By Tim Rowe
What is the purpose of our life? What gives our life meaning? What is our destiny? What is our goal in life? Why were we put here on earth for? Don’t we want our life to mean something? Does our life consist of an endless routine of partying, drinking and hanging out with friends? Is that the true meaning of life? Is it the relentless pursuit of fame, riches and success no matter who you step on or what bridges are burned on the way? Is it the quest for knowledge and to become educated so I can find a good job? Is it to give ourselves to a charity or cause and try to make this world better? Is this what life is all about?
People spend millions of dollars and man-hours searching for happiness and meaning in life. People desperately look to relationships, friends, sports, partying, vacations, work, education, money, possessions, status and beauty to bring them meaning in life and make their hearts happy, but ultimately they end up empty, disillusioned and depressed. We have become over-medicated, over-entertained, overly-addicted and overly-depressed wanderers who soon find out that happiness and true meaning in life can never be created and maintained for any length of time in the powers and abilities of men and women alone. They do not have it in their power to create happiness no matter how rich or famous or smart they may be. The Bible states in Psalm 39:5 that every man in his best state, in his highest achievement, with his best step forward is only vanity (a puff of air; a vapor that soon fades away).
Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence declares that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone wants life. Everyone desires liberty and we are all in the continual pursuit of happiness in our culture, but where does the pursuit take us? The world’s obsession with the pursuit of happiness usually ends in disappointment, bitterness and hopelessness because God is not in the pursuit. Without God our life is a complete waste. Without God our life will never have meaning. Without God our pursuit and chase after happiness is in vain. Without God our life is an illusion built on sinking sand. Only God can show us and make known to us the paths of life (Psalm 16:11).
Psalm 4:2 (New Jerusalem Bible):
Children of men, how long will you be heavy of
heart, why love what is vain and chase after illusions?
The Bible contains a very interesting book, Ecclesiastes, written by Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived upon the earth other that Jesus Christ, and it sets forth the truth concerning the issues of the meaning of life and what brings us true happiness.
What God is doing through Solomon’s experiences and conclusions is actually defending a life lived by faith and trust in Him, by giving us a true account of the grimness and meaninglessness of its alternative. Solomon makes a heart-rending statement in verse 14 that is a constant theme throughout Ecclesiastes:
Ecclesiastes 1:14 (KJV):
I have seen all the works that are done under the
sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
The phrase “under the sun” is only used in Ecclesiastes and occurs 29 times. It refers to all that is connected with earthly things of man apart from God. It is a life without God with the sole emphasis on the works of man. The word “vanity” means: that which soon vanishes, that which is empty and passing, a breath or vapor which soon vanishes forever, a complete nothingness, and an utter meaninglessness. It is interesting that Adam and Eve named their first child Abel which means “vanity,” a breath, emptiness, meaninglessness and nothingness. What a statement of truth that God is revealing in Abel’s name both as to the heart of Adam and Eve and to the pattern on men and women born after the fall in the Garden of Eden!
Vexation means: a feeding on the wind and a chasing after the wind. Every work and every refuge outside of the one true God is completely empty and meaningless, like a vapor that appears for a fleeting second and then vanishes. All works, all plans, all desires that leave God out of the picture are as futile as chasing the wind. A person will be wandering aimlessly in a vast wilderness of emptiness without first seeking God as the refuge and purpose of their life. Without God you will never escape the futility and fleeting emptiness of all pursuits of happiness and meaning in life. We will never reach our full potential and destiny without God as a living, vital, reality in your heart and soul. God desires for us to have an extraordinary life, a life exceeding the common measure, a remarkable life that is an amazing reflection of our Creator, and an exceptional life lived in awesome power, limitless love and exciting adventure. This is why he has given us a new birth, a new birthright into the family of God, crowned us as His beloved children and given us the authority and power to live a more abundant life, a life that overflows with Him. God knows life. He created it. So how can life ever have meaning without God? It is one of the greatest deceptions of the Devil that we can do fine without God or that we do not need Him. Where God is not wanted there is always vanity and vexation of spirit.
On our pilgrimage of life, we are constantly facing the choice of whether to stay with God on His path of life or to choosing its alternative of casting our lot with the world. What God is exhorting us to do in Ecclesiastes is to stay on the path, because even under the best circumstances—that is, Solomon’s life, where Solomon was endowed with tremendous intelligence; he had money running out of his ears; he had wisdom; he had power; he had the ability to discern; he had the ability to do almost anything he would want to do—so his conclusions regarding matters are very important to those of us who do not have the powers or the capacities of mind that Solomon had. Yet, we would wish very much to do the things that Solomon was able to do.
Would we possibly find happiness and meaning in life in doing the things that he was able to do? That is what this book of Ecclesiastes addresses. God is showing us, through the life of Solomon—this man that He endowed with so much—that apart from God, life is absolutely, absurdly meaningless, regardless of how smart you are; regardless of how handsome or pretty you are; regardless of how much money you have; regardless of your abilities to build things; do anything (virtually) that you want to do in life—everything is at your beck and call, but if there is that one thing missing, then life becomes absolutely meaningless—not only meaningless, but downright frustrating and hopeless.
