Every Friday in November, The Mudroom is featuring author Lindsey Smallwood. Lindsey recently published Ecclesiastes: Life in Full Color, her second Bible study book. The following devotional reflection is based her book and the related materials available for small groups.
For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
A time for everything – it’s beautifully written and on its face, reminds us that no matter what season we find ourselves in, it won’t last forever. If you’re in a time for crying, you can be sure that a time to laugh will come. That’s the nature of life, nothing stays the same forever.
The deeper, more challenging truth of this passage comes in the start of verse 11 –
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.
It’s God who ordains time, it’s God who sets the seasons of the world and of our lives. Again, if we don’t think too deeply, this is a sweet reminder. It points us to the promise in Romans that God is working all things together, that He is doing good things for us.
When we chew on that truth a little longer, really holding it and looking at it from all angles, this passage becomes a good news/bad news situation. And since I always like to end on a positive note, let’s start with the bad news.
If God is in control, if God is setting the seasons of life, creating space for grief and dancing and war and peace, the bad news is we are not in control.
We like being in control. In fact the modern world is so focused on self-determination, that’s it’s everywhere we go. We customize our phones, our bedrooms, our leisure activities. We don’t even have to eat a hamburger that’s someone else’s idea, we can add bacon, hold the mustard and create our own sandwich entirely with sprouts and a gluten free bun.
While it’s beautiful to reflect on the ideas that there is a time for everything, that our searching time won’t last forever, that tearing down is followed by building up, the trick is we don’t get to choose.
My family is moving to Michigan in just a few days now. I’m trusting God with all the changes that are coming our way, I’ve seen how he’s opened doors I never expected and worked things together for my family in this last season so I am trying to believe that whatever happens, God has a plan. But oh man, let’s be honest. If I was in control, this would not be a time to move, this would be a time to stay put.
And we have a newborn. If I was in control, this would not be a time to be awake all night, it would be a time to rest.
And I have toddlers who love to wrestle each other and seem to be fighting all the time. If I was in control, this would not be a time for conflict, it would be a time for peace in our family.
And on and on it goes. All of us have big ways and small ways we wish our lives were different, places where reality falls short of our hopes, dreams and expectations. That’s part of living in a world where we are not in control.
But here’s the good news – if we believe that God is making everything beautiful in its time, that there’s a purpose behind the seasons of our lives – then the tough things we experience are not in vain, they aren’t meaningless.
James 1:2-4 tells us to
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James is telling us that hard times are making us into the people God wants us to be. Our impulse is to avoid discomfort and difficulty at all cost, but it is precisely the things we try to pray away that form us into people who are faithful and steadfast in our trust in God.
The longings in our hearts, the challenges we face, they’re not only making us steadfast, they also serve to remind us of something else. We see it in Ecclesiastes 3:11:
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
God has put eternity in our hearts. True, we can’t see what His whole plan is, but there’s a part of each of us that knows we are made for eternity, for a life that lasts forever. And when we groan and moan and wish that life were different than it was, we can remember that we’re longing for a world that is whole and unbroken. That world is coming, it’s the kingdom that’s now and still not yet.
In the meantime, when we find ourselves in seasons we wish were different, when the time appointed to us isn’t what we wish it was, we remember that God has a plan and a purpose in every season. We have a hope of an eternity where the world is as it should be, where God reigns forever, every grief over, every longing satisfied.