David Jeremiah - Fully Engaged With Life
During World War II, the prisoners of a concentration camp in Eastern Europe started an uprising against their captors, the Nazis. And of the 700 prisoners who took part in this uprising, 300 of them made it to the edge of the nearby forest. Of those, less than 100 are known to have survived. And three teenage boys were among those who were able to get out of the concentration camp and hide in the dense woods. They hid and slept during the day, traveled at night, fueled by the hope of survival. After 4 nights of wandering, the boys came to a clearing and saw the silhouette of buildings against the sky. And as they approached joyfully, they discovered that the buildings were the buildings of the concentration camp they had escaped from. They had spent 4 days and 4 nights traveling in a circle, and they were right back where they had started. Well, one of the three boys ultimately survived to tell his story to the world.
The picture of them wandering in a circle is a picture that illustrates Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. He begins the book by saying that all is vanity, and he ends the book by saying the same thing. Ecclesiastes is one of the Old Testament wisdom books. It's been said that the Psalms teaches how to worship, Proverbs teaches us how to behave, Song of Solomon teaches us how to love, and Ecclesiastes teaches us how to live. In many respects, this book to which we have opened today is Solomon's book of regrets. He looks back on his life from the perspective of old age, and he regrets that he had turned away from God in the latter years of his life and tried to do his best to live as if God were not a reality. In that way, he ended up living like those boys did when they were thinking they were escaping. He wandered through life, and ended up back where he began, frustrated and meaningless because he realized that life without God is vanity and striving after the wind.
I obviously can't tell you everything that's in the book of Ecclesiastes in one sermon, but I'm going to skip to the last chapters. That's what my wife does when she reads a book, so I guess can do that too. So, chapters 11 and 12 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon reaches what he says is the conclusion of the whole matter. In other words, he's been on this journey, he's been on this roundtrip, starting with God, going away from God, coming back to God, trying to figure out if there is life without God. And he gets to the end of it all, and in chapters 11 and 12, he files his final report. And in doing so, he gives us four principles of life, which I think are just incredibly appropriate for where all of us are right now in life and in our culture.
Solomon reaches what he calls in his book, he uses these actual words, "Here is the conclusion of the whole matter". And he tells us four things, and I just want you to remember these four things. They've helped me, and hopefully they will help you. The first thing he says is that a fully engaged life is uncertain, so embrace it. In the first 6 verses of Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon says 4 times that life is uncertain. How many of you think life is uncertain right now? Well, listen to these words from Ecclesiastes 11, verse 2, "You do not know what evil will be on the earth". Verse 5, "You do not know what is the way of the wind". Verse 5 again, "You do not know the works of God who makes everything". And verse 6, "You do not know which will prosper".
Solomon says that when we go through a period of time when life itself and the world itself is uncertain, the temptation is for us to be paralyzed. In other words, "Everything's so uncertain, so I'm not going to do anything". Uncertainty breeds paralysis unless we have heard from God. And he encourages us in this paragraph, where he sets the foundation of uncertainty, to do some things. Like for instance, he tells us to be diversified in our investments. Now, that seems strange to say that it came from the Bible, but let me prove it to you if I can. Solomon was one of the richest men in history, and his legendary wisdom encompassed money management. In fact, I think some of the greatest principles on managing your money are found in the Proverbs and in Ecclesiastes. And to this day, some of the best financial advice that's out there is in the book of Proverbs.
So, here in this passage in Ecclesiastes, we see the advancement of the widely-lauded strategy of financial diversification. In verse 1 of Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon says, "Cast your bread upon the waters, and you will find it after many days". Now, this is one of the most often-quoted verses in this whole book, but what in the world does it mean? In Solomon's day, merchants would load their ships with grain and other goods, and they would send them out to trade with other nations. They hoped the ships would return with more goods and with more value than when they had departed. That was casting their bread upon the waters. Notice the plural waters, indicating the wisdom of not sending all your grain in one ship, or in one direction. Rather, diversify your investments so that if one ship isn't successful, others might be.
