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This Present Struggle

This Present Struggle

Hello Family,

I hope you’ve found nourishment in the gospel this week. My prayer for you has been that God would “strengthen you with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11).

Speaking of joy (or lack thereof), I got my taxes done this week. Yes, you can feel sorry for me.  As a person who is much more inclined to see the “big picture” than pay attention to details, being instructed by an agitated accountant to brandish months-old receipts for Goodwill donations and Pancake Breakfast fundraising contributions is my idea of torture. Ok, I’m exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad. But I did think in the middle of the process: surely I could be doing something more productive. Nevertheless, as the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes: “there is a time for every matter under heaven.” Even the filing of taxes, I suppose.

In the aforementioned passage, Solomon lists twenty-eight activities for which he says there is a “season.” But what does this actually mean? Is he saying that there are appropriate moments for people to act in certain ways, even if those actions seem ill-advised (e.g., “a time to hate” verse 8)? Not exactly.

To be sure, there are times in our lives when weeping, dancing, keeping silent, or speaking out are particularly fitting. But this well-known list (adapted and set to music by more than fifteen different artists, including Wilson Phillips’ decidedly non-euphonious version in 2004) is actually less an ode to proper timing and more a reminder that despite the unpredictability of this broken world, and the disappointment that goes along with living in it, God is sovereign over all, and governs every action and reaction by his providential grace.

In other words, Ecclesiastes 3 is not a category of events that happen in life but a list of experiences that God orchestrates.

Even though human beings are presented here as the subjects—people plan and weep and mourn and keep silent, etc.—human beings are not the determiners of such events. God is. The Teacher makes this clear: God alone is the One who makes some things grow and other things die. God alone is the One who brings some things to fruition and causes other things to fall by the wayside.

Sometimes God gives life to things, and he has also appointed for each of us a time to die. Sometimes God brings us times of laughter and, at other times, he brings sorrow and grief.   Sometimes God ushers into our lives a time to cast away stones and at another time, he calls us to gather stones (this is a Hebrew idiom that refers to rebuilding after a battle). Sometimes God causes us to keep silent, while at other times he prompts us to speak. But all of these occasions are from God.

This point becomes clear later in the same chapter: “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. 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. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him” (Ecclesiastes 9:11, 14).

God is the primary actor on the scene, constantly moving things toward his desired (and beautiful) end.

In the Old Testament, the word “beautiful” had several connotations: often, it referred to something aesthetically pleasing, like an ornate building, an exquisite artifact, or a pulchritudinous woman. In Job 42, for example, the word is used to describe Job’s daughters.  “In all the land,” the text reads, “there were no women as beautiful as Job’s daughters.”

But the word “beautiful” is also used to convey something that is good, pleasing, and right. And this is how it’s used in Ecclesiastes 3. When the Teacher says that God has made everything beautiful in its time, this is not a reference to God making flowers, and plants, and animals into pretty creations, this is an affirmation of the rightness of God’s timing.

God’s vision is perfect, and so is his plan. Which means that every laugh, every trial, every tear, every hurt, every joy, every victory, every defeat, are all being used by God to bring about a beautiful end.

Here are some comforting words for all who are in Christ: if you’re currently in a season of hardships, you can rest assured that the Sovereign One, your intimate Father is working out a plan that is beautiful and right, even if it appears ugly at the moment. That trial that you’ve been going through over the last year is all part of God’s design to strengthen your faith and keep you close to himself. It’s not happenstance, it’s not bad luck; the easy and the difficult, God planned it all a billion years ago—as part of his wisdom and love for you.

And if right now you happen to be in a period of laughter and dancing, this, too, is from him. He has sent these pleasures to you at the precise moment that he ordained. So that this “time to rejoice” would lead you to a beautiful end: the praise of his glorious grace.

Take heart: there is a time for everything. This present struggle that you’re in (or season of joy) is from God. And it will end in something beautiful.

For his glory,

Pastor John