Ecclesiastes and Life as Longing
1. Wisdom and Satisfaction
READ: Ecclesiastes 1—2:1-15
Proverbs 13:14 says, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.”
Wisdom is rarely something you just stumble across by yourself. It needs to be imparted. Even if you have all the advantages, wealth, and opportunities the world can offer, without wisdom you will waste them. For all that we hope for, look forward to, and enjoy, Solomon’s message is that none of it can bring true satisfaction that the soul longs for.
As Romans 1 says, we have exchanged the glory of God for a lie. There is an eternity-shaped hole in us that cannot be met by anything under the sun; a hole that can only be filled by someone from eternity—from above the sun.
Here’s a quote to think about:
What if we have many advantages in our lives but not wisdom? If we have love but not wisdom, we harm people with the best of intentions. If we have courage but not wisdom, we will blunder boldly. If we have truth but not wisdom, we will make the gospel ugly. If we have technology but not wisdom, we will use the best communications ever intended to broadcast stupidity. If we have revival but not wisdom, we’ll use the power of God to throw the church into reverse gear.
- Ray Ortlund Jr., Proverbs: Wisdom That Works
If wisdom is something intentionally sought out and imparted, what are some of the experiences/things/people that have led you to wisdom? How do you keep your eyes and ears open to wisdom in everyday life?
It’s easy to come away from the opening chapters of Ecclesiastes feeling heavy, cynical, or fatalistic. Spend some time reflecting on and discussing how this book fits into the larger narrative of Scripture. What in God’s character, actions, or promises remind us of the very real hope and meaning we have in him?
2. Times and Seasons
READ: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, John 4:7-21, Isaiah 55
God is not anti-pleasure, but he alone fills the eternity-shaped groove in our souls that cannot be satiated by other pleasures.
This passage in Ecclesiastes speaks into the seasons that we find ourselves in throughout life. Here are three ways to help navigate these times:
- Consider what season you are in. A season is a set order of time for something to happen or be fulfilled. Knowing your season is important in being able to be present in it and allow God to do the necessary work for that time.
- Who is your God? In every season, what is your life centered around? What/who is shaping your behavior? Be aware of idols—anything created that moves up to sit alongside the Creator (Psalm 115:8, Isaiah 28:15, Jonah 2:8).
- Listen. The Holy Spirit wants to speak into your season. Are you postured and positioned to hear what God has to say? God rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
- Spend some time in quiet reflection about what kind of season you are in. You could use those listed in Ecclesiastes 3, or the traditional four seasons, to illustrate your current season. Consider the unique purpose of this season and how the Holy Spirit might be speaking or ministering to you in this time.
- God warned Solomon against taking foreign wives as they would lead him astray (1 Kings 11:1-4). What are the idols that threaten to move you out of alignment with God’s ways?
- What living water or good food (Isaiah 55:1-2) does God offer you to satisfy you instead?
3. Awe & Wonder
READ: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, 12:13
If the fear of God is only about awe and reverence, we soften the reality of coming before a God who not only cares about holiness, but is holiness himself.
Fear of God begins with dread and trembling, and moves toward awe, reverence, trust, and worship. It’s difficult to have true devotion and awe without a full understanding that God is to be feared.
Our awe and wonder must lead us to obedience before God, who is both holy in judgement and immense in love.
Three practical actions you can take in light of this:
- Guard your steps (where are your feet directed … toward God’s majesty or away from it?)
- Listen (pay attention, come in quietness: Ecc. 5:1-3).
- Obey (God takes your commitment seriously: Ecc. 5:4-7).
Here’s a quote to read and ponder:
If there is any chance for hope in the human race, any chance for newness, we need God to be Holy. Without a focus on the holiness of God, we are consigned to life as a profaned, flat, human enterprise that can only end in despair.
- Do you think fear of God is a foreign or misunderstood concept to Christians today? Why or why not? How can the fear of God move from being a concept to a foundational part of our faith (Ecc. 12:13, Prov. 9:10)?
- How can we truly develop a right and healthy fear of God?
4. Joy & Justice
READ/REFLECT: Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
As Christ followers, we need to let “The Teacher” of Ecclesiastes challenge our false hopes and remind us that time and death make most of life out of our control.
Ecclesiastes targets all the ways we try to build meaning and purpose apart from God and deconstructs them completely—calling them vain, empty, and meaningless. In the Hebrew, the word is Hevel.
But this concluding passage of Ecclesiates, the coda, if you will, reveals a hint of what gives life true meaning.
What gives life true meaning is the hope of God’s judgment; the hope that one day God will clear away all the Hevel and bring lasting joy and true justice to the world.
And it is that hope that should fuel a life of honesty and integrity for God, despite the fact that I remain puzzled by most of life’s mysteries.
- Where do we see Jesus Christ in this teaching? Jesus is at the center of everything in the Scriptures. It follows that he is at the center of everything we understand about church, faith, and the Kingdom. What in the teaching has helped you see more of Jesus and the cross, or moved you to love him more?
- How can you personally apply this teaching? Identify and commit to something you sense the Spirit is leading you to do in obedient response. Make it actionable and personal. What is in place to help you stay accountable to this?
- What/with whom can you share from here? Who in your life needs to know the truth you’ve discovered? How can you share it with them?
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