God’s Gift of a Normal Life

Updated!

There was once a woman who once complained to her mother of the many hardships that she had faced when she had been growing up. But she found that instead of the sympathy that she had been seeking, she received correction: “See here, I have given you life: that is about all that I will ever be able to give you – life. Now you stop complaining and do something with it.”

The woman who had complained of her hardships later went on to distinguish herself in many ways, once she had come to terms with her personal responsibility before God to make the most of what she had. And this is something also that is true, that life is something that each person possesses, but what develops does depends on that personal responsibility before God to live in his universe and take responsibility for that life.

The gospel of Jesus Christ does promise eternal life to those who come to him by faith to receive his salvation, but the grace of God relates not only to the grace demonstrated and given in salvation, but also to the good things of an ordinary life. The God of the Bible is no scrooge who begrudges people the normal enjoyment of ordinary things and a genuine satisfaction in ordinary circumstances. The ordinary good things are the gifts of what has been called the common grace of God, and all people on this world can enjoy them as a part of their common humanity. In fact, the ordinary good things of life are the remnants of the original goodness of creation since the fall and the expression of his goodness toward our world in his providential care and government of this world.

In the book of Ecclesiastes the Preacher addresses the righteous and wise, and tells them how to live in God’s universe. In this universe he sought out what was good, and drank of all that life had to give to its fullest in every way. From his life of God given wisdom he then imparted guidance that can apply to everyone on how to live wisely in God’s universe, in the midst of an ordinary life. And what he wrote comes to us today as part of God’s Word, and is relevant to us as well, as those who have come to faith in Christ for eternal life and in eternal relationship to the God of the Bible. The Preacher valued wisdom, talked wisdom and advised wisdom, and real wisdom, Biblical wisdom, living in God’s universe according to what God provides and legislates, underlies all he writes. No one really is sure who the Preacher, the author of Ecclesiastes was; it’s not totally unreasonable to believe that the traditional ascription to Solomon is on target, but it may well be another author writing as if he were Solomon, as some do think. But whoever the author really was, the book he wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continues to speak for us today and continues to express the wisdom he sought to give the people of God. It speaks for us as we may live now, as then, in times of affluence, pleasure and relative prosperity, and as we view the circumstances of our lives and come to ask the same question as the Preacher, “Is this really all that God has for us?”

“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments always be white, and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the says of the life of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might; for there is no work, or device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest”  (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, King James Version).

God provides the good things of this life for proper enjoyment in a normal life. There are many things which he both permits and even wishes for our normal satisfaction in an ordinary life out of his overflowing goodness to this world. These are not just things that we would normally put on a pedestal and say that if we are living in them that we are being spiritual, but also many aspects of our lives which he has provided for us in his creation as part of our life in his world.

God shows his common grace to us first of all his provision for our physical lives. His common grace is behind the satisfaction of our physical needs for food, drink, clothing and shelter, and as the gifts of his common grace there is a real place for appreciation, enjoyment and satisfaction of his provision. This is the reason that the Preacher starts out with telling the wise and good among God’s people to enjoy God’s provision wisely.

In verses 7-8, where the Preacher is addressing the righteous and wise, who are in God’s hands, he tells them to enjoy the provision which they have from God’s hands. “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments always be white, and let thy head lack no ointment.” White clothing for the Israelites would have been good and clean clothing, but not necessarily rough work clothes, bread and wine are part of a normal meal, and anointing one’s head was a part of having a celebration. This is their food and drink and their good clothing, and they are to enjoy it without gloom or guilt, and with an attitude of joy and celebration. This is a common good, where a person who is living in faith and obedience toward the God of the Bible can legitimately and properly enjoy what God has given as a reward for one’s personal labor and those things which are allowed and certainly good in themselves as the gifts of God. This is legitimate scriptural sanction for making ordinary mealtimes and gathering together a daily celebration of the goodness of God and an expression of thanksgiving for his provision. This would also be a realization of God’s gracious approval of our legitimate and lawful daily labor for our provision in the path of our obedience to him, which is what the phrase means which the King James translates, “God now accepteth thy works.” So, the Preacher, speaking in the wisdom and power of the Spirit of God, tells the people of God that their daily work is a legitimate good, and enjoying the fruits of their labors in a kind of a daily celebration, is something that God takes pleasure in. God’s common grace in his provision through work and the fruits of labor is certainly part of the creation ordinance, and his provision is to be received with thankfulness and celebration.

This teaching of the Bible in taking pleasure in the provision of God is certainly throughout the Old Testament, and it carries through to the New Testament as well. One of the things that his enemies tried to bring up against Jesus Christ was that he came, “ . . .  eating and drinking . . .” (Luke 7:34) as he associated with the socially disapproved ‘sinners’ who needed to hear him and follow him. This enjoyment of God’s provision was also pointed out by the apostle Paul as a legitimate benefit for his messengers who lived by the support of the church: “Don’t we have the right to eat and drink?” (I Corinthians 9:4). And he went further to apply this line of teaching to all believers in I Timothy 4:1-5: “The Spirit asserts clearly that in later times some will depart from the faith and give heed to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons, who will be hypocritical liars and who will be seared in their consciences, who will seek to prevent marriage and to abstain from foods which God has created to be received with thanksgiving by those who are believers and who have come to know the truth. For everything that God has created is good, and it is not to be pushed aside but to be received with thanksgiving, because it is made holy through the Word of God and prayer.”

