Tony McCann, Flickr
Tony McCann, Flickr

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3.1-8 NIV

These are some of the most popular words ever spoken from the pulpit. Personally I have heard these lines, or a couple of these lines, come from the lips of people hundreds of times. I’ve heard it from my father, my youth pastor, a guest speaker, a missionary, an elder, a deacon; the list goes on. There have been occasions where it was a Sunday sermon, a Friday night youth talk, or a conference over the weekend. I have heard these words spoken at funerals and even at wedding anniversaries. I’m sure if you thought back, you could make a laundry list of times you have heard these words spoken too.

Often when I was growing up and hearing these verses preached about, Ecclesiastes 3 was used as a grand declaration about God and how He worked in the world. This always brought up weird questions like, “Why would God want a time of hate or war?” Or thoughts like, “Where does the stuff that God throws away go?” and “Does God drink Gatorade when He is tired and gives up?”

Yes I realize that last one was especially childish, but for the longest time Ecclesiastes 3 was a strange collection of poetic lines that I had no idea what to do with. They didn’t seem to make sense. That is, until a pastor made this passing comment.

“When Solomon said, “There is a time for everything” he was not making a theological statement.”

That idea struck me like a baseball bat over the head. “There is a time for everything” is not a theological statement?

This pastor went on to say that Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, was speaking philosophically. This was not a declaration about God or how God worked in the universe. This was not about the character of God or the things that He liked. This was a poetic statement about how the world is. Solomon was writing about how life felt, how life was experienced, how life moved from this moment to the next. And the best way that he could sum up the goings on, the ideal way to tell people about his observation on how life works was, in a little poem. And the poem started like this, “There is a time for everything.” Or you could say, life happens in seasons.

When I look back on my life, and even think back on all the times that I heard people preach or talk about Ecclesiastes 3, I can see some patterns. There was a time when funerals happened almost every month. Right around the time that my daughter was born, my Facebook timeline was covered with pictures of new born boys and girls. It seemed like every other day someone was announcing that they too were expecting. A season of births and funerals. A time to be born, and a time to die. It doesn’t take much to see what Solomon was getting at with these lines of philosophical poetry. A time to be born brings a time of joy, and also a time without sleep. A time of death also brings a time of sorrow and crying. Life happens in seasons.

To say that this observation is accurate is an understatement. These eight verses perfectly encapsulate what everyone is going through. You, right now, reading these words can look at those lines and say, “I am living in a season of mourning.” or “I am in a season of planting and building.” Each one of us is in one of these seasons, one of these times of life. And that is not a bad thing.

Actually, this was one of the most freeing and refreshing things I have learned. Life happens in seasons. That realization rendered all those weird and childish questions into moot. I no longer had confusion about God and what He was like. Rather I found encouragement in these words. And with that encouragement, I found a guide to help me through the different seasons of life.

Encouragement #1

“There is a time for everything” is how Solomon starts his poem. A time.

How often I have been in a difficult season, a time of mourning, or a time where there has been been death in the family and I felt trapped. I was trapped in the emotions, the sadness, the sense of loss, and it never seemed to go away. The pain was all to present. The hurt, while on the inside, felt like I could physically touch it. The tears were falling down, and the used Kleenexes were piling up.

We’ve all experienced that. Not necessarily the death of a family member, but we have all had our hearts broken in some form. A girlfriend or boyfriend breaks up with us. A friendship ends. A beloved pet runs away.

But Solomon says, this is only a season. Things are going to change. You may feel sad today and even tomorrow, but your future will not always be sad days. You will not always feel that your heart has been broken. You will not always be crying and mourning a relationship destroyed. Your current circumstances may suck, but that is not going to be the state of your whole life. Things are going to shift from sadness to gladness. There is a time in your life when all you’ll think is, “This sucks.” But there will also be a time when you’ll think, “This is awesome.” Because life happens in seasons.

And this realization led me to some instruction, something that I need to do with this new information.

Instruction #1

I can’t let this current season destroy me.

When we are in the midst of heart break or a rough patch, it is very easy to be consumed by the despair and negativity. And I say consumed because if we do not remember that life happens in seasons, we may be overwhelmed. Maybe you have seen people that are going through a sad season or a season of mourning. They have a cloud over their head, they don’t look good. It happens. But it is very easy to stay there. We can get very comfortable living under the sad rain cloud. We can make our home in that season of mourning and sadness, and turn everything that happens in our day into a sad or depressing thing. When I have found myself living with a rain cloud over my head, I notice that I say things like, “Of course this is happening to me.” Or I’ll say with a sad tone, “Well, that doesn’t surprise me.”

This is not healthy behavior. And this isn’t living in the truth of Scripture. If life is a series of seasons, sometimes good and sometimes bad, then we cannot live as if our current circumstances are the constant. One bad day, one sad season doesn’t pollute or dilute all the good seasons that our lives have been made up of or will be made up of. We can let it, if that is what we want, but that isn’t what life is supposed to be like. Life is a series of seasons.

Consider Psalm 23. It is a song of life in its seasons, some times good and some times bad. But the author doesn’t let that destroy him. Neither should it destroy us.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Encouragement #2

“The times they are a-changin.”

That line that Bob Dylan so famously sang echoes the truth of Ecclesiastes 3. The times change. Life is a series of seasons, and that is a good thing. But it took me a while to fully understand what that meant. As I mentioned earlier, I had grown up with the idea that this passage was somehow about God and how He worked. In some strange and extremely confusing way I was taught that this was about God’s character.

I was under the impression that God changed or that God moved through these seasons of needing to weed out and plant, or kill and bring to life. I can’t say in hindsight that there isn’t some merit to that thought, but that was never what the author of Ecclesiastes was trying to talk about. Ecclesiastes was a philosophy paper examining life’s big questions. What is life all about? What am I supposed to do? What happens after I’m dead? While God is talked about and mentioned in this book, it wasn’t meant to try and put words to His character or actions.

And that was great news.

The times may be a-changin’, but God doesn’t.

I may be in a season of mourning, but that doesn’t change who God is. You may be in a season of happiness but that doesn’t alter or effect that character of God in any way. God still feels emotions and feels for you as you experience things, but that being said, his character itself is not altered.

All this may sound incredibly cheesy to you, but that doesn’t mean that it is any less true. With Ecclesiastes 3 being about life being a series of seasons and not about God, passages of Scripture that once caused confusion or caused us to hesitate just a bit are no longer a problem. When I was still in that confused state, before I understood what Ecclesiastes 3 was about, these verses were a problem for me. But not anymore. In fact, these verses now are a great comfort.

But you [Lord] remain the same,
    and your years will never end. Psalm 102.27

I the Lord do not change. – Malachi 3.6

I will heal their waywardness
    and love them freely,
    for my anger has turned away from them. Hosea 14.4

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5.6-8

The God of the Bible is a God that does not change. He is not affected by the seasons of my life. His character or His actions are not swayed by what I am going through. In Him there are no seasons, and that is encouraging. That means that this God is always there. He isn’t going to take off if we are going through a mourning season. He will be there with us. That means that this God is always committed. When we have turned our backs on Him, when we are going through a season of uprooting things or destroying relationships, He won’t be. He will not be uprooted, He is devoted to His children. He cannot be destroyed, nor the relationship that He desires with you be killed.

That also means that when this God says that He loves you, He really means it. When I am feeling alone and despised by the world, or when I think that there is not a soul on the Earth that cares about me at all, this God is unfazed. My feelings and thoughts don’t change what has been, is and forever will be true – He loves me. And He loves you.

This lead me to reconsider how I was structuring my life.

Instruction #2

There is no getting away from the season in life. We may not like the season that we are in now. We may not like the season that we are about to enter or are now exiting. But that is how life goes. Life is a series of seasons. And with those ever changing seasons, it would be wise for us to have something constant in the times of shifting and moving from one time to another. We need to have a firm foundation, something or someone that we can use as a rock to stand on when the seasons change and the storms come.

Many people I know, and I’m sure you know as well, cling on to things that aren’t inherently solid. They latch onto this thing or that thing because it promises that it can give them security. It promises them that they will be safe if they have this thing. It promises that life will be easier, that the storms will not bother them again, as long as they have this one thing.

Just to name a few off the top of my head, people often cling to things like friends and family. They latch on to work or the fame that their job gives. They hold onto the feelings that their alcohol or drugs give them. They use sex or relationships to be the things that help them get through the seasons of life.

And while I may be saying that other people do this, I know in my heart that I am guilty just the same as they are. I have clung on to things for my security before. But it doesn’t work.

The book of Proverbs, written largely by the same author of Ecclesiastes, mentions on more than one occasion how alcohol is nothing but a mocker, teasing you and leading you astray. He also talks about how sex, especially outside of marriage, is empty and void of any meaning. In fact, he goes so far as to say that sex, when abused and misused, can be an extremely destructive force. And a person only has to finish reading the book of Ecclesiastes to see what work, fame, friends, and family are in the grand scheme of things. Solomon says that all things are a vapour, they do not last. They are here one moment and gone the next. They cannot stand in the time of storms. They are not a constant in the ever changing seasons of life.

That is why it is so very important to remember who is. There is only one Person that is truly constant, one Person in whom there is no changing. That one Person is the God of the Bible. Everyone else in this world will change and move and leave through the ever shifting seasons of life. Our work, fame, the apparent pleasures of alcohol, drugs, and sex will fade into nothingness. We need to build our foundation on a Solid Rock. We need to stand firm on something that will last.

We would be wise to hear the advice that James offers us.

