Life is a Gift (Ecclesiastes 3)

Human beings are always searching for meanings in life. The Teacher came up with 3 observations about life and death:

  1. Life is a gift from God (verses 9-10)

The Preacher noticed something in the pattern of mankind.

“9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race” (verses 9-10)

All of us are carrying burdens. There are financial burdens and worries. We are carrying our loads as parents who provide for our children. Or we are caregivers to our elderly parents. If you are a young adult, you face the pressure of balancing work and family life.  

If we see life as a gift from God, we have a better attitude and outlook in life. Even if we are going through difficulties times or are carrying burdens, we can still give thanks to God for the gift of life.

If we treasure life as a gift, every breath that we take is a gift. Life becomes meaningful because it is a gift.

If we see our life as a burden, we will miss the gift of life God has for us. We will not see the blessings from God, but all we can see are problems, pain and difficulties. This will make us angry people, bitter people, people who hold on to grudges, people who are always blaming others for their unhappiness.

The way we look at our lives is important. How we view our life will determine how we live our lives. How we live our lives will most likely determine how we leave this world.

2. Our life is linked to eternity (verse 11)

“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.” (verse 11)

Mankind is created in the image of God. When God created mankind, God placed “eternity in the human heart” (verse 11). God put eternity in our hearts, we were meant to last forever until sin came into the world and separate us from God. In our attempts to find God, we tried many ways to fill in this emptiness. 

The Teacher searched for fulfilment in life. He searched for it in entertainment. He could not find it. He searched for it in wealth and could not find it. He was not satisfied. Without God, there is emptiness.

How does knowing that you have been created for eternity affect the way you live your everyday life?

God accomplish His purposes in His time, and we may not understand His plan because He sees it from the eternity point of view. God is all knowing, all seeing, almighty, ever present. God is eternal. He sees the whole picture. He makes everything beautiful in His time, and we can fully trust in Him though we may not understand it all. But it is not for us to worry about. We just need to trust in God and live by faith.  

3.Our life is enjoyable— now (vv 12-14)

“12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.” (verses 12-14)

Yes, each of us is carrying our own load of burdens. But the Teacher tells us to enjoy what we have right now. Appreciate what we have now. Some are caught up dreaming of some possible future thinking that we can only enjoy life when we have a car or a house or be married or have kids or retired, or have more money in the bank. Some are dwelling in the past, lamenting about that the good days were gone.

We can appreciate our live right now and live in the moment, not dreaming about the future or dwelling in the past.  

Ecclesiastes seems to talk a lot about “meaningless, meaningless” because this is what it is without God, meaningless. But another theme of Ecclesiastes we do not hear a lot is “enjoy life”. We can see this theme being repeated from chapter 3-10.

Life is difficult. Still, we are to treasure each day, and be thankful for what we have. Everything that we have comes from God. God gives us the strength, ability and talents for work and to make a livelihood.

God gives us rest from our labour.

No matter what comes our way, as people who love the Lord, learn not to complain but to give thanks for all that we have with all that we have.

When we are mindful that life is a gift from God, life is more meaningful and manageable. We can rest in God and find satisfaction in our daily toil.    

Remember the faithfulness and deliverance of God

What is Purim? Purim is the Jewish holiday whereby the Jews commemorate being saved from persecution in the ancient Persian empire. Haman, the Agagite Prime Minister of Persia, plotted to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, men or women in a day.  Esther risked her life to save the Jews. She trusted in God to deliver them. God, although not mentioned in the story of Esther, delivered His people.

Each year, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar. Purim in 2022 begins on Wednesday night of 16 March to Thursday, 17 March.

In Esther’s day, the Jews trusted in God for deliverance. And He delivered them. For us today, we can also depend on God who is the same, today, yesterday, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) to deliver us. God will respond when His people cries out to Him (Isaiah 59:1).

We may not observe this holiday as Chinese/Asian Christians, but we can take this time to remember God’s greatness, faithfulness and goodness in our lives. He is faithful. Let us too, ask for God’s grace to remain faithful to Him and hold fast to our faith in Him through trials and times of difficulties.

Lent Ideas: Things to Do During Lent

Lent is a period of 40 days before Easter whereby we examine ourselves in reflection to the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ for us. During Lent, we can:

  1. Forgive someone

Habouring resentment is hard. Psychological studies show that there are negative effects on our bodies if we are resentful or are angry at someone. Just as God has forgiven us of our sins which we have committed knowingly and unknowingly, ask God for His grace so that we can forgive those who have wronged us.

