17/5/2020 [Thematic Message 101] www.lifechurchmissions.com
Time Set by God <Ecc 3:1-15>
Prelude: The Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” <Gen 1:1>. “In the beginning” was the moment the “I am” God created time, and from then on, God put all things under the operation of time. To many people, time is like a reality hovering over the destiny of Man. Although it does not stop for a minute or a second, it has invisible and real influence on Man. Some people have too much time that they feel dull and bored, and may as a result, indulge in their desires. Some people do not have enough time and hence feel anxious, or feel regretful for what they have not achieved. Some people do not seem to have any concept of time, they just like to live in the present moment and think that it is sufficient just to be happy now. Over time, such a person would eventually prove to be a fool. Because such a person neither learns from his past, nor plans for the future, his time today is meaningless. At most, he is happy after eating and is hence temporarily satisfied in the flesh, but all these have nothing to do with his eternal destination. Indeed, few people live a life that is in harmony with time. Either he feels that there is too much time, or he feels that there is too little time, otherwise he is misusing his present time. Hence, time is constantly revealing human ignorance and helplessness. Many people's regrets are related to time that has passed. Therefore, we often hear people say, “If I have another chance (or say: if I have time from the past again), I will invest in relationships, not in material things." A famous German philosopher made a statement which is worth introspecting, “The greatest lesson learned from history is that Man never learns from history.” This is like the words of advice given by a man to his child, but the child did not listen to him. Because the child did not listen to his father, he later suffered the consequences. Later, when the child grew up, he also gave his child the same advice. The young child also did not listen and when he grew up, he encountered the same consequences. Therefore, we see that time continues to reveal ignorance from generation to generation, and Man keeps having to bear the consequences of time. In addition, we also see that time has been revealing the various relative good and evil, right and wrong, good and bad of the world. For some people, we may feel good when we meet them, but after knowing them for some time, we will realise they are not as good and for some, they are in fact the opposite of what they portray themselves to be. In this pandemic, as time passes day after day, some of the rights and wrongs are gradually revealed. Sometimes, a country may think that it has done well in their pandemic prevention measures and only to discover some blind spots later which instead reflects its foolishness. We once saw how the virus spread badly in China. Many countries, in particular the western countries felt sorry for China and they also got into various discussions. Some said that China in locking down its cities and country was going beyond what was justifiable. But after just one or two months, the epidemic reached the United States and Europe, and the spread of the virus became more serious. Every other country then started to follow suit, one after another. In fact, when this global crisis comes, people become very short-sighted. We all draw conclusions from the current situation. But we need to know that as time passes by, people will come to understand another conclusion. Therefore, man's depravity, ignorance, rigidity and stubbornness, etc, are all revealed with time. Therefore, the author of Ecclesiastes used his heart of wisdom to consider the revelation brought to him by all things and time, he said, “Everything is meaningless! All things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” <Ecc 1:2,14; 2:11> Well, since everything is meaningless and a chasing after the wind, then should we see everything as “empty and void”? Absolutely not! Under such meaningless situations, the Teacher brings us to a revelation that is important to time, that is, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” <Ecc 3:1> “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” <Ecc 3:11> Think about it, can we predict whether our future is good or bad based on our current status? The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that although time and years reveal human ignorance and helplessness, when God created time, there are two absolute virtues. First, God has made everything beautiful in its time. Think about it, who can see the beauty in this pandemic? When Man faces all kinds of battles, illnesses, calamities, and sufferings, he seems to be unable to see any good. However, the wise Teacher says here that if we can fathom the meaning behind why God allows things to happen in every moment, then we can acknowledge that whatever God did is beautiful. Second, God has also set "eternity" in the human heart. If we are merely a living thing which exists temporarily, we cannot see the significance time brings us. On the contrary, we can only become a person with regrets because of time and the years that had passed. But if we are people who have eternal life, our every moment now is very precious. Even if we go through the vicissitudes of time on earth, we will see the significance of time, and will constantly use every moment to exchange for eternal blessings.
1. The “I am” God created time and let man and all things be led by time to see His works <Ecc 3:1, 15>
1）Time proved God’s existence and the perseverance of the truth
If anyone denies the existence of God for any reason, or claims that God’s truth is obsolete, we do not need to feel aggrieved by his current arrogance and pride. Because after the time set by God, he will be quickly proven to be foolish. In the 18th century, a French philosopher, Voltaire, saw the rise of the industrial revolution, and said that the Bible would be placed in the museum 100 years later, but it is unimaginable that 100 years later, the headquarters of the French Bible Society was in fact set up in his old home in Paris. In 1917, after Russia went through revolution, the country become an atheistic Communist nation. In these 100 years, tyrannical rulers rose and killed people brutally, we also see that the Russian economy is in still in the same state as Mexico and Brazil. Time proves many things, especially the foolishness of those who deny the existence of God and oppose the truth. Time itself is a most important tool to reveal the truth. If a person says that God is unrighteous, allowing evil-doers to go scot-free, then let us wait. Because time will prove that not only the offender himself but even his accomplices will be captured. If a person says God is unloving, as He allows this world to be full of wars, then let us wait. Because after the two world wars, we see that the world dare not easily start a war again. Even though some countries have nuclear bombs now, because of the two dreadful world wars, the world is still preserved for 100 years till now. Thus, how can we say that God does not exist or that He does not preserve this world? Then some people may ask, “Why must God take time to correct the mistakes of the people of the world?” Because God not only wants to prevent wars or all kinds of evils from happening in this sinful world, but He all the more wants to save people from eternal sin. Therefore, in the prolonged misery brought about by evils, humans can then come to their senses and turn to God’s salvation.
