Well, things generally seem to be going well (code: God's covenant community here is headed in the right direction, so don't interpret the following as a critique of them or a hint that I'm updating my resume!!). I've noticed, though, as I preach through Ecclesiastes that God is testing me with my own words. How confounded am I by the "vanity of vanities"? Am I taking His gifts to me day by day and trusting Him with everything else? Or am I typically me - quickly overwhelmed when problems crop up in an otherwise charmed life?
I wonder if the Preacher (קהלת) of Ecclesiastes, as he preached to the gathered (קהל) covenant people of God, heard the words "vanity of vanities, all is vanity" echo back to him with every word he preached to the people?
"Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I. Send me!' He said, 'Go, and tell this people: "Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand"'" (Isaiah 6:8,9). Not exactly an inspiring call to ministry, is it? What I can't help but notice is that Isaiah has already self-identified with his people ("I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips," vs. 5). I wonder if that was true of his own inability to hear himself preach at times? I also can't help but notice how many times these verses are quoted by Jesus (Matthew 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40) and Paul (Acts 28:26; Romans 11:8). If it were just my people that weren't hearing the sermon, I could - with some weird prideful boasting - feel pretty smug about standing with the Lord and the apostle on this. But it's me not hearing. That's awkward.
What about Ezekiel? I love Ezekiel. His commission's not much better, is it? “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!’ As He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of
I know what God's doing in Ecclesiastes - and in reality through the "vanity of vanities." I see God blessing man (as male and female, Genesis 1:27) by giving him the commission to "be fruitful and multiply...fill...subdue...rule" (1:28). I see the Rebellion and the curse that matches the commission: "...I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth...cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:16-19). I know that, as a result, everything is "subjected to futility" (Romans 8:20). "Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent?" (Ecclesiastes 7:12). I KNOW, I KNOW!!!
But knowing doesn't take away the "vanity of vanities." That's where we were last Sunday in Ecclesiastes 3:1-15. Confess the absolute sovereignty of God over everything that happens in our lives (3:1-10). I do. Still get frustrated by the "vanity of vanities" (3:11)? I do.
I'm living the sermon, I suspect. Nasty joke there, God. Except that I know it's not a joke. I know what You're doing, even in the midst of this stress. "I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him" (3:14). You're teaching me to fear You more. Which means You're teaching me wisdom and deepening my daily faith, trust, and thankfulness in You as You continually give me the gifts of work and pleasure (2:24,25; 3:13; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:8,9). You give me the manna for this day alone, and I fume (Exodus 16:1-26; Numbers 11:1-35). My own mouth, graciously used by You to feed Your people from Your Word, aches. This set of teeth made by the "vanity of vanities" hurts as I try to gnaw the same food.
Well, from this place in the middle of the week (between the sermons), I've also been burdened with a new prayer for Your people: may they hear better than their preacher and get it the first time. Please.