Daily Update #251

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil,
and this was my reward for all my toil. Ecc 2:10
One of my all time favourite films is John Boorman’s reworking of the Arthur legend, Excalibur. It is an old film now, 1981, so you’ll have to search hard to find it, but it is well worth it for a scene near the end in which Percival brings the ailing King Arthur the Holy Grail. Now this is all fiction, but when Arthur drinks from the grail, he whispers these words, which whether fiction or not, are really powerful.
‘I did not know how empty was my soul, until it was filled.’
What a powerful idea, that in all his achievements and failures, Arthur’s deepest fulfilment was to be restored to God.
In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher shares his insights, from a position or power and position few of us could even dream of, let alone copy. When we read Ecclesiastes, we are tackling the question of, ‘How can I live well?’  Each avenue the preacher takes us down explores different pursuits of meaning. In these verses he examines self-indulgence, which could well define a lot of western culture. It is a cold shower for the soul. This isn’t to say that interests are wrong, Christians make enormous contributions in culture and entertainment, but it does ask what if that were our goal?
In verse 1 he shows that not taking life seriously (laughter) was foolish, but that endlessly indulging pleasures was also pointless. As he pursues self indulgence, his expansive houses and luxurious gardens come under scrutiny, verses 4-5. Then he added pools and trees, to ensure his life remained luxurious, verse 6. To these are added slaves, the children of slaves, concubines, flocks and herds, gold and personal treasures, verse 7-8 and he became great. He has all this and status and reputation too. He filled his life with everything he, you or I could imagine or desire, denying himself nothing.
In this he surely found fulfilment, but ironically, in verse 10, we discover it was pursuit that was the reward, rather than the pleasure, ‘my heart found pleasure in all my toil.’ Isn’t that so often the case. We plan, design and save for something that we hope will bring some new vista or peace in life, only to find the imagining was better than the fulfilment. I wonder if that’s because that’s where our energies have been most excited. I wonder if the pursuit of meaning is actually satisfying in itself. But what I don’t need to wonder is what this also tells us about the heart. ‘It is ‘deceitful above all things.,’ Jer 17:9. We can’t actually trust our own hearts. Meaning is not, according to this, found through satisfying the appetites of the heart to try and experience all things.
I love the book of Ecclesiastes. Though I tremble at the thought of its directness and its clarity. It challenges me to re-evaluate my overall goals, my priorities, how I spend my time, where we are finding satisfaction in life. Is it achievements, or possessions or pleasures? What do we think about when it is quiet and there is no distraction? When we come to know Jesus Christ, we want to know more, Eph 3:19 and be filled with God, don’t we? But like Arthur, we just don’t know what full is.
Almighty Lord and everlasting God, we ask you to direct, sanctify and govern both our hearts and bodies in the ways of your laws and the works of your commandments; that through your most mighty protection, both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.