2）Time also proved that the world’s views about what is good and bad is relative
Sometimes, we see that in the worst situation, there is also unimaginable good outcomes. Just as a few months into this pandemic, people start to see that there are signs of healing in the ozone layer and natural ecosystem. In this circuit breaker, perhaps we feel very troubled at the beginning, but as time passes, we start to adapt to family members’ temperaments and habits, some parents also discover that spending time to do the simplest things (such as eating together, doing housework, exercising, communicating, etc) with their children is the best channel to build relationship and influence their children. These are outcomes which we cannot achieve when we are daily being chased by the society, busy earning money, or merely spending money to go travelling with the family during school holidays. Thus, if a person does not know how to observe what the Lord is doing in the time God sets, then he is someone blind in his spirit. When a person has no time to quiet down to reflect upon life or to observe people, then he will become more and more self-centred. If a Christian does not know how to meditate on and confirm God’s word over time and walk with God step by step, then his spirituality will not truly grow. Perhaps he can learn much knowledge and read many articles from the internet, but his spiritual sight is still narrow. He cannot understand certain things, and also cannot let go of many selfish desires. In fact, sometimes, other than using sufferings to stimulate people so that they can come to realization, another tool that God uses is the long duration of time. Indeed, usually after a period of time, then we can see the full picture of God’s work.
2. The wise knows how to walk with God in the time set by God <Ecc 3:2-11>
1）When God leads all things, there is a time and season
A time to be born and a time to die (here it talks about the beginning and end of a person’s life, that is precious in the eyes of God, and there is absolute meaning to it. There is joy in the moment of birth, and there is also rest in the moment of death); a time to plant and a time to uproot (after planting then can get the fruits of a fruit tree, but when the fruit tree no longer can bear fruits, it should be uprooted); a time to kill and a time to heal (kill all that is completely evil, leave no survivors. But sometimes have to try all efforts to save and heal the dying); a time to tear down and a time to build (it is not constructive to build without tearing down, but it is meaningless to only tear down but not build); a time to weep and a time to laugh (it is not necessarily not good to cry, it is also not necessarily good to laugh, the main thing is about when to weep or laugh to bring people strength); a time to mourn and a time to dance (to mourn at the right time will comfort us, to dance at the right moment can cheer our hearts); etc...
2）A wise heart is about acknowledging and grasping the time set by God
Actually, over here, the Bible is not determining which act is good or bad. The Bible does not say that it is not good to die, kill, tear down, weep, etc. It also does not say that it is surely good to live, plant, heal, build, laugh, etc. What the Bible emphasizes is God’s determined timing and the moment in which we are doing those things. Some people cannot grasp the opportune moment for their whole lives, but do things at the wrong moment, or do not do certain things at the right moment. Whether such person acts or not, it is not pleasing to God’s heart, because he does not submit to God’s beautiful timing. For example: Some people are very direct, the contents of their speech is not wrong, but the timing of their words is not right, thus people cannot accept their advice, but find it unpleasant to their ears. In addition, when teaching their children, some parents do not take a firm stand or correct their mistakes at the most critical moment, later on it is useless even if they try earnestly to counsel their children. As we seek the Lord’s perfect will and a heart of wisdom, we must acknowledge and grasp the time set by God.
3）Do not merely focus on what happened, but from what has happened, see the beautiful timing determined by God
Sometimes, many things happen in our lives, even some things which we are helpless about. Recently, a world-renowned apologist (Ravi Zacharias) gave up treatment because he contracted a terminal illness, and returned home to spend his remaining days with his family members. He said that when this reality struck, although his emotions might fluctuate, his heart enjoyed peace. In fact, all those who have heard his messages feel deeply for his current situation. Sometimes, we will question why should someone who is so useful for the kingdom of God be taken away like this? At the human level, we cannot find a perfect answer. But the answer the Lord gives us is: there is a time to be born and a time to die. When the blessed Stephen was martyred, who can conceive that because of the blood of this martyr, it brought about Paul’s regeneration and rising up later on. There is spiritual factor in all things, and that is what humans cannot fathom. The Bible says, “No one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Yet He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart <Ecc 3:11>. Perhaps to a student now, it is a huge failure if he fails his exams, but that failure may open up his new awareness about life, such that he learns the wisdom he cannot find in the textbooks. To some who had been in love, they may feel miserable when they were out of love. However, that heartache may change their inner heart, such that they change from someone who demands from others to a person who is considerate of others. This may also lead them into another relationship which is far more blissful than the previous one. In fact, when many people encounter the setbacks and sufferings of life, they only hope that the problems can be over soon, otherwise they will just grumble against heaven and people. Very few people will reflect under such circumstances: This is the time set by God, so what beautiful thing is He accomplishing?
