Today is pocket money day for my children (the oldest being six years old). Our children have two options with their pocket money. They can save it or they can spend it. Today, they wanted to spend their pocket money. We went to Poundland, where surprisingly, every item costs one pound. My oldest son bought for himself a remote control tank (he loves anything which is remote controlled).
The Poundland Remote Controlled Tank
After our visit to the shops, we made our way home with an excited boy who wanted to play with his new toy. After the hats and coats were off, the remote controlled tank was opened. Batteries were inserted in the controller and my son was eager to give it a go. Buttons pressed, nothing happened. Buttons pressed again. Nothing. Moved the wheels slightly, eventually it moved about six inches and stopped. Then Nothing. The reality didn’t meet the expectations. It was rubbish.
This got me thinking about making sure we get the best out of life. There are many things we can give our resources to, but what gives best the best return on our investment of money, energy, hopes and dreams?
The beginning of a year is often a time when re-evaluate our course of our lives and decide on resolutions to helps us make the required changes. In the Glasgow Church of Christ we have been looking at our vision for the next three years. Where to focus our efforts and what we where we want to be as a church in three years time.
During such times of reflection and plan we ask questions like:
- What is important in life?
- What do I want to achieve?
- What steps must I take to achieve it?
It reminds me of the words of king Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, which he wrote towards the end of his life as he assess what he has accomplished and achieved. The book contains some powerful and profound statements on what is important in life.
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
The book starts off with Solomon telling his readers how meaningless everything is. Much of the rest of the book sets out a justification of this statement. He asks a number soul searching and questions about the bigger picture of life. In these verses above, he asks:
- What ultimately do we gain from all our work?
This question reminds me of book by John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box. This book is about assessing what is important in life. It’s basic premise is that all the pieces of a game board game like chess share the same fate, weather they are the winning king or queen or a pawn on the losing side which was taken in the opening exchanges, they all end up back in the box. We, like the pieces of a game of chess will end up in a box, and all of us will leave everything behind.
The Cycle of Generations
Solomon goes on to talk about the cycle of generations.
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
As we go about our business, our own sphere of influence can seem so important. Yet who knows what their great grand father achieved or even their grand father? Most of us know a little about a couple of generations ago, often we know little beyond that. We ourselves will not be remembered much beyond our grand children or great grand children. Yet, the world continues. A new generation comes along, they think they are wiser and smarter than the previous one, and as they get older the realise that the previous generation wasn’t so daft after all and maybe they could have been wiser if they listened to the previous generation in the first place.
The Quest for Knowledge
I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.
Solomon continues to describe how he gain much wisdom and knowledge, but this too ultimately was meaningless and didn’t provide answers. We live in society that holds up knowledge almost above all else. Often when evangelising I hear, “I believe in science, not God”. Firstly, Science and God can easily coexist, after all God created the natural laws. Secondly, a increase in knowledge can make many advances in technology, yet does it actually improve the quality of our lives? Is our generation much happier because we have computers, the internet, smartphones, satnavs, etc than the generation which lived a hundred years ago? No. They are often the source of anger and frustration when they do not meet our performance expectations.
Living for the Moment
I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?”
King Solomon didn’t hold back. He spent time just enjoying the pleasures of life, living for the moment.
“Is it so wrong to want to just to be happy, after all, I’m not hurting anyone?” This is a question often asked today. The problem which this kind of reasoning is that the person we are trying to make happy is ourselves. This leads to selfish behaviour. Putting ourselves, our wants and needs above those of others.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Paul outlines the Christian attitude in his book to the Philippians chapter 2. By meeting the needs of others and living a selfless life, we end up getting our own needs meet.
The Man with Everything
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
What didn’t king Solomon do? He took on projects, acquired great wealth and had many wives. Much of Jerusalem at the time would have been devoted to just serving Solomon’s court. In the 1 Kings 10:14 tells us king Solomon’s annual income in Gold:
The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents
666 talents is equivalent to 23 tonnes. That is an average over £1 million income a day from gold alone, in today’s monetary terms.
Yet in spite of all this, he didn’t find fulfilment. His life was empty. Jesus says:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
He makes it clear that to gain the whole world, yet not become a disciple of Christ is utterly meaningless.
Temporary verses Eternal
Let us assess our priorities, as we start the new year. What should our priorities be? Personally, I like the motto of the Johannesburg International Church of Christ – South Africa, “To Know God and Make God Known”. In many ways this sums up the greatest two commandments:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”
The apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth to have the correct priorities:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18
Our short term aims and goals might be focused on the temporary, like obtaining an educational qualification, working hard within a secular job, etc. But behind it must lie a greater goals and aims. Our goal is become more like Christ, training ourselves to think like he did, act like he did and love like he did. Where do I fall short? I too often think selfishly, act insecurely and avoid conflict and fail to make the most of opportunities I have to love others in my day to day living. Where are you falling short?
We are all products of our thoughts. We will do and become what we spend our time thinking about.
Solomon’s Final Thoughts
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.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil
Solomon final words are focused on the eternal after spending much of the book discussing the temporary. After spending a lot of time, energy and money focusing on temporary, he finally figures out that the eternal is the only meaningful pursuit.
Don’t buy the temporary Poundland tanks in life, spending your time, energy and money on something with eternal meaning.