Ecclesiastes

I’ve always loved sports and since my childhood, I’ve pulled for the UNC Tarheels. My love for UNC made me a Michael Jordan fan. A few weeks ago, ESPN launched a documentary from the 1998 Chicago Bulls team entitled “The Last Dance.” Recently, I’ve watched several of the episodes. The Bulls’ dynasty over that period of time was nearly unstoppable. The documentary makes for a fascinating behind the scenes look at Michael Jordan, one of sports’ most recognizable faces.

During the 1990s there was no one alive more recognizable worldwide than Michael Jordan. He was the best basketball player in the world. He was rich, famous, influential. But two scenes in recent episodes highlight the biblical reality that these things are full of vanity. In one scene Jordan is reclining on a sofa in a hotel room lamenting his fame. The hotel room was his respite from the fawning crowds and incessant media attention. In another episode, Jordan wished that he never be considered a role model because it was a no-win situation.

Fame, wealth, and influence are poor masters.

Jordan’s perspective is illustrative of another wealthy, powerful man who had reached the zenith of human potential, King Solomon.

Here are just a few samples of Solomon’s musings on vanity.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
    at which he toils under the sun?

Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 2:18-23

Solomon recognized what the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s reveal: winning, working hard, and being wealthy are vain if pursued as an end. In listening to the reflection of players and coaches from the documentary, there is a distinct lack of joy. Winning could not overcome internal drama. Being the best did not ultimately satisfy the ego. Being under everyone’s microscope was too much pressure.

This documentary and Solomon’s writings are instructive for us today. While likely on a much smaller scale than either example, we too are caught up in vain pursuits. The pandemic we are experiencing spotlights our own vanities.

  • As an end in itself, work is vanity.
  • As an end in itself, wealth is vanity.
  • As an end in itself, leisure is vanity.
  • As an end in itself, pleasure is vanity.

In a matter of weeks, a once stable economy in the most wealthy nation on earth has been decimated. In a matter of weeks, work has forever been changed, wealth lost, leisure activities removed, and pleasure forfeited. If those things are what you have been pursuing, then you must know now that they make terrible masters.

Solomon’s reflections in Ecclesiastes highlight the highest potential of human experience. And humanities’ highest reach apart from God is always vanity.

As we reflect on our spiritual lives inside of our current situation, here are some evaluation questions:

  • Am I pursuing God or have I been replacing God for some smaller thing(s)?
  • Have work, pleasure, success, wealth, or anything lesser been my primary goals? If so, these lesser things are idols keeping me from experiencing the glory of God.
  • Do I desire God and the experience of revival more than I long for normality or the restoration of what I’ve lost?
  • What can I do today to pursue God singularly?

In recent weeks, I’ve written on the subject of praying for revival. Currently, I’m preaching a series entitled “Patterns of Prayer.” God has been teaching me that when I pursue lesser things, I often ignore Him. Today’s meditation and the upcoming sermons (Wednesday, from Philippians 3:1-11 and Sunday, from 2 Chronicles 7:14) highlight my own struggle to singularly pursue God.

I long for revival. I long for God. I pray that God will reveal my vain pursuits that I may seek only him. Will you join me in this pursuit of God?

Solomon’s final word in Ecclesiastes is an appropriate conclusion:

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash