By David Wise
“In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
One hymn we grew up singing in the church begins with this line, “Mixtures of joy and sorrow, I daily do pass through.” That is the reality of being citizens of a heavenly country passing through a foreign land, a world that’s filled with sin and sorrow. It’s inevitable in this life for us to experience great joy in the days of prosperity, but those good days are always tempered and closely followed with the days of adversity, as Solomon had fully experienced in his life. However, the final result of these contrasting highs and lows in the Christian’s life are “to this end” – that “God also that set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him”.
By the time Solomon is inspired to write Ecclesiastes, he is an old man that had been tempted and had succumbed to falling into idolatry and apostasy (1 Kings 11:1-13). He has ruined his godly testimony and sacrificed his close fellowship with God through his falling away. Furthermore, he is now a “certified old man curmudgeon”. His tone all throughout Ecclesiastes is “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2). He’s seen the full spectrum of life, experienced all the best this world has to offer and his conclusion is “all is vanity”; it’s empty, profitless, of no value at all, it’s vain.
However, Solomon had seen days of prosperity in the past, although they were now a distant memory. He admonishes us to “in the day of prosperity, be joyful”. Even though Solomon has an overall negative tone in Ecclesiastes, he does highlight that we should enjoy the fruit of our labor in life because it is the gift of God (Eccl. 2:24, 3:13, 5:18). Therefore, in the day of prosperity, be joyful; enjoy the fruit of your labor and God’s blessings when they come. We need to enjoy the good days and praise God for them because the nature of this life is that there will be “days of adversity” very quickly following on the heels of those good and prosperous days.
God has created a balance to life; he has “set” the day of prosperity over against the day of adversity. We need to enjoy the days of prosperity but don’t get too high during that good time. When the days of adversity come, we need to “consider” and not get too low or overly distraught or discouraged. Don’t get too high during the good times and don’t get too low during the bad times, but consider that God has appointed one against the other so that we should “find nothing after him”.
In Eccl. 3:1-11, Solomon tells us that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (v.1). Season in this verse means “an appointed time, an appointed occasion”. There are things in life that are proper and good in their time. However, we must remember that seasons are only temporary; seasons are transitional stages that are preparing for and then ultimately transitioning to the next season. Every season of nature is good and useful in and of itself – spring, summer, fall, and winter are all good and needful for the environment; even the cold of winter sometimes gives us the beauty of snow. Every season of our lives is proper and useful in its own way as well, but that season is always transitioning to a new season right after it. In this way, our lives are usually in constant fluctuations, either beginning, in the middle, or ending a new season almost all the time.
When we go through the seasons of prosperity or adversity, remember these seasons of our life not just random, but are oftentimes necessary to prepare us for the next phase in our future. It is necessary for a caterpillar to be in a cocoon to properly develop into a butterfly. If that caterpillar tries to skip over or alleviate this process, the caterpillar’s growth and development will be severely hindered and not grow into a beautiful butterfly. In Eccl. 3:2-8 we are given 14 contrasting duets of times of prosperity and times of adversity; each duo has a positive time and a negative time. What we see in each of these contrasting duos of good and bad is that they are constantly fluctuating in our lives – we go can so quickly go from a time of laughter and dancing to a time of weeping and mourning (Eccl. 3:4); we go from a time of building up to a time of breaking down (Eccl. 3:3); we go from a time of getting and keeping to a time of losing and casting away (Eccl. 3:6), and then the vice versa happens just as quickly.
However, these contrasting and alternating times are summarized by Solomon in Eccl. 3:11, “He hath made everything beautiful in his time”. Every season is beautiful and proper and beneficial in its proper place and perspective. Remember, these seasons are beautiful in “his time”, in God’s time, not in our time. We might desire for a difficult season to be over and pass on quickly into a more prosperous season, but we need to let each season “have its perfect work” to make us more mature and stronger for the next season. Each season can be beautiful in our lives, if we allow for God to use it for its intended purpose that is unique to that season. The work necessary to be performed in each season is different and unique. It is necessary to plant your field in the proper season in the spring, but then you have to go through the season of cultivation and patiently wait and labor before you can reap a harvest at that due season. You cannot reap the fruit of your harvest unless you are patient to wait for that proper season when the fullness of the harvest has come. If you try to reap before the proper harvest time, you will circumvent the growth of the crop to its full maturity. Therefore, we must not short-circuit either the planting or growing season but just wait patiently for God’s beautiful season of harvest to arrive (Eccl. 3:2b). It was necessary for a hot-headed 40-year-old Moses who hastily killed an Egyptian to learn patience in shepherding sheep in Midian for 40 years to prepare him to lead the stiff-necked Israelites out of bondage. Joseph spent 13 years in and out of servitude and prison to cultivate him with the wisdom to be second in command of Egypt at age 30 during a time of famine. Even Jesus quietly and humbly obeyed his parents and worked as a carpenter in Nazareth until his public ministry was manifested at age 30. Every season of our life, even if it’s not glamorous, is needful and beneficial to our continued growth in discipleship.