In fact, he goes so far as to recommend that we diversify using seven or eight different places. In verse 2, he says, "Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, for you do not know what evil will be on the earth". That's God's counsel regarding our financial investments, spread them out because life is uncertain. Embrace the uncertainty, and use strategy to deal with it. Then he says, number two, be diligent in your involvement. "If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth; and if a tree falls to the south or the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it shall lie. He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything".
Now, what Solomon is saying, we don't know which way the wind's going to blow, we don't know where the rain's going to fall, we don't know if it's going to be sunny or cloudy, we don't know if a tree falls, where it's going to fall, which direction it's going to fall, we don't understand how a child grows in its mother's womb. All these are uncertainties about life, but we cannot let these uncertainties cripple us or put us in a state of paralysis. Verse 6, "In the morning sow your seed, in the evening don't withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good". The phrase "do not withhold your hand" is the key. Solomon is saying let the result, be it successful or failure, rest in the hands of God, but do not just sit there waiting for better times. Do something now, right where you are.
More than 200 years ago, the Connecticut House of Representatives was in session on a bright, sunny, springtime day. Suddenly, the sky grew dark and ominous, and the representatives grew alarmed as they looked out the windows in puzzlement. Of course, this was an age when they did not have the science to foretell a solar eclipse, but that's what was happening. No one could have expected or understood the blanket of darkness that all at once covered the earth. So, there was a clamor among all of the representatives, "Adjourn, let us hurry from this house to get to our houses and in order". Some legislators thought the Second Coming of Christ had come. But the speaker of the house, a devout believer, rose to speak. He gently acknowledged that the House was upset by the darkness, and that some were afraid. "But the day of the Lord is either approaching, or it is not," he said. "If it is not, there's no cause for adjournment. And if the Lord is returning, I for one choose to be found doing my duty, so bring some candles in here, and let's get back to work".
In these days of uncertainty, we can ask for no better course. As the darkness falls, the light is certain to overcome it. So, the first thing that you take away from this last two concluding chapters of Solomon's wisdom is, listen to me now, a fully engaged life is uncertain, so embrace the uncertainty, and do the work that God has called you to do. Number two, a fully engaged life is short, so enjoy it. Now, I must tell you that when I studied Ecclesiastes, I love the study, it's an incredible book. Somebody said it's an Old Testament gospel tract that shows you what life is like if God isn't in it, and then helps you to understand how you can find God. But one of the most amazing things about this book is the fact that on 11 occasions, Solomon makes the statement that as people on this earth, we were created to enjoy life. Say that with me, "We were created to enjoy life".
Now, that comes as quite a surprise to some Christians you and I know, who think that life is just, you know, being sad all the way until the end, and then you die. And being around them is pretty devastating. There's no cause for that because the Bible says God created us to enjoy life, to enjoy the world in which we live. For instance, if you'll look down through these verses, you will discover all of these principles of enjoying life. First of all, in verses 7 and 8, we're told to experience every day totally. He says, "Truly the light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun; but if a man lives many years and rejoices in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. All that is coming is vanity".
What Solomon is saying is we don't know how long we have to live, so we should enjoy every day with everything that we have. Here is the Message and its paraphrase of these verses. "Oh, how sweet the light of day, and how wonderful to live in the sunshine! Even if you live a long time, don't take a single day for granted. Take delight in each light-filled hour, remembering that there will be many dark days and that most of what comes your way is smoke". Solomon is saying God wants you to enjoy every day. How wonderful it is to enjoy every day.
When I came back from cancer several years ago, my oncologist told me, "When you go back to San Diego, Dr. Jeremiah, the sun's going to be brighter, the sea's going to be bluer, the grass is going to be greener than it's ever been in your whole life". I did not understand what he meant until I came home. And I realized how easy it is for us to take for granted the beauty that God has created around us, and the joy of waking up every day to this beautiful world in which we live.
