Finding Happiness and Satisfaction

Ecclesiastes 1:12 -- 2:26

All of us have restless hearts.
There is something in us that is never, really satisfied – we are never content.
We usually always want more.
We want something better.
We want… we want… we want!

I read of a man who had a job as a salesman.
Unsure of himself, he worked harder and longer than the rest of the sales staff in order to prove himself.
Beginning with the company's poorest sales territory, he turned it into the second best
before his first year was completed.
From that time on, until the day he burned out and collapsed, he never had less
than 100% increase in sales each year.

He said, "I would go in for my annual review in December, and my boss would
look at my sales figures, grin and say,
'I've only got one word to say -- More
!'"

Shaking his head, he said, "You know, I should have been mad.
I was already doing the best job in the company.
But it never bothered me, because it was the same word that haunted me every day of the year.
More!
I drove myself over the edge.
I cannot blame anyone else.
I was just never satisfied with what I did, even when it was the best
."

King Solomon had more than anyone.
Because he was a king, he could try everything in life that his heart desired.
And, after having searched in the same places we search – intellectual pursuits, pleasure,
social and material achievement – he concluded that there was no real satisfaction to be found in any of them.

So, he decided to conduct an experiment.
We understand experiments.
From our youth, we are taught how to test ideas, and see if they work, and evaluate them,
and then, draw our conclusions.

Now let us study Solomon as he tests life to see if there is any satisfaction to be found
in the places were we all usually look.

So, look with me in Ecclesiastes 1:12-15:
"I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that was done under heaven.
What a heavy burden God has laid on men!
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless,
a chasing after the wind.
What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted
."

Solomon begins his experiment by revealing his conclusion.
He summarizes it, and then goes beyond just what may be observed in nature.
He knows that all of us are restless and unsatisfied – that much can be observed.
But he attributes this dissatisfaction to God:
"What a heavy burden God has laid on men!" (1:13)

The wisdom of which Solomon talks is human, secular wisdom.

The "heavy burden" is every human activity that does not have God at the center;
it is an inevitable result of living without God as the focus of one's life.

It was true then.
It is true now.
Everything we can observe in this world is pointless in itself.
It goes nowhere – it is like "chasing after the wind."

Down inside we know there is more, but we cannot understand it.
Every time we think we have almost found it, it evades us.
That is what life is like.

Then in Ecclesiastes 1:15, he tells us we cannot change it.
"What is twisted cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted
."

Today's English Version says it well:
"You cannot straightened out what is crooked;
you cannot count things that aren't there
."

There are many things we cannot change.
Life has many flaws – it always will.

Take a look with me at a traveling businessman on an airplane with his attache case open,
and then he takes out his clip-board to do some paperwork.
He appeared pleased with life, until a young woman with one baby in her arms and another in an infant seat,
along with a two-year-old toddler, who crowded into the two seats next to him.

It seemed as if all three children cried or yelled throughout the entire flight.
A man sitting in the seat in front of him turned to see how he was doing.
He could see the look on his face.
It was as if he had received a painful injection and was waiting for it to take effect.

There will always be problems and annoyances in our lives that simply cannot be corrected.
Tired, afraid, upset babies will always be with us – God bless them.
So will sickness, hatred, injustice and untimely death.

The bad news is that it will always be that way.
Even the best things in life have their defects.
But the good news is that they do not have to affect our inner joy.
External circumstances do not make or break us.
It is how we handle them that is far more important.

The Experiment

Solomon begins to examine the best things that our world has to offer us.
They are the things that we still seek today.
And if we will look over his shoulder as he conducts his experiment, we will gain the benefit of his experience.

First, Solomon examines wisdom.


We must keep in mind that he is looking at the known, observable world.
This is a world apart from God, the world "under the sun."
We need to distinguish the wisdom he is evaluating – human knowledge – from true wisdom,
which comes from God (Proverbs 9:10) and enables us to see things as God does (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

We find this information in Ecclesiastes 1:16-18:
"I thought to myself. 'Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone
who has ruled over Jerusalem before me;
I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge,
Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom and also all of madness and folly,
but I learned this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; more knowledge, and the more grief
."

What did he discover?
After probing wisdom he says, "to know wisdom and to know madness is folly" – that is,
so he could be wise rather than foolish – he declared, "This, too, is a chasing after the wind."

Why?
The more he learned, the more reason he had for grief and sorrow.
The clearer he could think, the more clearly he could see how easily life can go wrong,
and that nothing on earth is permanent.

The more we learn, the more we realize how little we know.

As we discover new information, we see whole areas where we know nothing,
and in which we can never hope to learn anything.
We realize that we live in a world where knowledge is limited, and our ability to control the future is an illusion.
The more we learn, the clearer we see how precarious life really is.

