Can you handle the “hebel”? (part 2)

‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
    says the Teacher.
‘Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.’

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2

Last week, we saw that life and everything in this world is not necessarily meaningless, but it is fleeting. The idea behind “hebel” is like smoke, breath or a bubble that soon disappears.

“Hebel” is also translated in the Bible as “idol”. And of course, there is a connection between the idea of transience and an idol. So in Isaiah 57:13, for example, idols are blown away by a breath, but God is a firm refuge.

“When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But whoever takes refuge in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.”

What Ecclesiastes is going to teach us is that the very definition of an idol is something temporal that we attempt to grasp hold of as something eternal; a false god we worship instead of the true God. So what is meaningless is to search for pleasures, riches or fame, work or wisdom as something we can grab hold of and find satisfaction in forever. That is putting those things in the place of God, who alone has all wisdom and who alone gives all good gifts, and who alone is eternal.

When we know better who God is, and our place before Him, then our frustrating and fruitless quests for meaning and understanding and even our identity, are stilled.

These two ideas, fleetingness and idolatry, conveyed by the word “hebel”, provide us with much food for thought. It is not meaningless to seek something stable and lasting in a world that is transient and fleeting. What is meaningless however, is to look to anyone other than the Lord Jesus Christ to provide this for us. He alone is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Reflection: Where do we tend to look, other than Christ, for stability and permanence and meaning? Why is Christ worthy of our worship?

Psalm 4: God Gives Greater Joy

Psalm 4 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
    You have given me relief when I was in distress.
    Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
O men, how long shall my honour be turned into shame?
    How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.
Be angry, and do not sin;
    ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord.
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
    Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put more joy in my heart
    than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Where do you go when you are feeling overwhelmed?

I have certain default settings. When I feel overwhelmed there are two places I look to: Amazon to buy books and Netflix: television and retail therapy. I go to these things because I believe they will lift my spirits and restore my joy. They don’t.

If I’m honest, sometimes the temptation is to do more serious and more sinister things than buying books. Sometimes I want to give up on my vocation as a pastor. Other times I think about giving up on being a Christian altogether. The reason is that, in those moments, I have begun to tell myself that I would be happier if I were not a pastor or a Christian.

We don’t know exactly what problem is weighing so heavily on David but we know there is an issue. The remarkable thing is that When he is under pressure he does not run from God or blame God. He doesn’t start to treat good things as though they are gods. Instead he runs directly to God.

So I ask the question: how is he able to do that? What drives him back to God again and again through trial after trial? He knows that God gives greater joy than anything or anyone else.

You have put more joy in my heart
    than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

So learn this from the Psalm… Whatever I am going through and whatever I am feeling, I will never be happier or more at peace than when I entrust my life to God. He is the God of my righteousness. He covers me with the obedience of His Son, Jesus. He has set me apart as one of his own people and so I know that he hears me when I call and that he will shine the light of His Face upon me.