Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – It’s Time

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So, I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. (New Living Translation)

Maybe we enjoy celebrating the first day of a new year because it gives us a sense of having a clean slate. Perhaps we internally and/or unconsciously realize we wasted great chunks of time in the past year. So, we look forward to amending our ways and making new resolutions.

Time Is Finite

We cannot get it back once we lose it – hence, the lamenting of so much squandered time. We want 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.

There needs to be a sense of purpose – of values which drive our goals and our actions – if we are to use our time in redemptive ways. Time is a gift, bestowed to us by a Creator who desires we steward that precious gift with sage understanding and wise discernment.

Time is a temporary commodity to be used for good purposes before the end of all 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, 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 Marches On

Time marches inexorably forward, no matter what we do or don’t do. Therefore, we must respect, and learn to work with, it’s slow and constant movement.

When I was twenty years old, I thought nothing of playing a round of golf in the morning, three sets of tennis in the afternoon, then staying up late at night with friends. If I did that same thing today, I would be in the hospital well before the sun sets.

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 outside forces always seem to dictate what we can do and not do.

Time Is In Control

The cycles and rhythms of life can appear meaningless. We may feel as if we are prisoners of time. Yet, 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. Many Americans believe that by working hard and doing the right thing, we can shape our own destiny and prosperity.

However, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes insists we submit and move with the events, rhythms, and seasons God has established. Apart from God, time is futile and meaningless. In our denial of the power and effects of time, it is no wonder many Americans are so unhappy with their lives.

In the 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.

Self-Control

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 force time to stand still. So, instead, we must focus on how we spend our time now.

It is time for us to lay aside lesser pursuits and diligently pursue what is right, just, and good. We each must give ourselves to the unforced rhythms of grace and let God redeem the time.

What time is it?  It’s time to live in harmony with the clock, with God, and with others.

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.

1 Kings 3:5-14 – A Prayer for Discernment

Stained glass window of King Solomon in Saint-Joseph Des Fins Church, France

The Lord appeared to Solomon at Gibeon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”

Solomon responded, “You showed so much kindness to your servant my father David when he walked before you in truth, righteousness, and with a heart true to you. You’ve kept this great loyalty and kindness for him and have now given him a son to sit on his throne. And now, Lord my God, you have made me, your servant, king in my father David’s place. But I’m young and inexperienced. I know next to nothing. But I’m here, your servant, in the middle of the people you have chosen, a large population that can’t be numbered or counted due to its vast size. Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help.”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had made this request. God said to him, “Because you have asked for this instead of requesting long life, wealth, or victory over your enemies—asking for discernment so as to acquire good judgment— I will now do just what you said. Look, I hereby give you a wise and understanding mind. There has been no one like you before now, nor will there be anyone like you afterward. I now also give you what you didn’t ask for: wealth and fame. There won’t be a king like you as long as you live. And if you walk in my ways and obey my laws and commands, just as your father David did, then I will give you a very long life.” (Common English Bible)

You will recognize today’s Old Testament lesson as being the same as yesterday – just in a different book of the Bible. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are a restatement and edited version of 1 and 2 Kings. That’s because each was written in a different time for a particular context. Kings was compiled at the time of the Jewish exile when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. Chronicles was put together for the exiles returning to Jerusalem.

Both accounts were meant to be lessons in how to live rightly as God’s people. For the people going into exile, the Kings narrative was to serve as a remembrance of how far the people had strayed from their roots in basic life wisdom.

“It is said that wisdom lies not in seeing things, but seeing through things.”

Manly P. Hall

Solomon was a very wise king. And today’s lesson makes it clear why. At the outset of his reign, Solomon could have asked for anything from God. A typical request might be for power in subduing enemies, popularity for appealing to the masses, or perks for maintaining political stability. 

Instead, Solomon asked for understanding and wisdom to govern God’s people so that he could discern between good and evil. It was the kind of asking which the Lord was pleased to hear and to give. All these millennia later, Solomon still has the reputation of being the wisest king that ever lived.

Solomon’s prayer resonates with me. As a church pastor, rather than focusing prayers on a bigger budget, more people reached, or adding programs, I can make the choice to pray for wisdom so that I will have my ministerial ladder on the right wall. 

As a hospital chaplain, instead of praying for greater visibility of the spiritual in healthcare, increased impact within the system, or more healing of patients, I can pray for understanding so that I will be able to make sound ethical, practical, and ministerial decisions in each context and case I encounter.

Solomon’s request was borne of a clear realization of who God is (the One who shows steadfast love) and who he himself is (like a little child with a big responsibility). God’s greatness and Solomon’s humility collided in a wonderful prayer for discernment to carry out God’s will on earth and to bless God’s people.

In this time of year, in which it is vogue to make New Year’s resolutions based upon the individual’s willpower, let’s take a different approach. Let’s pray and invite God to do the kind of deep change needed in our lives so that we can accomplish the will of God on this earth for this time. 

May we pray for discernment to serve well, ask for wisdom to be good stewards of our callings, and seek understanding from the God who delights in answering altruistic requests from humble people.

May you walk in the way of wisdom so that you will make good decisions and act in all good understanding.

