Enjoy your days before the darkness sets in, and don’t forget the One who made you.
I’ve heard it said that when you’re young, you’re like an astronaut, hoping “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” But as you get older, you’re more like an archaeologist, not looking forward to new things, but looking back on places you’ve already been. Life becomes less of an exploration, and more of an excavation.
Whether you’ve noticed it or not, you’re in this process. Your Starfleet uniform doesn’t quite fit anymore, since it’s tight in the tummy, and a baby has spit-up on the shoulder anyway. You’ve hung it in the closet. Imperceptibly, you’ve begun to don the pith helmet, and khaki shorts, and the pickax, and you catch yourself excavating memories a lot more as the years go by.
And Ecclesiastes talks to you. From the very beginning, it talked to you, back when you were wondering what galaxy you’d like to fly toward, what purpose you’d like to pursue. Solomon spoke in this book, warning you about ill-advised trajectories that might lead you to crash your starship on some desolate planet.
It is needed. There is a crisis of wisdom today, as there always has been. Some people live like there’s no tomorrow. Others fixate on tomorrow until they forget to enjoy today. As people of God, we have to learn the balance between the two.
“Cast your bread upon the waters for you will find it after many days” (Eccl. 11:1). When it was first uttered, this verse referred to a person working a field, harvesting crops, and loading them on a ship. The ship would leave, and sail up the coast, where it would sell those crops at a distant port. After a certain amount of time, the ship would return, bearing a bundle of money for the farmer.
All of this was to say that not everything in life needs to be in your direct line of sight, and under your immediate control. You can trust that some things are capable of prospering out from under your direct observation. This includes not only physical items like money, but spiritual ones as well.
Verse 2 says, “Give a portion to seven or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” Every good financier will advise you to diversify—to spread out your wealth, because you don’t know what will happen. Some people in 1929 learned that lesson the hard way, after investing their entire lives into the stock market. Sometimes we feel as though we’ve found a sure thing, or a life plan that makes the future certain, and places it under our control. Then something happens to ruin that sure thing. Be flexible, and open. Don’t hold onto your life plan with a death grip.
Verse 3, says, “if the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will be. He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” If you’re busy looking up in the air, trying to forecast outcomes, you’re probably neither sowing, nor reaping. It’s what they call paralysis by analysis.
Sometimes we’re struck with this in the preaching of the gospel or doing a simple good deed. My wife and I had some Turkish neighbors move in some years back. It occurred to me that I ought to introduce myself, and bring a small gift of some kind. That’s when it got complicated, and I began observing winds, and regarding clouds. What should I bring them? Baklava? No, that’s a Greek dessert. But wait. Greece is close to Turkey. Ummmm…what if they don’t like it? Finally I decided to bring them what I would want somebody to bring me—a half dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. I even put a bow on top of the box. On my way over, I kept being trolled inside my own head, What if they think this is weird?
Guess what? They did seem to think it was weird. But the point is, I had looked away from the clouds, and done some sowing.
Later, the Turkish neighbors moved out (I don’t think it was due to the donuts), and some Chinese neighbors moved in. I found out they were Christians, and decided to ask if they’d like to visit our church. But before I did it, I started surveying the sky, trying to predict an outcome. The pesky inner troll came back: Why do this? They probably have a church already.
And you know what? They did already have one. But again, the point was I had turned my attention to sowing, and away from obsessing.
You can’t always guess an outcome, especially when it comes to spiritual things. Verse 5 says, “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” Stop trying to second-guess Him. Then what should we do? “In the morning, sow your seed, and in the evening, withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (v. 6). Regular faithfulness is the issue here.
Do not worry about tomorrow, Jesus said. Yet, that’s not the same as the song that says, “Don’t worry, be happy.” We’re not paralyzed by tomorrow, but we still do things with a view to tomorrow. Verses 7-8 tell us, “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.” While you’re having a good time today, remember that days of darkness approach—the onset of age.
