The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. Ecclesiastes 1:1-4
We have all had times in our life where we look back on a season or episode where we were led astray or made a bad investment and wish we could have that time back to make a different decision. Or we may recall all the time and effort we put into a hobby or other endeavor and realize it was mostly fruitless and didn’t really benefit us or anyone else much when it was all said and done. Another version of this verse (NKJV, ESV) states “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Vanity is a word we seldom see or use much anymore, but at its essence, it means that something is hollow or empty. I think it portrays a nice image of what we are considering. Something appears good and helpful on the outside, but is empty at its core. What things in your life have you chased after or invested in, only to find out later that it was not what it originally appeared to be, or was too good to be true and left you with regret?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
We could each make a list of things that turned out to be bad investments through our lives and even see some patterns develop. We may have said things like “He seemed trustworthy, at first”, “I didn’t think there was any risk involved,” or “If I make money doing it, it can’t be all bad, right?” There is also the saying that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Solomon had it all…riches, fame, women, power, wisdom, etc, and through this book of the bible goes through how each one left him empty inside when it was all said and done. We might get to some point in our lives and ask similar questions with everything we have been pursuing, and whether they were worthwhile. Often, we can see this in others before we realize it in ourselves, even if someone else tries to open our eyes.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:27-28
Though we may not think so, the same can be true of how we serve in ministry. If we are doing it for the wrong reasons, or without patience, or without seeking the leading of God, it may well turn out fruitless. Recently, I have been reading about the People’s Temple founder Jim Jones, and how something that started out with seemingly good intentions could turn out the way it did. As you learn more about the story, you find out there were warning signs and red flags along the way that some recognized and some did not before the tragic end. While the choices we make with where to go to church, or how to serve in any given ministry, may not be as dramatic, we can use similar measures to help determine whether our pursuits are worthwhile.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:19-23
While we may not be able to eliminate all selfish pursuits and emptiness from our lives, we can definitely learn from our own mistakes and from the lives of those around us to avoid falling into traps again. We eventually get a good idea of which paths lead to death and destruction and which ones lead to life, but it may not be an easy choice when the consequence is not looking us in the face. So, take everything before God and ask Him for discernment in all aspects of your life and He will surely give you direction. Seek wise and Godly counsel from others on a regular basis and your pile of regrets in life will not be as big as you would have thought. And when you hand them all over to God, He might just turn them into something else.
And, when all is said and done, here is the last word: worship in reverence the one True God, and keep His commands, for this is what God expects of every person. Ecclesiastes 12:13
Yours in Christ,