MAKING THE MOST OF GOD-GIVEN TIME: STAY OCCUPIED WITH THE JOY IN YOUR HEART
Lewis Bates became an agnostic while attending Ohio State University in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, but then he went to a Billy Graham Crusade, which interrupted his march toward atheism and led him onto the path of righteousness where he discovered the joy of living for Jesus a life that is true.
When “Mr.” Bates (his preference if he must have a title) asked me fresh out of my seminary experience to join him in ministry in the Blue Ridge Mountain town of Vinton, Virginia, he shared with me his testimony of conversion to Christianity.
Tragedies in his teenage years turned him sour on religion and preachers. He wanted no part of hypocrisy. He thought about suicide. Then the preaching of a great evangelist touched his heart, the Spirit of God got hold of him, and Mr. Bates discovered the answer to what he had been searching for – a reason for living!
Humbled by his conversion experience and feeling unworthy of being called “reverend” (“There is none reverend except Jesus Christ”, he would say), Mr. Bates made it his ministry aim to evangelize; he brought me onto his team to “disciple the saved of all ages beginning with those who are already members of this Church”.
Mr. Bates loved life to the fullest - like few ministers of my acquaintance . . . His heart’s desire was that “doubting Thomas’s” like he once was – “on the fence”, not knowing who or what to believe – would come to know Christ and experience the joy of being in a relationship with the One who truly cared about him and sacrificially died for his sins.
Mr. Bates loved to sing, and often he would have me sing with him – in a worship service . . . during a revival he was preaching in another church . . . at a funeral service. He wanted as many folks as he could possibly reach to have the joy in their hearts that he had had since Jesus came into his heart.
Often Mr. Bates would spontaneously burst into singing his favorite chorus, “If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy, let Jesus come into your heart!” From the moment he gave his heart, and surrendered his life, to Jesus - until the moment God called him Home - God kept Mr. Bates occupied with the joy of his heart!
Solomon searched for meaning in life by running the gamut from pleasures to possessions to passions to prominence . . . only to find himself wanting . . .
Dissatisfaction with his own answers to how to be happy left him stressed and depressed – UNTIL he thought it through, reviewed all his options, and finally came to grips with his problem: He was looking in all the wrong places and to all the wrong relationships for contentment!
In essence: A king who had everything decided that he had been obsessed by riches and relationships that are only temporary. What he needed and discovered was a permanent, rich relationship with the Lord God who kept him occupied with the joy of his heart” (Eccl. 5:20). Will you let God keep you occupied with the joy of your heart?
Apart from a close relationship with the Lord God, Solomon found out what all financially and materially wealthy people come to grips with - sooner or later: No amount of money can buy happiness – Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 . . .
What is said to be the root of all evil? The love of money! Sure, it’s nice to have enough money to pay the bills . . . live comfortably . . . give to worthy causes . . . have fun now and then . . . get out of debt . . . enjoy financial freedom!
However, if the laying up of treasures on earth becomes our main objective in life, no amount nor type of financial wealth can satisfy. Inevitable sleepless nights compound the anxiety that accompanies efforts to get more simply for the sake of getting instead of a well-thought-out-and-prayed-about purpose.
God blesses folks with ability to gain wealth - whether by wise investment of inherited funds or by the disciplined stewardship of hard-earned wages – but always with the proper use of that wealth understood . . . yet there is always a possibility of misuse and misappropriation – Ecclesiastes 5:13-17 . . .
When a friend says to me, “I can hardly wait to win the lottery,” I respond, “Well, I certainly hope you do not win!” It is indeed a sickening tragedy that is the history of lottery winners! Even back in his day, Solomon saw the foolishness of get-rich-quick schemes – none of which ever serves a good purpose! “What is there to be gained from chasing the wind?”
One of the sicknesses associated with ill-gotten gain and the accumulation of wealth with no purpose attached to the venture is stinginess. Once rich for the sake of getting rich, the stingy person becomes - isolated, afraid to associate with people for fear of being asked for a handout . . . miserly - “eats in darkness” to save a few pennies on the cost of lighting the room . . . miserably depressed.
If only miserably depressed persons would learn from their depression and resolve to do something about it! What is it that triggers my depression? When is it that my depression most often occurs? What are positive steps I can take to put depression in its place and put myself back into a positive frame of mind?
For starters, suggested Solomon, think positive - Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 . . .
“Here is what I have seen to be good!” Solomon was onto something! Now folks:
We can analyze emotional illnesses with all the latest techniques available to us - for assessing a depressed person’s state of mind and personality disorder contributing to depression - but the most effective known treatment plan comes from the wise counsel of the Apostle Paul: Think about all the good:
“Finally, brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable; if anything is good or praiseworthy, think about such things . . . and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8)
Think about the good family you grew up in . . . the good schools you attended . . . the good teachers you had . . . the good times having fun with good friends . . . your good spouse . . . the good kids you were blessed with . . . the good work you did, the good career you had . . . good churches you belonged to . . . good relationships you cultivated . . . good wages you were fortunate to earn . . . good accomplishments by your children . . . good health and good doctors . . . good places to live - in your current situation – with good friends and caring Christians . . .
“Is there a reason for living?” Solomon asks this question repeatedly, and tests everything he can think of “under the sun” (this side of Heaven) with every bit of the wisdom he has within himself.
Solomon even tried to find his purpose in material possessions, thinking to himself - maybe “Greed is good” (since so many people seem to think so). But, there again, he came up short of a satisfactory solution.
Finally, he decided that wealth in and of itself is not bad, but the unhealthy pursuit and use of wealth no matter how great or small, has detrimental effects such as spiritual bankruptcy – simply because of the emptiness of a life driven by envy, which begets unethical practices, which begets injustices, which begets resentments, which begets misery.
Factor into “me and my wealth” a sincere renewal of dependence upon, and trust in - God as Father, Jesus as Savior, and the Holy Spirit as comforter and guide – there emerges a new appreciation of “wealth” as a gift of God.
As such, it is appropriate to enjoy the fruits of labor and to thank God for His provision of needs . . . a way to help others!
Solomon’s conclusions regarding “wealth”?
Be content with your life and with your work. After all, life is a gift from God - but short; therefore, enjoy life while you can. Be content with what God has given you. Sure, most of us have downsized, but basically we have what we need or we know where and how our needs can be supplied.
To be content (as was Paul, who learned in whatsoever state he found himself, therein to be content) is to enjoy peace plus fullness of joy!
Uppermost in the mind and heart of a true believer - one whose contentment is found in the Lord . . . is found in Christ . . . is rewarded with peace - is the prospect of the promise that a believer’s Joy will be fulfilled (completely realized) when we see Jesus: the Bridegroom with whom we shall be united. (John 3:29 . . .).
May God keep us each and everyone occupied with the joy of our hearts as we prepare to meet God our Father --- when Christ our Lord shall “present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy!” (Jude 24) Amen.