There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.. Ecclesiastes 3, verse 1,
King James: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
The Message: “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth.”
New American Standard: “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.”
New Life Translation: “There is a special time for everything. There is a time for everything that happens under heaven.”
New Living Translation: “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”
The Contemporary English Version: “Everything on earth has its own time and its own season.”
And, finally, from a translation called ‘the Complete Jewish Bible:’ “For everything there is a season, a right time for every intention under heaven.”
If you had to pick a ‘most comfortable’ translation, which would you pick? Me, I think I would go with the New American Standard version because I think it best captures the essence of what this verse means to me. I said yesterday that these verses from Ecclesiastes 3 are sometimes read at funerals, and I find comfort in that and in them. When someone you love dies, you search for meaning, trying to find some kind of reason. Even if they are old and have lived a long life, even if it is expected after a long illness, even if it isn’t surprising that someone would be dead (because of the way they lived), when people we love pass away we search for meaning. We want to know why. Sometimes, there is no reason why, and sometimes it seems like such a callous thing to say “it was God’s plan” (because it is and it is).
Dying is easy. It’s the living that’s difficult. And let’s get this on the table: even when we know that there is a time for everything, it’s still difficult. Tell those words to somebody who just lost their job, or whose house burned down, wife dropped divorce papers, or someone whose child has leukemia. In this world made for us by a loving God, there are still terrible things that happen, whirlwinds of sin and hurt that careen into our lives when we least expect or even deserve it.
Still, don’t let those realities cloud out the comforting beauty of this simple, one-verse poem from God. I find it comforting because all too often in this crazy world I’m all too aware of how small I really am. I do my part just like you do, but despite my bragging nature, it doesn’t take much to cut me down to size. I get frustrated, depressed, anxious, or stressed out, and all this usually because of my own poor planning. When that happens, I find it comforting to know that, even on the bad days, there is a time for everything. The bad days will happen and that means that good days will happen as well: all of them in God’s good time.
What’s more, there are appointed times for everything, and everything that happens is under the dominion of heaven. That means it really is under the dominion of God. That whole thing about Him keeping His eye on the sparrow and knowing the exact number of hairs on your head? It’s really true. Those things are under heaven, and there are appointed times for them. For the sparrow, it is but the space of a few seasons; for you or I, it’s typically many years. During those years, we go through our ups and downs but, generally, there are seasons for when things happen. Growth in spring, dormancy in the winter. It’s more than that, though. There are seasons for mourning our dead, celebrating victories, laughing with friends, and crying with them too. There are always times for us to do our best. It’s a right and proper thing to do things when we should, when it is simply the right time to do them.
It’s right and proper because it’s during a season under heaven.
My wife works harder than anybody I know. She’s the director of administration at a private pre-school here in North Texas. Every morning, she is at the school by 6 AM and every day she gets out no earlier than 5. During her days, she is responsible for all staffing, financials, supplies, admissions, and ‘tactical’ operation of the school. Her school, part of a national corporation of 20-some other schools by the same name, is drastically understaffed (especially in the management functions) because the corporation runs on a very tight margin; it isn’t one of the rich fat cat companies you hear about even though their clientele is distinctively upper income. Nobody sees how hard she works, or how even at home her mind is always on the job, or how she starts getting calls from teachers every evening saying that “my great aunt’s dog in Arkansas is having an anxiety attack and I need to be there for that.” Nobody (except you now) knows that she gets paid beans to do all this but that she throws all of herself into the job and into the people every day. She does it because it’s her job, her dream job in fact. She does it because she makes a difference in her calling.
And when it’s been a particularly tough day for her, it’s very easy to lose sight of the fact that, for her job, there is a time for everything and that what she does every day is important. God put her where she is as part of a mission to provide good care and education to the kids and families. She is working in season, working in this very stressful and high impact position because her activities are part of a greater design under heaven. God is not impartial nor is He inactive in her day to day work life. For everything she does, there is a reason and there is a time as part of this season under heaven.
Like that New American Standard translation, I find that to be a very comfortable (and comforting) thing when it gets really rough for her. She inspires me because He inspires her at all the right times.
No matter how you translate the words, they mean something good. We can speak different languages and even interpret the same language differently yet they still mean something extraordinarily good. I once wrote a book about a man who was both simple and complex. I called him ‘an extraordinary ordinary man.’ To know that there is a time and a purpose for everything that happens in this world helps to make the ordinary extraordinary. Like my wife. She’s an extraordinary ordinary purpose working in her time under God. Just like you. And that is the most special gift of all.