"Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work -- this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart." (Ecclesiastes 5:19-20)
Let's be honest. Ninety-some percent of us reading these words would have to admit that on any kind of a global scale — even in the middle of our current economic mess — God has given us wealth and possessions. Are you willing to enjoy the ones you have?
Thousands of years later, the Apostle Paul wrote a chapter in 1 Timothy much like this one in Ecclesiastes. He said this: "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."
Someone told me recently that one of the secrets to living with and without money is to learn to "want what you've got." Play with your toys, don't just collect them. Don't resent today's work; accept that this is what God has for you today. Be great at it and/or have great fun doing it. It's His gift to you.
Think: What are the top 5 things you want out of life that you already have? When was the last time you admitted that God gave you those things to enjoy because He loves you?
Pray: Ask God to help you to put all of your hope in Him. Thank Him that He richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
Do: Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10 and 17-19. Notice the similarities between what we've read from Ecclesiastes 5 this week and what Paul had to say about money and contentment. Also catch what Paul wrote about sharing our money.
"Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him — for this is his lot." (Ecclesiastes 5:18)
We've spent this whole week listening to the richest, wisest man who ever lived beat up on money. At least, that's what it sounded like. Actually, he was beating up on money as a goal or money as an answer or money as a reason for getting out of bed in the morning.
But his conclusions today and tomorrow are almost as surprising as his complaints. He doesn't tell us to be done with money, to take a vow of poverty. He doesn't tell us, as Jesus told the rich man, to sell all we have and give the money to the poor and follow Him.
Instead, he tells us to make a choice to be satisfied in whatever moment we find ourselves. Spend some of the money you have for food, and eat the food. Be satisfied with the food. Go do your work, whatever that is today, even if it is very hard and life is very short. And be satisfied with doing it well. And let that be enough for right now.
Lower your expectations for money and notice what a satisfying moment this one can be. More tomorrow.
Think: How many of your moments do you spend feeling satisfied with what you have and what you're doing? Do you think you can choose to be satisfied in any given moment, even if you don't have everything you wish you had? How does being a Christian help make that even more possible?
Pray: Thank God for the moment you're in right now, and ask Him to help you to be satisfied with what He's given you to do in this moment. Repeat.
Do: Spend the next few days noticing how often you choose to be satisfied with the moment you're in and how often you reject satisfaction in the moment because you don't have what you want.
"Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?" (Ecclesiastes 5:15-16)
Solomon's number one reason that making money is a lousy life goal is so well-known it's become a cliché: "You can't take it with you."
Even if you avoid all the other ways in which money disappoints — taxes, no such thing as "enough," the high cost of owning stuff, the worry of owning stuff, the pain of spending, and sudden economic catastrophe — nobody gets by this one. Everybody dies naked and broke.
Why spend a lifetime hoping and wishing and scheming and working your tail off for money if when the lifetime ends, you just leave it all behind? And we still need money, so how should we work for it and think about it? Solomon will finally give us some positive answers to those questions starting tomorrow.
Think: The fact that everyone dies can either make life feel pointless or give the time we have on this side of heaven all that more meaning. Which do you feel more often? How does being a Christian change your response to the shortness of our lives?
Pray: Ask God to keep reminding you when you need it that money will always fail to truly satisfy you.
Do: Make a quick list of 3 things you can do this week that will still matter after you've died. (Note: This is not a trick question.)
"I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him." (Ecclesiastes 5:13-14)
Next up on Solomon's fail list: Money is fickle. People pile it up and pile it up hoping that money will give them security, take care of them when they're old, or keep them from having to worry.
Instead, a percentage of the rich can't bring themselves to spend any of it even when they really need it. Some misers with millions in the bank die from malnutrition or diseases that could have easily been cured if they'd been willing to pay a doctor to look at them.
An even larger group of wealthy folks experience some sudden economic disaster. They turn around and notice all their piles have blown away overnight, either from their own bad choices or something completely beyond their control. All it takes is one financial catastrophe to prove that money can't be trusted to provide what we really need.
Think: Are you ever tempted to think that if you or your family just had enough money, your problems would be over? Why do you think cash is so undependable?
Pray: Ask God to help you to believe that money is not a good place to look for security or peace of mind.
Do: If they're willing to talk about it, ask someone with a retirement account (like your parents or grandparents) how many dollars disappeared from that account in the last year or so.
"The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep." (Ecclesiastes 5:12)
Maybe you read this verse and think, "I don't really need all that much sleep; I wouldn't mind some more abundance to keep me up at night." Most of us would sell our sleep for dollars. Eventually, many of us do.
But Solomon's point here is that money and cool stuff fails in another way: Taking care of it all takes time, attention, energy, and often worry. It's not just that we lose sleep; wealth can also steal our peace of mind.
When we're hungry for money or the stuff it can buy, we're hoping for exactly the opposite of that, aren't we? "If I just had [fill in blank], then I'd be content." Solomon shows us the lie: "Having" often swipes the contentment we thought we were buying and gives us a maintenance list instead.
Is your next purchase worth it?
Think: Have you ever heard anyone talk about having lots of stuff as though it were a burden? Have you ever heard anyone talk about being happier back in the day when they were more broke? Why would anyone say those things?
Pray: Ask God to help you to trust Him, not stuff, to bring you peace of mind. Ask Him to give you the courage not to expect money or things to bring you contentment.
Do: Do you have an abundance? Take a quick inventory of everything you personally own. Put a check mark next to anything you have to continue to take care of or replace or protect.
"As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?" (Ecclesiastes 5:11)
Solomon the economist spells out more traps that come with having money.
First, the more stuff you get, the more money or people you need to take care of it. Everyone learns this lesson the hard way when they get their first car -- if they have to pay for any of it themselves.
It's not enough to come up with the cash (or the loan) for the car. Next, you need to pay the taxes, then the insurance, and then you've got to put gas in it, of course. Finally, you'll need to pay someone to change the oil and fix the thing when it breaks.
Part of the reason our current economy is suffering is that fewer of us can afford to buy new stuff -- and all those people who make a living on those "extra" costs (gas, insurance, repairs, batteries, accessories, etc.) don't have as much to "consume."
Think: Do you ever look at your stuff and wonder what the point of having some of it is? Do you sometimes feel torn between wanting more new stuff and not wanting as much stuff, at all?
Pray: Thank God for this wise teaching. Ask Him to give you wisdom about what new stuff is worth the time and money you'll need to keep owning it.
Do: If they'll tell you, ask your parents about the costs of buying a car and the costs to keep owning and driving your family's car or cars from year to year.
"Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Does it seem like the whole world is crying or cheering or worrying about money these days? We're going to spend this next week talking about being broke and being rich and loving money and how worthless money is and why it's a trap and a gift from God. Money is complicated.
We'll listen in to Solomon's financial advice from Ecclesiastes 5. Not only was he extremely wise, David's son was also loaded. He had money and wisdom to burn. So his words should be worth hearing.
His first observation: People with an appetite for money never get full. They never say, "No, I couldn't possibly take another dollar. Where would I put it?" One way that money fails as a life goal, Solomon wrote, is that it doesn't have a finish line. You can never win the race. You can never stop running.
Think: Frankly, lots of students who hear this verse don't believe it. They think they could be satisfied if they just had "x" number of dollars. How much money do you think it would take to make you satisfied with your life? (Warning: trick question.)
Pray: Thank God for revealing to you through His Word that no amount of dollars will ever make a money-lover happy. Ask Him to help you not to love money.
Do: Notice in your real life and media life this week how many conversations have to do with loving and/or desperately needing money.