All of us will die (2:15); eventually time and chance catch up with us (see 9:11, 12);
and we never know once we are gone if our efforts will prosper or fail. (2:19)

There are no guarantees; and the more clearly we look at life, the more vividly we see that.

The more we know, the more we see how we make mistake after mistake.
Our blunders are embarrassing, and they also bring us much grief.
More knowledge does not necessarily lead to more enlightened living -- frequently, it leads to greater evil.
We live in a day of knowledge and explosion, and yet humanity is closer than ever to destroying itself
with war, violence, and brutality.

We Christians need to be careful here.
Further education is fine; it may be smack in the center of God's will for us.
We must never use our pursuit of knowledge to provide the satisfaction and peace
that can be found only in Christ and His kingdom.
The enemy of our souls can easily take our college degrees or our Phd's after our names, and make it an idol.

So what do we do?
I believe in getting a good education – I have been doing that all of my life.
We must encourage our children in school, and we must continue to learn as adults.

But scholarly wisdom that has no room for God at its center is of no ultimate value.
We must seek the wisdom that comes from God.

Second, Solomon examines pleasure.

Why not?
We can relate to pleasure.
We live in a time when there are more pleasures available – good and bad – than we could ever experience.
Our society is saturated with the pursuit of pleasure.

In chapter 2: 1-3, Solomon addresses pleasure:
"Laughter," I said, 'is foolish.
And what does pleasure accomplish?'
I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom.
I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven the few days of their lives."

Who could test pleasure more thoroughly than a king?
Solomon had more wealth and power than anyone – so why not he?
If wisdom will not give us what we expect from it, let us escape into unlimited pleasure.

Solomon's conclusion: "That also proved to be meaningless." (2:1)

In another place, Solomon wrote, "A cheerful heart is good medicine." (17:22)
Solomon is not making light of the value of entertainment or laughter,
only love and expecting more from it than it can provide.

Laughter can be therapeutic – we need it.
But when it is what we live for – when it is a goal of our lives rather than a result – it eludes us.

So why not get drunk?
Solomon said: "I tried cheering myself with wine." (2:3)

Surely, he knew better.
He himself had painted a vivid picture of the alcohol-saturated life.

We see what he has to say in Ecclesiastes 23:29-35:
"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints?
Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?

Those who linger over wine, who give two sample bowls of mixed wines.
Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!
In the end it by us like a snake and poisons like a viper.

Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things.
You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging.
'They hit me,' you will say, 'but I'm not hurt!
They beat me, but I didn't feel it
."

With the large numbers of automobile accidents, divorce and child abuse cases related to drinking,
it is obvious that people continue to seek pleasure through drunkenness.
And it is no less painful and empty today than as it was in Solomon's time.

Note that Solomon does not say it is wrong to enjoy ourselves.
We need pleasure, just as we need knowledge.
But the advice of Paul is still true today: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do,
do it all for the glory of God
." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

We are to live for God's glory.
When we do so, all of life will be sacred, including our pleasure.
But pleasure will not bring us the satisfaction we desire.

Third, Solomon examines achievement.

Now Solomon has covered the bases.
If you find someone who is not immersed in education or pleasure, chances are he or she is striving for success.
Millions look for their satisfaction here, especially if they have tried the others and found them lacking.
Could so many people be wrong?

Listen to Solomon's words: "I undertook great projects:
I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.
I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.
I brought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house.
I also own more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasurer of kings and provinces.
I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well – the delights of the heart of man.

I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a tasting after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun
." (Ecclesiastes 2:4 – 11)

Solomon tried to create his own Garden of Eden.
He built houses and vineyards and parks and orchards.
He made pools and bought slaves and herds and flocks.
He accumulated silver and gold, musicians and concubines.
He indulged every whim and satisfied every appetite imaginable.

Very few persons could match his ability to give the acid test to achievement.
If anyone can find satisfaction in his accomplishments, certainly King Solomon would have done so.

Even our modern millionaires and billionaires with all their wealth could not outdo him.
He even enjoyed his job.
But what was Solomon's verdict?

"Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun."
(2:11)
He goes on to say, "It's not here either!
I still have not found anything worthwhile.
It's all vanity, empty.
Achievement is empty.
Possessions are like grasping at the wind.
Nothing can be gained from them
."

How good it is of God to share this experiment with us.
We can learn from it, and hopefully not make the same mistakes.

But we can learn from our past also.
Remember that object you just had to have.
You positively knew it would bring satisfaction.

Did it bring you lasting satisfaction?
Of course not – only God can provide lasting satisfaction.

Solomon's Evaluation of Human Desire

So far Solomon has been very harsh on the things that people desire the most
– knowledge, pleasure, and achievement.
He now doubles back over his experiment to evaluate and explain just why it turned out as it did.
He begins with wisdom and pleasure, or folly – Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 -- --

Solomon had been testing wisdom and folly in his experiment.
He recognized that we might be tempted to doubt the truth of his experiment; so he reminds us.
"What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done?"

