MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER
RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
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ILL. His name is John. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans & no shoes. He is different, but very bright. He became a Christian while attending college.
Across the street from his campus is a large, upper-middle-class, very conservative church. And one Sunday John decides to go to church there.
He walks in barefoot, dressed in jeans & T-shirt, with his wild hair. The service has already started as John heads down the aisle looking for a seat.
John gets closer & closer to the front, & when he realizes that the pews are all full, he just sits right down on the carpet. (Although that’s perfectly normal behavior at a college fellowship, trust me, it had never happened in this church before!) By now, every eye is on him, & people are looking a bit uncomfortable.
About this time a deacon gets up from the back of the church & is slowly making his way toward John. Now the deacon is in his 80’s, has silver-gray hair, & wears a 3-piece suit – very dignified.
He walks with a cane, & as he heads toward the boy, everyone is thinking, “I wonder what he is going to do?” It seems to take a long time for him to reach the boy, & by now the church is utterly silent except for the clicking of his cane.
All eyes are focused on him. Then he’s there, an elderly man standing over a seated boy. He drops his cane to the carpet, & with difficulty lowers himself & sits down next to John to worship with him so that John won’t be there alone.
Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister regains his composure he says, “What I am about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.”
PROP. This morning I want us to think about the question, "How can I make the most of what’s left of my life?" Now, I’m not talking about when everything is going your way, all the pieces are falling into place, & the skies are blue above you.
Instead, I’m talking about when everything is falling apart, when unexpected things happen, when there’s death or divorce or financial or family problems.
What do you do when everything seems to go wrong, when you have more to do than you can possibly accomplish, & you’re not sure what to do next? How do you get the most out of life in times like that?
Well, in Ecclesiastes 3:1-17, Solomon gives 5 keys to making the most out of our lives.
I. ACCEPT GOD’S GUIDANCE IN EVERY AREA OF YOUR LIFE
A. The first key is to “Accept God’s guidance in every area of your life.”
Listen as I read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, "There is a time for everything, & a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born & a time to die, a time to plant & a time to uproot, a time to kill & a time to heal, a time to tear down & a time to build,
“a time to weep & a time to laugh, a time to mourn & a time to dance, a time to scatter stones & a time to gather them, a time to embrace & a time to refrain, a time to search & a time to give up,
“a time to keep & a time to throw away, a time to tear & a time to mend, a time to be silent & a time to speak, a time to love & a time to hate, a time for war & a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
Now what is Solomon saying? He is saying that in our lifetime we will experience both good times & bad, victories & defeats, sadness & joy. God knows when these will happen, & He wants to help us through them, if we will allow Him.
B. So let’s notice a few of the 28 events of life that Solomon mentioned.
1. Vs. 2 says there is "a time to be born & a time to die, a time to plant & a time to uproot." In God’s planning, there was a day for you to be born. Long before your birth, God knew when you were going to be born.
But what happens when we short-circuit God’s plan? What about the millions of babies who were to be born, but instead were aborted? Could we have aborted the ones who would have found the cure for cancer or AIDS?
Have we destroyed another Einstein or Edison or Beethoven? In God’s plan there is a time to enter the world, & a time to leave. And too often people have short-circuited God’s plan.
2. Vs. 3 says there is "a time to kill & a time to heal, a time to tear down & a time to build.” Yes, there are things which need to be killed or torn down - bad feelings, emotions, relationships, things that are harmful & need to come to an end. And there’s a time also for things to heal, to be built up & reinforced.
3. In vs. 6 Solomon says there’s "a time to search & a time to give up, a time to keep & a time to throw away." I think of my garage & attic every time I read those words. There are people who keep things & people who pitch things, throw things away. Have you noticed that?
I’m married to a “pitcher,” & I’m a “keeper.” And once in a while she has thrown away some stuff that I just know I’m going to need some day. I don’t know exactly when, but I’m sure that I’m going to need it.
4. Vs. 7 says there’s "a time to tear & a time to mend, a time to be silent & a time to speak.” We usually get those mixed up, don’t we? We’re usually silent when we ought to speak, & we’re usually speaking when we ought to be silent.
5. Vs. 8 tells us there’s "a time to love & a time to hate, a time for war & a time for peace." The Book of Proverbs tells us that God hates the things that bring us harm in life. God hates sin because of what it does to us. So God says, "I hate these things, & I want you to hate them, too" - not the person, but the sin.
Altogether, in these verses, Solomon has listed 28 events of life, some good & some bad. And he tells us in the face of it all, we need to accept God’s guidance & God’s help in every area of our life.
II. AFFIRM YOUR FAITH IN CONFUSING TIMES
A. Now the 2nd key is, "Affirm your faith in confusing times.” In vs. 11 he says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
That’s important because Solomon is saying that the God who created us in His own image also created us with a concern about the future. And that’s unique to the human race. The animal kingdom doesn’t have eternity in its heart. Your dog isn’t planning for the future. He doesn’t have a retirement program.
But you do. And if you’re wise, you’re planning for an eternity in heaven with Jesus as your Savior & your Lord.
B. Now there is another part to vs. 11. It continues on to say, "yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
Why? Because God is God, & we’re His creation. We’re not Gods. There are certain things we won’t be able to figure out this side of heaven. Jesus says, in John 13:7, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
ILL. People sometimes ask, "Why is this happening to me? Why would God let some-thing like this happen?" My answer is, "I don’t know, but I’ll put it on my list." "What list?" And I answer, "The list of things I’m going to ask God when I get to heaven."
