“Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we're kids? If you're less than ten years old, you're so excited about aging that you think in fractions. "How old are you?" "I'm four and a half." You're never 36 and a half....you're four and a half going on 5.
You get into your teens; now they can't hold you back. You jump to the next number. "How old are you?" "I'm gonna be 16." You could be 12, but you're gonna be 16. Eventually.
Then the great day of your life; you become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony. You BECOME 21....Yes!!!!!
Then you turn 30. What happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk. He TURNED; we had to throw him out. What's wrong? What changed? You BECOME 21; you TURN 30.
Then you're PUSHING 40....stay over there. You REACH 50.
You BECOME 21; TURN 30; You're PUSHING 40; you REACH 50; then you MAKE IT to 60.
By then you've built up so much speed, you HIT 70. After that, it's a day by day thing. You HIT Wednesday... you HIT lunch, you HIT 4:30, you HIT 70.
You GET INTO your 80's;. My Grandmother won't even buy green bananas. "Well, it's an investment, you know, and maybe a bad one." [My 90 some year old Aunt has been saying for at least 20 years, “I’m down to single digits.”]
And it doesn't end there....Into the 90's, you start going backwards. "I was JUST 92."
Then a strange thing happens; if you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. "I'm 100 and a half." Happy aging!
The transitions of life are sobering. You are forced to think. The transitions are an opportunity for you to emerge with maturity and strength, and above all, affirm your faith in Jesus Christ. (notice I use transition and problem interchangeably in this message!)
I love this quotation from Dr. Larry Crabb: We all rage at God, demanding that He do more than He is doing. He remains quietly unthreatened, saddened beyond words that we think Him cruel or indifferent, but unswervingly committed to the course He has set. He refuses to redesign the plot of the book, having already written the last chapter and knowing that the ending is very, very good, and that every thread in our story is necessary to that conclusion.
Ecc. 6:12 poses a haunting question: “For who knows what is good for a man in life… who can tell him what will happen…” The reason it is haunting is because, when we face transitions, the initial thought: we want to be in control, we want the answer to the question to be ME! “I know what is good for me.” I know what will make me happy.
Yet, when we embrace faith, we understand God is writing the story of my life, that’s when we find freedom. What a good question, a powerful question: “Who knows what is good and best for you?” How do you answer? You or God? … Some of you need to let go of control, get rid of the desperation that envelopes you, God is the author of your story, Everything has already been decided, and it is a good story, [God] refuses to redesign the plot of [our life’s story], having already written the last chapter and knowing that the ending is very, very good, and that every thread in our story is necessary to that conclusion.
Ecc. 7:1-4. Problems spotlight an eternal perspective. There is much about death in these verses… death is the ultimate transition. For those who have faith in Jesus Christ, there is coming a day when everything will be set right, a day of newness. Something about when we are overwhelmed we consider the future.
Ecc. 7:1 starts out, “A good name is better than fine perfume” i.e., a good reputation. I like people to think well of me, but my reputation is whatever it is. This verse, I believe, is referring to something a bit different than what others think of me. /// It’s about my reputation with God, “a good reputation [with God] is more valuable than the finest perfumes.” What God thinks of me far outweighs what the world thinks of me. When I was first starting out as a preacher a thousand years ago, I used to say to Sally every week, “If I trip and fall on my way to the pulpit and hit my head on the floor, will you love me anyway?” … How much more God! When you are overwhelmed, to know God loves you no matter what. A good reputation with God is far more valuable than anything else on earth.
The NLT version says in Ecc. 7:2, “It is better to spend your time at funerals than festivals.” I assume a lot of people like a good party better than a good funeral (depending what you mean by “good party” of course,) but reality is you learn a more at a funeral. “Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks much about death, while the fool only thinks about having a good time now” (Ecc. 7:3-4, NLT).