Throughout the centuries since Christ, then, there have been many in the church of Jesus Christ who seem to have missed this clear line of teaching throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. There has often been an unreasonable asceticism with many believers who do not recognize the genuinely good things which God has given in their lives and taken legitimate enjoyment of them. But there is no guilt necessary in doing so, and there is no recommendation before God in personal deprivation for the sake of deprivation. A deprivation complex, in which believers can find it difficult to live without some sense of guilt in legitimate and lawful pleasures and some sense that God does not want them to enjoy his goodness, is something does not come from an appreciation of the work of the God of the Bible in his creation and providence. There may be some fear that this kind of enjoyment is or might lead to worldliness, or some idea that God prefers for his people to live in a second rate, mediocre life that lies behind a deprivation complex. Certainly there is need for giving to the poor, to use our surplus compassionately, to give for the furtherance of the gospel worldwide,  and even to allow for the loss of all material possessions out of loyalty to Christ in a situation of severe persecution, and often a wise frugality is necessary to keep our possessions from taking a dearer place in our hearts than Christ holds. Those are all part of scriptural teachings. Certainly a believer in Christ needs to stay from an ingratitude complex as well, and not recognize that the goodness of God’s provision comes from God and his gift to his people of the ability to create wealth (Deuteronomy 8:19). But there is no need for a deprivation complex, since that may actually be a kind of poverty mentality based on feelings of personal unworthiness more than the will of God, or a kind of exaggerated, super-spiritual conception of discipleship to Christ which sees all legitimate enjoyment of God’s provision in this life as a sinful materialism.

Even more, the church has often expressed this kind of deprivation complex toward many who have been in leadership. There has often been an expectation of poverty and deprivation toward those in leadership. Again, this might be out of an undue fear of materialism and worldliness, or an idea that a pastor or leader needs to have less than others in order to live by faith – and this has at times been reinforced by romanticized expectations from the biographies of legitimate Christian leaders. Certainly many leaders did go through times where they did have to trust God for their next meal, but there is no basis in scripture for believers or churches to withhold legitimate support from pastors and leaders when they have the financial means to provide. But what this comes down to  is for the leaders of the people of God, as well as the people of God, is to live in the goodness of God and to enjoy wisely the goodness of God.

Living in the goodness of God and wise enjoyment of the goodness of God will then mean a real satisfaction in what God has graciously provided. There will be less and less a desire for more and more, and a deepening trust in God that his provision has been sufficient and more than sufficient. So much of our desire for more and more comes from an idea that we deserve it or that we need it to keep up with or to surpass someone else on whom we have been keeping an envious eye. It will mean less attention to what someone else may have and more grateful attention and satisfaction in what God has provided.

I think that this kind of celebration of God’s provision must come from someone who is both praying for sufficiency and obeying the scriptural call for satisfaction in God’s provision. Here’s the prayer for God’s sufficiency:

“Two things have I required of thee,
deny me them not before I die:
Remove from me vanity and lies:
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with food convenient (sufficient) for me:
Lest I be full, and deny thee,
and say, Who is the LORD?
or lest I be poor, and steal,
and take the name of my God in vain.”

(Proverbs 30:7-9).

And here’s the command to satisfaction in God’s provision:

“Let your way of life be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, because he himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor abandon you’; so that with confidence you will say
‘The Lord is my helper,
I will not fear;
what can any human being do to me?’”

(Hebrews 13:5-6).

But there’s more to what the Preacher had to say to the wise and good among God’s people about God’s good intentions for them for their life in his universe. His intention is for family life to be a source of legitimate enjoyment and pleasure for his people. The goodness of family life, as God intended, was supposed to be a great source of enjoyment and satisfaction for his people. This is why the Preacher tells the wise and good among God’s people to pursue their marriages wisely.

In verse 9, the Preacher goes on to tell the wise and good men among God’s people to enjoy life with their wives: “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the says of the life of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.” He takes it for granted that there is love between husband and wife in the marriages among the wise and good people among the people of God. Their parents and families would certainly have had a role in arranging the wedding and marriages among the Israelites that the Preacher was addressing, but there was a real place for love in marriages in the ancient world, and there was usually, outside the royal family, a place for refusal of a marriage to a person where there was no love. But the Preacher goes on, in the wisdom and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to tell them to enjoy life with their wives that they loved, and that their enjoyable family life needs to be at least shared good times. Though this life is not an end in itself, as the whole world and the life in this world is not an end in itself, but is considered vanity, an emptiness like a wind, there is a legitimate scriptural place for an enjoyable family life as part of God’s common grace to humanity. Though this world will often not make sense, that our efforts and goals will sometimes seem like they are simply vanity and an empty wind, God has provided in family life a source of shared satisfaction for his people.

The Bible is throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, full of this  understanding of marriage as a good thing as a part of the creation of God. This is the basis of the Preacher telling the people of God to enjoy marriage and enjoy life in marriage together. This is why God created marriage as part of the creation of man and woman in Genesis 1 and 2. This is why in Proverbs Solomon affirmed marriage as well, when he said, “ . . . rejoice in the wife of your youth . . .” ( Proverbs 5:18). And that is why we find in the Old Testament the Song of Solomon, the Biblical celebration of married love. But even more, we find that Jesus Christ himself affirmed the Old Testament teaching of marriage as part of the original, good creation of God as well: “From the beginning he made them ‘male and female.’ (Quotation and endorsement of Genesis 1:27). ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and join himself to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,’(quotation and endorsement of Genesis 2:24) so that there are no longer two but one.'” (Mark 10:6-9).

The development of shared good times is an often underemphasized bond of marriages, and it is something that many families and marriages need to consider and to work on, as part of God’s will for their enjoyment of the marriage and family he has provided. Too often marriages and family life may be sought as an escape from a bad family situation or upon the basis of shared pain rather than a legitimate fellowship of man and woman based upon good, desirable qualities and good times together. There is a real and proper concern for a couple to develop common interests and activities together and to appreciate each other’s good qualities together, and there is a real place for recognizing that this comes from God, the originator of marriage and family life: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the LORD” (Proverbs 19:22).

It bears mentioning, then, that this statement of the Preacher on the development of this foundation of shared good times and understanding of and appreciation for the good qualities of a potential spouse is the only scriptural basis that I can find for the practice of dating before engagement and marriage. That has been the cultural pattern since the 1920’s in the United States, and, I think, slightly earlier in some places in Europe. I’m not seeking here to offer a Biblical critique of this pattern as it has existed since then, since I think that scripture does not offer a set cultural pattern of how to get to marriage for men and women. If shared good times and an appreciation of the good qualities of a spouse can carry through into a sound godly marriage with continued and deepened shared good times and deepening mutual appreciation of the good qualities of both spouses, then it really can be said that God has blessed the pattern of dating, engagement and marriage as it has existed in the lives of those involved. The command of scripture is that “ . . .  marriage is to be honored among all . . .” (Hebrews 13:4), and honor to marriage most certainly means much more than warnings against sexual involvement before marriage. It certainly means marrying wisely and living in marriage wisely according to the Word of God.

