37. The Father’s work

Short Meditations in John 6:  37. The Father’s Work

Jn 6:37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 

The danger of meditating on individual verses is that it is so easy to lose a sense of the overall picture. The flow here is that the people in the crowd ask for the bread Jesus has spoken about (v.34). Jesus then spoke about himself as the bread of life (v.35) but declared that he knows they are not believing him (v.36). He then puts that into the bigger context of this present verse.

The first thing he is saying is that the reality is that people will not believe in him and come to him unless the Father (God) draws them, people whose hearts have been prepared and are receptive. Becoming a follower of Jesus (a Christian) is, first and last, a work of God. He (the Holy Spirit) convicts the individual and when they respond to Him with repentance He indwells them, God having justified them and then adopted them into His family. Our bit, the bit in the middle, is simply to surrender to Him and repent and seek His forgiveness. The rest is His activity.

There appears within this a sense of peace over who comes and who doesn’t, and perhaps we should rest in this ourselves, for there may be those we would like to see come to Christ – and we can certainly pray for them – but ultimately it is a work of God, a work that He brings to bear, I believe, on those He sees will be open to Him. Who that is always remains a mystery, but it should never take away our sense of optimism, that this one we have been sharing with and praying for, may yet turn and be born again.

Our part, seen in this verse, is seen in the words, “will come to me” and “whoever comes to me…” There is a significance in this which should not be missed. I recently was in a service where at the end a man responded to what had been going on and joyfully said, “I have found God in this service,” and I couldn’t help feeling, no you’ve been pointed in the right direction but we need to introduce you to Jesus.  ‘Coming to God’ is one thing but unless our seeker is introduced to Jesus and told that Jesus is his/her saviour who died for their sins, that initial excitement will go nowhere and will simply be dissipated and will result in a nominal church-going, not a transformed life.

For the person with the weak conscience or low self-esteem, Jesus affirmation that, “I will never drive away,” must come as a great assurance. Somebody said to me the other day, ”But I’m not worthy,” and I had to agree but added, “None of us is, but He makes us worthy by receiving us, accepting us then changing and transforming us, but that is a lifelong exercise.” He will not push you away, whatever.

17. The Father who works

(after two months of fairly intensive studies in the Focus on Christ we now revert back to continue an earlier series of short studies in John’s Gospel)

Short Meditations in John 5:  17. The Father who works

Jn 5:17  Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

The ‘Jews’, you will remember, objected first of all to the healed man carrying his bedroll on the Sabbath – which they considered was doing work, and then later they persecuted Jesus for healing on the Sabbath which they said (admittedly implied) was work and therefore wrong.

Jesus takes this opportunity to make an interesting observation: “My Father is always at his work”.  A fairly reasonable assumption, when they thought about it (as Nicodemus had done), is that they would have to agree healing was an act of God. Jesus presses on this assumption and implies that this healing was God working up to the present moment; He was not a God at a distance or a God in the past, but a God who came close and healed people – now.

So far so good, but if Jesus had simply said, “God is always at his work, and this healing is a demonstration of it,” that could simply be taken to mean Jesus saying, “This was a work of God and I am simply His instrument, but he didn’t, he used the word ‘Father’, which created a point of tension in the Jews. Even more, he went on and declared, “and I too am working,” aligning himself even more with his Father in heaven and (maybe) even claiming divinity himself. When we move on into the next verse we will see exactly how the Jews took this, but for the moment we focus on what Jesus himself meant.

When we move on into the verse after that we will see that Jesus uses the word ‘Son’ of himself, aligning himself even more with the Father. The Synoptic Gospels were not very strong on this point, but John had had many years to reflect and ponder and remember the things he had heard Jesus say in those three wonderful years and so he, alone among the Gospel writers, is absolutely sure that Jesus is and was the unique Son of God and, even more, he had proclaimed that in a variety of ways.

As we move on through the Gospel we will see them coming out more and more clearly. His claims to divinity were sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant. So far, to our eyes perhaps more than those of the Jews, it is fairly subtle, but nevertheless Jesus is taking this opportunity to bring out the truth about himself. As we hinted previously, perhaps by choosing this particular man in this particular place, he didn’t only want to reveal to us that he had the power to heal a man with chronic long-term illness (38 years of infirmity) but, knowing the man and knowing that would ensue, he used or created this opportunity to provide a time when he could start dropping some truths about himself before these legalistic Jews. Divine strategy!

