Lead Others to Water in a World of Mirages
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Ecc. 1:1-2).
“It’s all meaningless, absolutely meaningless,” a businessman recently confided in me. Only later, I would discover that he was a multi-millionaire with a lavish, luxurious house in the foothills south of Denver, but with a heart desperate for the Word of God.
At the time, I had no idea as to his wealthy status. We had just met at a prayer center located outside of Colorado Springs, and his downcast demeanor draped across the room as heavily as the afternoon storm clouds that fell upon the face of Pike’s Peak. With his eyes transfixed upon the darkening jawline of the mountain ridge before us, I noticed that his lips quivered in deep thought. “Without God, it’s all meaningless, but often we have to learn the hard way.”
His observation echoes the sentiment declared by the great wisdom “teacher,” Qoheleth, in the prologue of Ecclesiastes. Often, we associate the lament of “toil under the sun” as a condition of unfortunate individuals upon this cyclical rollercoaster earth – and not as a characteristic of the rich. And yet, for both the rich and the poor, for both the wise and the foolish, life consists of “vanities,” – transitory objects in which humans frequently make their greatest pursuits.
The Hebrew word used to describe such vaporous and vain objectives is hěběl, which can mean “breath” or “vapor,” and often is a reference to idols and idolatry. In his scholastic work on Ecclesiastes, Dr. Knut Heim, has offered another possible translation: mirage – as in “Everything is a mirage.” The word usage conveys the idea of life as a desolate desert. Within such a parched landscape, however, we often see pools of thirst-quenching water that seemingly radiate and shimmer before us, but despite our best – and frantic – pursuits of such oases, the water always exists just beyond our grasp. Count it all as “futility!” says the Teacher. So, the subsequent question might be asked, “What are the mirages in our modern lives?”
I often encounter young individuals who find themselves caught in the pursuit of a mirage: meaningless careers, lackluster relationships, and inconsequential desires. Many of these young men and women can easily navigate social media and the technological world, yet they feel a sense of impenetrable loneliness. They possess a great ambition to change the world, but they lack the confidence to see beyond the mirages of life.
In our evangelistic toolbox, we often carry the small and handy renditions of the Gospel of John as a spiritual dietary supplement for such hungry individuals so that they might begin to nibble upon and to sample the nutritive Word of God. Yet, perhaps the raw and rough-textured Ecclesiastes might have more to offer in regard to the “harshness” of life. In Ecc. 1:4-7, Qoheleth writes that life operates in a continuous, repetitive manner like waves that crash upon the shore and then retreat into the sea, only to return again and again. However, while generation after generation has treaded and travailed upon this earth – the earth itself remains “firm and forever” (see also Ps. 104:5; 119:90). So does God our Creator – He remains forever, and in Him we find our true identity and purpose.
The apostle Paul expanded upon this concept in his theological dissertation to the Romans. He wrote that our true liberation from the “frustration of this life” (its supposed meaninglessness) can only be found through our faith in Jesus Christ and our adoption as children of God (Rom. 8:20-21). It is our faith and our relationship to Christ that offers the only truly tangible and eternal value to our lives.
Perhaps the advice of another entrepreneurial missionary, this time a 35-year-old man whom I also met at the prayer center can best summarize the difficulties of life as viewed through the lens of faith. As someone who has persevered through homelessness and other challenges, this young man said:
“This life is temporary, and it’s like a training ground. What really matters is eternity, and not chasing after things that are fleeting.”
In other words: To have suffered well each day, and then at its peaceful conclusion, to be able to admire God’s creation, that in itself offers substantial water to our dry and parched lips – and not just the promise of a beautiful mirage that always dances upon the next horizon.
Prayer: Dear Lord, our life-giving spiritual water, renew us each day to be living testimonies to your presence in our lives and to help lead thirsty individuals to you.
Associate Pastor, Aurora Hills Church