contentment

Practical Reminders

Lessons many of us learned in preschool and kindergarten still apply—be nice, share, and show respect for each other. We live in a world that seems to have forgotten these relational basics.

Even the church—the people not the institution—needs some reminders. We need to be reminded of some basics that Jesus often taught.

Why Do We Bother?

Optical illusions are fascinating. From the illusionary designs of MC Escher to those squiggly line prints with some hidden image. Illusions can also be frustrating. You look and look and look, but just can't figure it out.

How about the classic lost in the desert movie? Someone with tattered clothing and dying of thirst crawls through the sand towards a mirage thinking it's water. Of course, it's only heat waves that appear as rippling water.

The endless cycle of everyday life can seem illusory. As if, no hope exists of any break or improvement in the monotony of the mundane. That's when we need to see beyond the illusion.

Scripture

There is a tragedy that I have seen under the sun. It is a terrible one for mortals. God gives one person riches, wealth, and honor so that he doesn’t lack anything he wants. Yet, God doesn’t give him the power to enjoy any of them. Instead, a stranger enjoys them. This is pointless and is a painful tragedy.[vss 1-2]

Suppose a rich person wasn’t satisfied with good things [while he was alive] and didn’t even get an honorable burial [after he died]. Suppose he had a hundred children and lived for many years. No matter how long he would have lived, it [still] would have been better for him to have been born dead. A stillborn baby arrives in a pointless birth and goes out into the darkness. The darkness then hides its name. Though it has never seen the sun or known anything, the baby finds more rest than the rich person. Even if the rich person lives two thousand years without experiencing anything good—don’t we all go to the same place?[vss 3-6]

Everything that people work so hard for goes into their mouths, but their appetite is never satisfied. What advantage does a wise person have over a fool? What advantage does a poor person have in knowing how to face life? It is better to look at what is in front of you than to go looking for what you want. Even this is pointless. [It’s like] trying to catch the wind.[vss 7-9]

Whatever has happened [in the past] already has a name. Mortals are already known for what they are. Mortals cannot argue with the one who is stronger than they. The more words there are, the more pointless they become. What advantage do mortals gain from this? Who knows what may be good for mortals while they are alive, during the brief, pointless days they live? Mortals pass by like a shadow. Who will tell them about their future under the sun? [vss 10-12]

(Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 6]

Key phrase—Better to look at what is in front of you than... looking for what you want

[bctt tweet="Better to look at what is in front of you than... looking for what you want"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What is seen and lamented upon as a tragedy?

What common pursuit seems to elude people living on the earth?

What seems to be like "trying to catch the wind"? Why do you think this expression is used so often in Ecclesiastes?

In all that's said about "pointless" talk, who do you think is stronger than us "mortals"?

Reflection...

One of the difficulties in reading through Ecclesiastes is how it reinforces a sense of hopelessness to life. Many people throughout the world struggle with hopelessness. Some take their own lives because they lack hope.

Yet, throughout refugee camps and impoverished or oppressed areas people can be found who hang tenaciously on a hope that things will get better. These are people who have little to nothing to hold in their hands, and who don't know if they will eat much in a given day.

It is often affluent people who struggle most with depression and suicidal thoughts. Why?

Every person wants meaning in life, even those most cynical among us. We need hope more than things. We want significance in life rather than fame and fortune.

When we find ourselves lost in the illusion of hopelessness, it's time to look to the One above it all—God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What one thing seems to lead to a sense of hopelessness in your life?

How do you cope with the routine of life? Do you like it or struggle with it?

What are ways you find solace and hope within the mundane routines in life?

How do you see beyond hopelessness and cynicism, or are you able to do so?

Curse or Contentment?

I grew up in a beautiful area along the Pacific Coast of Southern California. I lived in an area of immense wealth, even though our family was not wealthy. We rented, while my friend's families owned their homes.

If I wanted what my friends had, I worked for it. I valued what I had even though it was much less than what my friends enjoyed.

I've lived overseas in SE Asia and seen the great disparity between the "haves and have-nots." It's a big gap. And yet, I've seen greater contentment and happiness among the poor than among the wealthy.

