“Learning to Live Joyfully”, from J.I. Packer (theoloy of Joy, Eternity in our hearts)

J.I Packer: How I learned to Live Joyfully

Christianity Today, (2015, Vol. 59, No 7, Page 56, The Joy of Ecclesiastes)

Christians like to quiz each other about their favorite book in the Bible. Finding out how people experience Scripture—especially those who write books about the Bible—is a natural interest to us. When asked which Bible book is my favorite, I say Ecclesiastes. Should people raise their eyebrows and ask why, I give them two reasons.

First, it is a special pleasure to read an author with whom one resonates. That is how the writer, who called himself Qohelet—Hebrew for “Gatherer,” a title that in Greek became Ecclesiastes, the “Assembly-man”—strikes me. I see him as a reflective senior citizen, a public teacher of wisdom, something of a stylist and wordsmith. As his official testimonial or third-person testimony (it might be either) in 12:10 shows, this man took his instructional task very seriously and labored to communicate memorably. Whether he was the Solomon of history or someone impersonating him—not to deceive but to make points in the most effective way—we do not know. All I am sure of is that each point has maximum strength if it comes from the real Solomon at the end of his life.

Whoever he was, Qohelet was a realist about the many ways in which this world gives us a rough ride. But while temperamentally inclined to pessimism and cynicism, I think, he was kept from falling into either of those craters of despair by a strong theology of joy.

How far this matches the way people see me, I do not know, but this is how I want to see myself—and why I warm to Ecclesiastes as a kindred spirit. (One main difference, of course, is that his thinking is all done within the framework of Old Testament revelation.)

Second, looking back to my late-teens conversion, I see myself as having received from Ecclesiastes wisdom that I needed badly. When Jesus Christ laid hold of me, I was already well on my way to becoming a cynic. But by God’s grace, I was tamed thoroughly, and I see Ecclesiastes—the man and his book—as having done much of that taming.

Cynics are people who have grown skeptical about the goodness of life, and who look down on claims to sincerity, morality, and value. They dismiss such claims as hollow and criticize programs for making improvements. Feeling disillusioned, discouraged, and hurt by their experience of life, their pained pride forbids them to think that others might be wiser and doing better than they themselves have done. On the contrary, they see themselves as brave realists and everyone else as self-deceived. Mixed-up teens slip easily into cynicism, and that is what I was doing.

Pride led me to stand up for Christian truth in school debates, but with no interest in God or a willingness to submit to him.

I was reared in a stable home and did well at school, but, being an introvert, I was always shy and awkward in company. Also, I was barred from sports and team games by reason of a hole in my head—literally, just over the brain—that I had acquired in a road accident at age 7. For years I had to cover the hole, where there was no bone, by wearing an aluminum plate, secured to my head by elastic. I could never get my body to learn to swim or dance.

Being an isolated oddity in these ways was painful to me, as it would be to any teen. So I developed a self-protective sarcasm, settled for low expectations from life, and grew bitter. Pride led me to stand up for Christian truth in school debates, but with no interest in God or a willingness to submit to him. However, becoming a real as distinct from a nominal Christian brought change, and Ecclesiastes in particular showed me things about life that I had not seen before.

Learning to Live

Waiting for me in the pages of Ecclesiastes was a view of reality very different from my junior-level cynicism.

Ecclesiastes is one of the Old Testament’s five wisdom books. It has been said that the Psalms teach us how to worship; Proverbs, how to behave; Job, how to suffer; Song of Solomon, how to love; and Ecclesiastes, how to live. How? With realism and reverence, with humility and restraint, coolly and contentedly, in wisdom and in joy.

The Psalms teach us how to worship; Proverbs, how to behave; Job, how to suffer; Song of Solomon, how to love; and Ecclesiastes, how to live.

People who may not have read beyond chapter 3 might think of Ecclesiastes as voicing nothing more than bafflement and gloom at the way everything is. But 2:26 already goes beyond this: “to the one who pleases him God has given … joy” (ESV, used throughout). In Ecclesiastes, joy is as central a theme, and as big and graciously bestowed a blessing, as it is in, say, Philippians.