3. We should be reconciled to the time set by God <Ecc 3:10-14>
1）Only when man is reconciled to God through Christ, can he be reconciled to the time set by God
<Ro 8:28> tells us: 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. What is a faith which is truly reconciled to God? That is not about a person believing that God loves him and is nice to him only when he feels that his circumstances are good. But he clearly knows that whatever God has done in his life are beautiful, and in everything he does, he seeks the eternal purpose, which is to glorify God, edify men and build Kingdom. Thus, he is reconciled to the time God has set. Today, perhaps he is successful (he will say that there is a time to be successful), tomorrow he fails (he will say there is a time to fail). Today he has a child (he will say there is a time to receive life), tomorrow when the child gets married and forms his own family (he will understand that there is a time for the child to leave him). Today, he has the health to serve the Lord (he will say there is a time to be healthy), tomorrow his body contracts certain illnesses and he is about to leave the world (he can also understand that there is a time to depart the world). Even though such a person will go through physical toils and travails, his inner heart will continue to gain benefits. Why can he receive such benefits? Because through Christ, God has set “eternity” in his heart. Therefore, we will know that if a person does not have a perspective on eternity, he certainly cannot be reconciled to God-determined timing. When he is successful, he cannot put down what he has. His heart always thinks, “I have not enjoyed my fruits.” When he is about to leave the world, he will say with a heart full of regrets, “There are still a lot I want to do, I hope to have a few more years, I will live on well.” In fact, this shows that all along, he has not been living in the time God set for him, and also does not inject the meaning of eternity into whatever he does. Actually, many Christians today say that they are reconciled to God but that is only a “theoretical” reconciliation. Where is the proof of our reconciliation to God? Are we truly living in preparation for eternity? Are the things we say, the songs we sing, the beliefs we advocate, the things we pursue every day in this world, truly showing that we are someone preparing to meet the Lord in future? Thus, most part of the life which God has determined in this toilsome world is to let us travail in all kinds of toils and tribulations – the travails of marriage, raising children, facing illnesses, life and death, etc. Gradually, we will come to realise and understand that we have to be responsible for our limited time.
2）In going through these travails, we gradually know how to enjoy the time God has set for us
After a person went through travails, he gradually stops feeling fearful over uncertainties in the time ahead; on the contrary, he can enjoy all the present activities done under the sun. He will not keep living in that kind of anxiety: “Will my family be good tomorrow? Will my labour today bear fruits tomorrow? Will I still be healthy when I am old? Will I fall sick?” <Ecc 3:12-13> says he will be joyful and do good (instead of looking at what benefits he will gain after doing good). In the simplest things, such as eating, drinking, or all labours, he can enjoy blessings (instead of worrying every day over earthly things, such that he cannot even enjoy the simplest things).
<Ecc 3:14> This is because his heart already understood that everything God does will endure forever (on the contrary, the people of the world keep chasing after the wind, not knowing that what God determines is the best). Nothing can be added to it (conversely, people of the world always think about adding their own ideas to the will of God), and nothing taken from it (on the other hand, people of the world think that they can rely on their own merits to reduce their sufferings). Only such a person can enjoy all the time which God has set for him.
3）In this circuit breaker, we must acknowledge the time God has set for us
No matter how hard the people of the world try, they cannot make the world stop. In such advanced and fast-paced times, everyone runs after the world, otherwise they are being chased by the world. However, God is able to make the whole world stop just by using one virus. Indeed, there is a time to advance and a time to stop. At this moment, we should stop and think about how we can use the prime years of our lives to live for the gospel. Moreover, many churches also unknowingly keep running after the world, wanting to attract more people into the church through more programmes and methods, boosting the size of the church. Thus, we see that many churches are full of ministries but lacking in the word. Through one virus, God makes church leaders and believers quiet down to think about what the gospel is, as well as, learn solitude. There is a time to meet and a time to be alone. The church should ask itself once again what the gospel is, and what self-denial means. Also, we see that in the modern family, because the parents are busy working and the children are busy with studies, there is little time to be together and communicate. Now God makes family members come together to do the simplest things and lead the simplest life, so as to bring the relationship with one another closer. There is a time to be busy and a time to communicate. Parents should once again use biblical principles to adjust the family operations and relationships between family members. If necessary, parents should get rid of the living habits of self-gratification and put in efforts to reorganize the whole family.
In this circuit breaker, there is the time set by God, He wants to heal us and enable us to build a blessed nature. In some things, God wants us to seriously reflect and make adjustments, producing a new attitude and building a new culture. Let us carefully think about the new things God wants to do in our individual life, families, churches and this era, so that we can submit to the time set by God.