s a good thing, but I know the truth – it’s often through a struggle and ultimately that truth is summed up in, “Will I die to my desire to be lord of my life, and let Him be instead, because He’s so much better at it than I am?” Enough!

26. Life

Short Meditations in John 5:  26. Life

Jn 5:26  For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself

Sometimes in scripture the most simple of verses have the most profound of meanings. “As the Father has life in himself.”  We live every day without much thought about the wonder of it. We even take it casually when we hear that Mr. John Smith has died at the age of 52. It is more shocking, and it pulls us up when a child dies or someone dies in an accident but mostly we take it for granted that one day will follow another. I am at an age that, fifty years ago would have been considered old, but I anticipate not dying tomorrow. On today’s standards I could live for another twenty-five years. The truth is that we take ‘life’ for granted but people do die and life comes to an end. For us it is fragile. If I stay out unprotected in freezing conditions, I will die. If I fall into the sea and can no longer swim, I will die.  I could have a heart attack and suddenly life is not here.

The thing about ‘life’ is that we have little control over it. We know that if we don’t do the normal things expected of a human being – eat, drink, take exercise, we will die, for we are not immortal and so something could happen that means we no longer have life. But this is not true of God. There are a number of things that make Him substantially different from us, but this is perhaps the main one. He IS immortal, He needs nothing to sustain Him.

I wonder if this particular characteristic (apart from Him being so big) is what makes Him scary and makes people fall down before Him. In His real presence does a person suddenly realise that here is someone utterly different from ‘me’? This someone has life but not as we know it for His is not reliant upon anything else – oxygen, food, drink – this being just exists.

But even more, this being has the ability to impart ‘life’, the ability to make something live and become someone, a living sentient being. Why do we struggle with the thoughts of Adam and Eve when we realise these things? But now Jesus has been taking us into the spiritual realm and has been speaking about spiritual life, life that means interacting with The Divine Being and, similarly, this Being is the One who has the capability of imparting that.

But wait a minute, that is what Jesus is now claiming, that he too has life in himself that is reliant upon no one and nothing and, even more we have already seen, he can impart that life – physical and spiritual – to whoever comes to him for it. Now this puts him on a par with the Father – he is God! We have said previously that he makes subtle inferences in respect of his divinity, but this is not so subtle!

20. Living & Dying

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 20 :  A Time for Living and Dying

Eccles 3:2     a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

We started out this new section yesterday reflecting on the truth that timing is important, that life is built around timing. Our starting point now, and it is the obvious place to start, is with being born. There is a time to be born. Being born and dying, the two ends of our life, and we have a say in neither of them. We speak about free will and all the choices God gives us, but that excludes the start and finish of our lives. We had absolutely nothing to do with our coming into this world. For some of us, our arrival was a surprise to our parents. For some, our parents wish we hadn’t been born, yet the truth is that when God looked into the future from the beginning He saw us, knew us, and saw and knew that we would respond to Him and rejoiced over us.

With God there is this strange difference, that we struggle to understand, the difference between knowing we are coming and then seeing our arrival. It is strange because sometimes we say that God is outside of time and looks down on time and thus knows and sees everything all the time. Confused? Don’t worry, the important thing is to remember that when we arrived on this earth, when we were born, the Lord rejoiced at our arrival because He knew we would become one of His children. David understood something of this when he wrote, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psa 139:16) God knew what you would be like, knew that you would respond to Him, and He eagerly looked forward to the moment of your arrival – the potential that was you had arrived and would soon grow into that person who would, one day, turn to Him and become a child of God.

My arrival came in the fullness of time. It needed my two parents, who needed two parents, who needed two parents…..  That why the genealogies in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are so important. They speak about a flow of history. That history had to flow as it did before I could come into being. There was indeed a time for me to be born, this unique person made up of the genes of preceding generations. For the person to be who I am today, I had to come into this particular part of history so that I would react to all the unique circumstances of this time, and those circumstances would react with my genes so that nature plus nurture plus God’s activity would produce the unique person that I am today.