My experience and observations, though, is that our churches have often done too far little to prepare the foundation for godly marriages among adolescents and young adults: there is too little preparation and guidance on marrying wisely, and I think that lies at the bottom of why so many marriages among believers have often gone on the rocks. Churches have often given far too little attention to the development of the godly character traits that make a person a good candidate for a spouse – the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and moving away from the meanness and selfishness that spoil many relationships. In our youth and college groups often leaders have treated couples who look physically attractive together, socially compatible and popular and who may date for a long time as being good candidates for marriage when those characteristics are insufficient in themselves for a lasting marriage. The conclusion is that because they look good together, they’re destined to be married eventually. Moreover, there has often been a childish, giggly obsessiveness among many, including some pastors, spiritual leaders and middle aged women, in our churches, for trying to ‘fix up’ single adults when such pressure and interference is neither welcome nor wanted.  And many professed believer as well approach dating, courtship, engagement and marriage as a path to fulfill dreams and desires that they have had since childhood, and which may have never been subjected to an adult wisdom and walk with Christ, or as fulfilling a set agenda of personal characteristics and timetable, and so on. And often enough, the preparation of marriage has been a few classes or counseling sessions after a couple has already become engaged, and then the time may be too late, as the engaged couple may simply continue stubbornly to a pending wedding and marriage when all the indications are that they are simply not marrying wisely. And marrying wisely is not necessarily something that easily happens for those who come through the social atmosphere of spiritual, social and emotional immaturity of many churches and youth groups, or if someone comes from a family background where there was not much understanding of what it takes for marrying wisely. And I’ll submit that one far underemphasized ingredient to marrying wisely is not to do so as the sole basis of one’s happiness, nor to fulfill one’s own selfish wants and demands in that relationship, but to glorify God in one’s own dating, courtship, engagement and marriage. And this is the reason for parents and churches to pray and seek wisdom for wise – not self pretentious, controlling or interfering — guidance and encouragement to young adults to marry wisely, so that they may show the glory of God in their dating, courtship and marriages.

But getting back to what the Preacher was saying, about enjoying life with one’s wife. Put into perspective, this would bring us back to the realization that marriage and family life is part of God’s provision for our legitimate enjoyment in this life. By itself it will not make anyone happy – that will come from God himself. Nor will it provide anyone with a way out of a broken past to someone who can and will carry you emotionally, independently of God –putting those expectations on anyone in marriage, to make you happy independently of God is making the marriage and the spouse an idol. But rather, this puts marriage into place as a good gift of God for the formation of a reasonably happy earthly life. This is like what Theodore Roosevelt said at the time of his re-election to the office of the Presidency of the United States: “As I went up the White House steps, Edith met me at the door, and I suddenly realized, after all, no matter what the outcome of the election was, my happiness was assured – that even though my ambition was to have the seal of approval put upon my administration might not be gratified, my happiness was assured – for my life with Edith and my children constitutes my happiness.”

The God of the Bible is no cosmic killjoy. Rather, he seeks for the legitimate good his people, and there is a legitimate enjoyment of good things that he gives in the circumstances of earth for the believer who is headed for heaven. Certainly there are the scriptural limitations that these things are not to captivate one’s heart to the loss of love for God, nor is there to be any unwillingness to sacrifice them for the sake of Christ and the gospel should persecution come. But in scripture there is definitely a legitimate enjoyment of what God has given, and there is no basis for an attitude of undeserved guilt or unworthiness of what God has given in his common grace in his creation nor an unscriptural disparagement of them for anyone who is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and living and keeping in step with the Spirit of God.

The blessings of the common grace of God, though, do require human effort for their development and enjoyment. That turns out to be part of the work that God has given all on earth to do, and that calls for more than a matter of fact attitude. And that’s what the Preacher goes on to tell the people of God. The enjoyment of the normal life that God gives calls for pursuing the activities of life with legitimate passion and enthusiasm. In whatever there is to do that is legitimate, lawful and good under the provision, care , there can be real passion and enthusiasm for pursuing it. There is no need for any kind of hard bitten cynicism born of a phony toughness nor languid passivity born of foolish dependency among the men and women who know the God of the Bible, but a real and deep enthusiasm and passion in their lives as they live in the universe of their God.

First, the legitimate, godly passion and enthusiasm for the normal activities of life means a wholehearted effort in whatever one does in this life. This effort is the realization that God has given the opportunity and the ability to pursue all this for the sake of God. And this means plunging into the legitimate tasks at hand without reservation from a reluctant asceticism, a baseless sense of unworthiness or a languid sense of being privileged or entitled not to have to put in passionate, diligent and enthusiastic effort.

In the first part of verse 10, the Preacher tells the wise and righteous among the people of Israel, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might . . .” This command to do the task at hand, with all one’s might, can be followed with passion and enthusiasm in all the normal tasks of life and in all the ways of faith and righteousness. Passion and enthusiasm come with the realization that that in these pursuits the blessing of God is upon his people. Though there may be tasks and pursuits that are in themselves hard and difficult at times, his people can rest assured that God is not working within that situation to stymie their efforts, to frustrate them and to give them a hard time, but rather that he is on their side and seeking to bless them in the midst of all that they find to do in his will. And again, this same thread of teaching continues into the New Testament as well, where it can be seen in what the apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks to God the Father through him.”

This is where I part company with some Christian leaders who preach mournfully and gloomily about how hard it is to follow Christ. It isn’t hard to live the Christian life under your own power apart from the fullness of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible! But even more, where it’s often hard and practically impossible is where you may see living the Christian life as living to please other Christians and to live up to the artificial, impossible expectations of other Christians. Too often when it comes to some other believers, nothing you can do is ever right, because it isn’t what they would do in your situation or what they think you should do or what they have discussed behind your back and heard from or told others what you should do.

