I tend to read anything and everything. I like most genres and nearly all authors. Maybe I should be more discriminating, but I have often found wonderful little nuggets of truth or insight in the strangest places. I have been reading a World War II novel by W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV entitled, “The Assassination Option.” In it, one of the characters misquotes Robert Burns’ lines in “To a Mouse,” when he says, “the best-laid plans gang aft agley.” The line actually reads:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Whether you’re a mouse, a man, or a king, plans made are often plans broken, changed or forgotten over time. Our art group, CCADA, just held its 5th annual art show last weekend. We joined together with the men’s ministry at our church to add a car show as well. As one of the art show organizers, I struggled through the multitude of things that had to be coordinated to make the show work. The show came. The show went. I think it was successful. Now I’m in the “was it worth it?” stage. It seems that there is always a letdown after something that has taken a lot of your energy and effort.
Not coincidentally, I have been reading Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. The author of Ecclesiastes refers to all of man’s planning and striving as “vanity,” utterly meaningless in the greater scheme of things. It probably wasn’t the best Book of the Bible to be reading at that point in time.
The author is referred to as Qoheleth, a collector of sentences, a teacher, a preacher, a son of David. And he starts off by claiming, These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem. “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2) Now there’s a positive start for you.
Do you mean to tell me that all those years I spent in college were wasted? I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind. The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow. (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18) So much for the best laid schemes of mine.
I’ve just retired. Doesn’t that mean that I should be able to relax now and enjoy life? I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 2:1) Down go the best laid schemes again.
So should I have kept working and accumulated greater wealth? I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!
So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11) Are you getting the picture on the best laid schemes of mine?
So what’s left for me in this seemingly meaningless existence? So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)
Paul also adds, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Don’t just ride the crest of every exciting event and then bottom out when life goes back to being “normal.” Stay steady in the Lord and be content to do what He has set before you–whether it be big or small, up front or backstage, noticeable or hidden from sight. In chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth explains that everything has its season and its purpose. But in the end he says, That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)