It is as if he is saying, "Come on, now.
I am a hard act to follow.
What are you going to try that I haven't done?
In fact, you can only do some of what I've done
."

Even wisdom without God is better than foolishness without Him.
It is so much better as light is to darkness. (2:13)
A wise person has his eyes "in his head," but a fool walks around as though his eyes are shut. (2:14)

And yet, there is a problem.
It is a simple one.
We are human beings, and we will all die.

If "the same fate overtakes them both… what then do I gain by being wise?" (2:14, 15)
If the wise person and the fool suffer the same fate, why seek wisdom?

To add insult to injury, Solomon reminds us that both the fool than the wise person
"will be forgotten" in the future.
No one will even remember them.
What is more mortifying about our mortality than this?
It mocks everything that is important to us.

But there is a solution.
In 3:11, Solomon gives his answer.
What we see here is not the whole picture.
If we eliminate God from our lives, a gloomy view is the right one.
But when we live for God, life takes on new meaning.

There is a godly wisdom that makes all the difference in the world.
The book of Daniel speaks of it: "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens,
and those who lead many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever
." (Daniel 12:3)

And in Revelation 14:13 we are told, concerning those who die in the Lord,
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, Yes, says the Spirit, 'they will rest from their labor,
for their deeds will follow them."


The fact that Solomon was bitter about this cruel hoax –
"So I hated life."
Ecclesiastes 2:17 also says something about the solution to the dilemma it poses.
It almost reaches forward to the marvelous words of chapter 3,
"He has set eternity in the hearts of men" (verse 11), to declare Solomon's faith,
and to explain where real satisfaction can be found.

Solomon is not ready to quit his experiment.
He wants to keep at it.
So he returns to humanities' achievements.
But even that, only bitterness is to be found.

Ecclesiastes 2:18-23 -- --

Remember now, he was the king.
It is not as if he were under-employed.
Being king is not a bad job.

But he is angry – really mad!
"It really angers me," he is saying.
"I'm going to work hard all my life.
I'm going to amass a fortune, and someone else will get it.
I don't like that at all
."

And furthermore, "He may be a fool and waste it."
In fact, that is exactly what Solomon son Rehoboam did.
He played the fool, and took poor advice, and his kingdom was split. (1 Kings 12)

There is an interesting lesson to be found here.

Solomon talks about the man whose consuming passion is his work;
"he has so much on his mind that he cannot sleep at night." (Ecclesiastes 2:23)
The psalmist wrote in Psalm 127:2: "In vain you rise early and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves
."

God wants us to work, but He wants us to order our priorities, and not make an idol of our work.

Jesus had the best plan when He said,
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)
Jesus did not mean that we would no longer need to work, and that we could just lie around all day.
He will give us rest in our work.

"Take my yoke upon you… and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:29, 30)

It is still a yoke; but it is the yoke of Jesus, and it fits.
It does not chafe.
It is good, for there is rest for our souls in the midst of our labor.

I have often thought of how Jesus lived His life.
As far as I can tell, He was never in a hurry, and He never wasted time.
When I am in a hurry, I'm going faster than He is.

When I am wasting time – and I am not necessarily talking about relaxation or entertainment
– it is when I am a poor steward.
Jesus never gives us more to do than He gives us time to do it.

John Wesley once said, "Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry,
because I never undertake more work than I can go through with calmness of spirit
."

Satisfaction

What is Solomon's conclusion to the matter?

He repeats this message in Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 and in 11: normal 7-10,
but his basic point is that satisfaction comes in receiving God's gifts and using them
for the purpose that God intends.
"A man can do nothing better…" (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)

Verse 24 can be translated from Hebrew to English as,
"There is nothing inherent in men and women that allows them to enjoy eating and drinking
and finding enjoyment in their toil
."

Let us say it another way:
"Man has nothing within himself that allows him to enjoy life."
We cannot truly enjoy life apart from God.
That is the sum of the matter.

The experiment is a failure, as far as secular man is concerned.
What began as a grand program to discover all those wonderful areas of life
and that we can be the masters of our own fates and the captains of our souls has been reduced
to the simple fact that we do not have the ability to find satisfaction in anything.

Satisfaction is a gift from God – just like salvation.

When we can take our knowledge, our pleasure, and our work as gifts from God,
then our research has found its goal.
And we have found all the good things that God has in store for us is ours.
Death will take away none of that satisfaction.

There is a crowning irony in the last verse of this chapter.
Notice the contrast between what God gives – wisdom, knowledge, and joy
– and which humanity strives so hard to amass, but cannot keep.

Even that, we are told, will go to the righteous.
But the righteous have their treasure in heaven. (Matthew 6:21) for their hearts will be there also.

This sermon was adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White