Ecclesiastes is a flowing meditation on the business of living. It has two halves. Each is a string of separate units juxtaposed without connectives in a loose-looking way, which yet links them logically and theologically by subject matter. And binding everything together are three recurring imperatives:

  • Revere God: fear in Ecclesiastes, as in Proverbs, means “trust, obey, and honor,” not “be terrified” (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12–13; 12:13).
  • Recognize good things in life as gifts from God and receive them accordingly, with enjoyment (2:24–26; 5:18–19; 8:15; 9:7–9).
  • Remember that God judges our deeds (3:17; 5:6; 7:29; 8:13; 11:9; 12:14).

There are two further unifying features. The first is the bookend sentence, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher. . . . All is vanity”—the opening words in 1:2 and the closing words in 12:8. Vanity literally means “vapor” and “fog,” and appears more than two dozen times to convey emptiness, pointlessness, worthlessness, and loss of one’s way. “Striving after wind”—that is, trying to catch hold of it—is an image of parallel meaning (1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4; 6:9). Both metaphors point to fruitless effort, of which the world is full, says the writer.

The second unifying feature is the phrase “under the sun.” It specifies the standpoint and pinpoints the perspective of no less than 29 verdicts on how things appear when assessed in this-worldly terms, without reference to God.

The first half of Ecclesiastes, chapters 1–6, is in effect a downhill slide “under the sun” into what we may call the darkness of vanity. The natural order, wisdom in itself, uninhibited self-indulgence, sheer hard work, money-making, public service, the judicial system, and pretentious religiosity—are all canvassed to find what meaning, purpose, and personal fulfillment they yield.

The reason for enquiring is given: Deep down in every human heart, God has put “eternity” (3:11)—a desire to know, as God knows, how everything fits in with everything else to produce lasting value, glory, and satisfaction. But the inquiry fails: It leaves behind only the frustration of having gotten nowhere. The implication? This is not the way to proceed.

The second half, chapters 7–12, is somewhat discursive—we might even say meandering. It labors to show that despite everything, the pursuit and practice of modest, quiet, industrious wisdom is abundantly worthwhile and cannot be embarked on too early in life. After comparing old age to a house falling to pieces (12:1–7), the writer works up to a solemn conclusion:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

That last phrase is elusive; duty may be its focus, or the phrase could be carrying the thought “the completeness of the human person,” which the Good News Bible has neatly rendered:

Fear God and keep his commands, because this is all that man was created for. God is going to judge everything we do. (12:13–14)

How then should we finally formulate the theology of joy that runs through and undergirds the entire book? Christian rejoicing in Christ and in salvation, as the New Testament depicts, goes further. But in celebrating joy as God’s kindly gift, and in recognizing the potential for joy of everyday activities and relationships, Ecclesiastes lays the right foundation:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God. (2:24)

I commend joy. (8:15)

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun. (9:9)

Being too proud to enjoy the enjoyable is a very ugly shortcoming, and one that calls for immediate correction. Let it be acknowledged that, as I had to learn long ago, discovering how under God ordinary things can bring joy is the cure for cynicism.

J. I. Packer is Board of Governor’s Professor of Theology at Regent College and author of more than 40 books, including his bestseller Knowing God.

Editor’s note: You can now read or share this essay in Spanish and Korean.

Source: Christianity Today (2015)

Learn about J.I Packer

“Eternity in Our Hearts”, by John W. Tweeddale (Hope, Betrothal to Christ, Beloveds)

Eternity in Our Hearts by John W. Tweeddale

Few things better capture the anticipation of seeing Christ face-to-face than a wedding. On January 14, 1632, the Scottish Presbyterian pastor and theologian Samuel Rutherford wrote a letter drawing attention to this phenomenon. He states, “Our love to [Christ] should begin on earth, as it shall be in heaven; for the bride taketh not by a thousand degrees so much delight in her wedding garment, as she doth in her bridegroom.”

