I can’t remember the last time I experienced a season of life that demanded as many decisions as this one.
Local and national government elections compelled decisive action. Families have been choosing (from less-than-ideal options) how their children should be educated during a pandemic. Some people are considering new job opportunities; others are struggling to develop new budgets with less income. Many are facing difficult tensions in close relationships.
The decisions have been relentless, and I have felt desperate for discernment.
At the beginning of 2020, I had not planned to read through the book of Ecclesiastes at this time, but God, in his providence, had planned for me to read it. The book begins with a wise admonition about how we are to approach God in our worship. Before we make decisions (even sacrificially, for the Lord), we can adopt this same humble posture as we wait for God’s guidance:
To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools… (Ecc. 5:1).
Thankfully, God faithfully provides exactly what we need through his word. As we draw near to him through the regular reading of Scripture, he instructs us directly and personally. By listening to God’s word, fearing him, and keeping his commandments, we can gain the wisdom we lack for today’s difficult decisions. The writer of Ecclesiastes summarizes the book with three instructions to guide us in this pursuit.
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh… Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecc. 12:11-14).
On the Way to Wisdom
1. God’s word guides us according to his own wisdom (Ecc. 12:11).
The words of the wise are like goads…
A goad is a stick used to prod and guide animals along the right path for their work. Much like oxen, I am prone to venture away from God’s good and right way. God is faithful to steer me back through the wisdom of Scripture.
…like firmly fixed nails are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.
The words “firmly fixed nails” bring to mind the image of Christ’s hands and feet, fixed on the cross. His sacrifice secures our salvation by grace and through faith. And his wise words collected in the Bible are utterly dependable. They are given by the Good Shepherd who was faithful, even unto death. He is fully able to provide the good direction and right stability that we crave.
2. The world’s voices will make us weary (Ecc. 12:12).
My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
We can become victims of our own analysis-paralysis when we primarily look outside of God’s word for wisdom. We don’t want to be like children “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, human cunning, craftiness or deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Instead, God’s word offers us a firm tether in a sea of confusion.
We have the hope of the gospel as a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever” (Heb. 6:19-20). We may feel like we’re lost at sea, but Jesus Himself is the anchor of our souls.
It’s not our job to know everything that’s going on in the world, to fix every problem, or to have a right answer for every question. Instead, believers have the duty and freedom to fear God and keep His commands. In the end, that’s all that really matters.
3. Fear God, and rest in his justice (Ecc. 12:14).
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
The fear of the Lord is our motivation to keep his commands. This kind of fear is the reverent, awe-filled belief that God has the power to give and take life as he chooses. His act of saving us is his choice to give us undeserved, new life. Though we deserve punishment for our many sins, the gavel has landed with the miraculous declaration: “Not guilty!” Not only is our debt paid in full, but we are credited the perfect righteousness of Christ. This good news fuels our gratitude that manifests in joyful obedience.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Obeying God’s commands is important because he is a just judge. He will deal with every human decision, whether known or secret, whether good or evil. He will judge perfectly and finally. All things are ultimately in his hands. We do not control the final outcomes. This is a fearsome warning for those who do not know God. But what a relief for the believer! We are in right standing with God, not because of our decisions, but because of his decision to claim us as his own for all eternity. What relief that brings when we feel the weight of responsibility to make wise decisions in our temporary, earthly days.
Brother and sister, be encouraged in these days of decision-making. In his word, God has given everything we need to wisely discern his will. He gives us his own fatherly wisdom, collected in the pages of Scripture. He gives us his son, Jesus Christ, whose decisive sacrifice on the cross makes him the perfect Shepherd, able to guide us. And he gives us his Spirit, who still speaks into our decisions—if we are willing to draw near and discern, with an open Bible.