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4. 8

Encouragement #3

Sitting back and looking at what I have learned from a shift in my understanding of Ecclesiastes, I am amazed. Realizing that this chapter is not about God and His character, but is a philosophical statement has released and refreshed me in new ways.

Suddenly God isn’t a changing variable, but He is the only constant in a series of seasons. Life around me is always changing, and that is just how it works. But it occurred to me that it isn’t just me.

Often when we are in the midst of our seasons, whether they are a good and enjoyable season or not, we may feel like we are alone in that. Especially in the sad and mourning seasons, we tend to think that we are going through this all by ourselves. That may be what we are feeling, but that doesn’t have to be the reality.

When God created man, He noted that it was not good that Adam was alone. Adam wasn’t equipped to go through the changing seasons of life by himself. It was then that God created a helper and a companion for Adam, the woman Eve.

Human beings are created for relationship. We need one another. It is not good for us to be alone, especially when we are going through the struggles and storms of life. It is not good for us to try to navigate through the seasons of change.

For some people making friends comes easy. For others, family is something that they have in plenty. There are people always surrounding them to support and uplift them in the series of seasons. But that is not the reality for everyone. Some people have lost their families, or have had family walk away from them for one reason or another. Other people cannot find people to surround and support them like friends should. Unfortunately, this is a reality for many people. But that doesn’t mean that all is lost. God has made a helper and a companion for those of us like that.

This is what the Church is. Or what the Church is supposed to be. I realize that the Church, or maybe more accurately, the people that were in the Church have caused a great many hurts, but this is the ideal that the Church is to be constantly working towards. The Church is a body of people moving through the various seasons of life together. Some of them are sad and mourning, others are happy and dancing. But together they help each other move through their season.

I’m not saying that the Church is supposed to be pulling people out of their sadness or mourning and forcing them to be happy about everything. I am trying to say the opposite actually, following the words of the Apostle Paul:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.Romans 12.15

We are called to be there for one another, to be a kind of support system for our fellow believers. I think that is part of our role, something that is implied when the biblical authors call us “brothers and sisters in the faith.” They are poking at this idea when they talk about us being a part of a family “not of blood, but of Spirit.”

A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity. – Proverbs 17.17

Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family,
and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you—
better a neighbour nearby than a relative far away. – Proverbs 27.10

We are not the only ones going through the series of seasons that we call life. Everyone is,  including the people that make up the Church. And with that realization, I knew that I needed to start working towards this ideal.

Instruction #3

We need to be friends. We need to be friendly. This is how people should be talking about the Church. They are a group of people that are there for you, no matter what you are going through. Everyone is going through a season. It may be a different season than the one that you or I may be going through, but they are going through one as well. That is what life is.

And just like us, they need someone to help them through it. Yes, God is there, that always constant Person, but we have a role to play. Just like Adam in the beginning of history, it is not good for people to be alone. We do not like it when we are.

We need to be there for others, and be there constantly. Just as God is always there, we need to try to replicate that quality. To stick around no matter what someone is going through is what they need most. I know this because I know that when I am going through the more difficult seasons of life, that is exactly what I want. We need to show these people, the people in the Church, the people outside of the Church, whoever is going through a series of seasons, love.

Now making that statement can get someone people flustered. Other people get confused and do not know what that means or how to show strangers love. They may not know how to show people that they are close to. Love can be a complicated and confusing thing.

I have found that one of the simplest and most effective ways of showing someone love, especially in the changing season of life, is to show them something simple. Show them that you are there for them. Show them that you are doing this and you are not gaining from doing it. Showing anyone that they are loved is not about making yourself look better or a way of earning yourself a dollar. Showing someone that they are loved is about them, showing that they are valued, that they are cared about, that they are important and special.

Practically, that might mean buying someone a coffee and letting them vent and rant and rave for an hour. That may look like giving someone a much needed night out and watching their kids for them. It could be as simple as starting a text message or Facebook conversation. Even these small things can have tremendous impact on people going through the changing seasons of life.

If that isn’t enough, the author of four biblical books delivers the final strike of the hammer.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3. 16-18

Final Thoughts

Sometimes I really wonder how I was so wrong in my thinking and understanding. I don’t know how I came to those conclusions, whether it was all because of someone’s teaching or my own bad logic. But what I do know is this. That this shift in understanding of Ecclesiastes 3 has radically altered my life.

It has changed how I think about life. It is a series of seasons, times that come and go. And with that, I need to be careful in my thinking that I am not destined to or going to be stuck in one season forever.

It has changed how I understand the God of the Bible. It is not Him that changes, rather He is the Constant in the world of change. And with that, I need to let go of the things that are not firm foundations, and start clinging to the One who is.

It has changed how I act towards others. I am not the only one that is going through a season right now. Everyone is, and that includes the people in the church. And with that, I need to be a loving brother to the people that are going through different seasons.

How does this shift in thinking make you feel?

Do you agree with me, or do you read this passage differently?

Let me know in the comment section.

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