If you have ever been to a wedding, you will appreciate Rutherford’s observation. No matter how beautiful her dress, the bride never walks down the aisle with her gaze on her gown. Her focus is on her soon-to-be husband. Rutherford extends the illustration to help us see more clearly the real wonder of heaven.

He continues, “So we, in the life to come, howbeit clothed with glory as with a robe, shall not be so much affected with the glory that goeth about us, as with the bridegroom’s joyful face and presence.” Under the surface of Rutherford’s old-fashioned prose is a profound illustration. As stunning as heaven will be, what makes it so marvelous is that we will finally see our Savior’s face. The church as the bride will be with Jesus as the groom, and they will live happily ever after.

Nearly two centuries after Rutherford wrote his famous letters, an English poet named Anne Cousin penned the well-known hymn “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” based on Rutherford’s “sweet sayings.” One stanza in particular encapsulates the drama of beholding Christ in glory:

The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

This side of eternity, the Christian life is like an engagement. It is lived in anticipation of the wedding day. As Christians, we live in between the already of our betrothal to Christ and the not-yet of the wedding feast of the lamb. We are to be like the bride-to-be who takes every occasion to prepare for life with her beloved. The expectation of seeing Christ by sight in heaven must therefore inform how we live by faith here on earth. The expectation of seeing Christ by sight in heaven must inform how we live by faith here on earth.

On a more basic level, the eagerness felt by engaged couples exposes a fundamental desire that all people share: a longing for eternity. This point is well made by the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:9–11:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Let’s consider two ways this text teaches us about our longing for eternity. First, we are told that God “has made everything beautiful in its time” (v. 11). One modern commentator has called this verse “the greatest statement of divine providence in the whole of Scripture.” What makes this biblical text so striking is that there is much in life that is far from beautiful. But the Preacher isn’t unaware of the ugliness that pervades the world. His question in verse 9 echoes the curse pronouncement in the garden of Eden: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” This is not merely a rhetorical question that is detached from the pressures of real life experience (see 1:3). The apparent futility of hard work with little gain is something he has witnessed firsthand. “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (3:10).

To be clear, the biblical record affirms the dignity of work. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were commanded to execute their duties with the promise of being fruitful (Gen. 1:28–31; 2:15–17; see Eccl. 3:13). But after the fall, work is toilsome (Gen. 3:17–19). We no longer perform our tasks in the lush environs of a garden but in the harsh conditions of a wilderness filled with thorns and thistles, failure and frustration.

As the Preacher laments in Ecclesiastes 2:23, “Work is a vexation.” When we face hardship in our careers, injustice in the workplace, and defeat in completing assignments, we are confronted with the painful truth that this fallen world will never yield lasting gain. Vocational dissatisfaction reminds us that we were made for something greater than that which our hobbies and careers can offer.

But there is hope. We are told that God has made everything beautiful in its time. The “everything” in Ecclesiastes 3:11 harks back to the “everything” in verse 1: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” That life is lived under the watchful care of a sovereign Creator illumines our understanding of everything. In light of His providence, we learn that there is a time for birth and death, for planting and gathering, for mourning and dancing, for war and peace. Over all these things, God is in control. The beauty is found in the discovery that God orchestrates every last detail according to His perfect design.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 is the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament. In Romans 8:28, the Apostle Paul states, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Notice that Paul does not say that all things are good but that all things work together for good. And what is the good? It is being conformed into the likeness of Christ (v. 29). As Christians experience the seasons of life, we can be comforted in knowing that God uses every circumstance to shape us more and more into the image of His Son.

On August 24, 1662, more than two thousand ministers were ejected from the Church of England for not conforming to the Book of Common Prayer. The day was known as Black Bartholomew’s Day, a solemn reference to when thousands of French Huguenots were massacred on the same day in 1572. One of the ejected ministers was a Puritan named Thomas Watson. In response to the Great Ejection, he wrote a short book titled A Divine Cordial, based on Romans 8:28, in order to comfort Christians undergoing suffering.

