God's Plans

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

Most of us believe there has to be more to our lives than what we see and experience.
So much of what we do seems meaningless so much of the time.
For instance:
We mow the grass; and it grows again and we have to mow it again.
We clean the house; it gets dirty and we have to clean it again.
We go to work -- we get our paycheck and we spend it.
We go back to work so we can get another paycheck and spend it.

Many would take a look at all this activity, and say, "What is the use of it all?
Why am I doing this
?"
Surely life has to be more than mowing grass, cleaning house, working, etc.
We wish to give our lives to more than this.
We want them to be meaningful.

Solomon understood that feeling because he had also experienced many such feelings.
He knew that the secular-minded person also feels it.
So he paints us a vivid word picture that declares that God's plan encompasses everything,
even mowing lawns and cleaning houses and changing diapers and earning a living -- all of it.

Take a look at God's all-encompassing plan.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (3:1)
it is reassuring to know that "there is a right time for everything."
To illustrate his statement, Solomon list 14 pairs of opposites that are a part of God's plan.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace,
and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace
."

While there is something very comforting about the list that Solomon reports,
this regularity has some disturbing implications.

First, if everything is part of God's plan and has its time, then I must not be as free as I thought.
Someone or something bigger than me must be calling the shots and making the rules.
After all, it seems that I have very little choice about the circumstances that caused me
to weep or to laugh.

In the second place, and equally devastating, this list implies that nothing I do has permanence.
"If I am only going to die, why be born?
And if what I've build up will only break down,
why bother doing anything
?"

While the believer (who knows Who is in charge) finds a great comfort in this regularity,
it is a devastating problem for the person who leaves God out of the picture and out of their lives.

The promoters of our popular culture also know this and they lament the hopelessness
that they experience without God while they continue to move toward their day of death
stubbornly refusing to acknowledge God in any meaningful way.

Let's look ahead for a moment at the end of the book were Solomon gives us the key to his logic.
How can he look at this endless cycle and see freedom and meaning
where the secular man without God can only see slavery and meaningless?

The reason for Solomon's security lies in these words:
"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil
." (12:13, 14)

That is the key -- God is in charge!
The person who fears God and honors Him and keeps His commandments can be secure
in the gracious love of the God who created him.
That is where the difference lies.

It is interesting to observe the contrast in these verses.
God's plan includes our birth and our death (3:2), both of which are beyond our control.
It includes killing -- probably a reference to war or executing those who have taken the life
of one made in the image of God. (Genesis 9:6)
it also includes healing, as well as times when families and nations are divided
and times when they are strengthened. (Ecclesiastes 3:3; Jeremiah 18:7-10)

God's plan includes times for sorrow and for joy, times for mourning and for celebration.
(Ecclesiastes 3:4)
God's plan includes gain and loss. (Ecclesiastes 3:6)
Also there is a time to guard what we have, and the time to give away our possessions.

This is an interesting comment in view of Solomon statement in 1:3 that there is no profit, no gain.
God's plan includes mourning and ceasing one's mourning. (Verse 7)
The reference to tearing one's clothes probably refers to the custom of tearing one's garments
after an expression of grief, and mending them when the time of mourning was complete.
(2 Samuel 13:31)

There are times when it is best to speak, and there are other times when it is wise to remain silent
or when it is a waste of one's efforts to speak. (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

The calamities of life are also in God's plan.
The love and hate mentioned in verse 8 do not refer to personal relationships
as much as it does to affairs among nations.
There is also "a time for war" when God takes up the sword to destroy
the wicked nations of the earth, and a time in His plan when peace is to rule.
I hate war, and I believe most of you hate war.
I also believe that God hates war even when He has to use it to bring judgment
among the nations.

Even our best plans fail. (Verse 6)
People die and wars erupt, and only the person who trusts in the goodness of God
can look at it and know that somehow it is contained in the providence of God.
This is not to say that God plans our troubles, but He does permit them.
God makes everything work together with all of our experiences for good.

People with a temporal value system have trouble understanding the providence of God.
It is as difficult for the secular mind today as it was in the time of Solomon.
But nevertheless, it is still true.
God can be trusted to accomplish His own purposes.

God makes even the unlovely beautiful.

We can only see a small part of what is happening in God's world.
The plans of God are not chaotic; they are perpetually changing.
His plans have a beginning and an end.
Everything fits together.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-11: "What does the worker gain from his toil?
I have seen the burden God has laid all men.
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men;
yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end
."

After all the seasons are over, what have I gained?
What is my profit?
And, as Solomon has done repeatedly, he forces the secularist to confront
all those opposites that neutralize each other.

"If I'm here and then die, it would make just as much sense
if I hadn't been born at all, wouldn't it?"
"If there is time for sewing and the time for tearing, why bother to sew?
What profit, what point is there in doing anything
."

Having exposed the moral bankruptcy of a secular viewpoint, Solomon presses home
the point he wishes to make.
"I've seen these opposites. I know they are real.
But God has ordained them, and He has made everything beautiful in its time
."

The word, "beautiful", has a wider meaning than aesthetic beauty; it also means "appropriate."
God has made everything appropriate for its time -- it all fits.
So, when each part of our lives "fits" God's plan, it is beautiful, and it is appropriate.
Romans 8:28 says the same thing: "And we know that in all things God works for the good
of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose
."

Neither Solomon nor the apostle Paul said that we will like everything in life.
We might even become the victims of a murder, of war, or of a business failure.
That is in God's hands.