How much did God direct life and people to produce me as the person that I am today? That is probably one step too far for us to understand, but we are moving towards the understanding that God spoke and acted into life to help direct and bring about the person who is me, the person who is temporarily clothed with a human body of flesh and blood. It was this body that is the vessel in which the real me develops and who, one day, will leave this body for a new one (1 Cor 15:43,44). The mystery of the real me is indeed a mystery. How life was imparted at conception, how a new spirit being came into being, is a mystery more than physical cells. When we move into eternity, will we find out that the real ‘me’ was a spirit injection at that point of conception, a real genuine injection by God that produced what we call life, and which we take for granted? Did Job understand that? The breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job33:4)

From that point it needed nine months (give or take a few days in most cases) to form me and prepare this body to be able, with some help, to survive on this earth. Then at the right time, my mother’s body ejected me and my life on earth began. To achieve what this little baby is, an almost infinite amount of things had to happen on the earth beforehand. Now it begins.

Time passes and an almost infinite number of things (well a number of things beyond counting!) and this body slows down and one day stops. Again Job said, Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21) The psalmist wrote, The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty (Psa 90:10). As history has developed and health has improved, that may have even increased – yet none of us knows when death will come. All we know is that it will: man is destined to die.” (Heb 9:27). Yes there are serious illnesses and people die, there are accidents and people die, wars and people die, but most of the time we don’t know why it is that the body just stops and heart beat and brain waves, the two usual measurements of the presence of life, cease.

Sometimes the very elderly seem to give us a clue when they say, “I’ve had enough of this life; I think it’s time to go.” The Lord alone knows, but is there indeed within the divine plan, a length of life that is right for this particular body, this particular person? Yes, we know the Lord knows when we will leave here, but is there an optimum time for us to go, when all He has wanted of us has been achieved, and all the resources He has given our bodies are used up? The Lord can clearly extend life when He wants to (see 2 Kings 20:6, and Jesus raising people from the dead in the Gospels). He clearly removed people in judgment or discipline (see Acts 5:5,10, 12:23), so is it that at the appointed time, it is the Lord Himself who stops our bodies and takes the real us on into the next world?

When we came into the world at the right time, we were helpless. As we grew we were able to make our own choices and our own decisions. We lived the life we chose and that God gave. When the time comes for us to leave, will we be able to look back and say, “It has been good. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”? (2 Tim 4:7). May it be so!

16. Who will follow

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 16 :  Who will follow me?

Eccles 2:18,19     I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.

Do you ever find yourself in light sleep and a particular dream or set of thoughts keeps on going round and round. It’s a little bit like that here with Solomon. He’s started with the thought that all he’s ever done is meaningless because one day he’s going to die and whether he’s wise or a fool that is going to happen. Death was inevitable. But then as he thought some more he also realised that all that he had done and achieved was meaningless in the face of death because he could not take it with him.

As that thought settled in his mind, he then realised that not only could he not take it with him, but he would have to leave it to someone, probably in his family, who would be left after he had gone, and who would then take everything he had left and use it as he will. That thought didn’t settle very well in him either. He continued on, almost in despair, from our verses above,So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.” (v.20,21).

Here he was; he had put all his life into great projects, bringing prosperity to the country and to his family, great riches and wealth like few had seen before him, and for what, to be left to his children who may squander it all foolishly. Whatever was the point of all of that? What a waste of time!

In fact, for Solomon, these thoughts were not too far from the truth, because after he died, his son Rehoboam acted foolishly and lost three quarters of the kingdom. Before long Israel had been invaded and soon all of Solomon’s wealth was taken, but it was all for the same reason: Solomon’s foolishness in drifting away from the Lord because of his foreign wives.

So is it a total waste of time being successful during our lifetime? Is it meaningless that we have to hand it all over to our children when we die, not knowing if they will use what we leave wisely or not? There have got to be at least two aspects to the answer to those questions. The first one is to recognize what we have already been saying in these mediations, that our lives will only have real meaning as far as we have a living relationship with the Lord. Knowing Him, knowing His guidance, sensing His purpose for our lives, these are the things that bring meaning to us. Our work, our career etc. should flow out of that relationship and because they do they should receive the guidance and blessing of the Lord.

When it is like that we have a real sense of purpose, achievement and fulfillment that is properly balanced, that enables us to form, keep and maintain relationships in a family that are not drained away by our work. Work becomes just a part of our lives; relationship with others is the healthy balance.