Rather, I’ve found that the God of the Bible is a lot easier to live with than many, many believers that I have known over the years, and he takes much greater pleasure and enjoyment in our passion and enthusiasm for the normal activities of the life in his world and the pursuit of his will than we would normally imagine. And I’ve also found that he takes greater displeasure in the antics of bitter and backslidden believers who attempt to throw obstacles and confusion in the path of believers who are pursuing him and his will with all their hearts than many, many of us would ever imagine. Usually it’s not hard to find this passion for the will of God in believers who have recently come to faith in Christ, but more often it’s much  harder to find in someone who has remained in spiritual immaturity for a long period, so much so, that it’s hard to find any evidence of a genuine salvation left in that person. So then, I would advise any professed believer who would try to throw obstacles, sabotage and confusion in the path of any other believer who is pursuing the will of God with all his or her heart to consider this terrifying promise, from the lips of Jesus himself: “It is necessary that stumblingblocks to sin would come, but too bad for the one through whom they are coming! It would be better for that person if a millstone were slung around his neck and he were to be cast into the sea than to trip up into sin one of these little ones” (Luke 17:1-2; see also Matthew 18:6-7 and Mark 9:42).

After long consideration, I think that this is a passage that I would preach on again at some point if I were to be in a position to preach again in a church which has a history of internal conflict and long declines. Jesus usually saved his most extreme language for these kinds of situations definitely to express how serious these situations are to God, and I’ve found that these verses do have a way of shocking the bitter and backslidden believers who out of their arrogance, self deceit and vicious cunning try to undermine and sandbag other believers in their passionate pursuit of the will of God. What it will be that will be worse than being thrown into the sea to be drowned isn’t something that Jesus spells out here, and I think that it may be the reason that we may not often see immediate discipline and judgment of the professed believer giving others a hard time for pursuing the will of God with all their hearts. The Lord Jesus may well be saving their comeuppance for the day that they see him face to face at his judgment seat, and that’s very definitely something to be very afraid of.

If, then, our leaders and churches are really seriously following the New Testament, our leaders and churches would be only a help to any believer, any follower of the God of the Bible, who is passionately pursuing the will of God. This is the specific assignment to the pastors, teachers and other leaders in Ephesians 4:11-16, and to the whole body of Christ in Hebrews 10:24: “ . . . and let us consider how to stir each other up to love and good deeds . . .”

In this verse, though, the Preacher probably was probably thinking primarily of daily work, and certainly the primary application is to one’s work, employment and vocation. I think that this provides a proper perspective and correction to the attitude many people have today. We look to work, employment and career too much to fulfill us, and I think that by far we have that reversed. Much of daily work may turn out to be tedious, boring and repetitive and therefore not really very satisfying or fulfilling. I think that we within the church need to approach this from the other perspective: that our life and work is to glorify God, and from there we can have men and women satisfied and fulfilled in God living out their work, employment, vocation and careers with passion. The truth is that when we expect to find our satisfaction and fulfillment in our career and employment, we make an idol out of our career and employment, and we will not ultimately find satisfaction and fulfillment there. I have personally witnessed the emotional meltdowns that have occurred in the lives of those who have given all their passion and energy to a corporation and a job and found that all that they had received had been just a series of paychecks. But I’ve never witnessed anything like this at all from anyone who has sought all his or her satisfaction and fulfillment in God and in living with passion to glorify God in all that they say or do.

In these verses the Preacher also provides guidance that also addresses a real need for many believers, and especially those from a dysfunctional family background, for a real passion and enthusiasm for pursuing the normal activities of life in the will of God with passion and enthusiasm. One of the marks of those who come from a dysfunctional family background (really dysfunctional, with real verbal, emotional and physical abuse, chronic unemployment, and long term addictions, not just ‘mildly’ dysfunctional) is the inadequate effort that they put into the duties and and projects of ordinary life. They have a tendency not to complete projects and develop their skills adequately to rise above the lowest levels of ineptitude and mediocrity. Their failures are due to immaturity and ignorance, often, as well as emotional barriers due to continuously hearing the voices of their past as they seek to transcend the brokenness of their past. They may not really understand the discipline and effort necessary to develop real skills and capabilities to live effectively in God’s will. But if you discover the enthusiasm and passion that can come from living in the grace and the will of God for even the boring, routine and ordinary activities of normal life, it’s possible to go beyond the sticky goo of your own background into the depths of knowing and experiencing the eternal and limitless goodness, compassion and wisdom of the God of the Bible. The goodness of an almighty, all wise and all loving God, who is for his people who are pursuing him and his will, can provide that extra push and enthusiasm. He can give that kind of deep motivation and passion for his people to go beyond the adhesive traumas of their past.

This kind of enthusiasm and passion in all the circumstances of life is something was evident in Peter Marshall, the great Presbyterian preacher and chaplain of the United States Senate during the dark years of World War II. At his funeral a seminary classmate said, “We studied and prayed and sang and preached together. God used my friend, and gave to him a joy in studying that proved that he outstudied us all; a joy in singing because he outsang us; and a joy in playing, because he abandoned everything when he could play. The truth is that he outprayed, outpreached and outplayed us. Why? Because he had sought and found delight in the doing of God’s will.”

And a real impetus to our passion and enthusiasm for living out God’s will in the daily activities of our normal life can come from the realization that there will be no second chances for life. Thus wherever anyone is, the fact is that there will be no earthly life to live over again. This means that each earthly opportunity must be lived to its fullest advantage.