But in happy days or sad -- good circumstances or evil -- when all our life is within God's plan,
it is appropriate and beautiful for the person who fears God, and keeps His commandments.
(See Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Here is a good illustration.
If you go to a large state or county fair, you'll notice that some of the heavy-equipment companies
bring a very unusual object along with their displays.
They bring a model of a transmission cut away so you can see the gears at work.
Some gears go in one direction, and others go another; but they all work together
to make the axle go in the direction the person operating the vehicle chooses.

When looking at the gears in a machine, people often wonder,
"How can one gear go this way, one another, and others go theirs,
and yet, the axle turns the wheel in the right direction
?"
Someone designed it to work that way.

Life works like that engine.
Some things go our way, and some things appear to go against us.
Actually, who are we to know which is which?
We experience all sorts of events, and for the life of us we cannot know
how it is working together for our good.
But it is.
It is beautiful.
It is appropriate.
God made it that way.

Being born and dying.
Weeping and laughing.
Sewing and tearing.
Killing and healing.
War and peace.
God is big enough and powerful enough to handle all of it.

God's plan requires us to return to Him.

I read of a man who sailed from the United States to England in a one-person rowboat.
In the celebration that followed his arrival, a reporter asked his wife
if she had been afraid he would fail.
"Oh, no, "she replied, "I knew the one who made the boat."

It is vitally important to know the One who made the plans.
It is important to know what He is like.
"He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom
what God has done from beginning to end
." (3:11)

Solomon says that God has put eternity in our hearts.
What is that eternity?
It is that part of us that says, "We are made for more than all this.
Yes. I sow and reap and clean and cook and eat.
But the clothes are going to wear out,
and I will have to harvest the grain again next year,
and the house will get dirty, and I will have to prepare my meals again tomorrow.
But I do not live for that
!"

God has put within us the knowledge that this world is not enough for us.
He created us to have intellectual curiosity, but He did not give us the capacity
to know everything about life.
We cannot know how all of life fits together.
No one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (3:11)

How wonderful?
If someone says to you, "I don't know how that fits into God's plan for my life."
And you can say, "I don't know either, but God does."

That should be enough for all of us.
If we knew all that God knows, what kind of God would we have?

And as we look at verses 12 to 15, we learned of different meanings for the believer
and the unbeliever.
"I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and to good while they live.
That every man may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil -- this is a gift of God.
I know that everything God does will endure forever;
nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.
God does it, so man will revere him.
Whatever it has already been, and what has been before; and God will call the past to account
."

For the unbeliever, these words signify utter hopelessness.
Since everything is God's gift (verse 13), and we cannot add to or subtract
from God's work (verse 14); the unbeliever is trapped in a system that cannot bend or break.

To the modern secular mind, verses 14 and 15 are cries of despair.
There is no hope, no exit as one philosopher has taught. (Jean Paul Sarte)
Existence is a closed system for the unbeliever.
He cannot escape it or make it bend or break for him.

Therefore, this message becomes a severe burden.
Romans 11:22 says, "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God;
sternness to those who fail, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness
."

But it is a far different story for the one who knows God.
God is love (1 John 1:8), therefore nothing is in vain (in contrast to human efforts;
(Ecclesiastes 1:3); for His love lasts forever.

The times of weeping and of laughter also come from God.
His plans need no mid-course corrections. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)
Earlier, in describing the world as secular men and women experience it,
Solomon said, "Life is so vain. It does not last; it is transitory."

But then, speaking of the truth and not describing the predicament of the one who ignores God,
he says, "As a matter of fact, life is not temporary. What God does lasts forever."
It is only because of our limited vision that the events of life seems so disjointed.

Why is life like that?
"God does it, so man will revere him." (3:14)
In several other verses in Ecclesiastes, Solomon says we are to fear God.
(5:7; 7:18; 8:12, 13 [3 times]; 12:13)
Why is it so important to fear the Lord?

First, we must remember the commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me."
(Exodus 20:3)

God alone is God.
He alone knows everything.
If we knew what He knows, then we would be as God. (Isaiah 14:14)
Indeed, we would be God.

But even more important, the fear of God represents a relationship of love.
In thanking God for His provision of forgiveness, the psalmist says,
"But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared." (Psalm 130:4)

The fear of God is a responsive love for His goodness in creating us,
and in forgiving us of our sins.
To fear God is to love Him, to commit ourselves to Him without reservation,
and say, "Lord, you alone are Lord, and I love you."

We do not always see that everything is beautiful, or appropriate
but we can believe because of what we know about God.
Knowing His character, and knowing Him personally, gives us the basis for faith
that "He has made everything beautiful in it's time."

"Everything is Beautiful" is a song by Ray Stevens.
It has appeared on many of Stevens' albums, including one named after the song,
and has become a pop standard and common in religious performances.

Refrain:
"Everything is beautiful in its' own way,
Like a starry summer night
or a snow covered winter's day.

Everybody's beautiful in their own way,
Under God's heaven, the world's gonna find a way.
There is none so blind as he who will not see.
We must not close our minds,
we must let our thoughts be free.

For every hour that passes by,
you know the world gets a little bit older.
It's time to realize that beauty lies
in the eyes of the beholder.

We shouldn't care about the length of his hair
or the color of his skin.
Don't worry about what shows from without
but the loves that lives within.

We're gonna get it all together
And everything's gonna work out just fine.
Just take a little time to look on the good side
and straighten it out in your mind.

Everything is beautiful in its' own way,
Like a starry summer night
or a snow covered winter's day.
Everybody's beautiful in their own way,
Under God's heaven, the world's gonna find a way.
Under God's heaven, the world's gonna find a way
. "

Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White