The World Today
There are times when we feel like asking, “Does my life really matter? What is the purpose of my life? How can I live the good life?” Are you like so many others who, for a variety of reasons, feel like the good life is eluding you, you’re not enjoying contentment and peace of mind in your life’s circumstances? A variety of everyday challenges can contribute to those feelings. Your checking account is never large enough, your children are never satisfied, your internet is never fast enough, your appliances are never new enough, your clothes are never fashionable enough, your friends never text you enough, your relationships are never romantic enough, and your life is never fulfilling enough! Sound like the world in which you live? You find yourself asking, over and over and over, what’s the use? What’s the point of my life? King Solomon penned the words of Ecclesiastes around 935 B.C in the latter years of his reign as the King of Israel. In the opening chapter, he points out five things that can lead us to believe that our lives have no point, no purpose, and no meaning.
The Word Revealed
Life seems useless. “What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes. . .” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, MSG). No matter how hard we work, we never seem to get ahead. Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, we trudge through the daily grind, asking, “what’s the use, anyway?” Life is short, you die, and you take nothing with you. You leave everything to the next generation, they rent out your house, and they spend your inheritance. Life seems useless.
Life seems unfulfilling. “There’s nothing new on this earth. Year after year it’s the same old thing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8, MSG). Life is a continuous, endless circle. You get up in the morning, eat breakfast, fight rush-hour traffic, put in a full day’s work, fight rush-hour traffic again, eat dinner, and go to bed. The next day, its wash-rinse-repeat as the never-ending cycle goes on and on and on. You feel like you’re going nowhere on a treadmill while standing still. Mick Jagger possibly had it right in the lyrics of the 1965 hit in which the chorus proclaimed, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” People all around us today are restless and stressed-out because we live in a society filled with people trying to find happiness in places and in things where it can never be found. They go through life unfulfilled, never realizing that fulfillment never comes from things.
Life seems insignificant. “Nobody remembers what happened yesterday,” And the things that will happen tomorrow? Nobody’ll remember them either. Don’t count on being remembered” (Ecclesiastes 1:11, MSG). Wow, isn’t that encouraging? When ours is a life that has no purpose or meaning, it really doesn’t matter who the Texas Rangers lost to in the World Series in 2010 or 2011. After all, as Solomon said, nobody remembers what happened yesterday and we shouldn’t really count on being remembered. Can you recall who was the starting left guard for 1983 State Champion Knox City Greyhounds? Maybe the right tackle or the center? Although it’s impossible to remember that far back, I guarantee you that each and every player, in their respective positions, were critical to the team’s success. Can you name even one of the players on that team right now? Probably not, as the words of King Solomon remind us, “Don’t count on being remembered. Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.”
Life seems uncontrollable. “Life’s a corkscrew that can’t be straightened, a minus that won’t add up” (Ecclesiastes 1:15, MSG). In virtually every aspect of our lives, we encounter situations that are totally beyond our control. Everywhere we turn, we face pressures and problems that, no matter how hard we try, we simply can’t fix.
Life seems confusing. “I know more and I’m wiser than anyone before me in Jerusalem. I’ve stockpiled wisdom and knowledge. What I’ve finally concluded is that so-called wisdom and knowledge are mindless and witless – nothing but spitting into the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17, MSG). Because of God’s gift of extraordinary wisdom (1 Kings 4:29), Solomon understood himself to be the wisest person of his time. Yet, in his searching for the meaning and purpose of his life, he concluded that wisdom and knowledge were of little use in that quest. Years ago, those great “theologians” Peter, Paul, and Mary painted a vocal picture of the conundrum facing society in that search, “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? How many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned? Their conclusion was the same as Solomon’s, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.” In other words, the meaning and purpose of life is at best confusing and generally impossible to understood.
Why then for Solomon, supposedly the wisest man of his time, had life become so confusing? After marrying wives of other nations, contrary to God’s command, Solomon began worshiping the gods of those many wives. He subsequently turned from God and lost his spiritual center in his life. When we try to go through life without a spiritual center, we try to make up and create meaning to our lives in money, pleasure, sports, working out, career, through the children’s success, or the successes of our favorite sports team. Some find meaning in their efforts to escape real life through television, social media, drugs, pornography, alcohol, and video games. When we don’t know the meaning of life, the ultimate result is despair.
At a Concentration Camp in Hungary during World War II, the sole task of hundreds of Jewish prisoners was the processing of human sewage. One day, the Allied forces bombed the processing facility, reducing it to rubble. Unable to continue their regular tasks, the labor of the prisoners was redirected to moving the rubble from the destroyed buildings, piece by piece, to a nearby field. Once all the rubble had been moved to the field, they were then tasked with returning every bit of it to its original location, piece by piece. The cycle of moving the pieces of the demolished buildings back and forth continued endlessly. The prisoners were going crazy as the result of the futility of their back-breaking labor. They had lost their will to live as they realized there was no purpose to their work. Many chose to simply lie face-down on the ground, waiting for a Nazi soldier to approach them, pull a weapon, and end their misery by putting a bullet in the back of their head. For those prisoners who virtually committed suicide in this way, death was deemed preferable to a life without meaning.
All of us live our lives in one of three levels of life – survival, success, and significance. The first level of living is survival. We go through life, living from paycheck to paycheck, realizing that we are stuck in a dead-end job. The hours away from home results in our missing out on so many things during our children’s formative years. We work hard, put in countless hours on the job, and realize that we’re living for the weekend. We can’t get control of our circumstances and we feel that there’s no way out!
Success is the second level of living. Most of us go through life in this level. By the world’s standards, life seems pretty good for us. We enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and we like our possessions, our perks, and our promotions. We have freedom and good health; by all measures that we care about, we feel like we’re successful. However, our success requires us to consider a very important question – if we’re so successful, why do we not feel fulfilled?
Steve and Lisa were young, sharp, and highly motivated to succeed in business and live the American dream. A decade after their graduation and marriage found them earning huge incomes in major-league, high-finance corporations in the big city. Because of their jobs that routinely demanded sixty to eighty hours of work per week, they were able to buy a large house in a fashionable part of the city, a cabin in the mountains, four cars, and a boat. Their entire lives focused on career success, money, and the stuff money could buy.
With the birth of their son, Nathan, Steve and Lisa had it all – youth, success, money, and a beautiful child. But things weren’t quite right. Because of their long hours, Nathan was in day care all day while a nanny took care of him most evenings. Steve and Lisa rarely spent time together or with their baby and had virtually no time for friends, community affairs, or church. Within a year, Steve and Lisa hit a crisis point. They asked themselves, “Is this all there is to life?”
Eventually they realized that climbing the corporate ladder of success, making boatloads of money, and buying lots of stuff was not a big enough life. So, they made a life-changing decision. On the same day they both resigned their jobs. Steve took a job managing a small business that paid less than half of his corporate salary. Lisa took a part-time job as a business consultant, making about 20 percent of her previous income. They sold their huge house and purchased a simple home in a middle-class neighborhood. They also sold their cabin, boat, and two of their four cars. Although their new life proved dramatically different, for Steve and Lisa, less equaled more. They now had time for each other, for Nathan, and for their friends. They also got involved in their community and went back to church. Although they earned substantially less income, life was far richer.
Years later, seven-year-old Nathan was given an assignment by his second-grade teacher to write a brief essay and draw a picture depicting his version of a perfect life. He completed his three-part assignment and turned it in to his teacher. First, he drew a picture of his modest house, including his mom, dad, and dog, and labelling it “My home.” He drew a checkerboard with faces inside each square, captioning it “My friends.” He included a picture of a church with a steeple identified as “My church.” Under the three pictures, Nathan wrote his brief essay. It read, “A perfect life for me is the life that I’m in right now. I have a lot of friends, and a good family too, and a good church. I do not need a perfect life. I already have a perfect life.”
Steve and Lisa figured out what matters most in life – not the things that money can buy – but family and their relationship with God and with others. Steve and Lisa made a life-changing decision, a decision that moved them from Success to Significance.
The third level of living is Significance. It’s a level that requires us to move beyond mere success without fulfillment. It’s more than just making money, it’s more than acquiring possessions, perks, and promotions. It’s about passion, purpose, and making a difference in your life and the lives of others. It requires a change of attitude, values, and beliefs as you step back and truly strive to understand the point of life. It ultimately requires that to you it matters how much you matter to God. Bertrand Russell, one of the most notable philosophers of the 20th century, wrote, “Unless you assume the existence of God, the question of life’s meaning and purpose is irrelevant.”
If you don’t know something’s purpose, you tend to misuse and abuse it. Why? If you miss the purpose that God created you for, you take God out of the picture of everything in your life, leading to the abuse of important things in your life. If you take God and His intended purpose for sex out of the picture, it leads to abuses of immorality and pornography. If you forget that we are all created in the image of God and special in His eyes, it leads to abuses of bullying and racial tension in our relationships. If you ignore the fact that God commands us to tithe His blessings, returning that portion to Him for the work of His Kingdom, we find it all too easy to waste money on ourselves and things we really don’t need.
A rich man wanted to give his mom a birthday gift that she would never forget. He found a unique bird that had a 4,000-word vocabulary, could speak three languages, and could sing country music. For such a gift, he willingly paid $50,000.00 for the bird and had it delivered to his mother. The next day, he called and asked his mom, “What did you think of the bird?” He could literally hear her smile over the phone as she proclaimed, “Oh, son, it was delicious!”
How do we find the meaning and purpose to life today? You’ll never find it watching reality TV, having someone read your palms, or sitting on a rock all day in the middle of nowhere. You’ll find it only by reading your Bible, life’s instruction manual. It’s that simple. Reading the Bible points us to the understanding that we are made by God and made for God. In the passage from Ephesians that we read a few moments ago, let’s look again at two key verses: “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love” (Ephesians 1:4, MSG). Before the act of creation began, God knew of His intent to create us, to love us, and that our wholeness would only be possible through Him. Furthermore, He knew the significance we would find only in Jesus, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for” (Ephesians 1:11, MSG). When we know God, we know the point and purpose of our lives. Another way of looking at that is in the question raised by our –
Take Away: Are you reaching out or are you reaching up?
Reaching out is our going through life with your hands out, grabbing everything you can get your hands on – new home, new car, new phone, more money, and the best seats at a concert or sporting event – you want everything! If your life goal is to grab everything you can, I assure you that you’ll have no room for God. Why? He can’t pour out His love into hands that are already full.
Reaching up is to realize that the meaning of life comes from the One who is beyond ourselves. It comes from the One who created life (God) and the One who sustains it (Christ). “God’s Son was before all else, and by him everything is held together” (Colossians 1:17, CEV). A lot of people waste their entire life without knowing the point and purpose of their life. A greater waste is those who are Christ followers, who know Jesus, who know the point and purpose of their lives, and still pour their life and money into living for things that never last. How will you be remembered?
Moses and the people of Israel were approaching the Promised Land. Moses knew he would be unable to complete the trip and would die before they arrived. In sending them on to complete the journey, he shared these final words, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20, MSG).
As we consider the words that Moses spoke to the nation of Israel prior to his death, they pose the question to us that needs to be asked – what choice will you make? Will you choose to live your life reaching out for all you can grab, leaving no room in which God can pour out His love? Or, will you choose to live your life reaching up to Him, listening to His voice in your reading and praying, holding fast to Him rather the way of the world? Why would we choose the latter? As Moses said in his parting words, “For the Lord is your life.” If Jesus is all you have in your life, don’t despair, for Jesus is all you need to find meaning and purpose in your life!