He observed that “the best things and the worst things, by the overruling hand of the great God, do work together for the good of the saints.” It is undeniable that this world is often grim and filled with heartache. But God beautifully uses both joys and sorrows to transform us as Christians into the likeness of Christ. Disappointments have a way of making us long even more to be with Him.


Second, we are told that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11). These words anticipate the opening of Augustine’s Confessions, where he states: “To praise You is the desire of man, a little piece of Your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising You, because You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Both the ancient Preacher and the church father affirm that we are created with a knowledge of God and a longing for eternity.

Whereas Augustine draws attention to the restlessness we experience apart from knowing God in Christ, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes makes a slightly different point. By emphasizing the futility of life under the sun, he pushes us to recognize our innate awareness of eternity.

Notice how much the Preacher says he perceives about the ways of God. He understands that God gives work to men as a gift (Eccl. 3:10, 13), that God makes everything beautiful in its time (v. 11a), that God puts eternity into man’s hearts (v. 11b), that God’s purposes are inscrutable (v. 11c), that God’s plans endure forever (vv. 14–15), and that God will judge the righteous and the wicked (vv. 16–22).

In short, the Preacher knows that God’s ways are beautiful, incomprehensible, and eternal. Although we are finite and fallen creatures, God has given us the capacity to discern that history has a purpose, even if we are unable to understand fully “what God has done from the beginning to the end” (v. 11). Being confronted with our finitude should increase our dependence on God. We are to live our lives from the vantage point of eternity.

Sin, however, distorts this perspective. We no longer treat work as a gift from God but as a platform for personal greatness. Time is seen not as something beautiful that should be redeemed but as something inconsequential that can be squandered. History is understood not as the arena of God’s providential rule but as the playground for the powerful to prey on the weak. And eternal life is not to be desired but to be mocked by those who only live for the moment. Ecclesiastes teaches us that such fatalism is futile. We are made to know God. Nothing apart from eternity with Him will satisfy our deepest longings.

The good news is that Christ provides the way for sinful people to dwell in the presence of God forever. As the Apostle Peter states, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). This eternal hope is what we live for. As pilgrims who are traveling from this world to the next, we wake up each morning eagerly awaiting the return of our King. We recognize that every Lord’s Day is a foretaste of eternity. And for the rest of the week, we punch our time clocks knowing that even our toils are being used by God to prepare us for Immanuel’s Land.

On the morning of Black Bartholomew’s Day in 1683, William Payne went to bid his longtime friend John Owen farewell. Payne also brought news that Owen’s last book was soon to be published. Owen memorably replied:

I am glad to hear that that performance is put to the press; but, O brother Payne, the long looked for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done yet or was capable of doing in this world!

Owen’s dying testimony was to remind his congregation of eternity. He wanted them to know that the only way to see Christ by sight in heaven is to first behold Him by faith here on earth.

Dr. John W. Tweeddale is academic dean and professor of theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla., and a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. He is author of John Owen and Hebrews.

Source: Tabletalk Magazine

“There You Are”, a poem from L.Willows (God’s Grace, Hope, A New Day)

There You Are

Somewhere,
in the day that tomorrow brings,
I see you smiling.
Your eyes are sparkling with the dances
that light in a new horizon.


You are gathering,
swelling, like waters that fill into rivers
that pour Love into view,
You are new.

Somewhere,
in the day that tomorrow brings
I see you healed,
your sweetened heart revealed.
Your life joins with beloveds,
in an eternal embrace.
You are in the arms of grace.

There you are
in the dawn
that rises up to meet you,
wrapped by the most tender mercies
and a blanket of prayers.

There.
Entwined, encouraged and seen.
You are with each good thing.
You are inside of hope’s dream.
There. I see you.

There you are.
my Dearest
not a far smile away
,
waking in the Promise of a bold new Day.

© 2020 Linda Willows

Philippians 3:13-14 —Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 —He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Isaiah 43:18-19 —“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.