When the season of “breaking down” comes, this dismantling is not for the purpose of destruction but for renovation and renewal, to ultimately “build back up”. You don’t break down for total destruction, but you break down for the purpose of later building up again stronger than before (Eccl. 3:3b). Oftentimes, when a house gets in abject disrepair, it’s necessary to tear down the whole old house, lay a new foundation and build an entirely new house. Breaking down is necessary first, but it’s for the purpose of rebuilding a better structure that before. You can’t put up walls, put a roof on a house, before you lay a proper foundation. Otherwise, the integrity of the walls and roof would be comprised. Each phase of the building of a house is necessary in its proper order to achieve the end result of a safe and reliable final structure. Remember, seasons are not permanent but transitory. We don’t stay in the laying of foundation stage forever. Instead, we must be willing and ready to progress to the next stage or season, but don’t miss the beautiful value that could be found from that season in itself.
When trying to discern the Lord’s will during the midst of each season, and then to determine when or if it might be time to transition to the next season, we submit to the Lord’s will and trust him in faith. “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his power.” (Acts 1:7). It’s not up to us to have perfect understanding of the times and seasons of our lives, precisely defining what phase or season we are in and what and when is next. If we knew every aspect of God’s will and knew when a certain season in our life might end, then we would be walking by sight and not trusting God in faith (2 Cor. 5:7). However, we are promised that if we faithfully serve God at every point in the pathway, to not be weary in well doing, God promises that we will reap “in due season” if we faint not (Gal. 6:9-10). It’s God’s beautiful timing that determines when that “due season of reaping” shall be, so our responsibility is just to not be weary in well doing in every season we are transitioning through.
Life is a roller coaster with rapid and drastic pendulum swings of not only our emotions but of major life events – from joy to sorrow, from laughter to mourning. We see this world around us that is so prone to drastic changes and when we consider that, it leads us to “find nothing after him”. The constant fluctuations of this world lead us to desire something that is stable, secure, and consistent. That is why the severe and drastic changes of this world lead us to run to something that is stable, sure and steadfast, an anchor of the soul (Heb. 6:19-20). Whatever God does shall be forever (Eccl. 3:14), so he will not be changing like the events of this world do so quickly. There is stability and safety to trust in the Lord in the days of prosperity but also in the days of adversity.
Why does God “set” or allow, these challenging seasons (the “days of adversity”) in our life – setting one over against the other? “to the end” – or for this purpose – so that those days of adversity drive us to God for security, stability, and safety. God does not cause all events in this world, and all events without exception do not occur for our good, but God oftentimes does allow the times and seasons when we mourn and weep so that we can run to him for comfort. When we see the vain consolation that this world has to offer, we can see it offers no real salve for our souls. In that way, it’s actually a blessing to feel and see our weakness, to understand our inadequacies and place our faith solely on Christ for strength in the days of adversity. It’s not in our best interests to feel ten-foot-tall and bulletproof, but instead it’s healthy to feel our weakness to run to God for our strength in those challenging days. Paul prayed three times for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, and God’s answer was “no, but” – no I won’t remove this thorn from your flesh, but I will give you sufficient grace during these days of adversity: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Paul correctly saw the value in experiencing his own weakness because that allowed the strength and power of Christ to be abundantly manifested during the days of his weakness.
It can be beneficial for us to be reminded of our weakness and frailty, especially in an American culture that has the motto of “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Simply put, no you’re not on either account. Without Christ, we can do nothing. Period. (John 15:5). Multiple times we are told in scripture to view trials as an opportunity for growth in our Christian walk, instead of just a negative circumstance we want to skirt around and avoid. In that sense, tribulations can be beneficial to develop patience, experience, and hope in our lives (Rom. 5:3-5); trials can be the means by the Lord to purge away the sinful dross in our hearts (Prov. 25:4), to refine us as gold so our impurities are removed (1 Pet. 1:6-7), to ultimately remove any vessels of dishonor in our bodies that we might be vessels more meet for the Master’s use and prepared unto every good work (2 Tim. 2:20-21). David wrote, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71). It’s oftentimes good for us to endure affliction, to run and cling to God’s word even more tightly in the days of adversity.
God does not cause every event without exception in this world and certainly every event that occurs is not in accordance with God’s will or working for your ultimate good. However, one reason that God suffers the days of adversity, why he has “set” the days of adversity against the days of prosperity is to make us see that at end of the day – we have nothing apart from Christ. Paul perfectly summarized what should be the identifying mark of the Christian’s life – “to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). It’s proper to enjoy the prosperous days, but don’t place your ultimate joy and identity in those things. We need to “consider” when days of adversity come to not be overly distraught or discouraged. Finally, though, the drastic, changing events of this life should remind us that we are nothing apart from Christ. He is our all in all, our sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, and we should find nothing in this world after him, nothing in our lives apart from Christ.
Mixtures of joy and sorrow, I daily do pass through,
Sometimes I’m in the valley, And sinking down with woe,
Sometimes I am exalted, On eagle’s wings I fly;
I rise above my troubles, And hope to reach the sky.