I’d like to make a case for funerals. I know a bit about funerals. I’m a fan of having a bit of fun at funerals when appropriate. We had a small funeral here a week or so ago ~ what a great joy, and Barb, Linda, Norma are my witnesses of what a good experience it was for the family. I’ve had more fun at funerals; for five years I averaged a funeral a week. The things that I could tell you: the son that made a secret deal with his mother that she’d make the branch wave above the grave during the funeral ~ turned out to be the most windless day ever in the grave, yet the man handled it all so well, a beautiful military funeral in the pouring down rain with four guests. One family that needed an extraordinary measure of peace, and at just the right time doves circled the gravesite. The eagle that stood at attention just a few feet off the road when the hearse passed carrying Leo Groves. A woman insisting on being buried in brand new red pajamas. Each of these is a story of God touching the people who gather. I could talk for hours… maybe I should write a book! When you are overwhelmed, it is incredibly common for our thoughts to turn to death, the ultimate transition; if you believe in Jesus Christ the thoughts of death have a measure of comfort, if you are shaky in your faith or simply reject Christ, then you will find no comfort as your thoughts turn to confusion.
Overwhelming problems spotlight eternal security with God, and one more good thing about problems: 2) God uses problems to build character, God loves us too much to let us remain as we are. In Ecc. 7:5-6 Solomon writes, “It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools.” Listen to the loving people in your life that want the best for you, those willing to hold you to account. When you are in a transition, you will seek the council of others: choose carefully to whom you listen, not seeking those who will just fill your heart with what you want to hear, but those who will be honest, hold you accountable, truth… Sally and I made a deal with each other 29 years ago that we would hold each other accountable, not just telling each other what the other wants to hear, but if we make mistakes, do something wrong, to just say it… we all need people to be honest, for there is no other way to grow and improve and change. My philosophy of life is this: don’t waste a good problem, if you are going to have a problem in your life do something useful with it and emerge a better person! Obviously I’d rather have my father alive and be a lesser person, but the fact is that he died, and God gave me a strength that I never knew I had… I’m glad I got something out of the deal!
READ Ecc. 7:7-10 The injustice of life causes many people problems, even believers, if we don’t allow God time to set it straight. It is easy to be discouraged. The key thought in these verses: patience. Our society has lost its taste for the long haul. We want everything NOW. We have lost patience! When problems go on and on and on, patience is necessary in order to be transformed, patience is the vehicle that builds character.
Here is the ultimate story of patience: A teacher was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his boots? With her pulling and him pushing, the boots still didn't want to go on. When the second boot was on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost whimpered when the little boy said, "Teacher, they're on the wrong feet."
She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn't any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on -- this time on the right feet. He then announced, "These aren't my boots."
She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, "Why didn't you say so?" like she wanted to. Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off.
He then said, "They're my brother's boots. My Mom made me wear them."
She didn't know if she should laugh or cry. She mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. She said, "Now, where are your mittens?"
He said, "I stuffed them in the toes of my boots”. Oh my!
We crave instant answers, fast food, immediate gratification, and instant entertainment. How many times have I allowed myself to become impatient at another driver or a red light? How many times have I been impatient with my family? Friends? How many times have I been impatient with myself? When we face overwhelming problems God says to be patient. As one person said, “life is a marathon, not a sprint.” God is building patience in us so we will go the distance in our marriage, ministry, and Christian life. We hate transitions, we hate problems, and desperately want to get rid of them, we loathe changes. “Finish what you start” says Solomon, “Patience is better than pride” “Don’t get angry so quick” when you face a problem.
Don’t long for days gone by, Solomon says in Ecc. 7:10. Chances are we remember wrongly, over-estimating what it was really like. Embrace today, be patient, seek godly people to be honest with you, and you will find a strength of character that will transform you into an amazing person. Don’t waste a good problem, but ask the Lord to mold you and change you through the problem…
Our passage concludes in 7:13-14 with these powerful words: READ. This fits into the absolute truth that God is God, Everything has already been decided. God “makes crooked” certain things and there is nothing we can do about it; we must learn to believe and say, “God, you are God. You are good and powerful. I trust you. I believe in you. And even though I don’t like some of the things that come from your hand, I accept them with joy.” God does not waste sorrow or adversity. He knows the purpose for which we go through tragedy and sorrow. It is for our good, and the good of His kingdom.
When times are good, be happy. Enjoy what you have. But when you have problems, be patient. Be patient because the same God who made the good times has allowed the bad. Neither situation is outside of His sovereignty.
No problem you ever face will be bigger than God. God alone is in control, He alone knows what is good and best for us. Confronting overwhelming problems naturally points to the eternal perspective of the coming day in which the Lord will completely transform us and make everything new. While we wait, the problems we face are good because God uses the opportunity to bring a depth to our lives through wise counsel, patience and embracing today as a gift from God. Amen.