Keith LeClair was one of America's youngest and brightest baseball stars. When he was 25, he left playing and began coaching. He took several colleges to championships, and then suddenly his career came to a dramatic stop. He was diagnosed with ALS, which we know as Lou Gehrig's disease. And he wrote this little report. "Not long ago, baseball absorbed my life 365 days a year," he said. "I gave the profession of coaching everything I had until after the 2002 season, when a doctor said, 'I am sorry, but you have ALS, and there is nothing I can do to help you.' All of a sudden, baseball seemed not to matter a whole lot to me anymore. My thoughts were focused on God and on my family".
When you realize you do not have a lot of time to enjoy life, you figure out how to enjoy life. And Solomon is saying don't wait until then. You know, get up every day, and look out in the world in which you live in, and say, "Thank you, Lord, for this new day. Thank you for light. Thank you for air to breathe". Experience every day totally. When you live in uncertainty, that's how you live. Every day is a gift, and you enjoy it. Then he goes on to say in verses 9 and 10 enjoy your youth thoroughly. One of the major themes of Solomon's book is that we are to enjoy life. In verse 24 of chapter 2, he says, "Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good". And verse 26 of chapter 2, "For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man". Chapter 8, verse 15, "I commended enjoyment". In chapter 9, verse 9, "Live joyfully with the wife whom you love".
Now, here we are in chapter 11, and he speaks specifically to young people. "Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, in the sight of your eyes; know that all these God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, put away evil from your flesh, for childhood and youth are vanity". Here's what Solomon is saying. Enjoy life to its fullest, just make sure you don't do things that will get you in trouble with God. A lot of times, people say, "Well, if you do that, it'll get you in trouble with God," and they make themselves God. There's a lot of things young people do that they get in trouble for that they probably shouldn't get in trouble for. But there is a governor on this whole thing, and it's the judgment of God, that someday you'll stand before him.
So, isn't it a wonderful thing to say to your kids, "Do whatever you want to do except anything that you think will make God upset with you, don't do that. But enjoy your life"? Solomon says that youth is a time to be treasured. And this is a message not just for kids, but for parents as well. Some of you parents, you need to help your kids know that it's all right for them to have a good time. Let them enjoy the freedom and opportunities of youth. Here's one of the reasons, it never comes back. Can I get a witness? And Solomon says to kids, "Enjoy your youth". Remember, there is a boundary. Don't do something that violates what you know God wants you to do. But there's so much available in between those boundaries. And I'd like to give you some illustrations about how I've had fun with my kids and grandkids, but I don't want you to be ashamed of your pastor, so I won't do that.
And then in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 12, it says express your faith thoughtfully. "Remember now your creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" Twice in the last chapter, Solomon admonishes his readers to remember their creator in the days of their youth. And he wants us to know that while we're having fun growing up, we need to include in that package a relationship with God that we're serious about. I mentioned to you when I was teaching on revival that all of the great revival movements in our country included young people. In fact, they were manufactured by kids. And kids can love God in ways that we don't, and they have incredible faith.
Someone once told me that a little child stands at the bottom of an escalator, and in the wonder of it all pictures how that works. And from that time on, he believes anything is possible. And young people will trust God for stuff you and I would struggle with. One of the reasons is, just to be honest and pragmatic about it, if they screw up, they have a chance to work, do it over. The older you get, the less chance you have to do that. The older you get, you realize, "If I don't make this decision right, I'm going to be impacted by it forever". But kids make decisions, and they realize they're in the learning process, and they grow, and they become mature through that process.
So, experience every day totally, enjoy your youth thoroughly, and express your faith thoughtfully. And then here's the last one, and this one you got to kind of ought to sit up, and this is like taking your medicine, all right? Embrace your aging thankfully. For those of us who are no longer young, Solomon says we're to embrace our age thankfully. And he paints a picture of the signs of growing old, which are motivation for living every day you can to its fullest. Here, he gives us one of the most memorable passages in the Bible about the reality of our mortality. And I'm going to read these verses, and I'm going to tell you what they mean, and I haven't made this stuff up. This is in the Bible. Verse 3 of Ecclesiastes 12, "In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow down; when the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows grow dim".
