They aren’t kidding when they say that a baby changes everything. My days look so much different than they used to. This time last year, I was waking up at 5 in the morning to exercise (which, let’s be real... I was 8 months pregnant so my exercise was pretty pathetic but still!). I would get dressed nicely for work and spend my day analyzing data, talking to sales reps and arranging for toys to cross the ocean and land on store shelves. I would come home and enjoy a relaxing and quiet evening with my husband. I used to eat dinner with both hands, I would stroll through the grocery store in relative peace, I slept thru the night… every night … and I stayed nice and clean all day long. What a difference a year makes! Each of these things has become more difficult and entirely exhausting at times but they don’t bother me; it’s easier to find significance in them because my son is usually in my arms as I’m doing them. The difficulty is the mountain of laundry waiting to be folded, the floors that haven’t been vacuumed today, the dishes that take up my whole counter and even though I spend all day, every day doing these things… they are still there to do again tomorrow. Where’s the significance in doing these things over and over again? The daily, the mundane, the difficult tasks, the good days, the bad days … where’s does the significance we long for come from?
We aren’t the first to ask. Solomon, King of Israel and builder of God’s temple wrestled with this same question. What made the wisest man who ever lived; blessed with wisdom from God, struggle with this same question? If we fast-forward a little through his life, we see his search for significance most noticeably after he began to value worldly things over eternal things. Throughout this time, Solomon was marrying many pagan women and he began to turn away from God. He built places of worship for their pagan gods and his heart was not “wholly true to the Lord.” (1 Kings 11:4) Because Solomon’s heart became divided – removing God from the true place of authority, God built up enemies throughout the kingdom and promised to divide the nations after Solomon’s reign. How can we possibly relate to Solomon? We don’t have live in palaces, command armies and we don’t have unending riches. What we do have is the blessing of wisdom through the power of the Holy Spirit, the tendency (though hopefully always lessening) to remove God from the place of authority over our lives at times AND the same longing for purpose and eternity.
The heartbeat of Ecclesiastes is his realization that apart from God life is meaningless; that all of his work and effort is without purpose. We can see this struggle depicted in the poem he writes in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and in the follow up of verses 9-11.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent 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 workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Like us, Solomon experienced the different seasons of life – He tells us that that, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”. Each subsequent line then begins with; “A time to…” … because this is repeated 28 times, it must be important to rightly understand. So, here it is – God is not restrained by time. Not one of the season’s listed in Solomon’s poem is too far from God’s reach, He created time as a way to continually reveal Himself to humanity. So, when we live in submission to God, we are joyfully reminded daily of the significance of our work. Therefore, I think it is important to note that this is not a prescriptive list of things that we are to make happen within certain seasons but instead it indicates God’s sovereignty in that He has a purpose behind each of these seasons. They are of no surprise to Him. He is Lord over them. As a result, each season is not purposed solely for our detriment or for our own good but for His glory.
Without working through each and every season mentioned, the three that struck me the most were the first, fifth and last statements of this poem. Solomon begins with, “a time to be born, and a time to die;” these two life events are completely out of our control. This is not to say you should sit on the couch eating Cheetos all day enticing a heart attack but instead, God is in complete control of when we are born and when we die. I love that Solomon begins this poem by establishing the sovereignty of God! This sets the stage for the rest of the life circumstances listed below… it is to say that, God is in just as much control over every other season in our life as He is over when we are born and when we die. And because God has never shown Himself to be without purpose or meaning, we can be confident that with Him in control, each season has purpose.
In the fifth line of the poem, verse 4, Solomon writes, “a time to weep, and a time to dance.” This line stood out to me because unlike the others it has to do with feeling, not doing. It deals with our emotions – recognizing there will be days spent on top of mountains and others in the bottom of the valley. What is God’s expectation in those seasons? How does He have control of our emotions? Because God created us in His image, He must have emotions too and we can feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our hearts welling up joy and peace as we learn new truths about God. He wants us to feel every emotion; we were gifted with that ability, they do not hinder His plan or disable us from finding significance. More importantly, God wants us to choose thankfulness in every season. When we are thankful, we are acknowledging God’s sovereignty and purpose for everything in our lives; therefore, our significance is tied to our thankfulness.
Let’s go a little out of order now… We will come back to the last line of the poem but let’s first look at verses 9 and 10 where Solomon gives us some insight into how we should approach these seasons. He glances back and asks the question, “what gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” I love Solomon’s use of the words “worker” and “busy”… this is indicating that we are not to sit by idle watching all these seasons pass by. We are to labor through them. We are God’s ambassadors and for every season, God has a purpose – let us recognize His sovereignty through them all and work to advance His Kingdom no matter the season.
So, here we are, we recognize that God is in control of every season. We see that He allows and created us to feel emotion but wants us to choose to thank Him through every season. And we have the determination to work thru these seasons for the sake of His Kingdom.
Getting back to the poem, as I promised we would, if we look at the last line, it says, “a time for war, and a time for peace.” In other words… how can we expect to find our happiness or our significance in a world that is so unstable itself? There is a season for war and for peace and its purpose is to draw our eyes to the sovereignty of God, our unchanging and unfailing Father. Solomon begins the poem by establishing God’s sovereignty and ends it by indicating the instability of the world we live in. God is our stability. We are starting to see now where our need for significance comes from. Our significance does not come from the things of this world because they are ever changing.
Solomon tells more fully where this desire comes from in verse 11, he says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Because God carefully and uniquely created us, we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only He can fill and that includes our innate and otherwise unexplainable desire for eternity. And because we were created in His image and intentionally placed on earth, in His sacred space, our purpose is to bring Him glory. It’s when we find satisfaction in God through all of life’s circumstances that we feel our significance. Without this longing for eternity or desire for significance, we wouldn’t be able to see the beauty in life. God sees the big picture, He sees what we cannot see, and He desires more for us than we could ever want for ourselves. This is why our desire for significance exceeds what we could ever attain for ourselves. The significance we long for does not come from our circumstances but from the desire for eternity that God has placed in our hearts.
But how does this change my day to day? How does this make picking up socks (because that’s what my son likes to play with) all day long significant? Or how does this make a battle with illness significant? Or how does this make the daily life of retirement significant? When we have an eternal perspective of trusting in God’s sovereignty, our satisfaction and significance becomes rooted in the ONE who cannot and has not failed. He gets the glory and we find our significance because we were made for Him. So, when I pick up that 3 millionth sock I can feel my significance because God sees the big picture and every little thing I do to take care of His sacred space is for His glory and my own good. Or when we battle thru illness, we can be assured that we still are of significance to His Kingdom and His plan. His heart is not to see us ill but to see us praise and thank Him no matter the circumstances. Or, when we hit retirement and maybe don’t have that daily task of going to work and accomplishing one particular goal we know our time is still significant because God is sovereign and our life has purpose within the context of eternity. This is why… our significance is found in eternity.