Ecclesiastes 2:25: For without Him who can eat and find enjoyment?
(Proper translation from the Hebrew). There is no true enjoyment in life with God.
Ecclesiastes 1:2 shows everything in life is meaningless without God.
Let’s see the journey of Solomon in trying to find meaning and happiness in life and how relevant this pursuit is in our troubled times.
Ecclesiastes 1:13: I applied my mind to study (Get smart, get knowledge, get educated).
Ecclesiastes 2:1: I will test you with pleasure. One translation even says, “I will plunge into finding pleasure!” Another translation says, “I will pour myself out at having fun!” (Have fun; partying) What he finds out is that this kind of approach to life is temporary, it is meaningless, and that having fun cannot quench the thirst every human being has for meaning or answer the burning questions “What does life mean? Where am I going? Where can I find true happiness?”
Ecclesiastes 2:3: Tried cheering himself with wine. (Just go out and get drunk).
Ecclesiastes 2:4: I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. (Becomes a workaholic).
Ecclesiastes 2:8: I amassed silver and gold for myself (If I just had money) This section is a warning to those who envy those who seem to enjoy the finer things of life; those that think that if they just had enough money to indulge themselves with cars, with clothing, with fine homes, that they would be content. Ever want to win the Lottery? I did a little research and winning the lottery is a curse for the majority of these “lucky” people. Suicides, murder, depression, betrayal, crime and many more things have followed most lottery winners where many wish they would have never won it. One lottery winner was even killed by his own family. The love of money is the root of all evil and the lottery gives a door and root into someone’s live that so often destroys it.
You know very well that there are principles at work in life and maybe you have experienced them. You have gone through life, let us say as a young married person, and you are making ten dollars an hour. You were thinking along with your wife and making plans, “Boy if I just made twelve dollars an hour, everything would just be hunky-dory.” So you made twelve dollars an hour and then you began to think, “Boy if I just made fifteen dollars an hour, life would be so much better.”
So you made fifteen dollars an hour. It changed nothing. Why? Because there is a force in life, in our culture, that the expenses always rise to meet the income. In addition to that, we have something supplied from the Bible. It is in chapter 1 and it tells you the eye is never filled nor is the ear. Human nature is insatiable. It is never ever satisfied. With God’s spirit, a person can have a much greater sense of contentment. But even in that, it takes a great deal of maturity (walking by God’s spirit over quite a period of time) before one comes to the place where they can truly be content. Paul said he had learned to be content with what he had; he had learned to be content with life. It did not come naturally. The growth in the Spirit of God is what brought him to the place where he was content, even (I guess) to be floating/hanging onto a log in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea (which happened to him one time).
Ecclesiastes 2:8: I acquired men and women singers (entertainment; lost in your music).
Ecclesiastes 2:8: Got a harem (sex).
Ecclesiastes 2:10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. (culmination of his pursuit of happiness-anything and everything goes and did whatever his heart desired).
Dorian Gray-“I envy you. You have the only two things worth having-youth and beauty”
This is so often a standard for happiness in the world. Everyone is trying to make themselves look young and beautiful. We have plastic surgery parlors in every city, makeup to hide the flaws, formulas to restore youth and magazines and television shows to set forth our worship of beauty. Over 10 billion dollars was spent on plastic surgery in the United States in 2009 and there were over 10 million different procedures done. It is amazing our obsession with beauty. Physical beauty always fades and youth always grows old. Neither can ever be a substitute for God.
II Timothy 3:1-51But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
II Timothy set forth characteristics of a life where God is not wanted and He has no priority.
Ecclesiastes 2:11 (NIV) Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun (doing anything or any work apart from God).
Ecclesiastes 2:16: For there is no more remembrances of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool!
He realizes two great fears: I am going to die eventually and I am going to be forgotten He said, “Hey, I have done all this stuff that after I am dead, nobody will even remember who did it.”
Ecclesiastes 2:17: So I hated life (conclusion). Eventually without God you will come to the point that you hate life because everything is truly meaningless without God and all your labor is in vain.
God cries out: Why can’t I be enough. I am all you need to be happy.
Ecclesiastes 11:1- Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
This is a call to faith and trust in God. Take the risk! Therefore Solomon says it will never work out right unless you decisively commit yourself to live by faith—cast your bread upon the water. Cast your lot with God.
This is Solomon’s conclusion after all his vain pursuits for meaning in life and happiness:
Ecclesiastes 12:13: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
Love God with everything you have and obey His voice and your life becomes extraordinary.
Deuteronomy 30:16-19 In that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away [if you want to live a meaningless life, if you want your life to be absurd, if you want your life to end in absolute vanity] so you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.
That is what Solomon has said in the whole book, only in much, much greater detail.