This isn't to say the poor don't long for a life of ease and wealth. They do. And yet, their lives are often filled with more peace and contentment than those they envy. It's ironic.

Scripture

Whoever loves money will never have enough money; Whoever loves wealth will not be satisfied with it. This is also useless. The more wealth people have, the more friends they have to help spend it. So what do people really gain? They gain nothing except to look at their riches. [vss 10-11]

Those who work hard sleep in peace; it is not important if they eat little or much. But rich people worry about their wealth and cannot sleep. I have seen real misery here on earth: Money saved is a curse to its owners. They lose it all in a bad deal and have nothing to give to their children. [vss 12-14]

People come into this world with nothing, and when they die they leave with nothing. In spite of all their hard work, they leave just as they came. This, too, is real misery: They leave just as they came. So what do they gain from chasing the wind? All they get are days full of sadness and sorrow, and they end up sick, defeated, and angry. [vss 15-17]

I have seen what is best for people here on earth. They should eat and drink and enjoy their work, because the life God has given them on earth is short. God gives some people the ability to enjoy the wealth and property he gives them, as well as the ability to accept their state in life and enjoy their work. They do not worry about how short life is, because God keeps them busy with what they love to do. [vss 18-20]

(Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 NCV) [Context– Ecclesiastes 5]

Key phrase—Those who work hard sleep in peace...But rich people worry about their wealth and cannot sleep.

[bctt tweet="Those who work hard sleep in peace...But rich people worry about their wealth and cannot sleep."]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scripture text above as you answer the following questions—

What are two or three specific things said about those who have and love wealth?

Who seems to enjoy rest and sleep more—those with much or those with little? Why?

What is the status of all people at birth and death? What is the pursuit of wealth likened to?

What seems to be the key to enjoying life regardless of their status in this life?

Reflection...

Americans enjoy a high standard of life, especially compared to much of the world. Even our poor, especially those on government assistance, enjoy a higher standard of living compared to most of the world's population.

And yet, with all we possess and have access to, some very simple things seem elusive. Americans spend millions, maybe billions, on supplements and drugs to help them sleep, calm their nerves, and lift their spirit.

Sleeplessness, anxiety and depression are plague-like conditions for millions. Why? As a nation, we seem unable to attain satisfaction or contentment. Perhaps we need to stop chasing after what we don't have, and enjoy what we do have, along with enjoying what we do in daily life.

As mentioned in Ecclesiastes, like a dog who chases its tail, we need to stop "chasing the wind."

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions—

What in particular causes you to lose sleep? Do you realize what causes you anxiety or worry?

When was the last time you had a good night sleep? Do you experience more inner peace or stress?

Have you ever gotten something you longed for only to be disappointed with it?

How do you escape or deal with the cares and desires of your life? Is it in a healthy or unhealthy way?

Why Do We Work So Hard?

Many of us chase the elusive carrot-on-a-stick. What we desire or want is just out of reach. We are motivated by discontent.

Once we're hooked by this motivation of discontent, it takes on subtle changes. There's the ubiquitous "Sale!" and BOGO lure. If I just spend a little more money, I can get so much more! After getting more, we need to rent a storage unit to warehouse all we have. We even shop at warehouse-type stores to get better deals on more things.

We put off vacations and personal leave, even sick days, to work a little harder, get more done, get a promotion, or gain greater status. But at what cost?

Scripture

Then I thought, “Why do people work so hard?” I saw people try to succeed and be better than other people. They do this because they are jealous. They don’t want other people to have more than they have. This is senseless. It is like trying to catch the wind. Some people say, “It is foolish to fold your hands and do nothing. If you don’t work, you will starve to death.” Maybe that is true. But I say it is better to be satisfied with the few things you have than to always be struggling to get more. [vss 4-6]

Again I saw something else that didn’t make sense: I saw a man who has no family, not a son or even a brother. But he continues to work very hard. He is never satisfied with what he has. And he works so hard that he never stops and asks himself, “Why am I working so hard? Why don’t I let myself enjoy my life?” This is also a very bad and senseless thing. [vss 7-8]

