Ecc 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (KJV)
Of all the wisdom in Ecclesiastes, this is perhaps the most well-known and repeated refrain. Ironically, it's one of the concepts that we often have the most difficulty embracing. One of my favorite pieces in our home is a cross-stitched picture of a flower that has been framed. It reads, "Bloom where God has planted you". Sadly, many of us wish we were somewhere else....maybe even "anywhere but here". Maybe we are in an uncomfortable place because of our own decisions. I'm reminded of a verse in Proverbs:
Prov 19:3 The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the LORD. (NKJ)
We can become bitter and blame others (even God!) because we are reaping the consequences of our own poor choices. But I want to talk to you today about contentment. This book we've been talking about for the past few weeks deals a lot with the subject of contentment and fulfillment. Part of learning to be content is learning to embrace the seasons of life. Many are stuck in the past. They long for the "good old" days to come back again. I suppose this is human nature. Remember the children of Israel and the story of the Exodus? They were miserable in Egyptian bondage and cried for deliverance. God saw their misery and answered their pleas. But a (not so) funny thing happened once they crossed the Red Sea. They started longing for the "good old days" of Egypt:
Num 11:5 We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: Num 11:6 But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. (KJV)
They couldn't embrace the current season of their lives. They were eating angel's food as free men and women, but they longed for the days when they ate fish as slaves. We have a tendency to remember things better than they really were. For the children of Israel, the wilderness and the supply of manna was what God intended for them in that season. God had their best interests at heart. But they couldn't see beyond where they were at the moment and couldn't appreciate that this was all part of "the journey". Life is not just a series of mountaintops and summits to reach. It is a journey- one that we ought to enjoy and appreciate.
On the other hand, some are preoccupied with the future. I remember the longest year of my life. Boy, time sure seems to fly now (Mom & Dad always said it would when I got older....guess they were right after all!). But I think the longest year recorded in human history was between my 15th and 16th birthdays. I just knew that once I was able to drive a car all by myself, I would be the happiest guy on the planet. Guys can you relate to what I'm saying? And I'm not going to lie- that 16th birthday was pretty special!!! On a more serious note however, many believers cannot enjoy the present because of an inordinate fascination with the future. Jesus gave us an indication about how we are to live. We are not to worry about the future- all the worrying in the world, won't change it! And most likely, if you cannot find a place of contentment now....it will elude you in the future as well!
The Apostle Paul made a statement about contentment that provides a great model for all of us:
Php 4:11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Php 4:12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Php 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV)
I'm not going to go on a huge rabbit trail here (at least I hope not!) but here is where "bible promise" theology falls short. Philippians 4:13 would surely be among the top 20- maybe top 10 of all-time favorite bible verses- and rightly so! But part of doing "all things" through Christ involves learning to be content. I'm thankful that Paul says that he "learned" to be content in any situation. That means quite possibly, that it didn't come natural for him, even though he was an Apostle. These words become all the more powerful, when you realize that Paul wrote them as a prisoner. Paul knew what it was to be hungry, to go through "lean" seasons of life. He knew how to face adversity and (in his own words) to "be brought low". It is not only erroneous theology, but it's just not logical to expect that every season of life will be pleasant. One of the most unpleasant things I ever experienced was watching my grandfather die a painful death from acute leukemia. But even in that, the bible says there is "a time to die". And even in my sadness, I know it's only temporal, because I'll see him again!
The Preacher says these words:
Ecc 3:11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. (KJV)
There is something beautiful about appreciating the season of life you're in. I have a "reasoning" brain- I'm always trying to make sense of every situation. I like to know the answer(s) to the "why" question(s). Frankly, some situations just don't make sense! Some people will make shipwreck of their faith because they're trying to make sense of something that only God understands fully. To this day, there are seasons of my life that simply don't make sense to me. Perhaps in eternity they will be explained. Or maybe, it won't even be a concern then. But I'm learning (....and admittedly, I'm not completely there yet) to be content in the different seasons of my life. Thankfully, God knows exactly what He's doing, and we can trust Him with the outcomes even while we're still learning.
The bible is filled with examples of men at different seasons in life. Joseph's story is incredible- Hollywood could not script a story with more twists and turns. But through it all, God was with him. And we could go on and on- Moses who had three very significant seasons of life- in 40 year spans (read Acts 7:20-36 if you get a chance), Paul's life , etc. etc. Life was meant to be enjoyed; not simply endured! I realize that even as I type this, some of you are suffering. Perhaps you've just lost a loved one. Maybe you're going through some type of physical infirmity. Or maybe you're just in a spiritual slump and feel depressed. It's been an exceptionally cold and wet winter here in North Carolina this year. But I guarantee you that I will appreciate Spring that much more when it arrives. You may be in your winter season right now, but rest assured- spring is coming!
Psa 30:5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (ESV)