Updated: Apr 1, 2019
*Every week during our 12 week series in the book of Ecclesiastes we will post a devotional guide that week for the passage that was preached on the most recent Sunday. We encourage you to engage this book of the Bible more fully by walking through this devotional each week after having listened to the sermon on Sunday.*
Week 9- Ecclesiastes 11:1-6
You don’t know the future.
This is a statement that is so self evident that it hardly needs to be stated. And yet Solomon says it four times in Ecclesiastes 11:1-6. You don’t know what joys God has in store for you and you don’t know what calamities will strike you (Eccl. 11:2). You don’t know what plans you have that will come to fruition or what hard work will pay off (Eccl. 11:6). You don’t know if your life will take a sharp turn from what you thought it would look like or when that may happen. You don’t know what trials lay ahead of you. You don’t know the future.
And this is exactly how God has ordered things. In His wisdom and sovereignty He has kept us from knowing the future that only He knows (Eccl. 11:5). Only God knows each and every “time” of our lives (Eccl. 3:2-8) because He brings everything about. And we know that since all of our “times” come from God’s good hand that they are “beautiful” (Eccl. 3:11). Yes, even the difficult times are part of God’s plan for us to better know and worship Him, to make us more like Christ, and to bring glory to His own name. It seems that godly wisdom would have us be reminded of our ignorance of the future to encourage trust and dependence on God.
But because we have experienced difficult times and don’t know the future we often are very careful and calculated in our decision making. We want to ensure success and guard against struggle. So, we try and break free from our limited view by attempting to figure out the future, or we go overboard trying to plan and prepare for every possibility in an effort to control the future. But both efforts are futile. Our carefully manicured 10-year plan can be thwarted in a second and the times that we act spontaneously with little to no thought can be rewarded with great blessings and benefits to us or others. We simply don’t know.
In light of this reality it seems that there are two common approaches to our lack of future knowledge that should be avoided as well as one liberating approach that is not utilized enough. The first approach is that we often fall into paralysis driven by fear. We are afraid of what the future may bring and of the negative consequences that may accompany our choices. Because of this we are paralyzed in our decision making out of fear of a misstep. And this fear-driven paralysis comes from a lack of trusting God—as if He won’t provide for us or be with us if we make the “wrong” decision. This approach simply will not do. We have to live our lives and make decisions every day. And, even more than that, we must trust God because He is not only in control of all things, but He is good. When we delight in knowing, worshipping, and obeying God, we can be confident with every step forward into the future that we take (Ps. 37:23).
Another common approach is inaction driven by cowardice. We have so many options before us and seemingly infinite outcomes that we don’t just want to make the best decision, we want to make the right decision (as if there is only one obvious right choice and the rest are wrong). We carefully watch the wind and the clouds to determine the exact right time to sow and reap (Eccl. 11:4), but this “perfect” time will never come. We struggle to take the next step in life because we idolize safety and security, and fear risk. So, in our cowardice, we drag our feet in decision making.
But safety and security are myths. No matter how calculated we are, or how safe we are trying to be, a thousand unknowns can undermine our security in a second. A minute-by-minute plan of a normal work day can go awry by a car accident or any other number of unplanned events. Because we can’t guarantee safety all of life is infused with normal levels of risk. Our finitude requires us to have faith and trust in God, which is the best way to live.
This is the liberating approach that we should all take: Out of being fully satisfied in Christ alone ,and having radical faith and trust in our God who is sovereign and good, we labor diligently and take risks regularly for the sake of the gospel. We fear decision making because we don’t want anything bad to happen to us or our loved ones, and we want happy, pleasant life circumstances. But fullness of joy is not found in the presence of worldly pleasures or the absence of suffering, but in God’s presence (Ps. 16:11).
When we see that we have all we need in Christ then we can live bold, obedient, generous lives for His glory. We can focus on becoming more like Christ and imitating Him every day. We can labor diligently at the work, responsibilities, and relationships that God has given to us to glorify Jesus and help others to also be satisfied in Him. We can generously give of our time, gifts, abilities, possessions, and finances for God’s glory and the good of others. And we can move from only taking normal, everyday risks (like driving a car) to taking bold, gospel-centered risks because of a bold faith in Jesus.
“The strength to risk losing face for the sake of Christ is the faith that God’s love will lift up your face in the end and vindicate your cause. The strength to risk losing money for the cause of the Gospel is the faith that we have a treasure in the heavens that cannot fail. The strength to risk losing life in this world is faith in the promise that he who loses his life in this world will save it for the age to come.” (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, 90)
This type of bold, generous, risky lifestyle comes from having a perspective “beyond the sun” instead of merely trying to guarantee safety and happiness “under the sun.” It comes from finding our hope and satisfaction in Christ alone and recognizing the good gifts God gives to us in this life that are to be enjoyed for His glory. It comes from trusting that our lives are in God’s secure hands and that He is for our joy in Christ Jesus. It comes from understanding the call to die to ourselves and the world, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus so that we may experience His full, abundant life (Matt. 16:24-25). And it comes from realizing that a life lived for Christ—whether in generously pouring ourselves out for the gospel or dying for the gospel—is always to our gain because “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
In what ways do you try and control your future? What does this show you are trusting in besides God?
When it comes to making bigger life decisions do you tend toward paralysis or inaction? Why? Try and pinpoint the heart-level issues going on.
Whenever you do take risks in life are they for the sake of the gospel and informed by wisdom or are the selfish and/or careless and informed by foolishness?
What are some ways you can begin to take more bold, generous risks for the sake of the gospel?
Think of at least one way that you can be more generous, bold, and risky for the sake of the gospel this week (financially helping someone in need, taking the time to grow in your relationships, using your gifts/talents to benefit others and glorify God, boldly proclaiming the gospel to someone, etc.) Pray for opportunities to boldly and generously pour yourself out for the glory of Christ and the benefit of others, and intentionally take action steps in the power of the Holy Spirit.