27. Assessing Value

Meditations in Meaning & Values  27. Assessing Value

Gal 5:2    I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all

We have started to think about ‘values’. We noted that laws flow out of values. We considered that we need to identify values but even more importantly, where they come from, their origin. We also observed that many people simply adopt other people’s values, often those of celebrities or ‘big names’. We concluded the last meditation by starting to ponder about love being a basic foundation for values and God being the ultimate source of love, but what if you remove God? Can you have love, can you have values without God? Well the obvious answer is yes, of course you can, because there are nations that do not know God but still have laws, and those laws suggest they have values.

You may wonder why we have chosen the above verse with the apostle Paul speaking of circumcision. Well essentially what he was saying was that if you were a Jewish Christian and you relied upon circumcision to establish your relationship with God (as Abraham did) then you had no need of Christ. Now we can go a stage further in this consideration of values and say that many people have desires to be ‘good’ but work to achieve that appearance of goodness and acceptance by others, and so their ‘efforts’ mean they don’t turn to God for His help or His way of bringing about goodness or righteousness. We can substitute activity for God, and this is what many people do, and in so doing they reveal that in theory at least they hold to certain values. They value the activity more than they value God, or God’s way of doing things.

A basic dictionary definition of ‘value’ starts with worth, what we assess the worth of someone or something. We find that usage in the early part of the Bible in Leviticus where it was possible for Israelites wanting to dedicate themselves to the Lord, to give money instead of themselves. Thus you find, The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `If anyone makes a special vow to dedicate persons to the LORD by giving equivalent values, set the value of a male between the ages of twenty and sixty at fifty shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel; and if it is a female, set her value at thirty shekels.” (Lev 27:1-4) Now I’m sure many of us leap up at the apparent demoting of women but I would suggest that in those days it was simply because the man was the breadwinner and the protector who even went to war to protect his family. In crudely practical terms, if he died it would be a greater loss and would threaten the very existence of that family (remember, in those days) than if the wife died and whose caring functions could be replaced by a servant.

I would also suggest there is an additional thing, that God knows men need additional esteem. I believe women (and in that society it would be most women of child bearing age) knew their worth the moment they had had a baby. The worth of this life bringer and one who will nurture the life into adulthood cannot be measured. We play down this function and in our misguided-values society we place more value on a ‘career’ as if working in a shop or wherever else is a greater career that raising a human life. But that is how we skew values today!

There, already in the consideration we have been considering the value of human life and of human gender, but it is what we all do subconsciously all the time and we show it by the way we respond to people.

I have always been struck by the way the apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders when he said, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)  The more you pay for something the more you will value it or the more value is attributed to it. Now suppose my wife had a ring that I had given to her at our wedding. She will no doubt value it. Now suppose we are robbed at gunpoint and the robbers take my wife’s ring and I chase them to get it back – and do retain it – but get shot and die in the process. I would suggest that that ring multiplies in value to her as not only a reminder to her of our wedding day, but also of the day I gave my life for it for her. If Jesus bought the church with his blood (and he did!) then what must he feel about us?  The appropriate word, I believe is we are precious to him.

I suspect value – meaning in this context, worth – can be estimated by the amount you input into something. Parents when they look at their child graduating from university, say, look on with pride but so often with nostalgic memories, thinking back to all those things that made up the life of that child now a young person, the times of crisis (and staying awake watching over them all night) and the times of joy (when they won their first swimming certificate). I am sure that part of their ‘valuing’ this young person is linked with all that they have put into them.

It is true in so many aspects of life. Here is the man or woman who has just been praised for the wonderful garden they have. They seek to shrug it off but deep down they look at this garden remembering how when they first came there it was a wilderness of grass and brambles and weeds. Hours and hours and hours of hard work have gone into this garden to make it the wonder that it is now. How can you value that?  Similarly how can you value this painting that the artist has told me took fifty hours to create? An aged artist was challenged over why his masterpiece paintings cost so much. He simply replied, you are paying for fifty years of experience.