Indeed if we have a healthy balance from the Lord, then there will be other things in our lives as well as work, which we use and enjoy as recreation, the fourth balancing part of our lives – God, family, work, recreation. Indeed if we are wise and allow the Lord to lead us, our lives will have a giving element to them as well, the fifth balancing part to our lives, as we look outwards and allow the Lord to use us to bless others. When we can find this fivefold balance to our lives – the Lord, family, work, recreation, giving out – then we will truly find a sense of fulfillment and meaning and purpose. That will truly be a good life.

But what about leaving everything to our children? Is that meaningless?  That raises the question of what we leave to them. If it is purely money and possessions then we have missed half of what could be. Surely the greatest things we can leave them include the knowledge of being loved by us, a sense of security in that love, an understanding of the good and right way to walk with the Lord and to live out their lives in a relationship with Him, walking in righteousness and holiness. We cannot guarantee they walk in these things but we can leave them an example in their memories. Hopefully they will follow our example, but that is up to them for we cannot make them.

If we leave them money and possessions, we need to do it in love and trust, leaving them to use it wisely – or otherwise. It will be down to them. What they do with it may be a memorial to our memory – or not. As we pass on we may ask the Lord to give them wisdom to use it wisely, and trust that He will. We may also pray that He helps them have the same balance in their lives, after you have gone – the Lord, family, work, recreation, giving out, and in that way you will know that your life was meaningful and you contributed to the same being able to be said about theirs. May it be so!

15. Can’t take it

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 15 :  You can’t take it with you

Eccles 2:17,18   So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.

Today’s title sums it up, yet I’m sure some people don’t believe it! Observe people’s priorities, the things people consider the most important. We make choices in life and those choices reveal our priorities. The priorities for the person who does not believe in God MUST be to seek to create some sort of meaning in life. If life is purely material and there is no God then all we can do is try and fill our lives with activities that make us feel we have meaning. So some people put all their energies into making money, building a business, developing a career, or having a family. For the person with no God, these all becomes exercises at creating meaning. And who knows, success comes. Lots of money, a thriving business, a renowned career, a great family; perhaps it all works out really well.

And then one day you are confronted with the unpleasant fact that you are getting old. Possibly, for it happens to many, you are threatened with what appears a terminal illness. However it happens, suddenly you are made to realise that your days are limited and death IS coming. At that point you look at your big bank balances, and your stocks and shares, you look at the fame you have achieved, you look at the business that is still blossoming and you look at the family where there are now even great grand children, and you suddenly realise that sometime in the not distant future, all this is going to be separated from you and you are going to lie down and die, and it is all going to continue without you. This reality has a sobering effect upon you and, like Solomon you look at it all and wonder and conclude it is all meaningless because this is what you have achieved – and there is a lot to show – but you can take none of it with you!

But for you, if you are a Christian, that is not how it is. At some point you came to realise that your life was missing something, your life was inadequate, your life was wrong, and you were godless. You heard about Jesus and you responded eagerly to the good news of the Gospel and suddenly life changed.  Suddenly one of Jesus’ enigmatic sayings meant sense: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:39). All the time you had been working to find the meaning of life, it seemed elusive. You found yourself and achieved great things, but it was all meaningless. This was not ‘life’. It still left you with an empty feeling, and then you came to that all-important day when you surrendered to Jesus Christ and suddenly everything made sense, suddenly there was meaning to do with life, and it was all to do with God.

Initially (and hopefully still is) there was a hunger in you, that wanted to know more, wanted to know God, wanted to know about Him and what he had done for you, wanted to know what he wanted of you, and wanted to know what He said He had for you. Suddenly life was filled with God-questions and it took on a completely new perspective. In the present you came across a reassuring instruction: seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33). Put God first and he’ll sort out and provide all the material things you need. Suddenly that took the pressure off having to succeed. The all important thing was now God and what He wanted for your life, for He promised that if you left it up to Him, then blessing would follow.

But much more than that, you found constant references in the New Testament to you having an eternal future. Death was not the end. After death came the next phase, an even more gloriously wonderful phase of living in heaven in God’s presence. That knowledge brought a new perspective to life here today. Yes, it was a limited time but it was a time given by God, inspired and directed by God and it was given over to pleasing Him and blessing the people around you. That brought a new freedom in respect of your career, your business and everything else. These were all temporary things and although they were important, they were secondary to knowing God and knowing His will for your life. This meant that when it came to making decisions – God’s will or your career – God’s will came first, and to your surprise, your career blossomed as well, because God blessed it. Will the knowledge of God’s will, changes of direction came as well, and with those changes of direction came even more blessing. Three times in my life I have gone with God’s guidance and every time my quality of life has gone up. Twice I have changed my complete career but twice life just got better. This is how it is with God.

