By Woodrow Kroll
Pearl of Wisdom
"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1
Our lives revolve around time. If I asked you what time it is, I have a pretty good idea what you'd do. You'd glance at your watch, check the time and respond appropriately. If you were enjoying what you were doing at the moment, you might exclaim, "My, how time flies!" If you weren't especially happy about what you were doing, you'd probably groan, "Is it only _____?" Time has been the theme of ballads like "As Time Goes By," and a common excuse for many failures is, "I didn't have time." Most of us check our watch several times a day--or several times an hour. Sometimes we do it more often than we should, like when we're in church. All of this only goes to show how involved we are with time.
But actually, time, as we know it, is a very recent phenomenon. Through the persistence of Charles Dodd, a schoolteacher, and William Allen, a railroad engineer, time was finally standardized in the United States on November 10, 1883. It was only after American railroads accepted Dodd and Allen's idea of four time zones across the United States that trains could schedule their arrivals and departures with any degree of consistency. Before that, every community decided what time it was on their own. It took another year for a meeting of 26 nations to determine the 24-hour worldwide time zones that we use today.
Nor have we always had seven days in our week. Back in 1792 the French tried a ten-day week with ten hours in a day, 100 minutes in an hour and 100 seconds in a minute. But it didn't work. Undaunted, the Russians tried a five-day week in 1929 and even named the days of the week after colors. But nobody paid any attention, so the Russians switched to a six-day week in 1932. Finally they abandoned the whole idea and returned to the standard seven-day week.
Although the way we describe time hasn't been around all that long, God has been working with time since the beginning of creation. In fact, He's the originator of time. The first mention of time is in Genesis 1:5: "So the evening and the morning were the first day." But the great time chapter of the Bible is Ecclesiastes 3. In this chapter the word time occurs on 28 occasions in 14 pairs of polar opposites divided into seven groups. Seven, the number of completeness, suggests that these contrasting pairs cover almost every conceivable experience of man, beginning with birth and ending with death.
So what time is it for you? How are you using your time? What does time hold in store for you? Perhaps you will find answers to some of your time questions in the time chapter, Ecclesiastes 3.
Season and time
The first phrase in Ecclesiastes 3:1 gives us the right perspective on time: "To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." The two words here--season and time--imply duration and a point in time. Because everything has a season, nothing (at least on earth) lasts forever. God has appointed a "season" for everything. Seasons have beginnings and endings. They last, but not too long. In the life cycle there is a season for gestation, a season for childhood and youth, a season for middle age and a season for old age, followed by death. It's all quite natural; it's all ordained by God.
The word translated "time" means "a point in time." Within any give season, there is a point in time in which God has ordained everything to happen. Within the season of our older youth, my wife and I decided to get married. We were in the season of our 20s, but the time was June 26. So season means a period of time and time means a point in time.
Solomon's thesis is this: Every activity of mankind has a proper time and a predetermined duration. Our lives will be a lot less stressful if we recognize that the omniscient hand of God has appointed a time when things are to be done, and He has a predetermined duration for those things to last.
Examples of polar opposites
Solomon now demonstrates how this process of time fitting into a season takes place. For example, verse 2 says, "A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted." Nature has a season of growth, but within that season there is a time to plant and a time to harvest. Sowing first, then, after a duration, harvesting. How often we allow the tyranny of time to rob us of the patience of seasons.
There's also the process of constructing and destroying, or tearing down. A building is built in a few months, and then, 50 years or so later, that building is torn down. The destruction of the building is usually faster than its construction, but the duration (season) is always longer than either the time of building or the time of tearing down.
Verse 5 says, "A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones." Again, using the image of building, Solomon says, "There's a time to cast away the stones from your fields so that you can farm the field. And then there's a time to pick up those stones on the edge of the field and build a house with them." Building and rebuilding are what the seasons of our lives are all about.
Verse 6 continues this thought: "A time to gain, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away." There is a time to go shopping (the time your wife likes best) and a time to throw old, useless things away (the time she hates the most). If you're a shopper by nature--you have that extra shopping gene that impels you to drop everything and go shopping--you know how easy it is to enjoy the time for acquiring new things. But do you have the same disposition when it comes time to part with those things? After the season of usefulness, the time to gain is past; the time to throw away has come. I have to admit, the pain of this time has been greatly reduced with the invention of the garage sale. There is duration--a season of time--for everything, and then there is a point in time for change.
Solomon's example of polar opposites in verse 7 may seem strange to you: "A time to tear, and a time to sew." In the Middle East, tearing was a sign of mourning. Sewing your clothes after the mourning period was over was the signal to return to a life of joy. Remember when Job's three friends came to comfort him? The first thing Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar did was weep. Then "each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven" (Job 2:12). There is a time to show that you're commiserating with someone--a time to tear your gown. But then there's also a time to move beyond your sorrow and to sew the gown again.