The keepers of the house are your arms and your hands that tremble in old age. The strong men are your legs, knees, and shoulders that bow down and cause you to walk with a stoop. "The grinders are few" means you lose your teeth. And "the windows grow dim" means your eyesight begins to fail. I'm not making this up. Verse 4, "When the doors are shut in the streets, and the sound of grinding is low; when one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of music are brought low". "The doors are shut" refers to the loss of your hearing. The grinders, again, refer to teeth. If you rise up at the sound of a bird, it means you get up at four o'clock in the morning with the birds, like many old people do.
When my mom and dad were staying with us before they went to heaven, I get up early, I'm an early riser. I'd come down at 5:30 ready to go to work, and my dad had been at the kitchen table since 4 a.m. And he had nothing to do. But he just gets up early. I don't know why you would do that if you don't have to. Maybe I'll find out when I get old, but I don't know. Then in verse 5, it says, "They are afraid of height, and of terrors in the way; when the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper is a burden, and desire fails. For man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets". To be afraid of height just means what it says. When you get older, you don't like being in a place up high. And the almond tree blossoms, that's what happens to your hair. And before you laugh at me, I got some leaves on my tree, some of you don't. I'm not going to look at ya. I got some leaves on this almond tree.
The description of aging in the book of Ecclesiastes reminds me of the couple in Florida I read about who wanted to get married. Jacob was 92, and Rebecca was 89. As they discussed their wedding, they passed a drugstore, and Jacob suggested they go in. Addressing the man behind the counter, Jacob said, "We're getting married. Do you sell heart medication"? "Yes, of course we do," said the pharmacist. "How about medicine for circulation"? "All kinds". "Medicine for rheumatism and scoliosis"? "Yes". "Medicine for memory problems, arthritis, jaundice"? "Absolutely, a large variety, whatever the doctor orders". "What about vitamins, sleeping pills, and Geritol"? "Absolutely". "And wheelchairs and walkers"? "All speeds and all sizes". "Great," said Jacob, "we'd like to use this store as our bridal registry".
Ecclesiastes 12 says, "Then the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it". What a great Old Testament doctrinal passage. What happens when a person dies? Listen, we return to the dust, and our spirit returns to God, who gave it to us in the first place. That's what death is. Tucked here in this Old Testament book is one of the great definitions of what happens when a person dies. Their body goes back to dust, they're buried in the grave, and their spirit goes to God, waiting for the day of resurrection and redemption.
Number three in our list of things to take away from Solomon's wisdom is, number one, a fully engaged life is uncertain, so embrace it. A fully engaged life is short, so enjoy it. And number three, a fully engaged life is mysterious, so examine it. Solomon tells us that wisdom comes through instruction and insight and inspiration. In verse 9, he tells us that the preacher, Solomon, was wise, and, "Taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs". You know, the Bible tells us that the Proverbs are good for us to read because they bring wisdom. Solomon wrote many proverbs. Not all of them are in the Bible, but the ones God wanted in the Bible are in the Bible, and they're built into 31 chapters.
So many businesspeople that I know have told me that they read the Proverbs every month, one chapter of Proverbs every day. We actually had a little devotional that we created, a little leather-cover devotional that enabled you to do that, to read five Psalms a day, and one chapter of Proverbs a day, and you can do that all in one month. And they've told me that more than the business books they read, and the motivational books they read, and the strategy books they read, they found the Bible has filled them with wisdom and knowledge to help them with their task. If you go to the book of Proverbs, this is how it opens. "The purpose of these proverbs is to teach people wisdom and discipline, and help them understand wise sayings".
