A fresh look at Ecclesiastes: The Teacher describes the seasons of life
An extract from Days of Your Youth, a new book that distills wisdom from the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes, by chaplain George Statheos.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)
I once saw an Xbox ad on YouTube. A mother is in labour and the child is born and goes flying out the window, through the air. The child then becomes a teenager and gets older the further he travels. Finally, as an old man, he lands in a grave. Then the slogan comes through – “Life’s short, play more: Xbox.”
It is a clever ad. Even Xbox recognises that life is short. But they don’t have the answer. Statistics tell us on average we live 79 years. We spend 27 years sleeping, 7 years trying to fall asleep, 100 days laughing, four and half years eating, eight years watching TV, 11 years screen time, 13 years and two months at work, one year 30 days romance, 4 months brushing our teeth, the list goes on.
Then, there are eight years left over.
How are we to live in this short life?
There is a time for everything, and every season is different. The Teacher [writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes] says that the world operates and is understood by seasons. Even in the first chapter of the Bible, the seasons and their role in creation are described (Genesis 1:14). Seasons have a function and a pattern. The Teacher knows there is a time for harvesting; you sow and reap crops. He describes human experiences in Ecclesiastes’ third chapter in positives and negatives.
They are polar opposites. Life moves in these cycles.
“A time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). Life can be like two bookends where you have a beginning and an end. “A time to plant and a time to uproot.”
Youth today are confronted way too much with unnecessary death.
You may move to a new suburb, a new house, a new school, a new job. You might have a realisation that things are not all that well, that you have been sowing the wrong seeds in your life. Planting the seeds of the Spirit will bring a positive change as you see the fruit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control grow in your life (Galatians 5:22-23).
One of the saddest things I have to do in my line of work is to conduct a funeral. It’s even worse if the funeral is for a teenager. Youth today are confronted way too much with unnecessary death. Within weeks of the birth of my son, my father passed away.
The Teacher says that we will all die, no one will avoid it. But while we wait to die we should live full lives.
In John’s gospel, these words are taken to the next level, where Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) God gives life, full life to those who believe. There is no uncertainty. God’s word says that if you believe in Jesus, you will have life to the full.
Are you living the way God wants you to live? Are you excited about the things of God or about the things of the world? Ultimately you learn that worldly things are not fulfilling and they lead only to emptiness.
There is a time and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to kill and a time to heal, restoration in people’s lives, forgiveness. I was told by a friend recently that there had been a falling out with a sibling that went on for 15 years, over a will. They reconciled recently. A student told me that she had really negative people in her life. I still remember what she said to me: “I had to cut them out of my life”. It was consuming her life. She took assertive action that worked.
This one we all identify with: “A time to weep and a time to laugh”, sometimes we don’t know which one to do. Is this a season of mourning for you? Maybe you find yourself grieving the loss of a loved one or a friend and you do not know how to move forward. Remember, Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died, even though he would be brought back to life.
Jackie is grieving for her teenage years which were taken from her due to abuse. She has shared that in recent times joy and laughter have returned to her life.
She said to me: “Do you rise above your past and make a difference, or do you remain controlled by your past and make excuses?” A friend said to her that over a period of months, she could see she was leaving one season and entering another. The Teacher talks about a season of celebration. We don’t know why things happen the way they do, but the Teacher says that life happens in seasons.
“A time to scatter stones, a time to gather them.” (Ecclesiastes 3:5) The early church had a time of growth and a time of scattering to other parts of the world. The nation of Israel went through a similar thing with the Exile. Some people are only in our lives for a season and they move on. There is a time to embrace or hug and a time to refrain.
“A time to search and give up.” (Ecclesiastes 3:6) Sometimes you have to just let people go. Some people spend their lives searching, looking for the perfect relationship. My wife knows a lady who thinks a man is going to fill her emptiness. Every six months she’s in a different relationship and thinks that he’s “the one”. Jesus meets a woman just like that by a well in John 4. She has one husband after another. Jesus says to her they cannot fulfil in a way that will satisfy her. She was a woman who was shamed because of her past. Jesus says nothing about her past. Only the true living water can satisfy. Apart from Jesus, everything else is futile.
Weeks later after the tragedy happened, the parents said the most remarkable thing …
Maybe you need to confront someone but first take the log out of your eye. Perhaps you need to listen to or encourage someone. Sometimes you know the right thing to say but don’t have the right words. “A time to speak and time to be silent.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) “A time to love and a time to hate.” (Ecclesiastes 3:8)
Which one controls your life more: love or hate? I love that passage where Paul says the “greatest of these is love”. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Do you hate sin?
Last year four children – Antony, Angelina, Sienna, from the same family, and Veronique, their cousin – were killed by a drunk driver as they walked along the footpath. If any people ever had a right to be angry or have hatred in their hearts, it is the Abdallah family. They have faced so much grief and loss.
Weeks later after the tragedy happened, the parents said the most remarkable thing; they said that they did not hate the man, but forgave him. The parents had the assurance that their children were in a better place … paradise.
Let love reign.