Deuteronomy 30:20a …that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice,…
Give yourself wholeheartedly, enthusiastically, and decisively; commit yourself to Him and remember Him, beginning right now! Do not procrastinate! Plunge in, Solomon says!
Deuteronomy 30:20b…and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life…
God can make lemonade out of lemons. He can make all these adversities and hardships of the world work for our good—these things that are beyond our control. He can make it work out so we get benefit from these things that are positive toward His kingdom, and life then is not meaningless.
Jesus Christ used the word “blessed” numerous times on the sermon in the mount in the book of Matthew and this word has an interesting meaning in our study of the pursuit of happiness.
Blessed (makarios from root makar, but others say from mak = large or lengthy) means to be happy, but not in the usual sense of happiness based on positive circumstances. From the Biblical perspective Makarios describes the person who is free from daily cares and worries because his every breath and circumstance is in the hands of His Maker Who gives him such an assurance (such a “blessing”). As discussed below makarios was used to describe the kind of happiness that comes from receiving divine favor.
The fullest meaning of the term, therefore, had to do with an inward contentedness that is not affected by circumstances. That is the kind of happiness God desires for His children, a state of joy and well-being that does not depend on physical, temporary circumstances.
Philippians 4:11-13: 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Makarios ultimately describes the state those who believe in Christ and in so possessing God, possess everything.
It describes a state of being marked by fullness from God.
We are blessed because we have a sonship relationship with our heavenly father and can fellowship in deep intimacy with God every moment of the day. We are blessed because we walk in a right relationship with Him and thus are empowered and motivated to enjoy Him as He originally intended.
We are blessed and truly happy because only God can turn our mourning into dancing and our heartbreak into gladness.
Lord, give us ears to hear Your magnificent truth afresh as the Great Physician’s only prescription for genuine, lasting happiness in this world and the one to come! Amen.
Hear O JEHOVAH, and be gracious to me.
O JEHOVAH, be Thou my Helper
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing.
Thou hast loosed by sackcloth and girded me with gladness.
Deuteronomy 26:19a (NIV): And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised…
You are God’s treasured possession; His very people. How special and loved do you think you are in the eyes of God?
Psalm 73:23 (NIV): Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
Christianity is an invitation to desire and experience God in the deepest levels of the human heart. How brightly burns the desire of the heart for a love affair with God.
Enter into the joy of your God.
Isaiah 33:2a O Lord be gracious to us; we long for you
Psalm 86:11: Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear (respect, reverence) thy name.
Do you long for God with the greatest passion and desire? Does you soul pant for God? Is you heart undivided for God? Will you dare to walk in His way and His truth and respect His name above all else?
I Chronicles 16:9a (NASB): “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…
Jeremiah 30:21b, 22 (NIV): For who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ declares the LORD. 22 “‘So you will be my people, and I will be your God.’”
God has given us everything we will need in life through Jesus Christ in the new birth and the gift of the holy spirit. We have been given the ability to walk in unlimited power, fathomless love, relentless confidence, tireless strength, tender compassion and spiritual wisdom. We have Christ in us that pulsates in every cell, every gene and every part of our body. All the fullness of God as His earthly tabernacle and temple dwells in us. In us is the literal presence and power of God, the holy of holies of our generation, and the place where God abides. What are you going to do with it? We have so much that God has entrusted to us. God has also given us talents, giftings, abilities and functions in the Body of Christ that only we can accomplish for Him and each other. It is our calling. It is our destiny. It is our purpose in life. This is what gives life meaning. This is what will make us truly happy.
Let me ask you a question. Is God’s heart grieved because you are not doing anything with it? Is Jesus Christ crying over you because of the lost potential of your life? In Luke 19, as Jesus Christ descended from the Mount of Olives and began to approach Jerusalem and the people were shouting praise for the miracles they had seen, Jesus burst into tears as Jerusalem came into full view. Why? He saw its lost potential, he saw its future destruction, he saw what it could have been and how it all had been wasted. He cried over a wasted destiny, a wasted potential and a wasted opportunity to be what God intended them to be. He also cried because he knew the same people that were praising God when he turned out not be the Messiah they had envisioned they viciously turned on him in a few days would be shouting with the crowd, “Crucify him!” Wasted lives. Wasted potential. Wasted destiny. Is Jesus Christ crying over your life? It is not to late to begin to live the extraordinary life, the life God has called you live; a life of sacrifice, dedication, kindness, love, giving and radical intimacy and devotion to Him. Everything starts in life with God. God is life and Jesus Christ came that we might break free from the bondage of the past and live life with a purpose, a meaning and a vibrancy that is stamped and guided by the mighty hand of God. I pray God that our lives are not wasted. I pray God we don’t put everything you gave us in a closet and forget about it. I pray God that our lives become lost in you. I pray that Jesus Christ is not crying over the lost potential of our lives and what could have been. I pray that our lives become extraordinary in Him and shine with all the beautiful glory of His image. I pray that when people see you, they see Jesus Christ in word, action and deed.