Here’s a question for us Christians: how much do you value the work of Christ on the Cross, this work which was planned in detail from before the foundation of the world, hinted at through the period of the Old Testament, brought to earth by Jesus the Son of God, fulfilled at Calvary on Good Friday and ratified on Easter Sunday?  Have these truths so impacted us that we see the wonder and we see the cost to God of them and therefore we hold on to them as precious? How much do we value this work of God? Value appears in all aspects of live and no more so than in the Christian context.

46. Shut down or…

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 46. Shutdown or Set Free

Mk 2:23-24 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

This concept of legalistic opposition combined with the idea of the change from the old religion to the new, continues in Mark’s mind (or Peter’s if it is he dictating to Mark) and so now he comes up with yet another illustration of how Jesus and his disciples were under constant scrutiny by those religious groups that existed in Israel at that time.

The example is very simple. Jesus and his disciples are going somewhere on the Sabbath (their Saturday), a day which the Ten Commandments say should be respected and used to honour God. Unfortunately for them there are Pharisees in the neighbourhood. They were a conservative religious group who saw it their duty to uphold the Law. Unfortunately, again, they had taken the Law and split it down so they could administer it in every situation so when the Law said don’t work on the Sabbath they started to detail just what was and what wasn’t work.

The fact that they focused more on things you shouldn’t do rather than things you could do, meant that in their minds, life was shut down on the Sabbath. In the minds of many people (then and now) this meant that the Sabbath had become a miserable day. Was it not possible to remember God AND enjoy the world on that day? Obviously not according to the Pharisees!  When they see Jesus’ disciples picking the ears of corn to stave off their hunger as they passed this field (a legitimate thing to do) they object that this is a form of work and breaking the Sabbath rules.

They have successfully shut down life and convey a God who is picky and miserable, a far cry from the wonderful Creator who has provided this incredible world purely for our enjoyment. Therein is freedom, the freedom of Christ – to be able to use and enjoy this world, even on the Sabbath, and to be able to give glory to God for its wonder and for His love – on any and every day. God shouldn’t be remembered just on one day a week. That was a law for protecting a sinful world that so easily gets caught up in fearful money-generation, forgetting the glory of the One who is our provider. No, may we, the new people of God, remember His goodness and love and provision, every day of the week and may we give thanks. Are you shut down or set free?

 

33. Co-Worker

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 33 : Jesus, Co-Worker with the Father

Jn 5:17-20 Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working……  I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”

It is a common thought among Christians to wonder about God’s activity, for it seems sometimes as if the Lord is still and quiet and doing nothing, but we’ll suggest from the outset that this perception is either because He hides His activity from us, or we simply aren’t looking.  The reason for saying this is in these verses today.

Jesus makes a quite remarkable comment: My Father is always at his work. Add to that his comment that the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing and you realize, looking at the number of things Jesus did, that the Father must be very busy. Indeed when you consider John’s comment at the end of his Gospel, Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (Jn 21:25), you realize just a little of how much the Father is doing. The Father instigated and the Son implemented. Does the Lord do just as much today? Yes, why not? It’s just that we don’t see it. As we’ve said previously in these meditations, we need to learn to observe when the Father is working. That person who suddenly starts asking questions about the Christian faith after years of no interest, why are they doing it?  The Father is prompting them. Why do you sometimes find yourself thinking about faith issues? Because the Father is prompting. Why do people venture out in great new faith ventures? Because the Father is prompting.

So here we see Jesus declaring that he only does what he sees his Father in heaven doing. It is a perfect partnership. If you didn’t take in what we said earlier, here it is again: the Father instigates and the Son implements. The Father had the perfect overall picture and therefore know who was ready for what and conveys that to the Son in the limited human body, who then stretches out, speaks a word and brings about what is on the Father’s heart.

The apostle Paul said, we are God’s fellow workers (1 Cor 3:9) conveying the same idea. (Also 2 Cor 6:1). It is this same idea of partnership, working alongside God to do His bidding here on the earth. What are the requirements to be one of God’s fellow workers? Well, first of all it has to be availability. You may remember the writer to the Hebrews: when Christ came into the world, he said: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am–it is written about me in the scroll– I have come to do your will, O God’.” (Heb 10:5-7). Jesus accepted that the Father had given him a human body so that he could do God’s will on the earth – availability!

The second thing has to be a sensitivity to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, for that is how the Father conveys His intentions to us. Yes, He may convey His will through His word, through other people and through circumstances, but for the daily moment by moment service, the Father looks for our availability and your sensitivity to His leading. When He finds that He leads and we follow as His co-workers, just as Jesus showed us (Jn 14:12).

27. Entrusted One

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 27 : Jesus, the Entrusted One

Jn 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.

In the age in which we live, in Britain in the early part of the twenty first century, there is one particular tragedy that stands out and which has devastating effects. It is that of fathers abandoning their wives and their children. Far back in history, before people commuted to work (!), men worked from home or from a location close to home and the family unit, being a lot closer, had a part in that work.  Son would thus join the father in his work and eventually the father would hand over the business to the son who would pass it on to his son. Today all of that has gone and the concept of closeness of father and son seems almost alien, which is why the significance of our verse today may be lost on us.

Already in these meditations we have considered something of the closeness of the Father and the Son as revealed by John in his Gospel. There is something quite glorious in this verse, about intimacy and trust. Jesus declares something very simple but very profound: The Father loves the Son.” Sadly today many sons could not say that about their fathers, but Jesus knew it as a truth. Here in human form, separated from his Father in heaven, he still knew the Father loved him. It is part of human experience to know we are loved and where that is missing that is tragic. It is part of the confidence that the Son has.  Already the Father has intervened on earth to declare His approval of His Son (Mt 3:17) as Jesus was being baptised.  Approval indicates confidence and Jesus has that assurance, that confidence, from his Father. He knows he is loved and that love inspires confidence in what he does.

But then comes this incredible statement: The Father … has placed everything in his hands”. What is this ‘everything’?  It is the whole of the work or ministry that Jesus has come to do.  The outcome of your salvation and my salvation was entirely in Jesus’ hands.  He came first to reveal the Father through the works that he performed.  As we’ve already seen, the miracles were to act as signs pointing toward God, for whoever had eyes to see. The works in themselves, and the preaching and teaching that he brought, turned many to God and revealed God’s love to many in those three brief years. But then came the Cross, that work into eternity that took your sin and my sin so that we might be pardoned and forgiven and cleansed when we turned to God, so that justice could be seen to be done and all sin punished. This staggering work on the Cross was the means of all history being changed. All of that was committed into Jesus’ hands. The Father entrusted him with that work, something they had agreed upon before the foundation of the world.

This is the staggering truth, that the Godhead had placed the eternal future of many in the human race upon this one human body that carried the eternal Son. It seems such a fragile plan, dependant upon one human body, who had all of this eternal plan placed in his hands. The success or failure for a family for God in eternity depended on Jesus and the Father trusted him with it. How did the Son achieve it? We’ve seen it before: he watched the Father moving and followed His lead (Jn 5:19) and the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (Jn 5:22). Yes, the assessment of each human being is dependent on Jesus. It is first how each one of us responds to the Good News of Jesus Christ that we are saved or condemned, and the Son, now seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven confirms the assessment and saves or judges on the basis of our response to him. Awesome!

41. Contentment (3)

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 41 :  Learning to be Content (3)

Eccles 4:7,8 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless– a miserable business!

You may remember at the beginning of Ecclesiastes Solomon started off, Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccles 1:2) A number of times he has put content to that initial declaration and so now we find yet another thing that he has seen that he considers meaningless or pointless. Perhaps that word ‘pointless’ is one that might ring more bells for us than simply ‘meaningless’. There is no point in this, is what Solomon is saying.

Look, he says here, I have see one of these people that I have been talking about, who struggle and strive for meaning through work, to achieve greater and greater things, but this particular man has been working all the days God gives but the trouble is that he hasn’t got any close relative to leave it to or who could even benefit from it now. He’s just working for himself and as he comes to this realization of having no close family, he wonders why ever he is working and working like this. His work just goes on and on and yet there is no one else to benefit from it. Meanwhile as he is working away all the hours he has, he has no time to enjoy life; it is just passing him by.

I have observed a number of people who do exactly the same as the man in Solomon’s illustration. There are of course, those workaholics who use every waking hour to prosper their business but have no enjoyment of life. Their family never sees them so they cannot enjoy their wife or children and so becomes a virtual stranger to them. They may benefit from the wealth he accumulates but when it comes to relationships, their lives are empty.