A season of war
Sometimes you can only have peace after war. Then the Teacher says about war, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war”. (Ecclesiastes 9:18) There are options other than war. We only need to look at the impact that war has had on individuals and countries. It is to be avoided at all cost.
My father fought in the Korean War. He returned home but the effects of the war never left him.
Here is an example of a war worth fighting for: my wife does some volunteer work helping to equip people to make a stand against the sexploitation of girls and women. Sadly, many teenagers have been saturated with sexualised thinking for such a long time that they don’t even recognise the affects it has on their attitudes and behaviours.
The leaders of this army of volunteers are constantly battling against those who promote this misogynistic ideology. Their call for action seeks to inform and motivate young men and women to fight this battle with them.
“George, the trip is part of the journey. Enjoy it!”
Life does not follow a script that we can predict. But we do know that God is sovereign; He rules and he is in control. As this proverb says: “The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord. He guides it like a river wherever he pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1)
No one can discover God’s plans from beginning to end.
I have taken about six service trips to Fiji. Gen Zs love them, the students are very hands-on. In our Western culture, we love destinations and are not concerned about the journey so much. We just want to get ourselves there because we are impatient.
We had a long trip ahead of us. I asked my Fijian friend Sisa how long the trip would take. His response was, “When we see the sea.” So, I asked for him to explain it to me in hours and he replied, “Five hours.” He also told me, “George, the trip is part of the journey. Enjoy it!”
“God has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) We see God’s glory in this life, and in the next we will see it in his fullness.
Seeing God in all seasons
This does not mean that every season is joyous. Our problem is that we’re not always happy with the season we are in. We sometimes have a problem with seeing God in each season, especially if it is a season we don’t enjoy. But the apostle James tells us that God is at work even in the difficult seasons of our life. He says:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)
Different seasons in life are opportunities for spiritual growth. If we learn and grow through each season, we can then offer wisdom from our experience to others going through the same season. What comfort it can be to someone if we share our wisdom, insight and compassion with them. It is all about sharing with others what we have learned, and what the Lord has taught us, through our different seasons of life.
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. It hit the family pretty hard. What will my world look like? How do we process this? What will this season look like?
Trust in God’s goodness, even though that is hard to do, at times.
We contemplate: Why do I have to go through this season?
Life is unpredictable, messy and frustrating. We need to look to God and trust Him even when His purpose for taking us through a particular season is not always clear.
Seasons of growth
A dear friend of mine threw in his faith because he did not like the season he was in. This is a great tragedy, not only because he turned his back on God’s offer of salvation, but because he also made his suffering harder, by no longer trusting that the Lord was using this season for his good.
Don’t let your past control you or let people control you.
I love those mining shows where they drill, sift through soil, and dig for gold. Others dig for gems, precious stones. They bring in heavy machinery and drill for years on end, often with little reward. Sometimes they hit it big and share their spoils with the workers.
One story told of a man who panned the streams and found fragments of gold. He believed there was gold to be found in the surrounding hills and mountains. He hired workers, bought specialised machinery and mined for ten years, barely making enough money to get by. In the end, he sold everything off. The man who bought the mine from him struck gold five weeks later!
In hard times, persevere: there may be blessings just around the corner.
A season for youth
I read these verses to a 20-year-old the other day.
“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honour and comfort me once more.” (Psalm 71:20-21)
This is a great Psalm which alludes to a season of healing where God will bring restoration in the hard times. We may have felt pain, loss, confusion, disappointment, rejection, depression and anxiety, but God wants to bring healing to those dark times.
What season of life are you in? Do you look for opportunities for God in every season? I have a friend Helen, who lost a child. It was a hard time for her and her family. In the mist of all the pain they never lost sight of Jesus. Theirs was a season of great sadness.
The important thing is that we learn to trust that the Lord has something to teach us in every season.
Not every season appears in Ecclesiastes 3. As humans, we often look back to previous seasons with regret or happiness and we want to revisit the past seasons, instead of looking to the present. Sometimes in life, all we talk about is the past; we can’t look beyond that. We can get locked into thinking about a certain period of our lives. It sometimes seems like we only talk about past seasons with church, remembering camps and events, instead of talking about the present or praying about the future.
Young people, don’t let your past control you or let people control you. I know a 17-year-old girl who was badly bullied. The harassment followed her from one school to another. After lots of prayer and counselling she had the realisation that it was simply about the bullies’ insecurities and had nothing to do with her.
One difficult season of life can prepare us for the next season. Sometimes the seasons of life are intertwined, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes we go through life stages that are completely different from one another. But of this we can be sure: this too shall pass. Everything has a beginning and an end. Even a difficult season will pass. The important thing is that we learn to trust that the Lord has something to teach us in every season.
The world changes rapidly. Our world is currently in a difficult season of a pandemic. Are you still looking to God and sharing His love? People need to hear about Jesus, no matter what is happening on our planet. What will the next season bring in your life? We do not know, but God does.
Days of Your Youth (With Study Guide) George Statheos
Ark House Press, 2021