And so the Preacher seems to end this paragraph at the end of verse 10, like so many in the book with a downer: “ . . . for there is no work, or device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” What he is saying is that there is no way to learn or for a do-over for the circumstances of life once a person has gone the way of the grave. Here the Preacher shows the limitation of the understanding that he had of the afterlife upon what the Old Testament of his time had to say. Though the Book of Ecclesiastes is difficult to place in the timeline of the Old Testament as to when it was written, I think that it’s safe to say that he either did not know or did not wish anyone to count on the indications of an afterlife and resurrection that appeared in the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel as a reason for not living for God in this life to its fullness. This would be consistent with the traditional authorship of Solomon. But even if the Preacher did have more awareness of an afterlife than is evident from that sentence – the assertions of the ultimate judgment of God of every deed with which the book concludes would seem to warrant a final judgment apart from our earthly, physical life – it would seem that this sentence is more about advising the people of God not to slack off in this life, because there will be no opportunity to live out the opportunities in this life once it is over. This would be more in accord with what the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:15-16: “Watch, then, how you pursue your life, not as fools but as wise people, as you take advantage of this time, because the days are evil.” This seemingly buzz-kill statement of the Preacher then can advise the believer in Jesus Christ to be serious about the consequences of his or her actions here on earth since there will be no second chances to take back and live over this earthly life.

The reality of heaven and the resurrection to come do not then end the need to have a reasonable seriousness about the importance of effort and wisdom in this life upon earth. The realization that there will be no second chances to live the life upon earth should bring us to greater thought and consideration to our actions. It should encourage us to the passion, effort and discipline of a personal investment into this life in the will and path that God has provided and in the power and wisdom which he provides. This means that best possibility of making the most of the chance that God has given his people in the ordinary circumstances and challenges of this life now. And this is the kind of effort that has been at the root of achievements like that of Michelangelo. He had been converted to Christ at the martyrdom of Savonarola, and had already been known as a great sculptor. A jealous rival recommended him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because the rival believed that Michelangelo could not become as great a sculptor as he had been a painter – but with his passion and enthusiasm, one of the world’s great masterpieces of art came to being.

Certainly God is sovereign, but it is a misguided view of his sovereignty, government of this world and providential care that degenerates into an unBiblical fatalism that human effort and consideration do not make a difference in the circumstances of the ordinary life in this world. And certainly there still needs to be a reasonable understanding of one’s own limitations, personal failures and sufferings – there will still be disappointment and heartbreak sometimes despite one’s best intentions and efforts – there is still much that enthusiasm and passion in the will of God can accomplish in the circumstances of this life, as a believer in Christ lives in the will of God. 

Therefore, churches, pastors and believers have been utterly right and truthful in holding forth the gospel of the saving grace of God over the centuries, and the  appreciation of his saving grace is certainly necessary for a full and joyful life in Christ. But there is also a greater need for the understanding and appreciation of the common grace of God, the expression of his overwhelming goodness in the ordinary circumstances of life, and that the good things that we enjoy now come from his hand as well. Though we continue to live in a fallen world, though sin may twist, warp and ruin the goodness of the ordinary things at times, this does not mean that God does not and continues to intend good for us through them. Even more, it means that others can continue to enjoy the gifts of his goodness without any guilt or shame even if we find ourselves not in a situation where we cannot enjoy them in the same way. Therefore, God himself, the source of all goodness, is not to blame if anyone may have missed some of the legitimate enjoyment of the goodness that he has provided for us in this life. Rather, this calls even more for wise passion and enthusiasm of the people of God to live and pursue the gifts of his common grace with wisdom and gratitude.

In this life, the sins of ourselves and of others may hinder, delay or even ruin our enjoyment of God’s goodness in our circumstances. But the saving life of Christ that brings the conquest of sin can often still open the door to the legitimate enjoyment of God’s goodness not only in his salvation to eternal life but also in the common, ordinary circumstances of life. Therefore be ready, the closer that you come to Christ, and the more victory over the sin and gloom of your own heart that you experience by the power of the love, joy and peace of Christ, to find a tremendous enjoyment even of the ordinary things around you, and to find a greater appreciation of the goodness of God that has come to you in those ordinary things.

But in the gifts of the common grace of God that come through his creation and providence, proper wisdom and effort is often necessary to make something out of the opportunities to enjoy his common grace. Certainly this means prayer for his wisdom and strength, seeking wise counsel from the truly wise among the people of God, and then applying oneself to the task at hand, and this while living in the presence of God, in submission to God and in deep appreciation of and gratitude toward God. Therefore apply prayer and effort as you trust God for the strength in Christ to glorify him in the ordinary things of life, since this shows faith in the goodness of God for the legitimate and godly enjoyment of the life he has given you on earth. But finally, before the enjoyment of anything in this life, there needs to come the matter of settling one’s own eternal destiny. So, the first step toward this comes down to entering the kingdom of God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation.

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Trusting Christ as My Provider And Some Other Resources for Those in Employment Transition

“During the days of the depression, hundreds of men came to my office for a handout, or a shakedown or the night. Many a time I asked them this question: ‘When you were earning money, did you square with God? Did you give to God that which belonged to him?’ Never once did I have that question answered in the affirmative. Every man who came for a handout had to admit he had not squared with God in the years of prosperity.”
Oswald J. Smith


Trusting Christ As My Provider

I. God provides of my daily needs

A. God promises to provide as I seek his kingdom and his righteousness: Matthew 6:33.

God promises to provide sufficiency, not extravagance: I Timothy 6:6-8, Matthew 6:25-32.

God wants us to pray for our daily needs: Matthew 6:11.

II. God normally provides for me through employment.

A. Working for our living ensures that we are dependent on no one else: I Thessalonians 4:11-12, II Thessalonians 3:7-10.

B. The believer is to work as if the Lord Jesus were his personal supervisor, and to be respectful of his employer: Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:22-25 (substitute employee for slave in these passages; the relationship between employer and employee is of mutual advantage and mutual choice, though, and not permanent legal coercion).

C. The believer increases his income through diligence and skill: Proverbs 10:4. (See also Ecclesiastes 10:10, Proverbs 22:29, Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

III. God provides so that I can give to support the work of the gospel and the needs of the less fortunate.

A. Giving is to be through the local church on a weekly basis: I Corinthians 16:2 (a tithe is a good beginning).

B. Giving is to be of our own free will, in response to the grace of God: II Corinthians 8:6-11.

C. Giving demonstrates that our true treasure and Master is Christ: Matthew 6:19-21, 24.

Challenge: begin to give this week with a tithe.

