“Can we just get back to normal?”
Perhaps you find yourself fatigued by circumstances over the last year and wonder this exact question. While this is a normal question to ask, especially after times of grief, difficulty and hardship, it often leads us to an unhealthy mindset. The book of Ecclesiastes provides us with some thought-provoking counsel when we are tempted to look back, yearning for simpler, less troubling, or more comfortable times.
“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” – Ecclesiastes 7:10
This may seem like a cruel rebuke or an odd piece of advice to a hurting soul, telling them to forget about the “good old days.” However, this wise principle may apply in more ways than you might have imagined.
Churches that long for the good old days rarely ever find them; marriages that spend all their time looking back to a season free of conflict find themselves consistently lacking peace and contentment in the present. The same principle might apply to your workplace, friendships, school, or neighborhood. We tend to look back fondly at the good things we used to enjoy, but this backward gaze can often distract us from what God calls us to do today.
In this current season of difficulty on many fronts, it is helpful to evaluate where our focused energies could be better spent. God has a better plan for us than longing for days gone by. Solomon instructs us to focus on four areas that are healthier than soothing ourselves with fond memories of the past.
Focus #1 – Choose Wisdom for today (11-12)
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
What difference does it make if you have wisdom? On some days, our counselors will spend 6-8 hours in back-to-back sessions. Every story is unique, and every soul is precious to God. However, counselors have a unique vantage point to see how various people respond to almost identical trials. While some choose nastiness to deal with hurt and continue to experience inner turmoil, others choose grace and begin to heal their wounds.
One of the advantages of having a wise counselor is that they can often see new possibilities that you may have overlooked yourself. A good counselor, rather than sitting with you and reminiscing about the good old days, will help you create a better future that honors God and loves your neighbors well. Like Solomon learned, our choice to pursue wisdom for today leads to healthier choices and relationships, and is a better place to focus during troubled times.
Focus #2 – Choose Contentment for today (13-14)
13 Consider the work of God:
who can make straight what he has made crooked?
14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider:
God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
Solomon narrows in on another reason why we should focus on the present, and not look too far back or too far forward. God put us here, in this time, for a reason. To wish for a different era of politics, sports, religion, or culture takes our eyes off the impact that God can make through His followers committed to purse love, joy, and peace in this present moment.
When President Bush, Clinton, Obama, and Trump each ended their presidency, political polls indicated that a majority of Americans felt relieved and were convinced that a return to the former good days were likely to return. Perhaps this is why we switch power back and forth between parties in almost systematic ways over much of the last 100 years. It is also why we change spouses, churches, and jobs so frequently.
Without contentment and a process of growth that moves us out of trials, we will tend to look prematurely for change. Learning contentment and thanking God for our present trial is a discipline that we must learn if we are to make a difference in the present.
Focus #3 – Choose Balance throughout today (15-18)
15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.
16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?
17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?
18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.
Don’t be too good, too bad, too smart, or too foolish; choose a balance. That’s strange advice to our ears, isn’t it? Not exactly what you imagine parents of teenagers saying to them on the way out the door on a Saturday night. However, again Solomon gives us some profound wisdom about life. We can try to control the length of our life, our success, our morals, and self-awareness, but ultimately, he reminds us that our pursuit, respect, and trust in God is the only thing in our control.
You may get Covid, your self-made business may fail, your unemployment may run out, and you have little control over these outcomes. To strive and work is wise, but to pretend we can control the outcome isn’t. We do have a responsibility to act responsibly in our difficult trials, but pursuing a balanced approach to our efforts allows us to trust in God’s goodness, regardless of the outcome. Solomon urges us not to look backwards to when all these things were better, but to focus our energies on responding wisely in the present.
Focus #4 – Choose Humility during today (19-25)
19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.
20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.
22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me.
24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?
25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness.
In verses 19-25, Solomon seems to speak from his heart, a heart that has pursued wisdom, folly, morality, and pleasure with equal fervor. Rather than shouting with a condemning voice at those who don’t do life right, he speaks as a wise sage, now knowing that satisfaction isn’t found at the end of every road. He realized that much of his pursuits, ended in bondage rather than freedom and peace.
Why is this important to point out? Humility is coming to see yourself as God sees you, a sinner in need of God’s mercy, dependent on God’s words for true wisdom, and weak compared to strength of the almighty God. When life had humbled Solomon, he finally understood that his walk with God, his relationship with God, was ultimately the purpose for life. Sometimes God puts us through trials to humble us, so that we can become more dependent on Him.
Perhaps this moment in our time is intended by God to remind us of what a mess we make when we don’t keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and our focus on making a difference in the present. A proud person says that they deserve what they used to have; a humble person is faithful in the present. Solomon reminds us that focusing our energies on the present, with humble appreciation of God’s goodness in this very moment, will help us accomplish what God intends for us to accomplish.
As we move forward this year, will you learn the lesson that Solomon learned? Let’s not wish for the better years of the past, or become convinced that our efforts will create the utopia of the future; let’s keep our eyes focused on the present, because God is here with us and He wants us to make the very most of every opportunity He gives us.