2. Thank a person

Are there people in your life whom you appreciate but you hardly tell them their presence in your life means a lot to you? Let us say something nice to our family and friends. Lent is a time to appreciate and thank someone. It also means appreciating the people in the society. We can do so by saying “thank you” to them or give them a smile, or even acknowledging their presence by having an eye contact with them. Their selfless contributions bring improvement to the society.   

3. Do an act of kindness

Lent is a wonderful time to do an act of kindness to others. Do you see someone a need? You can offer your help. In our day to day life, we can be caught up with our own needs. Let us look beyond ourselves and see how we can help those who are in need.

4. Exercise and take care of our bodies

In the midst of pandemic, it doesn’t take long for one to realise the importance of having a healthy body. If we have been neglecting our bodies due to work or bad eating habits, Lent is a time for us to give it the proper nutrition, adequate rest and some exercise.    

Lent is a season for us to draw closer to God. Through these acts of love and kindness, may we experience His love in our daily living.

Rest and Rejoice

Though tested positive for my antigen test on Day 6, I felt much better physically, and emotionally today. I am physically stronger to move about the house to clean, to sweep the fallen leaves on the porch, to delight watching the cats play from across the road, to water my plants and to end the day by preparing a simple dinner for myself.

The aroma in the kitchen smells different today: fresh and lovely. I was more present when I was washing the veggies, cutting them and cooking them in the pan. I was taking my time to enjoy the process of meal prepping and cooking.  

A week ago, these simple chores of taking care of the house, gardening and cooking were done in a rush and mindlessly. They were things that I needed to get over and done with because there always something else more important that needed my attention: some messages to reply, some assignments waiting to be completed, another email to respond to, cleaning the house before the visitors arrive, rushing to church for some activities and so on. But, when I am in home quarantine, activities become slower, time seems longer and tasks are manageable. I can slow down and enjoy the beauty in the simple things in life, and not rush from chores to chores.  

Apostle Paul writes, “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”(Philippians 4:4-5)

Rejoice in the Lord is not something that we do when we feel like it. It should be our lifestyle as the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Joy comes from God. Joy is knowing that God sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, the Holy Spirit is with us and we have eternal life with God. We can rejoice regardless of our present circumstances because we stand on the promise and assurance of who God is and what He is doing and will do in the life of His people.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (verse 6)

What are you worried about? Our list can go on and on. Apostle Paul urges us not to be anxious or worried about anything but to commit everything to God in prayers. We are invited by God to tell Him the things that are bothering us. In prayers, we are reminded of the sovereignty of God who cares and loves us. When we tell God our needs and requests, we are to give thanks to God, simply because He is good. He has been faithful, merciful and loving to us. In our desperation, He hears us and delivers us.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Peace is a state of well-being. In the Old Testament, the word “Shalom” in Hebrew means: harmony, wholeness, completeness, health, tranquillity, safety, rest, peace with God, and these are permanent state. 

God’s peace guards our heart and mind. May He guard and protect our heart and mind from cumbersome worries and anxieties. Wait upon God. Rest in Him.

During this season of Lent, let us continue to:

(1) Pray

Deepen our relationship with God through prayers. We pray and also hear for His voice when we pray.

(2) Read God’s Word

God’s Word illuminates our path. It leads us to the path of righteousness, holiness and wisdom. Let us read His Word, meditate on it and apply it in our lives. St John of the Cross (1542-91), a Spanish Catholic priest, said that when we read God’s Word, the new life of Christ gets brighter and brighter in us.

(3) Obedience to God

Perhaps much of our anxieties in our relationships, our chores and daily activities are more manageable if we commit them into God’s will and time. We can find peace and rest in God if we are mindful that God is with us in our chores and in our relationships with others.

May the peace of the Lord be with you in whatever you do and in the people you meet.

Retreat came earlier this year…

My retreat came earlier this year than I had planned. I had planned one in August right around my birthday. The reason for this unplanned retreat: I was down with Covid.

I could not believe it when I was tested positive. I had all those symptoms: flu, chills, muscle ache, cough but the results from the antigen tests were negative. I was hopeful that I might just be having a common flu. I prayed hard that I would remain ‘negative’ for Covid tests.

How could I get Covid, right? I am relatively healthy: I take my supplements daily. I have always been super careful: double my masks, sanitize the cart at the supermarket before using, sanitize my hands every time I touched something (may be I was a little extreme) and once I return home, I immediate sanitise my handbag and my phone. How can someone so careful like me get Covid?

