Friday, 30 September 2016

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. – Ecclesiastes 5:2

Today’s Scripture Reading (September 30, 2016): Ecclesiastes 5

I love the 19th-century evangelist J. Edwin Orr’s advice regarding prayer at meetings. According to Orr, a good prayer at a meeting is a short one. He said that “when one prays in a meeting, for his first three minutes everyone prays with him. Should he continue a second three minutes, everyone prays for him. Should he continue for a third three minutes, the others start to pray against him.” With our shortened attention spans more than a hundred years later, I am not sure that we have even three minutes before the tide in prayer begins to turn against us.

But I am not sure that this is necessarily what Solomon has in mind here. Probably more of Solomon’s concern was that we are often very opinionated when it comes to what we think it is that God should be doing in our world. But what we lack is God’s vantage point. God knows and sees more than we do. We lack his perspective, so how do we think that we have anything to say from the valley to the one who is standing and watching from the mountaintop.

So Solomon says let your words be few. The prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel prayed and pleaded with their God for hours, while Elijah’s prayer was short and sweet. And it was Elijah’s prayer that was answered. Jesus advice on prayer was very similar to Solomon’s. “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).

Don’t bother starting off your prayers with thirty different names for God. As silly as it might sound, Dad works. And then tell him what you are feeling. He will hear you. And to be honest, sometimes that is all we need – the knowledge that we have been heard, and the understanding that God knows more about our situation than we could know. Even in our darkest moments, we are safe in his hands.

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 6

Thursday, 29 September 2016

And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 4:2-3

Today’s Scripture Reading (September 29, 2016): Ecclesiastes 4

Pythagoras was a philosopher and mathematician who lived during the sixth-century B.C.E. He seems to have been a man of action. One of the sayings attributed to Pythagoras (most of what we know about the man was written decades or even centuries after his death) was that “Concern should drive us into action and not into a depression. No man is free who cannot control himself.” When there is something wrong, we need to be the agents of change to right the wrong. Even if we fail, some action is preferable to only reporting what it is that is wrong.

Admittedly, a casual walk through the Book of Ecclesiastes can be a very depressing journey, partially because Solomon seems just to point out how broken our world really is. We get glimpses of an answer, but no real lasting solution – and no action to follow. Just a reporting of what is wrong.

And then Solomon days that the dead are happier than those who are alive, but that the lucky ones are the people who were never born because those who were never born have never experienced all of the evil that takes place “under the sun.” In reading this phrase, I wonder if Solomon has someone specific in mind. Maybe the dead would include his father. David was a successful king, but he was also a man that lived through many trials, from being chased through the wilderness by the reigning king at the time, Saul, to uprising within his own family. He was chased out of Jerusalem by a son who had decided that he was not going to wait for Dad to die and seized the throne early. Dear old Dad had been a military mastermind, but he was also guilty of adultery and murder. David knew the depths with which evil can infiltrate our lives.

But the real lucky one, according to Solomon, might have been his older brother. He (according to the biblical account the first born of Solomon and Bathsheba was left unnamed) died before he could experience all of the evil this world could produce. Therefore, he was the lucky one.

I am not sure that I agree with Solomon. The problem is that the unborn and the dead can do nothing to be agents of change in our world. And that is what is needed. I hate to admit it, but it is Pythagoras that is right. Injustice should drive toward justice and wrong toward what is right. I can’t change the world (with all of the racial unrest on this planet I wish that I could), but I can make sure that I am always driving my own corner of the world toward what is right. And if we all did that, this world would be a very different place.  

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 5

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them? – Ecclesiastes 3:22

Today’s Scripture Reading (September 28, 2016): Ecclesiastes 3

It is a perversion of the Dwarfs’ Marching Song in the 1937 movie version of Snow White. Of course, we know that the dwarves sang “Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, It’s off to work we go. We’ll keep on singing all day long Heigh-ho.” Our perversion of the song goes more like this “I owe; I owe, so off to work I go.” It ignites the fire inside of us. But ultimately we struggle with the question of why we work. The obvious answer is that we work to make money so that we can live (I owe, I owe.) So the average person seems to arrange their lives this way – we work so that we can play. But the problem is that we work countless more hours than we play. We spend our lives chasing the next deadline so that we can pay the next bill. And the cycle simply never ends.

Solomon has already noted in Ecclesiastes that he is angry because all of the products of his labor will, in the end, be passed on to someone else ( I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me – Ecclesiastes 2:18.) Here he seems to answer his own struggle. Since everything that I own will one day be turned over to someone else, enjoy the process of work as well as the end goal. I get that. I have some things that I have a hard time parting with. I still have stored in a big plastic box most of the Comic books I bought as a kid. I have an extensive music collection (mostly on records), again products of my youth. I have a fairly extensive library of books on varied interests, although some people might be surprised about all of the Science Fiction, Mystery and Action titles contained in my personal library. All have been built up over time. And someday they will be all handed off to someone else, who will most likely decide that while they might have been worth something to me, they aren’t valuable to them. I get that. And I am also okay with that because I have enjoyed the process of collecting them.

I am convinced that the luckiest people on the planet are those who get up in the morning and want to go to work because they enjoy that part of their lives. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t good to get out and let their hair down on the weekend, but for them, the totality of life is –for the most part, we all have some stressful days – enjoyable. These are the ones that show up for work the day after they win the lottery. Work is no longer about money; even their job is part of enjoying life.

A recent study released things that you can do to make yourself happy. And not surprisingly one of the keys to happiness is in working an area that helps to challenge and fulfill you – working in a place where you would choose to be even if you didn’t have any need to make money. Your workplace should be a place where you enjoy the process as well as the end result. Money alone is not enough compensation for the amount of time that you will spend on the job during your lifetime – there has to be more to your work than just the salary you bring home. The trick to happiness is finding the right job for you.

Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 4