Addressing Special Needs

1. Government assistance (welfare, SSI): For the believer in Christ, there have been some problems with the acceptance of government financial support without being employed by the government. It has encouraged laziness among the able bodied; it has encouraged dependence on the government instead of God; it dissociates income from work; it discourages marriage and stable families; and it supplants the financial support ministry of the body of Christ. Therefore the able bodied unemployed and the employable disabled need counsel and encouragement to become employed wherever possible for their own support, witness and obedience to God. Care should be taken not to abuse those in genuine need or to expect an immediate transition out of a state of dependence.

2. Restitution: Whenever a person has stolen or defrauded from an individual, a business or the government should receive restitution as a matter of honesty and as evidence of genuine repentance (Proverbs 6:31, the example of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10). Usually this can be taken from luxury and entertainment spending for a short period. A person who has been living a parasitic and exploitative lifestyle (stealing in the Biblical sense includes fraud and deceit for financial gain: Leviticus 19:12 is an expansion of Exodus 20:15) needs to be directed to work and giving (Ephesians 4:28, I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

3. Debt: Buying on credit can produce debt which is an unwise use of money; the interest on the credit increases the cost of the purchase and leave the borrower in financial bondage (Proverbs 22:7). Generally, excessive debt results from extravagant, unnecessary and premature purchases. The new believer should be referred to a Christian financial counselor — preferably one who is a volunteer.

4. Homemakers: Stay at home mothers with preschool children already have a full time job on their hands. It is financial wisdom for a husband to seek to improve his income so that they can survive on one income during the years of childbearing and during the years the children are preschool. During the school age years of the children, starting a home based business might be wiser than returning to work for an employer. There is good scriptural precedence for this in Proverbs 31:24, and it would be in accord with Titus 2:5. Generally a homemaker with Christ as her Lord and Supervisor will plan her day so that there are no significant times of idleness during the day, and so that she may use the evening for relaxation, entertainment and family devotions. She can also plan for significant times of personal ministry during these hours, and certainly time for her personal Bible reading and prayer.

5. Prosperity theology (the ‘health and wealth’ gospel: Believers who are still new to Christ can be deceived by this unbalanced application of the scriptures. Christ promises sufficiency, not material riches. Scriptures such as I Timothy 6:9-10, Luke 6:24, 12:13-21, and 18:23-25 should adequately address this teaching that substitutes wealth for sufficiency. Contentment with what we have from God is his will for us (Hebrews 13:5-6, Philippians 4:11-13, Exodus 20:17).

6. The stockholder mentality of giving to a church: Some have had an unfortunate tendency to use their giving, which is to be to God, to attempt to influence the direction of the church according to personal preference. In the New Testament, the funds that were given to the church were put at the disposal of the leaders whom God had called and appointed for the uses that they announced and decided (Acts 4:35-37: “at the apostles’ feet” means “at the disposal of the apostles”). This is less of a temptation for those who are unable to give large amounts, but the general principle is that we give to support God’s work in God’s way, and not our personal preferences.


General Links:

Job Hunting:

Christian Jobs (formerly Intercristo): http://www.christianjobs.com/

Secular Links:


Interview Preparation Worksheet and Notes (Copy this into Microsoft Word, and use it to prepare for an interview and take notes during an interview)

Day and Date:

Location:

Meeting With:

  1. Name
  2. Title
  3. Company
  4. City, State Zip
  5. Telephone
  6. FAX
  7. Mobile/Pager
  8. E-mail

Major Accomplishments:

  1. Leadership and influence beyond the job description
  2. Catching major problems early

Management or Work Style:

  1. Creative/ innovative, intuitive
  2. Collaborative
  3. Analytic, pragmatic about solutions
  4. Independent
  5. Goal and results oriented
  6. Technically curious

Things You Need to Know About Me:

  1. Need fairly stable work schedule.
  2. Best results in positive, ethical, collaborative environment
  3. Need the technical tools to get the desired results
  4. Need management insulation from corporate politics at times

Reason I Left Last Job:

  1. Seeking position and organization more in line with career goals, work style, skill set

Answers to Difficult Questions:

My Strengths/Weaknesses:

  1. Learn, apply and share knowledge
  2. Excellent written/oral communication
  3. Focus on business objectives and results
  4. Able to troubleshoot, identify causes of serious problems

Things I Can Do For You:

  1. Make the whole team stronger
  2. Focus on business objectives, results, quality
  3. Work beyond the job description
  4. Provide process, discipline and best practices

Questions to Ask Interviewer:

  1. Duties and expected hours of the position
  2. Written job description
  3. Reporting structure, department
  4. Turnover, stability
  5. Internal politics of organization
  6. Type of work environment
  7. What computer software are already provided
  8. What kinds of training and development are available
  9. What is the advancement potential

Managerial Questions

  1. How do you encourage a fair and positive environment?
  2. How do you encourage initiative?
  3. How would you describe your communication style?
  4. How do you deal with constructive criticism (of both yourself and fellow employees)?
  5. How do you deal with negative criticism (of both yourself and fellow employees)?
  6. How do you deliver performance feedback?
  7. What would you say are good reasons to be a leader?
  8. What would you say are wrong reasons to be a leader?
  9. How do you deal with a consistently troublesome person on the job?
  10. Give an example, without names. What was troublesome about that person?
  11. How do you adjust your communication style to the person you are dealing with?
  12. What effect do your personal feelings about a person have on your treatment of that person (ask for examples)?


Here are a series of questions that I developed some years ago to gauge a person’s compatibility with a prospective manager during an interview. I never use all of them, but pick and choose as it appropriate. Several years ago one of my friends was impressed enough to have published these in the Mensa newsletter for Belgium.