Why do all these things happen? I don’t know, but I suspect that some of them are the result of our own sins. But here is a mistake we often make. When we get in confusing times, we bail out on God. We say, "God, I don’t know why in the world you let this happen to me, so I want nothing more to do with you."
Now that is exactly the opposite of what we ought to do. In those moments we ought to affirm our faith. "God, I’m not sure why this is happening. But I trust you. You put eternity in my heart. I’m going to stand firm in my faith, & have confidence that you’ll see me through it all."
In 2 Corinthians 1:9 Paul says, "In our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."
Paul is saying, "Our backs were against the wall. We were helpless. There was nothing we could do. But that was good, because when we realized how helpless we were, we just turned everything over to God. We knew that He who could raise the dead to life again, could also take care of us.”
III. APPLY YOURSELF TO DOING GOOD
Now here’s the third key: "Apply yourself to doing good.” Vs. 12 says, "I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy & do good while they live."
God tells us here that there are 2 things that He wants for us. He wants us to be happy, & He wants us to do good. You see, if you aren’t doing good, you probably won’t be happy. And if you’re not happy, you’re probably not doing good.
APPL. So this week, pick out someone to help, & do it. Sometimes people say, "I’m aiming to do this or that." Don’t just aim. Go ahead & do something. Send a card, write a letter, make the phone call, go see somebody. Be sensitive to their needs, & do something good. And do it now.
ILL. One mother said, "Don’t send me flowers after I’m dead. I won’t enjoy them then. Send them to me now."
IV. APPRECIATE YOUR TIME AS A GIFT FROM GOD
Here’s the fourth key, "Appreciate your time as a gift from God." Vs. 13 says, "That everyone may eat & drink, & find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God."
He’s saying, "Every moment of life is a gift from God. You didn’t earn it. You don’t deserve it. But God has given it to you as a gift." So enjoy it. Enjoy the fruits of your labors because these are all gifts from God.
You’re alive right now, & that’s a gift from God. So the scripture is saying, "Enjoy this moment of life." So many of us are living for something in the future. "When this falls into place, or that happens, boy, I’m going to begin to enjoy life."
1 Timothy 6:17 says that "God...richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." So our lives ought always to exhibit an attitude of gratitude. "God, I thank you for the life you have given me today."
V. ANTICIPATE GIVING AN ACCOUNT OF YOUR LIFE TO GOD
A. The final key is this "Anticipate giving an account of your life to God." Vs. 15 says, "God will call the past to account." Vs. 17 says, "God will bring to judgment both the righteous & the wicked."
Romans 14:10 says, "We will all stand before God’s judgment seat." And vs. 12 says, "So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God."
But if you’re a Christian, you don’t have to worry about standing before God & giving an account of your sins, because your sins have been forgiven by God, & covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.
B. What you will face though, on that judgment day, is God asking this question, "What did you do with the time that I gave you after you became a Christian?” You see, the Bible teaches that every one of us will stand before God, & God will ask, “What did you do with the life I gave you? It was a gift. What did you do with it?"
That’s why Paul says in Ephesians 5:15 16, "Be very careful, then, how you live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…" So be careful how you live.
ILL. In 1921 Lewis Lawes became the warden of Sing Sing Prison, located in Ossining, NY, just 30 miles north of NY City. No prison was tougher than Sing Sing at that time. But when Warden Lawes retired 20 years later, Sing Sing had been transformed into a model penal institution of its time.
Those who studied the system said credit for the change belonged to Lawes. But when he was asked, he said, “I owe it all to my wonderful wife, Catherine, who is buried just outside the prison walls.”
Catherine Lawes was a young mother with 3 small children when her husband became the warden. Everybody warned her from the beginning never to set foot inside the prison walls, but that didn’t stop Catherine!
When the first prison basketball game was held, she went – walking into the prison gym with her 3 small kids, & she sat in the stands with the inmates. She said, “My husband is taking care of these men & I believe they will take care of me.”
She insisted on getting acquainted with them & their records. She discovered one convicted murderer was blind, so she learned Braille & taught him how to read Braille. Then Catherine found a deaf-mute in prison. So she went to school to learn how to communicate with him in sign language.
To many, Catherine Lawes was the epitome of Jesus alive in Sing Sing from 1921-1937. Then she was killed in an automobile accident, & her husband rushed from the prison to his children’s side. The next morning Lewis Lawes didn’t come to work, so the acting warden took his place. It seemed that almost instantly the entire prison had learned what was wrong.
The following day, her body was resting in a casket in her home, three-quarters of a mile from the prison. As the acting warden took his early morning inspection walk he was amazed to see a large crowd of the toughest, hardest criminals gathered like a herd of animals at the main gate.
As he came closer he could see tears streaking their faces. Realizing how much they loved Catherine, he said, “All right, men, you can go. Just be sure to check back in!”
Then he ordered the gates opened & a parade of criminals walked, without a guard, three-quarters of a mile to stand in line to pay their final respects to Catherine Lawes. And every one of them checked back in. Every one!
CONCL. Remember, if you, too, want to make the most of your life:
Accept God’s guidance in every area of your life
Affirm your faith in confusing times
Apply yourself to doing good
Appreciate your time as a gift from God
Anticipate giving an account of your life to God