This chapter is so beautiful. Linger long over it.
In Ecclesiastes 1-2, Solomon has presented four arguments that life is meaningless and is not worth living, but he will reexamine each of them in Ecclesiastes 3-10:
1) Life is monotonous (1:4-11) is reexamined in 3:1-5:9
2) Wisdom is vanity (1:12-18) is reexamined in 5:10-6:12
3) Wealth is futile (2:1-11) is reexamined in 7:1-8:17
4) Death is certain (2:12-23) is reexamined in 9:1-10:20
In this chapter, he reexamines his supposition that life is monotonous by concluding that God was in control of time and life experiences. From birth to death, God has divine purposes sometimes beyond our own understanding. Solomon concludes that if we cooperate with God's sovereign timing in everything, both the good and the bad, life will be meaningful and beautiful (3:11, Romans 8:28).
The NIV says there is a time for every "activity" under heaven. The NASB says "event," but in the margin it says "delight." Delight is a much closer translation of the Hebrew word. The basic meaning of the Hebrew word is "to feel great favor towards something, to experience emotional delight." Some of the things don't seem like they would be things of "delight," (death, killing, weeping, mourning, losing, hating, war) but weaves all into the fabric of our lives to accomplish His purposes in us. He knows what He is doing. We can trust that they are for the purpose of preparing us for eternity (3:11), and we might not fully understand all of life's pain and toil until we meet Him face to face.
Solomon concluded that we are to enjoy life, not in a pagan hedonistic way, but enjoy the gift of life that God has given us, even in toil and pain, knowing He is in control and knows what He is doing.
One thing I love to do in my ministry of helping people "fly" is having them go through their life experiences in order to reflect upon how life events have shaped them. Here is the handout that I use to help them:
Time-line Reflection Questions
Throughout the year, you will be adding to a time-line in order to analyze overall patterns of God’s work in your life. The analysis of the time-line comes from the book called The Making of a Leader by Robert Clinton. This is a valuable tool to help you to reflect upon your spiritual journey and get the “big picture” of where you have been and where God is taking you.
The first four developmental phases in Clinton’s book are summarized below along with reflection questions to help you in completing you time-line. Many of the phases overlap because, hopefully, we are always growing in these areas.
Phase I: Sovereign Foundations
Overview: In this phase, “God providentially works through family, environment, and historical events. This begins at birth. You might find it hard to believe that God was working through your family or your environment, especially if these were not godly influences, but He was. It is exciting to see how the providence of God was—and is—working through all our experiences.” God is developing you by “laying foundations in your life. . . His primary lesson is to learn to respond positively and take advantage of what God has laid in these foundations” (p.44).
Assignment: As you share your life story, answer SHAPE questions, and share with others about the people and things that have shaped your life, take time to reflect and ask God to put together some of the pieces of your sovereign foundations. As He does, you will come to a deeper appreciation of His power in your life. What things did God use in your life to bring you to where you are today? What people, circumstances, or events did God use to woo you to Himself? Reflect upon your desires, passions, longings, and struggles in your early years. How have they affected your spiritual journey in positive and negative ways? The reason that Clinton calls it sovereign foundations is because God has a sovereign plan for your life, and everything (both positive and negative) fit into that plan. Reflect on them and map this on your time-line to give perspective you would not otherwise have.
Phase II: Inner Life Growth
Overview: In this phase, you start seeking to know God in a more personal, intimate way. You learn the “importance of praying and hearing God.” It is marked by growth in discernment, understanding, and obedience. In this phase, “God uses testing experiences to develop character” (p.45).
Questions: When was the first time you sensed the presence of God in your life? What were your early experiences of the spiritual disciplines (prayer, meditation, study, fasting, solitude, etc) that had particular impact in your life? When were your “aha” moments with God that brought about changes in you? What were some of your testing experiences that brought you into deeper intimacy with Him and grew you in character? This is a good time to look at those “painful” experiences in your SHAPE material and reflect upon how they shaped your character. Plot these on your time-line. For some of the painful things, feel free to write them in “code” to maintain privacy and confidentiality.
Phase III: Ministry Maturing
Overview: In this phase, you have learned about reaching out to others. You are beginning to experiment with spiritual gifts (even though you may not have known what they were all about). You may have taken specific training to be more effective in ministry. Ministry is the focus at this stage. Many of your lessons will zero in on relationships with other people and on your inadequacies in your personal life as you become “other-centered.”
Questions: What were experiences that you particularly liked/disliked or in which you were effective/ineffective? Did you get training that gave you better skills in a ministry? Were there any bible studies you participated in that really helped you grow in your walk with God and ability to serve Him? Did you lead a study? Did you disciple a person? Were you involved in helping a needy group of people? Did you take a short-term mission? Record these ministry experiences. What positive and negative experiences did you have within the Body that helped you gain understanding of others and yourself?
Phase IV: Life Maturing
Overview: In this phase, you have “identified and are using your gifts in a ministry that is satisfying. You have gained a sense of priorities concerning the best use of your gifts and understanding that learning what not to do is as important as learning what to do. A mature fruitfulness is the result. Isolation, crisis, and conflict take on new meaning. That principle that ‘ministry flows out of being’ has a new significance as your character mellows and matures. . . In this phase the leader’s experiential understanding of God is being developed. Communion with God becomes foundational; it is more important than success in ministry.” There is a “positive response to the experiences God ordains” (p. 46).
Questions: Do you understand your gift-mix, and are you functioning in that mix in ministry and saying no to other things that are not in your “primary gifting”? When did this occur? Have you had any experiences of isolation, crisis, and conflict in ministry that have matured and challenged you as a minister? Have you had situations that were challenging, but you responded positively to the experiences God has ordained? Does your “doing” in ministry flow out of “being” in communion with God?
Clinton has two more phases called Convergence and Afterglow, but for most, they come much later in life. So I did not cover those phases in this assignment.
Make a time-line and reflect how God has made "everything beautiful in His time."
Lord, thank You that You really do make all things beautiful in Your wonderful timing. Thank You that You have had a reason for every one of our life events. Shape us into the people that You desire for us to be. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.