Suggested Questions for a Prospective Hiring Manager

  • What access is there to be able to discuss risks, issues and what is going well?
  • What level of initiative is expected?
  • What sort of information is important for you to have in reports and one on ones?
  • How have you recently approached a situation where a direct report came to you with a problem or serious project issue?
  • How do you prefer to hear about problems or issues?
  • How do you prefer to hear about opportunities for improvements?
  • How do you prefer to hear about ideas and possible innovations?
  • Do you see value in allowing personal research and development time for developers?
  • How do you seek to understand and lead those who are different than you personally and technically?
  • How have you defined the boundaries of the positions of your direct reports in the past?
  • What problems are you hoping to solve with filling this open position?
  • What does a successful solution look like to you?
  • How will your circle of managerial responsibility be different after you fill this position than it is now?
  • What new initiatives, opportunities and challenges do you see for your area of managerial responsibility in the next month? In the next six months? In the next year? In the next two years?
  • What security access levels are necessary for the position?
  • What meetings, procedures or status reports are necessary?
  • What computer resources are provided, and what is the procedure for getting any which may be found later to be necessary or useful?
  • Who are good internal contacts to learn the environment and to learn how to get things accomplished in this environment?
  • What departmental system documentation and documentation of policies and procedures is available? How up to date is it?
  • Why are you in management? What has brought to seek, accept and remain in a management position?
  • How has your personal background prepared you to be in management?
  • What are you doing to improve your personal performance as a manager?
  • What would you say are right reasons to be in management? Wrong reasons?
  • What allowance do you make for differences of personal style in working among your subordinates?
  • How do you deal with situations where someone brings up criticisms of a coworker to you?
  • How do you deal with those who report to you whom you may not feel very comfortable, even dislike on some level?
  • How do you deliver feedback on performance to your direct reports?
  • How do you deal with feedback on your own personal performance as a manager from your subordinates?
  • How would you define a consistently troublesome subordinate?
  • How do you deal with a consistently troublesome subordinate?
  • How do you make sure that your direct reports have the skills to meet the challenges that face them?
  • How do you deal with a subordinate that wants to move on to a better position?
  • How would you deal with a subordinate that seems to be seeking to escape your management style?
  • How would you deal with a subordinate who is cooperative with you but very critical and competitive with his or her peers, even to the point of seeking to sabotage their work?
  • What has been the turnover among your direct reports since you became their manager?
  • What is your definition of hard work and expected effort?

Those Transitional Jobs . . .

Updated!

Csfguys34The following picture was taken about 9:00 PM during our evening break in the cafeteria at Nyack Hospital in Nyack, New York, during the summer of 1982. From left to right, these are three of my colleagues: Arnold, Ralph and Kevin. We had different job titles: Housekeeping Aide or Environmental Services Aide. Our responsibilities were primarily vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, stripping and waxing floors, cleaning stairwells, operating rooms, delivery rooms and the morgue, delivering laundry carts, taking out trash and moving furniture during internal hospital moves. Ralph had pretty much been doing the same work for years; for Arnold, Kevin and myself this job was paying for our expenses as we worked toward other goals in our career path and employment in our future.

At the time, I was attending Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York. There were also several others from both Nyack College and the seminary working in the hospital, and some working also as Environmental Services Aides. Our managers acknowledged that most of us were overqualified for the job as far as our education level, but they were genuinely glad to have us around for the time that we were there. I was probably the first and last Environmental Services Aide in that department that was fluent in ancient Greek and had read through the Iliad and the Odyssey in the original language. Yet I don’t remember any of us complaining about the work being beneath us or being trapped in a dead end job. Most of us were really glad to be able to work with one another, to get to know one another, to joke around some with each other and to be able to earn much of our support for our seminary education. Most of the time we really got along well together and worked in harmony. I know that the managers and supervisors in our department were glad for the clean and shiny floors that we were able to give them on a regular basis.

No one was under the illusion that the job that we were working at back then was going to be our career. No one was under the illusion that that job was all that we would ever do or all that we would ever be qualified to do. For myself, I viewed the job as God’s way to provide for my education and living expenses while I pursued a Master of Divinity degree. I later took up some temporary jobs when I was between pastorates, and I viewed them in the same way: as God’s way to provide for my needs at the time. During those years I could have sought a more lucrative permanent job and a career better suited to someone with a Master’s degree, but my heart was committed to the pastorate at that time, and I kept away from pursuing a permanent job when I could not give a commitment in good faith to an employer that I would do my best to stay with the job and the company for a reasonable amount of time.

Nevertheless, there are a number of lessons that transitional jobs give. I am afraid that someone who wants to go immediately into an illustrious career and a lucrative job may not understand the valuable experience that comes with these kinds of jobs. The summary description of what these jobs provide is: good work habits and marketable, transferable skills.

Transitional jobs help to develop habits of consistent attendance and punctuality.

Most of the transitional jobs on which I worked required punching a clock, and paid by the hour. Being late for work meant less take home pay, and could easily lead to a person losing his or her job. It also meant that workers learned to time their lunch breaks and scheduled work breaks carefully. The job required consistent attendance and punctuality, and a person simply learned to live his or her life around the work schedule.

Transitional jobs help to develop the habit of pulling one’s weight within a department.

The quickest way to become unpopular with one’s coworkers was to be someone who could not be relied upon to do his or her work responsibilities. Conversely, a way to become valued was to become known as someone whom others could rely on not only to do his or her share of work but to pitch in and get things done when more was required than in the job description. Work ethic mattered, since the others on the job did not like having to carry any unreliable and inconsistent coworker.

Transitional jobs help to develop habits of persistence and time management.

At the beginning of each shift the team reported to the manager, and each team member received his or her assigned task or series of tasks to be completed within the time of that shift. That was your primary responsibility during that time. So, you learned to concentrate on work during work hours to get your work done during that time. Although you could still act like a human being, greet and talk with others, you learned to save major socializing to break times and off work hours. You understood that your responsibility was to complete your assignment by the end of the shift.

Transitional jobs help to develop habits of teamwork and leadership.

One of the supervisors noted I could get the guys on the evening shift to work together on a task and get things done quickly and with pretty good spirits. What I did was simply to get enough of us together to get a task done quickly, and then let them go back to their assigned areas.