On the morning of Day 5 of my exposure to the virus, I did an antigen test upon waking up. It said, “positive”.

I stared at the result. I was shattered.

I was given a ‘Home Isolation Or Surveillance Order’ for one week.

Home Isolation. Away from people. I am used to being away from people for retreats but this time, while in home isolation, I was in isolation with angry thoughts, bitter thoughts, sad thoughts.

 On the first day, I spent much of my time being angry: I was angry at the person for giving the virus to me. My breaths were hot, like a fiery dragon’s. Nobody wants to be infected. Nobody in their right mind wants to pass the virus on to others, I understand. My friend is feeling guilty, I understand. But still, I was very angry. I have to announce to the church that I am a “Covid Positive”, a label I was trying to run away from ever since the start of Covid 2 years ago. And it has been miserable getting Covid. It was a terrible experience.    

On the second day, I spent most of my time sulking and getting angry at God. I complained to God. Why would You allow this happen? What about Sunday? Who would preach at the church on Sunday? What would the church leaders think of me? Would the people run away from me when I see them in church on Sunday?

On the third day, I re-watched some of my favourite movies and TV series (grateful for streaming services and good internet connection). I laughed and laughed at my favourite scenes. The movie therapy took away my sadness and anger for a while. I talked to some friends (via chat, I couldn’t talk due to the persistent sore throat and cough). One of them commented that I have “joined the Covid party” which I thought was hilarious.   

On the fourth day, I was ready for a therapy session with God. I stopped sulking and stopped throwing myself a pity party (but still angry at my friend!). Throughout these couples of days, family and friends remind me that God is with me. I may be angry and bitter but this does not change the fact that God loves me.

We are in the Season of Lent. Lent is to remember that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and night to prepare Himself for the public ministry. I would love to have been there to hear His intimate conversations with His Father in Heaven. In these 40 days, Jesus was tempted by the devil three times but every time He was tempted, He leaned on God’s Word and power and He was victorious over these temptations.

May be God wanted me to experience Him in a new way in this season of Lent. May be I should lean upon God and rest in Him, no matter what the circumstances I am in.   

Looking back at the past couple of days, I am so grateful for family and friends who sent me words of encouragement. They check in on me daily to make sure that I am physically (and emotionally) healthy. There are friends who send me groceries, lunch and dinner, snacks, coconut juice, and a slice of yummy cheesecake. I am never hungry. I spent a lot of time at the dining table enjoying these little surprises. There are friends who go to the pharmacies for me to get the needed medication. I am never in need. My needs have been supplied.  

When I count my blessings, I have less to grumble about. No more complaints. No more worries. No more asking God why. After all, this is what Lent is all about: focusing on the love and sacrifice of Jesus. Not on our current misery. For now, I will nurse myself to good health and to be strong for ministry again, emotionally, physically and spiritually.  

Suggestions from Pope Francis on Fasting for Lent:

Fast from hurting words and say kind words.

Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.

Fast from anger and be filled with patience.

Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.

Fast from worries and trust in God.

Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.

Fast from pressures and be prayerful.

Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a 40-day period when Christians prepare themselves for Easter by fasting, repentance and practicing spiritual disciplines. These 40 days of Lent represented the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness before starting His public ministry. He spent time fasting, praying, preparing Himself and enduring the temptations of the evil one.  

Ash Wednesday reminds us of 2 truths: (1) we are mortal beings and (2) we are sinful beings in need of the grace and mercy of God. We are but dust. God has formed the first human beings, Adam and his wife Eve, out of dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). After they had sinned, God said to them, “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).

But God loves us. He sent Jesus Christ to us and died for us. By His blood shed on the Cross, we are no longer enemies with God but are reconciled to Him (Romans 5:10). Jesus had conquered death and offers us the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16).    

At the Ash Wednesday service, ashes (made by burning the palm leaves from last year’s Palm Sunday), are smeared on our foreheads in the shape of a Cross to remember our mortality and as a sign of repentance. As the Cross are being drawn on our foreheads, these words were spoken, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”.

Ash Wednesday is a day for us to repent of our sins. In the 40 days of Lent to come, let us remember the sufferings and sacrifices of Jesus on the Cross for us. Lent ends with Easter Sunday, a victorious day to remember that Jesus has conquered sin and death.

Praise the Lord!