Over the years I have watched a number of Christian leaders, good men given over to serving God, but as I have observed their lives I’ve sometimes wondered at the lack of variety, lack of creativity and indeed lack of enjoyment of life generally for these men. We may give ourselves over to sharing the Gospel and building up the church, but if we ourselves are not living in the good of God’s world and having time to build relationships with those closest to us, surely we are missing something and surely the form of Christianity we portray is seriously lacking!

There is another group of people in the world today that I have become aware of who are missing out on life. This isn’t to do with work though, so I am going off at a slight tangent here. I am thinking about the thousands and thousands of young people who are addicted to computer games or addicted to a social networking sites such as Facebook. Many young people (and no-so-young as well!) are spending hours and hours and hours on their computers or mobile phones while all around them the wonder of the world is being ignored. These are the new addictions to be added to those of drink and drugs. All such addictions mean that such people are missing out on the wonderful world that God has given us. Oh yes, it’s not just work that does this to us.

Perhaps we might sum it up by suggesting that contentment, real contentment, that is not one-sided or single-focused, involves having balance.  Balance here means keeping work in proportion and ensuring that it doesn’t take over your life. In fact, I would suggest, anything that takes over your life means that it robs you of the wonder of the experience of being a human being who has been designed by God to enjoy His world. Many of us forget that being a human being means we are a combination of capabilities and so we miss out on one of more of them. For instance, God has made us physical beings and so we have the capacity to enjoy the use of our senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch – all of these things given to us by the Lord for our enjoyment of His world. But we also have mental capabilities so we can read or write, think, reason and plan. We have a full range of emotional abilities and so we may laugh or cry, feel for others, enjoy, anguish and so on. But we are also spiritual beings and so we have the capacity to seek and know the Lord and be aware of the spiritual dimension to life.

A balanced person seeks to use all these capabilities, but even that needs the wisdom of God, for He has laid down boundaries and if we cross them, we harm ourselves. Over emphasis of our physical abilities means we fall into gluttony, alcohol abuse and so much more.  Over emphasis of the intellect can lead us into pride and arrogance. Spiritual ignorance means we miss out on the most exciting side of our lives – encounter with the living God, the Creator of all things. In all these things we need to come to Him and ask Him to show us how to live our lives, show us how to avoid the pitfalls that Sin and Satan would lead us into. Failure to do this means we are likely to fall into a jaded view of life that Solomon ended up with. May that not happen!

37. Like Animals

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 37 :  Like Animals

Eccles 3:18,19 I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.

When you lose contact with God, you lose contact with reality and when you lose contact with reality it means you lose contact with the truth. You may still retain partial truth, but away from God you are prey to negative thoughts, half truths and utter deception. Three dangerous little words: “I also thought.” How different from the strong words of the prophets who were able to say, “God said…. and God showed me….” It is a sad thing to watch an elderly person lose their grip on reality. Solomon was never a prophet but he was known to be the wisest man in the world – while he stuck with God, but once the deception of idolatry entered the royal palace it was a downward slope, and he’s left thinking his own thoughts, not God’s thoughts!

We have to be careful here for indeed all Scripture is inspired (see 2 Tim 3:16) but sometimes that means God inspired or nudged the writer to write, not that what they wrote was absolute truth. We see this in the arguing of Job; some of it is distinctly off the rails – but it is still useful to teach us! What Solomon says in these verses is basically true, but the sense of it is negative and it is only half truth. Let’s explain.

As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. In ONE sense this is true. In many others it is false. It is the one sense that Solomon is focusing upon. So what is he saying? He is saying that when pride takes a turn and we think we are so great, we need to see that we are just on the same level as all animals. Why? Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. There is it; we are on the same level as the animals in that both we and they are all going to die. That is a common feature of every living creature.

See how he continues: “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (v.20,21) There he moves in the same thinking – we’re all going to die and what is worse, we don’t know what is going to happen then, so like the animals we don’t know our eternal future.  Well of course this was Solomon speaking without the revelation that we now have in the New Testament. Don’t join in Solomon’s ‘Doubt Club’ for that is not where we are today. The New Testament is quite clear that when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ into our life we receive eternal life and that means a life that goes on after death, a life in heaven with God.

