The third chapter of Ecclesiastes begins with this wisdom, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”
Growing up in North Dakota, I know my fair share of seasons. As a farmer’s daughter, I experienced season changes with even greater meaning. There was the labor of seed-time in which the fields swallowed up what we offered and the only immediate fruit was the dirt and grease covering from head to toe. The fields would then change faces to reveal bright, new life – an encouragement that the labor was not in vain. Next, waiting and maturing. Then eventually knowing their time has passed, these fields offered up their life. Their stripped appearance revealed their sacrifice; they had fulfilled their God-given purpose. Then, winter slumber never failed to call and a they would be hidden in blankets of white.
It is one thing to admire the seasons on display in nature. The real challenge is facing the seasons in our lives personally and recognizing their beauty. Solomon understood this when he wrote later in the same chapter, “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time” (v. 10-11).
As Solomon described, our own lives vary from seasons of mourning and weeping to times of laughter and dance, peace and war, love and hate. Not that everything in our lives can be attributed to the will of God. Let’s face it, God does not will for us to sin, and sin is ultimately the cause of our mourning, weeping, war, and hate in this world. Nonetheless, we can rest in the assurance that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). We will go in and out of seasons of mourning and seasons of war. Amongst all these, however, there is one constant in which God intends for us to remain . . . JOY. May our JOY never go out of season.
Indeed, it seems quite strange to announce that we are to have joy even within seasons of pain. Yet, never is it more vital than during those very times. As it states in Nehemiah 8:10, it is the joy of the Lord that is our strength. Not just any joy – the joy of the Lord. So how are we to navigate the more trying seasons? How can we be strengthened with the joy of the Lord?
Ultimately, the Psalmist knew it well, that joy comes from being in the presence of God. Psalm 16:11 sings out, “You will fill me with joy in Your presence” and Psalm 21:6 says that we are made glad “by the joy of Your presence”. Joy, after all, is a fruit of God’s presence – His Spirit – in us (Galatians 5:22). And when God’s presence invades our space, Eternity invades our time. Again the Psalmist: “you lovers of the Eternal . . . Light is sown in the just; as it grows, it brings joy to the pure of heart. Celebrate the Eternal God” (Psalm 97:10-12). Abiding in God’s eternal presence and perspective . . . this is the key to joy.
The New Testament apostles lived in such a way that far outshined our romanticized “carpe diem” ambitions. They not only lived in the moment, they lived for Eternity. How else could James exhort us to “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). It is the reason Peter encourages us to “be happy that you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings so that you will be happy and full of joy when Christ comes again in glory” (1 Peter 4:13). As Paul states in Romans 8:18, “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” And again in 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul directs us unto the Eternal: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
I am slowly learning to view my present with the eyes of the Eternal. Remember the burden Solomon spoke of? “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11). Within that very same verse 11 is this interesting bit of wisdom: “He has set eternity in the heart of man.”
An eternity mindset is not one of escapism. We are here for a purpose. Our purpose cannot be wholly fulfilled on the earth, however, if we grasp for things of the earth. Yes, I believe in a God who works all things for good and I believe it for the here and now, but my ultimate hope is for a good that endures. I believe in a God whose desire is to prosper us in all things (3 John 1:2). However, in our prosperity, let us not chase after the world (1 John 2:15, Colossians 3:2). In Christ we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), but let it be for His kingdom and not our own. Overcomers? Yes, just like Christ! Just remember that it’s the world we are to overcome (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4). I praise God that He heals me now, yet I will praise Him all the more that death itself has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55). Hallelujah, I believe God is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). I will press toward that prize! And may God Himself be my exceedingly great reward (Genesis 15:1)! May our crowns be ones of everlasting joy (Isaiah 51:11)!
I’ve long ago discovered that God can say things far better than I, so I will end with this encouragement from His Word. . .
“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
(Everlasting Joy is Never Out of Season written by Lesley Rieland)