Two people are better than one. When two people work together, they get more work done. If one person falls, the other person can reach out to help. But those who are alone when they fall have no one to help them. If two people sleep together, they will be warm. But a person sleeping alone will not be warm. An enemy might be able to defeat one person, but two people can stand back-to-back to defend each other. And three people are even stronger. They are like a rope that has three parts wrapped together—it is very hard to break. [vss 9-12]

(Ecclesiastes 4:4-12 ERV) [Context– Ecclesiastes 4]

Key phrase— ...better to be satisfied with the few things you have than...struggling to get more

[bctt tweet="...better to be satisfied with the few things you have than...struggling to get more"]

Digging Deeper...

What seems to be the motivation for working so hard? What is this likened to?

What is stated as a better alternative than working and struggling to get more?

What question does the single person who works hard never seem to ask themselves?

In what ways are two people better than one? What do you think this is emphasizing?

Reflection...

When we are driven by ambition or jealousy, we'll never be satisfied or content. Greed and envy are terrible tyrants who will never be appeased.

(US) Americans, more than any other western people, are driven by insatiable appetites, and it's made us unhealthy. God established the Sabbath rest for a reason. We need caffeine and other drugs to keep us going, then we need other drugs to slow us down and sleep.

The carrot remains out of reach. Why? Life in many parts of the world revolves around people and events, not work. And, in general, it's a healthier, more content lifestyle.

When will we see the need to get off the treadmill or hamster wheel, to enjoy a simple and contented life?

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What motivates you in your life and work? Are you content with your work and life?

What place do people play in your life? Are relationships more of a priority to you than work? If not, why not?

What do you enjoy most in your life? Why?

Who is important in your life? How do these relationships benefit you in your daily life?

A Glimpse of Eternity

Would you like to live forever? Lots of research goes into extending life and being healthy. What age do you hope to live to? I'm not so sure I want to reach 100. I've seen the adjustments I need to make as I grow older, and it isn't always fun.

But I do long for eternity, just not in this physical body. Life can be hard when we look at it too closely. When we're zeroed in on what we do work-wise, it can be self-defeating. We need a sense of hope beyond the routine of life, or the walls begin to close in on us.

Why do we have this desire to live a long life? Why do we want to know the future? Could it be that eternity is planted in our hearts?

Scripture

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.[vss 9-11]

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.[vss 12-13]

And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again. [vss 14-15]

I also noticed that under the sun there is evil in the courtroom. Yes, even the courts of law are corrupt! I said to myself, “In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.” [vss 16-17]

(Ecclesiastes 3:9-17 NLT) [Context– Ecclesiastes 3]

Key phrase— He has planted eternity in the human heart

[bctt tweet="God has planted eternity in the human heart"]

Digging Deeper...

How do these verses reflect the continuing tone of this book of wisdom?

What is said that counters this circular and cynical tone? How can these opposing thoughts exist at the same time?

Why would God want people to fear Him? What do you think is meant by this?

What are we told God will do concerning what is good and evil? When will this happen?

Reflection...

The continuing theme of Ecclesiastes is the attempt to answer the question—What's the purpose of life? The tone of the words is mostly cynical, and yet, thoughts of contentment are inserted intermittently.

Many philosophers have lived and died pondering this question of life's purpose, often without resolve. The quest of answers and adventure spurs research and exploration beyond what we know already. And yet, the cycles and seasons of life continue on and on.

A number of years ago, a missionary wrote a book based on research into the culture, beliefs, and history of people groups spread across the globe. He found recurring themes of experience and visions of expectations. He observed that, indeed, God planted eternity in the hearts of humanity.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

Are you able to see God's beauty in your life, the life of others, and the world around you?

Do you find contentment in simple ways to help you navigate life's routines and difficulties?

Do you have a longing for the truth and a sense of hope? If not, do you know where to turn to get these?

How can respect and awe for God help us handle the anxieties and doubts that rise up in our hearts and minds?