But look at the negativity that Solomon is left with: “So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?” (v.22)  Just try and get some enjoyment out of your work today because you don’t know what will happen when you leave this earth. That indeed is what many people are left with – godless people, unbelievers. Try to get the most out your work; that all you can hope for. Well fortunately there is much more we can hope for.

In the beginning we are told that God made us in his own image (see Gen 1:26.27). Now what does that mean? What characteristics or abilities do we see in us that makes us anything like God and which differentiates us from the animals?  We have the abilities to communicate, think, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose and plan. Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop. Go back over these things and catch the wonder of who He has made us to be.  So this doesn’t just leave us with mundane work; this opens up a panorama of possibilities of doing things for pleasure and to please others that means far more than struggling for survival.

We are fortunate to live in a part of history where these things are beginning to come to fullness and we have opportunities to do far more than only work. Meaning in life comes with a sense of fulfilment as we allow God to lead us to become the people He’s designed us to be. Yet there does need to be a warning. We can do all these creative things and yet still not find meaning for that only comes when we are in harmony with God. That IS how He’s designed us to work best and anything less than that means we struggle for meaning just as Solomon did in his latter days. Let’s ensure we avoid the ‘aged-Solomon syndrome’!

33. Eternity

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 33 :  Eternity

Eccles 3:9-11 What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Now in the previous meditation we pondered further on the question of work, or toil, or labour, because that is where verse 9 was leading us, and verse 10 speaking of a burden seems to naturally flow on from that, but when we add on verse 11 Solomon seems to do an amazing turn about which leaves us then wondering was that what he had meant by God’s burden? How do these verses knit together to make sense?

Well yes, he certainly starts from the point of talking about work and we’ve seen how he has felt frustrated about having to work with no ultimate meaning in it, and yes that does seem to be a burden that we cannot escape from without God. But then it is as if he says, but it’s not only work, for that is only one facet of life; there is this whole much bigger thing of meaning to life, which again we don’t seem to be able to make sense of.

Look at that amazing statement that he makes: He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, i.e. God has put within the hearts of every human being a sense that there is something more to life than just living out this material-based life for three score years and ten. There must be something more, something deep within us says. There must be ‘meaning’ to life!

This is the major thing that undermines the platform of the atheist, because they say that there is no God, life is just chance, pure blind chance, and yet deep inside us we know that that is not so. Why is it that countless generations of students have sat around contemplating the meaning of life, if there is no such thing? Why is it that it has even formed the heart of some humour, this contemplating meaning? Some philosophers have struggled with this and, excluding God from their equations of thought, have brought themselves to the edge of suicide. A world without meaning or purpose seems a terrible thing to us. Why? Is it because God has breathed life in to us and there is an echo of Him in every single human being and that echo is an echo of reality, of eternity, of Him?

So what is the burden of this feeling? It is that yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Without revelation from God we cannot know what the truth is. Why is it that there are so many world religions? Surely it is because of this sense from within that there is something more, and all religions except Judaism and Christianity are in fact mankind reaching out for this eternity, reaching out for some deity to make sense of life. Judaism and Christianity uniquely declare that God has revealed Himself – Judaism through Israel, and then Christianity through Israel and then His Son, Jesus Christ and finally through the Church.

Without God’s revelation though, we are doomed to frustration, doomed to struggling to make meaning of it all by ourselves, and hence the many different world religions. We may not be able to prove God’s existence, but once we accept it, suddenly everything else makes sense. This is where the Bible as a complete entity is so exciting because when we see it in its completeness we see the completeness of the revelation that starts with God creating the world, and finishes with Him redeeming it and bringing something new into being at the end of the material phase of it.

Yes, that is the truth revealed in the Bible, that the material world as we know it is limited in time and space and there will come a point where it ceases in the present form. The Bible clearly states what will follow but our understanding of that is not clear (for it doesn’t give us every detail) and which is why there are a number of interpretations of exactly how it will work out. Yet the truth is clearly stated, there is more than finite material existence, there is eternity, time without end, or timelessness!