Lord God, give me a mind and heart of wisdom so that I might rightly discern good and evil, right and wrong, and the best decisions to made in every situation. I choose to seek your ways and follow the narrow way of Jesus Christ through the enablement of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Chronicles 1:7-13 – Ask for Wisdom

“Dream of Solomon” by Luca Giordano, 1693

God appeared to Solomon that night in a dream and said, “Solomon, ask for anything you want, and I will give it to you.”

Solomon answered:

Lord God, you were always loyal to my father David, and now you have made me king of Israel. I am supposed to rule these people, but there are as many of them as there are specks of dust on the ground. So, keep the promise you made to my father and make me wise. Give me the knowledge I’ll need to be the king of this great nation of yours.

God replied:

Solomon, you could have asked me to make you rich or famous or to let you live a long time. Or you could have asked for your enemies to be destroyed. Instead, you asked for wisdom and knowledge to rule my people. So, I will make you wise and intelligent. But I will also make you richer and more famous than any king before or after you.

Solomon then left Gibeon and returned to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel. (Contemporary English Version)

Maybe it’s just me but I don’t often hear the word “wisdom” used in normal conversation.

I certainly don’t hear wisdom mentioned in talking about politicians, corporate executives, or even church leaders. “Oh, the Congressman is so wise!” “Isn’t that CEO a wonderfully sage person?” “My Pastor is full of wisdom!” You might even be laughing at this point because those kinds of statements just aren’t part of our daily interactions with others. 

We are more likely to say that somebody is full of something else other than wisdom. Yet, all the aforementioned statements could be said about King Solomon. The guy was wise, in fact, the wisest person that ever lived.

“Wise men talk because they have something to say; Fools , because they have to say something.”

Plato (424-348 B.C.E.)

Wisdom is the ability to put truth into practice. It is to see everything and everyone from God’s perspective. Wisdom is to have a solid base of knowledge, along with the skill set to use it for godly and constructive purposes. 

Solomon had a load of it. The really important thing to note from today’s Old Testament lesson is how Solomon obtained such wisdom. It came from God. Solomon asked for it, and he got it.

Anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. (James 1:5, CEB)

Maybe the reason why so many people today are not characterized as wise is because they rely on their own ingenuity and hard work. Asking for wisdom may not even on their mind. Their radical independence prevents them from obtaining the wisdom needed.

In a world of dire straits, where significant problems often overshadow effective solutions, wisdom is needed more than ever. So, like Solomon of old, ask for wisdom and knowledge from God. 

We all are in some position of governing or overseeing others, whether it is being a parent, a faith community leader, or in charge of something at work. Everyone needs wisdom. 

Just ask. Be free to seek. Go ahead and knock on the door. Jesus said:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, NLT)

For all people everywhere, and in every circumstance, ask God for the ability to know the truth and put it into practice. Wisdom isn’t optional; it’s absolutely necessary to living a good life.

Get wisdom, get understanding;
    do not forget my words or turn away from them.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:5-7, NIV)

Wise God, you know all things and how everything works. Give me wisdom and knowledge so that your purposes and plans might be accomplished in and through me for every situation to the glory of Jesus Christ in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 7:31-35 – Dealing with the Dull and Foolish

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (New International Version)

I am sure all of us, at some point in our lives, have been in a no-win type of situation. Even Jesus experienced it. 

John the Baptist came as an ascetic, eating no bread and being a teetotaler. Some people thought he had a demon. Then, when Jesus came on the scene doing just the opposite – eating, drinking, and having a grand old time – the people accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton. 

Jesus was like the Rodney Dangerfield of the ancient world – he never got any respect from the religious authorities.

I’m actually a bit relieved that Jesus went through that kind of scenario. Sometimes, it just seems that, with some people, they’ll grump and complain at us, no matter what we do or say. Wise King Solomon was familiar with such people; he called them fools: 

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5, NIV) 

So, which is it? How do I handle a fool? The answer is: you don’t. A fool is going to be a fool no matter what you do or say. Handling them is a no-win situation.

It seems to me the way Jesus responded to the foolish around him was to express something of a lament. The saying he quoted has to do with weddings and funerals. Jesus was lamenting that the crowd standing right in front of him, seeing him and seeing his works, are like people who don’t dance at weddings, and don’t cry at funerals. 

In other words, they are plain dull and stupid. They have Jesus right in front of their faces, and they don’t see him because they are expecting someone else. The people just cannot get over the fact that Jesus hangs out with people other than them.

Jesus was likening the religious authorities to a bunch of bratty little kids. They sit and do nothing but heckle and bully others walking by, while they idly wait for their idea of Messiah to come waltzing along.

Messiah did come along. And they foolishly and dully missed it, and treated Jesus like any other Joe Schmo.

So, what do we do with such irritating and obnoxious people, like those who were never happy with Jesus? 

Well, frankly, Jesus just went about his mission – despite what the foolish generation was saying about him. 

And we must do the same. Some folks are going to backbite, gossip, slander, misunderstand and misrepresent you – and there’s not a dang thing you can do about it. We are not to take our cues from fools. We are to find our security and our solace in Jesus. We are to focus on living and loving, just like him.

And, as for the self-appointed critics and judges among us, let them blow their empty words out their blowholes into the air. The wise don’t have time to engage such blowhards. Leave them to God.

Wise Jesus, you handled people as well as anyone could, yet they still criticized you. Help me to live a sage life, and speak with circumspection, so that when irrational people talk their sinful jabbering, it isn’t because of my foolishness, but because of my love. Amen.