(There is) a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones (Ecclesiastes 3:5).
This pairing has many Bible scholars baffled and fascinated at the same time. Some possible meanings include:
– A time to have children, and a time to cease having children.
– A time to prepare a field (removing stones), and a time to ruin a field (by adding stones to make it unfit for farming, as in an act of war against an enemy).
– A time to approach something as a problem to be removed (as in stones needing to be removed from a field), and a time to approach something as a resource to be used for good (as in gathering stones to build a wall.)
Let’s entertain option three. It’s really the whole “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” principle. God allows struggles to enter our lives. These “stones” can be obstacles, or they can be repurposed for good. Pray before you act; is it time to remove the problem, or does God want you to take a bad situation and creatively bring about a constructive solution?
Humans can make a rule for anything. We want to make sure we get it right, so we create rules to monitor our every behavior. In the Victorian Era, mourning was dictated by rules of social decorum. Mourners were to remain in full black garb, including jewelry, then they could promote to grey, mauve, then white. The relationship dictated the period: widows, 2 years; loss of a parent/child, 1 year; down to first cousins, 4 weeks.
These silly guidelines for mourning say nothing to the heart. How do we know how long to grieve? Whether we’ve lost a loved one to death, a sweetheart to misunderstanding, or a friend who had to move away, the pain is intense and comes and goes as it pleases without consideration of the mourner. When the pain is fresh, it’s time to mourn. But as time moves on, we begin to realize that the world is still in motion and there’s life to be lived, and we find ourselves in an internal struggle – is it time to let go? Will there be harm done if we don’t cling to the loss?
Ending our mourning is not saying goodbye to the person or to their memory; it’s simply saying goodbye to the pain. If you’re currently grieving, let God reveal His nearness and rest in Him. Look forward to the end of the mourning, and get ready to dance in honor of the One who dries every tear.
(There is) a time to mourn, and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3:4)
My husband’s grandmother taught preschoolers for years, so I especially appreciate this magnet on her refrigerator: “No Whining.” God says there’s a time to weep, and a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:4), and wouldn’t the world be a more pleasant place if we could discern the difference?
After God rescued the Israelites from slavery — from slavery — they began to whine about food. Oh, they had food, and they didn’t have to work for that food, but it just wasn’t the food they preferred. Moses told God, “They weep all over me, saying, ‘Give us meat'” (Numbers 11:13). They’re whining caused God to become angry and Moses to become stressed out (v.10).
What’s your latest bellyache? Is it worthy of weeping, or would a good belly laugh help you focus on the goodness that God is pouring into your life?
In five days, I’m going to have a pretty amazing day. I’m going to experience the first day of school as a teacher for the first time in several years.
When I graduated from college, I taught high school math. I loved teaching and adored my students (most of them, just keeping it real,) but after 5 years of teaching, God called me to leave the classroom and go into ministry fulltime. I had to break down my classroom, and I remember packing up posters, tools, bulletin board supplies and the like, thinking I’d never have a classroom again. Little did I know that 17 years later, God would call me back into the classroom, this time teaching 8th grade math. I’m starting all over again.
In the seasons of life, there is a time to break down, and a time to build up (Ecclesiastes 3:3). Is it your time to dismantle? Do so with fondness, savoring every good memory. Is it your time to build up? Do so with anticipation of what God has in store!
If you’ve been traveling this road with me through Ecclesiastes 3, you’ve noticed that God is giving us seasons on opposite ends of the spectrum. Think about each of these opposites from the perspective of standing in the middle, realizing the outcome could go either way. As we come to a time to kill, and a time to heal (v.3) and think about the circumstances that could lead to one of those two conclusions, we can reason that “the middle” is something (a ministry, a business, a group, a project) that is virtually “wounded.” We are at a crossroads: is it time to “kill” it, or should we do whatever it takes to bring healing?
This pair points out an action that we will take (note God says “kill”, not “die.”) It’s hard to kill a project or shut down a ministry because it feels like failure, or at least like we’re quitting. God is teaching us, sometimes it’s His will to shut something down and walk away. But of course, sometimes we’re supposed to hang in there and do what we can to patch up what’s broken. How can we discern? With much prayer, God will make it known.
God says there is a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted (Ecclesiastes 3:2). When we plant something in the ground, it’s because we want growth to happen in that place. And when we pull that plant out of the ground, it’s because it’s time to end that growth.
One day I sent my son into the yard to do a chore as a punishment: pull weeds. My little fella has a temper, and when I went outside to check on him, I discovered that for spite he had bypassed the weeds and instead had been pulling up my plants. I was not happy.
As you think on this verse, ask yourself if it’s time to begin something new or to bring an end to something else. But also ask yourself: do you tend to pull weeds in your life, or do you pull up what God is trying to plant in your life? In other words, do you tend to root out the sinful or unhealthy things, or do you sabotage the growth God is trying to bring to you by never letting His efforts take root in your heart?
When I wash my hands in a public restroom and then dry them with one of those high-powered air blowers, I watch the air push back my sagging skin and think that it must be what it looked like when Moses parted the Red Sea.
Look at your hands. No matter how good your lotion is, your hands probably tell your age. I’ve got a scar on my right hand, a reminder of the great fun I had playing sports as a youth. I’ve got short nails from doing housework, but that too is a reminder that I have a beautiful family that I get to serve in a wonderful house. And yes, I’ve got wrinkles on these hands. Bunches of them. These are reminders that God has allowed me to do a lot of things with these hands, and every day I’m a little closer to enjoying my eternal heavenly home.
How are you dealing with your mortality? If you dread death, ask yourself, is it because you haven’t taken time to learn about the promises of heaven that await you as a Christian, or is it because you lack certainty that your heart truly belongs to Jesus, the key to entering heaven?
A time to be born, and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2).
When I look back on my life, I’m shocked at how little I’ve known through the years about what God was truly doing in my life. I’ve had doors close and I’ve watched them open. I’ve had things handed to me, and I’ve had things ripped from my hands. At times I thought that I knew for certain God’s purpose for my life, and though I may have been correct in what I was thinking, little did I know that all I had discerned was a mere brushstroke of a grand masterpiece God was painting on the canvas of my life. As I look back and see that God is good, the tiny, limited perspective God has granted me, well, that’s okay with me. I’m just happy for God to be God.
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Everything has a beginning and an end. And the timing of each start and finish is with purpose, by God’s design.
One of my precious babies needed some corrective action the other day, particularly in the area of motivation. I pulled out Ecclesiastes 9:10 to share: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. The verse exploded in meaning when I paired it with the previous verse: Live joyfully with your wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity…. Sometimes we lack motivation to do things with all our might because we’re just tired of doing the same thing over and over! It feels like vanity, and it’s hard to be motivated to do vain tasks, over and over and over.
God is revealing a mystery in these two verses: there’s a link between doing your best and choosing to be joyful. I’m resolving to do both, believing that choosing to do one will help me successfully choose to do the other.
When I was a kid, I loved to watch “Let’s Make a Deal.” Contestants dressed in ridiculous costumes, and the strategy behind each game was equally ridiculous: just choose. The host asked contestants to choose if they wanted what was behind curtains 1, 2, or 3. No strategy, no skill, just random chance. Choose! Then live with your choice.
Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun (Ecclesiastes 9:9). As you daily decide whether or not you’ll choose to be joyful, realize that your joy levels impact the people you love. Your children will struggle to be joyful if you’re being sour. Your spouse, your friends, and even other drivers on the road and the cashier or waitress will be negatively impacted when you choose anger, negativity, or gloom instead of joy. What will you choose today? You — and those around you — have to live with your choice.