If you've never read the book of Proverbs, especially if you're a business person, I recommend that you make that part of your daily routine. Wisdom comes through instruction, and insight. "The preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written, upright, words of truth". In other words, Solomon sought to speak words of wisdom that were winsome, and easy to grasp, and ready to be understood. And then he said wisdom comes through inspiration. Verses 11 and 12, "The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one shepherd". Carefully understand that phrase. He said the words of the Bible are like goads. Do you know what a goad is? It's a long stick with a pointed end on it that shepherds use to get their sheep to go in the right direction, or their cattle to move in the right place and keep them together. If they started to go the wrong way, they would goad them, often used for oxen and donkeys.
The Bible sometimes goads us. Have you ever been goaded by the Bible? You're doing stuff, and you're going someplace, and you're trying to figure out what to do, and all of a sudden, you read this passage in the Bible, and it's like God's been reading your mail. And it goads you, and it pushes you, and sometimes it stings. And you say, "What's going on here"? And then you look back on it, and you're so thankful that you were in the book that day, that you were reading the Scripture that day, because God helped you know what to do. He goaded you in the right direction. And then Solomon says sometimes when you read the Bible, it's like nails driven through a board. And the picture is nails that are driven through a board and clenched on the other side.
When you read the Bible, you discover the things you really believe in, the things that are really important to you, and it's like driving a nail in the board, and no matter how life tries, it can never pull that nail out because it's a well-driven nail because of the Scripture. After all these years of studying it, and writing about it, and teaching it, there is no book like this book. For the follower of Christ, it is without equal. So, Solomon says that the fully engaged life is uncertain, we should embrace it. It's short, we should enjoy it. It's mysterious, we should examine it. And then finally, the fully engaged life is obedience, and we should express it. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God, keep his commandments, for this is man's all".
You want to distill how to have a great life down into one sentence? There it is, fear God, and do what he tells you to do. And you will have a life filled with joy and happiness and meaning. There is no way to beat that formula, I don't care where you go or who you hear. The best way to enjoy life is to fear God and keep his commandments. That's not the Ten Commandments, that's the sayings of the Lord, the Bible. And it doesn't mean you have to be afraid of God, although there should be a sense of fear in fearing God. But the term actually means to hold God in absolute awe, to hold him with utter respect and majesty, to lift him up. Never take his name in vain. Never do anything that would sully the reputation of God. Believe that God is all in all.
And the most important thing you know about the world is that God is, and you fear him, and you respect him. Ladies and gentlemen, the fear of God is being lost in our culture today. God is being kicked to the curb, shoved to the perimeter, omitted from everything. But we who know him, we who are believers, we who are followers of Christ, we want the privilege of a life that's meaningful, and it starts with having the right attitude toward your maker, and to fear God. And then the Bible says keep his commandments, do what he says.
And, you know, that sounds like, oh man, that sounds like such drudgery. No, most of what God says, he's telling you to do things that you will enjoy and will help you enjoy life as we have been discussing. God will tell you to stay off some of the streets that you want to go on. And when you get to where you're going, you're going to be so glad when you look back over your shoulder that you didn't take that avenue because you would have gotten in trouble. The Bible says that the Word of God is filled with instruction for the believer. It is how you get through life with meaning.
Back in 1866, D.L. Moody, the great evangelist of that generation, was conducting a series of meetings in Massachusetts. And with him was a musician by the name of Daniel B. Towner. Daniel Towner was the head of the music department of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. And while they were having these meetings, a young man gave a testimony and included these remarks. He said, "I am not quite sure, but I'm going to trust, and I am going to obey". Mr. Towner wrote those words down on the back of an envelope, he was so touched by that phrase. And he sent them to a friend of his, and between the two of them, a beloved hymn was written.
I remember singing this growing up, and most of you do too, "Trust and Obey". Here are the words to that song. "When we walk with the Lord in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way. While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey". Here's the chorus, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey". Solomon says he wants us to be happy in our faith, happy in Jesus. And when he gets down to the end of it, after all of these principles, he distills it all into this principle, "Fear God, and keep his commandments". Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus.