Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – What Time Is It?

There is a right time for everything, and everything on earth will happen at the right time.

There is a time to be born
    and a time to die.
There is a time to plant
    and a time to pull up plants.
There is a time to kill
    and a time to heal.
There is a time to destroy
    and a time to build.
There is a time to cry
    and a time to laugh.
There is a time to be sad
    and a time to dance with joy.
There is a time to throw weapons down
    and a time to pick them up.
There is a time to hug someone
    and a time to stop holding so tightly.
There is a time to look for something
    and a time to consider it lost.
There is a time to keep things
    and a time to throw things away.
There is a time to tear cloth
    and a time to sew it.
There is a time to be silent
    and a time to speak.
There is a time to love
    and a time to hate.
There is a time for war
    and a time for peace.

Do people really gain anything from their hard work? I saw all the hard work God gave us to do. God gave us the ability to think about his world, but we can never completely understand everything he does. And yet, he does everything at just the right time.

I learned that the best thing for people to do is to be happy and enjoy themselves, as long as they live. God wants everyone to eat, drink, and enjoy their work. These are gifts from God. (ERV)

Time is finite. We cannot get it back once we lose it. So, it is important to use our time in ways that reflect our most cherished values and commitments. For that, we need wisdom to know what to do, what not to do, and when to do it.

We can often use our time in strange ways. For example, Rafael Antonio Lozano of Plano, Texas has been on a quest to visit every company-owned Starbucks on the planet. He began his mission in 1997, when there were 1,304 Starbucks stores worldwide. Currently, there are 31,256 stores. As of September 2019, Lozano reported having visited over 15,000 global locations. 

Despite his impressive pace, Lozano is realistic about the nature of his quest, saying, “As long as they keep building Starbucks, I’ll never be finished.” He is also realistic about the importance of his mission. “Every time I reach a Starbucks, I feel like I’ve accomplished something,” he said, “when actually I’ve accomplished nothing.”

The book of Ecclesiastes would say, “There is a time to drink coffee, and a time to stay home.” Certainly, Lozano’s personal mission is extreme. But before we get too hard on Rafael, do we have a personal mission?  Does it reflect the stewardship of time God has given us?  When we get to the end of our lives, will we feel like we have accomplished something only to discover that we have accomplished nothing?

Time is a gift from God, and a temporary commodity to be used for God before the end of time comes.

One of the realities of time is that our lives are full of seasonal rhythms and change over time. These are built into the life God has given us. The book of Ecclesiastes is one that, throughout its contents, explains that nothing we pursue has any permanence to it. We throw ourselves into some work or activity, but what does that activity really do for us in the end?

Time is our master, and we must respect it.

When I was twenty years old, I thought nothing of playing a round of golf in the morning and three sets of tennis in the afternoon, then staying up late at night with friends. If I did that same thing today, I would have a team of doctors attending me in the hospital. We all, at some point, try to defy time and act like we can do the things we once did in the past. Sometimes it takes a lot for us to accept our limitations, whether it is our play or our work. Ecclesiastes teaches us that forces from the outside seem to always dictate what we can do and not do.

Time can be a harsh taskmaster.

The clock relentlessly and inexorably moves forward with the cycles and rhythms of life offering only meaninglessness, as we discover we are prisoners of time. But for the believer, time can be redeemed with godly purpose and meaning, no matter what the season of life is. Because there is time, and all things will someday come to an end – all activity, or the lack of it, will be judged according to how we denied or accepted our limitations due to time. 

Ecclesiastes also offers to us what seems a subversive perspective that is counter-cultural to our society. Whereas many Americans believe that if we work hard and do the right thing we can shape our own lives and our own prosperity, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes insists on submitting and moving with the events, rhythms, and seasons of God.  

Apart from God, time is futile and meaningless. In our denial, it is no wonder so many persons are so unhappy with their lives.

In the seasons of life and experiences we have from birth to death, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that everything is out of our control. Too many of us try to exert control over events, people, and circumstances when, in truth, any control we have is an illusion. I call this the “c-clamp syndrome,” trying to clamp down on others to get them to submit to our agenda.

Instead, Holy Scripture directs us to practice self-control – to focus on myself and my own actions:

Moderation is better than muscle, self-control better than political power. (Proverbs 16:32, MSG)

Prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. (1 Peter 1:13, NLT)

The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7, CEB)

Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful. (2 Peter 1:5-7, CEV)

We cannot make time stand still. So, we must focus on how we spend our time now. It is time for us to lay aside lesser pursuits and diligently pursue God. We each must give ourselves to the unforced rhythms of grace and let God redeem the time. What time is it?  It is time to live in harmony with God in all we say and do.

God of all time help us to know ourselves. Teach us to recognize our weaknesses and work to walk in holiness. Let us follow you in all things, submitting to the times you have for us. Thank you for your unending grace and mercy toward us when we need it most. Help us to trust you with our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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