As you’ve looked over these last paragraphs, have you been able to identify with what is described there? I hope so. If life is stale, if life is frustrating, if life has lost it’s meaning, it’s not about perking up your career, it’s about checking your relationship with the Lord. That is the crucial key to your life here on earth and the life to follow.

14. Same End

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 14 :  The Same End

Eccles 2:14-16 I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I thought in my heart, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said in my heart, “This too is meaningless.” For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!

Death, they say, is a great leveller!  Think about this for a moment. Here is Solomon and he’s probably the world’s best example from ancient times of a man who, in modern parlance, had been there, done it and got the tee-shirt! From all he tells us in this book, in all we read of his life in 1 Kings, and all we catch of his wisdom in the book of Proverbs, here is a man whose life had been full! Whether it is actually true or not, he seems to have been a man constantly on the go. He is a great national leader and he’s the richest man in the world. He is looked up to by other kings. He stands out like no other – and it’s all the work of God.

There are times in the Old Testament when I look and wonder if the Lord did something with someone or allowed a certain set of circumstances, simply so that in the days to come, we would be able to look and understand the incredible range of people and circumstances. Job is an obvious classic example of a rich man who had it all taken away from him, a case study on how men react under such circumstances. Samson was a case study of how charismatic people with immense strength cope with it – or don’t.  Solomon is the classic example of a man who has been given immense wisdom, a case study in how to fill your life with activity and achievement. There are great men and ordinary men in the Bible, evil women and good women. There are rich men and not so rich men; there are women with big families and women who can’t have children. The range of people, their characteristics and their circumstances is enormous, yet there is one common fact that unites them all – they all died. They lived out their years, and then died.

We were all born. That we know today. We know how we came onto this planet. We also know, deep down, that one day we will no longer be here. One day we are all going to die:man is destined to die once.” (Heb 9:27). Hence the world’s saying, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor 15:32).  We all know that death is there lurking and we never know when it will come for us. Every day across the world, there are people dying at all ages. We never know when it will come, but come it will.  For many it is something to be feared, the great unknown: those … held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:15).

Solomon has been pondering the wise and the foolish and now he faces this truth: “The fate of the fool will overtake me also”. Having realised that, he thought,What then do I gain by being wise?” You can be as wise as you like, as rich as you like, and as powerful as you like, but your end is going to be the same as the fool: you will die! As we said death is the great leveller.  We need to realise that this latest question from Solomon should be seen in the context of his wondering about death. Previously he has concluded that there are good and practical reasons why it is better to be wise than foolish. No, his present question is purely in the context of death. When it comes to death, all your great wisdom counts for nothing! Great wisdom will not stop you dying. Great riches will not stop you dying. Bill Gates is going to die one day and then be answerable to his Maker. Every rich and powerful person across the face of the earth is one day going to die. They will not be able to escape it. It doesn’t matter how rich or how powerful, they are all going to die and all face God. It doesn’t matter whether they believe in an afterlife or not, death will happen and then they will know!

But Solomon has got a further humbling thought in his mind: For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Not only will you die, but in the years that follow here on earth – the earth where you are not – those who are left here will soon forget you.  Oh yes, every now and then, you will come to someone’s remembrance, but mostly you will be forgotten. However great you think yourself today, in a hundred years, your body will be dust, and your soul will be in heaven or hell, and on earth here, there will probably be no one who remembers you! What a cheerful meditation! Well, no, it’s not meant to be; it’s meant to be realistic.

What are the lessons here?  First, make the most of today. You’ll only live it once and all the days you have are limited. Death will come. Second, make the most of today with God, because how you live in response to Him will determine what happens after death. Now you may think we’ve made rather heavy weather of these verses, but they bring out a most serious point – you will die, and after that there is eternity. If that is so, and if what you do today determines your eternity, then what you do today takes on a new significance! How you respond to Jesus, how you respond to the call of his Spirit; these things will determine your eternal destiny. Don’t waste today!