Everyone goes through good times and bad times; together they make up the season of your life. It's not the times of our lives that shape us, but the seasons. Make sure you don't live only for the good times; when the bad times come, and they will, you won't have the strength to handle them. And make sure you don't let the bad times defeat you. If you do, you'll miss out on all the good times God still has in store for you. It takes both to make a life. Make certain your attitude toward life is such that, even if you can't enjoy all the times, you do enjoy the season. Praise God that neither good times nor bad times last; only eternity does.
Even the polar opposites in verse 8 can be understood if we place time into the arena of duration: "A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace." Of course, Solomon is not advocating either hate or war. But the reality is, there are things for us to hate (the things God hates), and there may be a time for us to fight (as God's people, Israel, did). His point is that we are to balance all the times of our lives so that the season pleases God. That's a pearl of wisdom. If things aren't going your way, give it time. If things are going your way, prepare for the time when they won't. Set your sights on the duration season, not on the peaks and valleys of time. Build your life on God's Word and you will be a seasoned Christian. Build your life on the things that happen in time, and you will be a soured Christian.
All things beautiful
Why does Solomon say all these things about time? The answer is found in verse 11: "He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time." At the appropriate point in time, God will make everything fit into the season of your life. It's like the pieces of a puzzle. You struggle to piece things together, and then all of a sudden things just seem to fall into place. That's what happens when you commit both your times and your seasons to God.
The word translated "beautiful" doesn't mean "lovely" or "pretty." It means "fitting," "appropriate" or "proper." There is a fitting point in time that God has determined something should happen. Accordingly, God will never be late and He'll never be early. Furthermore, He knows the proper duration for that event. He never holds it over too long or cuts it off too short.
In the same fashion, God knows the most fitting points and the most appropriate seasons of our lives as well. He knows exactly the number of days He's given to you, and nobody can shorten those days; nobody can lengthen them either. Our times and seasons are in God's hand. And what we entrust to God's hand, God makes "proper" in its time.
So what does that mean--God makes everything fitting or proper in its own time? Consider the polar opposites in verse 2 again as an example: "A time to be born, and a time to die." Is it possible that God can make even death beautiful in its time? He can. At the proper time, God makes death fitting. He makes it appropriate. He makes it proper. There is a time for us to be born--a day in which God determines we will be born--and there's also a day in which God determines that our life on this side of the grave will end. A time to be born, and a time to die. To shorten our days through suicide or to lengthen them through heroic care fails to demonstrate faith in God's ability to know the proper season of our lives.
After Jacob had seen his long-lost son Joseph, he said, "Now let me die, since I have seen your face, because you are still alive" (Gen. 46:30). He knew his days had been fulfilled. The duration--the season--was done. The exact day of his death was in God's hands. But Jacob knew this season of his life had reached its completion.
Going according to plan
If God has already determined the times and seasons of our lives, is it possible to die before our time? In a sense it is. Solomon exhorted, "Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: why should you die before your time?" (Eccles. 7:17). Through wickedness or self-will, we can deprive ourselves of the fullness of days that God would have liked to have given us, but even this must be approved by God and is a part of His eternal plan.
For a believer, the thought that not only do we have a time to be born, but there is a set duration before our death, is a tremendous comfort. It means everything is going according to God's plan. The apostle John said, "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, 'Write: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord"' (Rev. 14:13). The psalmist added, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Ps. 116:15). Of course, we still don't look forward to death. And when death comes to our family--to our spouse, to our little children, to our parents--we always say, "Why, Lord? Why now?" But we must never forget that God has a duration for our life. In God's grace He will not allow one day more or one day less than that duration. It's all according to His divine plan.
And here's one final and exciting possibility within God's plan. It is also possible that those in Christ will never die. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Paul says, "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." It is possible that the season of our lives will simply be swallowed up in the eternity of God. The omnipotent One can interrupt the sequence of "a time to be born and a time to die," and one day He will do just that. Perhaps today!
Whether God chooses to take us to Himself through the blessing of death or the blessed hope, in God's plan we end up being with Him forever. Instead of fretting about the days of our lives or worrying about how long we will live, life would be more enjoyable if we simply rested in the Lord and committed all those days to Him, including our final days.
In a world of heroic medical care and wonder drugs, let's not forget that just as the day of our birth was part of God's eternal timetable, so is the day of our death. None of us likes the idea of facing death, but those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior can face it very differently than those who are fearing the consequences of their sin. For believers, the day of our death is another day to glorify the Lord. The day when we die is simply another day to commit to a loving and omniscient God. The day of our death is, in His hands, every bit as wonderful as the day of our birth. "This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps. 118:24).
When you live and die in the knowledge of God's eternal plan, you live and die with this confidence--God makes all things beautiful in their time.
Are you tired of everything in your life going wrong? Are you fed up with trying to make things in your life lovely and easy and pleasant, only to have them turn out messy and hard and distasteful? Maybe you've gone the whole route. You've been through alcohol, you've been through drugs, you've been through sex addiction, you've been through climbing the ladder of success--and your life is still a colossal mess. But don't give up yet. There is an answer. The answer is Jesus Christ in your life. It's through faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior that God can make your life beautiful, and He does it in His own time. And maybe--just maybe--this is God's time for you. Let Him make your life beautiful.