Transitional jobs help to develop habits of working with others of widely varying backgrounds.

The department at the hospital consisted of a number of Haitian immigrants, African Americans, white evangelical seminarians and college students and several others of various backgrounds. It was one of the more diverse workplaces where I had ever worked. We didn’t always understand what another person was saying clearly, and we didn’t get together outside of work much, if at all. But we learned to be considerate and helpful to each other. The Haitians especially did seem to appreciate someone trying to pronounce their names with a French accent and getting to know something about them.

Transitional jobs help to develop habits of dealing with difficult situations quickly and effectively.

Some of the cleaning problems that we would encounter from time to time were simply disgusting. A person simply learned to ignore the personal distaste, go forward, and get the task done with as few complaints as possible and without trying to get someone else to do it. Responsibility and initiative usually got the task done, and the sense of disgust usually vanished pretty quickly once it was done.

Transitional jobs help to develop habits of presenting ideas for improvement respectfully and professionally.

There was once that several of us received an assignment to strip and wax a series of white tile floors. As we looked at the floors, we saw some grayish areas, and I suggested that we add some bleach to the stripping compound. The others thought about it for a minutes, and then said that we would try it. It did help brighten the floor considerably, but it turned out to be something that we rarely did afterward because of the bleach smell while we were working. Nevertheless, we had a new idea which we could use when we might need it.

Transitional jobs help to develop habits of training others to do the same job quickly and effectively.

I was once assigned to train other summer workers in the summer of 1983. The supervisors were amazed that I could get them up to speed on some tasks quite easily. There was no secret to it: I just followed George Marshall’s old directions on training. Show them what you want done, show them how to do it, have them do it, and check back from time to time on them when they can do it for themselves.

Transitional jobs can teach the value of physical labor in itself.

The work that we performed was work that many people might have considered to be beneath them, but it fulfilled a great need in the hospital, since the infection rate in a hospital is tied to the general cleanliness of the environment. The work was not mentally challenging, since most of us who were there who had other long range career plans were definitely college material, if not already taking college courses or in graduate school. A number of us who were believers in Christ were doing this as a part of fulfilling our responsibility before God to use our gifts and talents for his glory, and most certainly we saw the greater fulfillment would be in our future as we gained our degrees, and we went elsewhere, some to more prestigious and lucrative secular jobs, some to pastorates, and some to the mission field.

For others, though, these jobs were not so much to pay for a transition to another field, but as an entry into the same general industry or profession. Not everyone wants or is suitable for a high paying white collar career; in fact for many, an adequately paying career which does not require the heavy investment of time and money in a university education will be what is more suited to their capabilities and ambitions. Moreover, a career in itself will not ultimately bring satisfaction to anyone, and for some, a high powered career may do incredible damage to their health, family life and walk with Christ. It’s noteworthy that Jesus, Peter and several of the Galilean disciples, and Paul had all worked at physical jobs – carpenter/artisan, fishermen, and tentmaker. Moreover, in these jobs, they would all have had to function as small businessmen as well, to find their own customers, negotiate their own contracts and remuneration, track their own finances, pay their own taxes, and hire and pay any employees themselves – large companies and corporations in the modern sense were practically unknown at that time.

For myself, this experience taught me the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:13 and 5:12: “That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in his toil – this is the gift of God . . . The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much.”

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Biblical Wisdom Means Wise Diligence

Biblical wisdom, the application of the Word of God in our daily life, counsels both skill and diligence in daily work, and rebukes laziness. Here are some representative scriptures:

Proverbs 10:4: “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.”

Proverbs 12:24: “Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.”

Proverbs 19:15: “Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man goes hungry.”

Proverbs 21:5: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”

Proverbs 22:29: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.”

Ecclesiastes 10:10: “If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.”

In the current culture, there’s a saying: “Don’t work harder, but smarter.” This would pretty much be what Solomon is saying here. What does this mean? Skill, planning, and continued effort; not lots of continued, fruitless and undirected activity.

One of the classic statements on the Biblical directives for wealth is John Wesley’s sermon, ‘The Use of Money.’ It’s famous for the three points of “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.” In it he advises, “Gain all you can by honest industry. Use all possible diligence in your calling . . . Gain all you can, by common sense, by using in your business all the understanding which God has given you . . . You should be continually learning, from the experience of others, or from your own experience, reading, and reflection, to do everything you have to do better to-day than you did yesterday. And see that you practise whatever you learn, that you may make the best of all that is in your hands.”

But diligence does not mean becoming a workaholic! Again, Wesley makes the point extremely well: “. . . we ought not to gain money at the expense of life, nor (which is in effect the same thing) at the expense of our health. Therefore, no gain whatsoever should induce us to enter into, or to continue in, any employ, which is of such a kind, or is attended with so hard or so long labour, as to impair our constitution. Neither should we begin or continue in any business which necessarily deprives us of proper seasons for food and sleep, in such a proportion as our nature requires.”

What will Christian diligence look like, then? Here are some suggestions:

  • It will mean seeking always to put in full and honest effort for the day’s pay. This will mean avoidance of personal business or pursuits such as Internet shopping, casual surfing or socializing on company time, use of company assets for personal use, keeping rest  breaks reasonable, etc.
  • It will mean keeping up with developments in one’s profession, such as engineering, medicine, law, automobile repair or information technology. For instance, I long ago read that most people in information technology read only one technical manual per year. If anyone simply reads two manuals, that person will be doing twice as well as the average. For myself, I will usually go through six technical manuals or references per year.
  • It will mean, where a Christian works as part of a team, sharing knowledge and helping the others on the team work better as a whole.
  • It will mean using vacations, sick time and other personal time off wisely and with integrity, to refresh and renew the mind, body and spirit.
  • It will mean keeping one’s vocation and employment in proper perspective, with other Biblical directives and responsibilities for one’s family and church involvement.
  • It will mean seeking God’s glory in one’s work time, rather than personal status and fulfillment (Colossians 3:16-17), because it is in our relationship with God through Christ that we find our true purpose and fulfillment.