Verse 9 continues, “Rejoice, oh young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes.” Without some kind of qualifier, that sounds like terrible advice. But in the next phrase, the Bible immediately balances it: “Know that for all these things God will bring you into judgement.” While you are doing all the things you like, make sure they are not the kind of things God would condemn. One day, you will excavate your works and give an account of them before Christ at His judgement seat.
“Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity” (v. 10). Sometimes the young laugh at this advice. I know of some guys who got into rock climbing a bit too much. They disregarded warnings about taking care of themselves, and their joints were blown out by the time they were forty. The dark days showed up for them, prematurely. Loud music, a much loved item, can destroy eardrums; alcohol poisons a liver; suntanning will leather otherwise lovely skin. Have a good time with your life, but don’t sin, and don’t ruin yourself before age does it for you.
Solomon becomes more specific in chapter 12, verse 1—”Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” Days are coming when everything seems to hurt. Even routine visits to the doctor’s office becomes worrisome, as you wonder what bad news might be uncovered. Before that becomes the case, and while you’re enjoying life, remember your Creator.
Before the train wreck, learn how to pray, get to know your Bible, walk with the Lord. Do this “before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed” (vv. 2-3). This poetic description captures the characteristics of old age—palsied trembling, bent over stature, dimmed eyesight.
Here are more signs of aging:
4 and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails”
Hitting your sunset includes becoming sensitive to sound, even waking because of a bird; reduction of energy, so that there is no more flitting about to song; security concerns that creating terrors; white hair, illustrated by almond tree blossoms; loss of strength, seen in the grasshopper dragging itself along; and failing sexual desire.
Why is all of this happening?
“Because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets.” Remember your Creator, before all of this takes place in earnest. Remember in a way that makes a difference in day-to-day life, before it ends—“before the silver cord is snapped, or the Golden Bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, and the dust returns to the Earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the preacher. All is vanity” (vv. 6-8).
Enjoy, Solomon says, but at the same time, remember. When Jesus instituted his table, He took bread and wine, instructed us to eat and drink, and then “Remember” Him. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he told him to, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.” The New Testament believer has a far greater, richer, more extensive memory to call upon than even Solomon could have imagined, for our Creator has incarnated for us, lived for us, died for us, and then risen for us.
Remembrance, then, should flood us with appreciation. It also protects us from foolishness. Jesus spoke of a man who had a problem most everyone wishes they had—he didn’t have enough room for all of his wealth. His money wouldn’t fit in the mattress anymore. He decided to super-size his storage areas. Apparently he was so pleased with his decision, he started talking to himself, saying, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12). The man had practiced the part of Ecclesiastes that spoke of enjoyment, but totally neglected the part about remembering God, of letting the conscious reality of His Creator (and not his possessions) guide his life.
We have jobs, kids, pets, hobbies, and assorted responsibilities. Though they are blessings, they also tend to compete for control of your life. For instance, you might invest so much into all these things, that one day, suddenly, you’re a retired, empty-nester.
By that time, forgetting God has become a habit hard to break. You might do like a lot of other folks—double-down with your grandchildren, and with old-folks’ interests, until one day you can’t remember much, including your own name. Timing, therefore, is critical. Remember God now.
Even while you’re exploring so many options in life, learn to pump the brakes on your starship. Prioritize regular worship with other Christians. As millennials check out of church, and forget their Creator, step up and do the opposite. Don’t model a life for your kids that neglects, or worse, trash-talks the people of God, for whom Christ died. While you’re crossing paths with people of all kinds, both those who make you laugh, and those who make you grit your teeth, remember to share your faith. Do indiscriminate good for people—yes, even if they think it’s kind of weird.
When Christ returns we will excavate all these things, and countless more, at His judgment seat, reviewing them in His presence. Hopefully, it will be a time of grand enjoyment for you, as you celebrate works that have flowed out of His grace, and through you.
May it be so at your sunset, and mine.