9. Persevering for Peace

Short Meditations on Peace 9. Persevering for Peace

Prov 4:11  I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.

I am aware that the previous meditation was a little short and abrupt (the downside of ‘short meditations’). I spoke of life callings or careers but the biggest problem here is when we identify the sort of person we are and then (maybe with help) match it with a career or job. But then jobs may not appear obviously available and so prayer for wisdom and help from God is an obvious course to take.

Most of us have to work to earn to pay for life, but that is another subject we’ll tackle another day, but nevertheless this is the path we are forced to take (few of us being fortunate enough to inherit large sums!) So here comes this smart preacher who says ‘pray about it, seek God’s wisdom’ and it sounds so easy. It might be easy if we all had ears that caught every word from God’s lips, if I may put it like that, but actually ‘hearing’ God isn’t always easy and often it takes time. The thing is that the Christian life is not an automatic machine that always works the same way for every person and in every circumstance. Sometimes, the Lord simply remains silent because He sees the path ahead of you is simple and obvious and it is going to open up for you quite naturally. We don’t always have to ‘have a word’, we just have to be patient.

If I am honest, and I always try to be, I really struggle when I watch and listen to younger Christians, maybe parents worrying over the way their children are going, because my own experience says that in my life and that of my family, as we look back, some of us had no guidance at all, others had glimmers of desire for a certain direction, and one went one way and ended up backing off and going a completely different direction – but with God’s blessing.

I look back on my life, from school days, through college, into one career, then another career and then a third career and finally a fourth career (yes!), I have no doubt that I see the hand of God throughout that time, including before I became a Christian, leading me on and on. Much of it appears as coincidences and much of it was a matter of circumstances and timing, and yes in later years we did pray, and did note disquiets and did sense some directions but often His hand was out of sight and yet there. Now you may get a specific word, “this is the way, walk in it” (Isa 30:21) but if not, hold on to various things. Know He IS for you (Rom 8:31), He IS working all things out for you (Rom 8:28) and even though you cannot see or hear him (1 Pet 1:8), He loves you. Be at rest in those things. His purposes for you may take time to become clear, but be at peace in the meantime.

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!

40. Contentment (2)

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 40 :  Learning to be Content (2)

Eccles 4:5-7 The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:

I never cease to be amazed at the practicality of the Bible’s teaching. Those who deride the Bible for being outdated teaching just haven’t read it or thought about it. Even in the midst of this jaded writing by Solomon in Ecclesiastes there is still wisdom to be meditated upon! The trouble is that sometimes it almost comes to us in shorthand and we need to pause up and think about it for it to really make sense. Take this opening sentence of these verses as an example: “The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.” What a simple picture! This man just sits back and folds his hands. It is a picture of complete inactivity. He does nothing. When you sit there with folded hand or folded arms, it is a sign that you are just looking and watching and doing nothing.

This inactivity, says Solomon, ruins a man. How so? Well first of all he is not working and so he is not earning and so he is drifting towards poverty. But actually constant inactivity is dull, it is boring and it is soul destroying. We need to be doing something purposeful. The person who sits back and does nothing has lost all purpose in life. They have no sense of achievement, no sense of fulfilment. Their mind is inactive and their hands are inactive. They are ruining themselves and not entering into the fullness of who they were designed to be.

This picture of laziness or idleness bringing downfall arises a number of times in Scripture in Solomon’s writings: If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks,” (Eccles 10:18) and “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest– and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man,” (Prov 6:10,11) and “I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.” (Prov 24:30,31) The signs are all there around this person who Solomon calls a fool, meaning someone who lacks moral wisdom.

But then Solomon paints two swift pictures of contrasting lifestyles. Let’s take the second one first: two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” This is the person who struggling and striving and working all the hours of the day, chasing after that illusory success. We live in a day when this lifestyle is clearly visible in this world of excessive materialism. The farmer of Jesus’ parable is often seen in those who work in the City: “he said, `This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Lk 12:18-20) We try for bigger and better but in the process lose our soul. One day we’ll be separated from all we have earned and will face God empty handed. How tragic!

Yet he contrasts that lifestyle with one that is described as one handful with tranquility.” The ‘handfuls’ in the two lives refer to the wealth that has been achieved. One achieved a lot but in reality it was nothing. The first one achieved not much in material terms but yet it was the better lifestyle because it was accompanied with ‘tranquility’. What a lovely word that is! I always like the image of “the Sea of Tranquility” on the Moon. When somewhere is tranquil it lacks stress or upheaval, it is full of peace. When a mind is tranquil it lacks stress and is at peace.

How little tranquility there seems to be in modern lives, in modern minds! What a cost we have paid for our affluence. How few homes know this ‘tranquility’!  How often there is bickering and arguing, hostility and upset. Some families I know of, I am convinced, never know the experience of tranquility in their homes; there is an atmosphere of stress and upset that lingers there in the background and people tolerate it because it only bursts to the surface from time to time, but even in the times when it is not outright war, there is no tranquility!

Dare we assess our lives in this modern world against Solomon’s words? Are we working all hours, are both partners working all hours? What sort of people totter in the door in the evening?  What is the quality of our times together in the remaining hours of the day? What are our weekends like? Do we fill them with the activity we hadn’t had time for in the week? Is this really ‘life’? Many of us live on the basis of “it will be different next year – when I get a raise, when I get promotion,” but it never is. Are these the lives we really want?