In Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon continues to reexamine his supposition from Ecclesiastes 1:4-11 that life is monotonous. He challenges these "ivory tower" intellectual conclusions by observing real life.
He observed injustice and oppression and labor motivated by status, envy, greed, and/or fame. He contrasts this with giving several advantages of companionship.
He draws the conclusion that it is better to be poor and wise than rich, foolish, and powerful (4:13). Status, riches, power, and fame are all transitory and meaningless in the whole scheme of life.
God was gracious to nip my need for fame and recognition in the bud very early in my life. I am so grateful! I can honestly say I am not motivated by status or fame because I was given a stark wake up call at 17 years old!
I know I told this story earlier in the Bible Book Club, but I will repeat it (with some modifications) to remind you:
Written in 2008: In high school most people liked me (excepting the jealous ones) even though I did not necessarily like myself all that much. By the end of my senior year, my room was filled with flowers from all the awards that I had racked up in the academic, social, and athletic realms. In the midst of the "award season" of senior year, the mom of my friend, Julie, said to her, "If there is anyone you should look up to and model your life after, it should be Carol." I was flattered, and this was a temporary fix (like a drug) to the deep craving that I had for love and acceptance.
The morning after this lovely compliment, I got a distressed call from Julie telling me that her mom had fallen asleep at the wheel of her Volkswagen bug, crashed into a pole, and died instantly. Her flower-filled memorial service was set in stark contrast to the flowers in my bedroom, many of which had begun to turn brown with pedals making a mess all over my floor.
Julie's mother's death caused me to ask myself many questions: "So, I win all these awards, but the glory of those awards fade away, just like these flowers. What is life all about anyway if we all eventually die? Why am I here on earth; and if I am someone Julie should look up to and model her life after, who am I looking up to and modeling my life after?"
These verses in James express my position:
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:9-11)
I was like that "rich man" in the midst of my pursuit for my own glory because I had achieved everything I had set out to do in high school; but even with all of this, I was really bankrupt in my soul!
Julie's mom's death hit me hard, and my life began to unravel. Sure, I was achieving both academically and athletically in college, but I was very depressed. Like Solomon, I was seeing that life was meaningless and striving after wind. Yes, I had been a believer in Jesus since I was ten years old, but I did not really know how to follow Him. I did not let Him define what gave me meaning in life and was still going by what the world told me was meaningful. I needed someone to lead the way.
Then came Cheryl Potter.
Cheryl was a mild-tempered, humble coworker who was not very "rich" in the world's eyes but had EVERYTHING I wanted. We worked alone in the business office of the Fallbrook Hospital on the 3-10 p.m. shift. Things would get crazy and stressful when emergencies would come in, and Cheryl always worked diligently and calmly and with love for everyone. Cheryl followed Jesus, and I wanted to follow Cheryl so I could follow Jesus too. The rest is history.
The last time I talked to Cheryl was in the winter of 2005. She was fighting breast cancer, and all my emails had bounced. I was afraid to pick up the phone because of what I might not hear on the other end. I thought that if she had died, she lived her life for something that really mattered: the glory of God. I do not doubt that she left a legacy of "mighty women" behind her, all because she led by following Jesus. Cheryl was really someone to look up to and model her life after.
So, this post has taken all day because I got brave and located an old number for Cheryl and made the dreaded call wondering if she would be on the other end of the line.
And she was! Still Cheryl and cancer-free for three years! Alive and vacuuming! She had just said good-bye to a woman (and her two dogs) who had lived with her for three weeks while the woman was between homes. She was a brand new believer in Jesus. Cheryl was still leading other "mighty women" toward what is really important in life by pointing them toward Jesus.
May I someday live to fill her shoes.
I was around many people recently who are very successful in the world's eyes, and I was not intimidated by their worldly achievements in the least. (They were not cramming those worldly achievements down my throat either and were very kind, but I had the potential of feeling inferior.) I may not receive a salary for what I do (although I could, I chose not to), I know that God thinks it is VERY important, and that is all that matters! My life is beautiful and meaningful, and I am doing EXACTLY what he has gifted me to do! That is really all that matters in the grander scheme of things. :)
Are you evaluating your life according to the world's standards or God's?
I praise You that You give life meaning and dimension that is wonderful! Help us to conform to Your standards of significance rather than the world's. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.