I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well —the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. Ecclesiastes 2, verses 4-10.
I put up a new fence this week. Ok, I didn’t actually do this, but I paid to have it done on our property, so you could say I built a new fence. 10 years ago, I built a new house, but same deal: I paid to have it built. I didn’t actually build it myself. Ditto for the car I drive, the worn and well-used furniture in my family room, the clothes I wear, and how I’ve built a small nest egg (a very small one).
Believe it or not, I am a lot like Solomon. So are you. Not the incredibly wealthy part, you know. It’s more the ‘taking credit for things I oversaw part.’ I’m over them; I’m responsible for them; they’re under my control. The person paying for them is me; as regards the fence, the person who ordered the build, wood, stain, design and installation is me. This may be a human tendency: to take credit for things we are part of (maybe even in charge of) but that we didn’t actually do. It’s sort of like ordering a military action and taking credit for it even though you didn’t actually do anything except make a decision (though that’s important to, just in a different way). As a head of state, that’s something with which Solomon might be more familiar than my simple fence installation.
No, you aren’t a king anymore than I am. Unless you have bundles of money to quickly invest in Facebook, you probably aren’t going to be filthy rich any time soon. Maybe you won’t build fantastic palaces, or amazing gardens, or astounding architectural wonders. None of that matters. You have it in you to do those things in your own way in your own life. What’s more, you have it in you to do even better things than them. Whether they’re big, small, insignificant or internationally famous, you have it in you to do amazing things. You have it in you because God put it in you. What’s the catch? How do you tap into that extraordinary talent?
You know the answer.
Where the previous verses talked about things sensual, these (obviously) talk about things achievable. YOU can undertake a great project, build a house, make a garden. YOU can amass wealth and treasure, employees and servants. YOU can become greater than others who came before you. And you can do it without compromising your faith. Don’t believe me? Read the verses again. Read them and then remember “it’s not about me.” That’s crucial.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s Philippians 4:13. And it’s how Solomon was able to achieve such extraordinary things. It’s the point of the verses. All amazing things that we can do and should do are doable through God. Apart from Him, we can do nothing; that’s taken from John 15:5.
Life is an amazing gift and we can do truly amazing things with it when we realize that all our talent, wealth, ability, and future is from God. When we forget that we get into trouble. Solomon did. Much later, years after he wrote this book, he fell away from his once-solid faith. He worshipped idol gods and turned from the true faith. Once that happened, his wisdom turned to foolishness. If only he had remembered the words of his youth. If only he had remembered just why he had been able to build an extraordinary kingdom, who was really responsible for all of it.
This morning, my new fence is wonderful. It cost quite a lot of money and I expect that it will be standing pretty in my backyard for many years to come. It’s predecessor lasted 14 years and wasn’t built nearly as well. I built the fence but in reality I did exactly nothing to construct it. Before the workers arrived, I scooped dog poop off the patio, moved some lawn furniture, cleaned out some weeds and rocks, and generally prepped the area for the workers. Those aren’t unimportant chores; they needed to be done. But I really did nothing in particular to get the new fence built other than choose it, pay for it, and give that all important ‘go’ order to the foreman. And yet, today, there’s something great standing in my backyard, ready to serve for many years to come. It’s a blessing resulting from many other blessings, some of which I earned through my work, most of which I didn’t even deserve. Other more skilled craftsmen used their work-days to build the fence but I’m the one responsible for making sure it was done the way I want. After all, I’m the customer. May today be filled with thanks for being the customer in some ways and the worker in others, the one responsible and the one to be responsible for. Both are gifts from God who gives us His love and His talents on loan so that we might prosper, share His love, and live out our lives as daily worship in His grace no matter what we do.