And yes, there again we struggle to understand. We can use the words but our understanding is limited to that which God gives us. We are more than finite material-based human beings; there is an eternal element about us, something that will continue on after the material ceases to function and we lie down and ‘die’.  That, as far as I can see, is the only reason for the existence of an eternal hell, a place where God’s presence is not known, a terrible existence. It can only be because there is an element of us that carries on after life here, and when we choose not to be in God’s presence (as many do choose) then ‘hell’ is the only alternative. Oh yes, the concept of eternity carries with it many repercussions. Yet God has sent Jesus so that we don’t have to end up in that God-less existence. Instead we can receive eternal life from him and that means life in all its fullness in God’s presence in heaven. That is the wonder of the glorious alternative that is given to us if we will receive it.

17. More than work

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 17 :  More than just work

Eccles 2:24,25 A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

It’s taken two chapters of pondering before Solomon comes up with this conclusion. But isn’t that how it is with us foolish, sinful human beings. We have to rumble through all the possibilities until we see that most of them are futile and there is only one answer worth holding onto. The trouble is today that most people will not work their way through these things like Solomon did. One of the enemy’s strategies is to say, “It’s all right, you don’t want to think about such things, only religious people do that. You’re all right as you are!” This is true about the futility of the sin of mankind and it is true of the wonderful good news that the Gospel brings us: most people just don’t want to bother to think about it.

Somebody once wrote: “Cannon J.B.Phillips  recalls in The Ring of Truth, ‘hundreds of conversations with people, many of them of higher intellectual calibre than myself, who quite obviously had no idea what Christianity is about.’   He concluded that ‘they knew virtually nothing’ about the New Testament. The Resurrection ‘the most important even event in human history is politely and quietly by-passed. For it is not as though the evidence had been examined and found unconvincing; it had simply never been examined.’”  This is the horrifying truth, that millions of people will go to hell because they could not be bothered to think about the truth about life and the truth about the Gospel.

Solomon has been thinking, admittedly from a jaded perspective where his relationship with the Lord has lost its power, but even from there he comes to this wise conclusion. Remember, he has just been going through a number of reasons why struggling and striving to achieve through work or a career can be a thankless task, and so his conclusion is as a result of all of that thinking. You can struggle and strive and achieve great things, he had said, but at the end of it all, you hand it over to others to enjoy, you die and have to leave it all behind. If you think your work is going to have eternal impact, don’t waste your time; it won’t and it can’t!

So what does that leave you with? It leaves you with the only conclusion possible: you must learn to enjoy each day as it comes, and get fulfilment from what you do, because that is all God has allowed of you.  Now that is interesting because it is only the second time in two chapters that he has mentioned God. The first one was in chapter one when he said what a burden God has put on mankind giving them so much to learn. These references to God, seem a grudging acknowledgement of the Lord, the One who at one time had been the all-important person in Solomon’s life. Sadly now, that is no longer so, and all he is left with is the grudging acknowledgment of how God has designed things to be.

So is this truth, this statement of Solomon’s?  A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. Is it true that all we can do is get on with life on a daily basis, enjoy our food, enjoy our drink, and find some satisfaction in our work?  Well from the standpoint of a person who does not know the Lord – or who has lost contact with the Lord – yes, it is true. What else is there? But there is, as it keeps on coming up in these meditations,  the crux of the matter. It is all about knowing the Lord or not knowing the Lord?

Notorious atheist Richard Dawkins, making waves in the early part of the twenty-first century with his writings and TV programmes inadvertently reveals the truth. He complains that atheists are not having impact and it’s been the Christians who have made all the running. Well yes, it is the Christians who have made the running! Christians who have been motivated by the love of God to start schools, build hospitals and orphanages, start Unions and so on. It hasn’t just been ‘work’ it’s been the God-given vision of meeting the needs of the poor and of blessing others. The energy and life of God in them has taken them outside themselves.

Yesterday I wrote about the balance of “the Lord, family, work, recreation, and giving out.” Many people omit the first and the last of those five things, and their lives are meaningless. It is when you add the first and the last that meaning and purpose and fulfillment truly come. It is that last one that Christians have been known for – giving out – and that has resulted in the world being blessed and God being glorified. If we do the ‘giving out’ without God, it just becomes a self-centred, godless thing, and it is seen as something just to build our egos. When it comes with God’s motivation, out of a relationship with Him, then it comes with a selflessness that is good to behold. This is the dimension that takes us beyond merely eating and drinking and getting satisfaction from our work. Tragically so many miss out and have never seen it. See it, live it, be blessed and be a blessing!