“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.…The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-5, 12:13).
As you graduate, there are a few things that I would encourage you to keep in mind as you continue on your pilgrimage in this present age. As your pastor, I would not want you to be surprised by all the changes, both good and bad that you will inevitably experience in this world “under the sun”. Think about how you already know this to some degree. You have gotten used to a particular season in your life, then things change, and you face other opportunities (and troubles!); think about growing up, and the increasingly difficult things you have to learn, and the things you enjoy that you must leave behind. Think of friendships that are ever-changing, people ever-moving to other places, you ever-longing within. One important truth that I think you should understand at this point in your life is that as Christians we should know that the only permanence in this world is constant change: Note Ecclesiastes 3:1ff: “There is a time to…a time to…a time to…a time to… a time to…etc.
Our gracious God through the Scriptures prepares us for such change in our lives. This is one of the beauties of the Book of Ecclesiastes. We long for things to stay the same yet things are always changing. Don’t think that there is something wrong when you long for permanence but only experience change. Since the fall of man into sin this is the “new” normal in a world “under the sun”. As human beings we were created for permanence, because our Creator has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). The truth is that we will never be fully satisfied as pilgrims in this world, and so we continue to journey on by faith. We may at times feel homesick here because we are made for another world. As C. S. Lewis wrote eloquently and longingly:
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists…If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing (my emphasis).”
The wise man of Ecclesiastes teaches us: There is a “a time to be born…a time to die…” (Ecc. 3:2). Everything happens between these two significant events in your lives. You are born then you will eventually die (unless the Lord Jesus returns first). Your life is brief, like a mist, like a breath (James 4:14). We are taught to be wise with the time that God has given to us (Eph. 5:15-17). As believers, in the midst of all the changes around us in our lives, we should daily remind ourselves that we are on pilgrimage to a glorious world that will never change, and to grow in this hope through faith and patience (Heb. 6:11-12). We are not home yet as Hebrews 11:13-16 teaches us. God is “preparing for us a city” (Heb. 11:16). For now, we walk by faith with good courage (2 Cor. 5:6-8). While we enjoy many aspects of this good world, we await a better, more permanent world; this permanent world is our hope. We await a glorification of the heavens and the earth and of our whole selves (bodies, souls, spirits, 1 Thess. 5:23-24; Rom. 8:23-25; Phil. 3:20-21; Rev. 21:1ff). The world is not what it will be—(and cheer up!) we are not yet what we will be because of God’s grace and power in our lives.
While we live in this sin-tainted, yet good world (cf. 1 Tim. 4:4-5), we are called to be useful to God and to others in our service. We are called to be pilgrims in this world as believers, exiles who live to worship God and do good (Jer. 29:3-11; cf. 1 Pet. 2:11-12; 2 Pet. 3:11-14). We are called to know that our times are in God’s hands (Psa. 31:15). The times in which we live, and the places where we live, work, and enjoy life have all been sovereignly and perfectly ordained by our great God for our good and His glory (see Acts 17:26). In the Old Covenant we have an excellent example of how pilgrims ought to live in the time and place God has placed us until the restoration of all things. Our good and kind king tell us to know and always remember that in Christ He has great plans of peace and joy for us (Jer. 29:11). While we are here, we are to learn to do good to all, to build up our community, both in the church and in our neighborhoods and callings (read Jer. 29:4-14).
While we travel as pilgrims and grow older, we realize increasingly more experientially that everything is indeed always changing around us as Ecclesiastes chapter 3 tells us. There is a time for everything under the sun, from our births to our deaths, and with this comes temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). All of these changes can begin to seem like a prison for us. By God’s grace the changes can become the way to more freedom experienced through the peace and joy of the Lord. Which one will it be? Some folks feel like all the change in this world is oppressive and like a prison from which there is no escape because they lack control over their lives and circumstances; they feel powerless (they are powerless in the face of change!). For those who have no hope beyond this world, who are described as “without hope and without God in this world” (Eph. 2:12) and who see God’s divine power and attributes, yet exchange the truth of God for a lie, this constant and perpetual change seems for them more like a prison (Rom. 1:19-32). Life will seem to them like “vanity” (Ecc. 1:2-3). Here’s one singer-poet’s description of the vanity and prison he found in the “changes”:
“I still don’t know what I was waiting for/And my time was running wild/A million dead-end streets/And every time I thought I’d got it made/It seemed the taste was not so sweet/So I turned myself to face me/But I’ve never caught a glimpse/Of how the others must see the faker/I’m much too fast to take that test…I watch the ripples change their size/But never leave the stream/Of warm impermanence and/ So the days float through my eyes/But still the days seem the same….Ch-ch-changes/Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older/Time may change me/But I can’t trace time/I said that time may change me/But I can’t trace time…”
But for believers, these changes can bring joyous freedom! Believers are taught to “stand firm” and to let nothing move us, to fully give ourselves to the Lord knowing that our labor in the Lord is never “vanity” (1 Cor. 15:58). All the ch-ch-changes are ordained and intended for our good by a caring and kind compassionate God and Father, who through the Lord Jesus Christ by his Spirit will make us beautiful. For believers, the constant change is intended to be a path of beauty as pilgrims here in this world. Read 3:11-14:
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil– this is God’s gift to man. 14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.”
This path toward beauty and true peace, can grant believers great confidence, especially as we know and remember three important truths from the wisdom of God revealed to us at the conclusion of the Book of Ecclesiastes:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. 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” – ESV Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
- We know God.. “Fear God…” “What do the Scriptures principally teach? The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (WSC, Q&A 2).
God has made us for Himself; our only hope of finding true meaning, satisfaction, love and peace in this present age is by living first to know God, and to grow in our relationship with Him in Christ, and thus to know ourselves better. How are these two related, God and self? By knowing God, you understand yourself as a creature of God, made by God, made for God, waiting for God. By knowing yourself, you can see how God has been good to you, and given clear evidence of Himself in His creation, this glorious “theater of creation”, your own conscience, and especially (and savingly!) in Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures. To know God is to know yourself better—it is to become more and more beautiful in Him as you are sanctified in Christ. As our forefather John Calvin wrote: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
- We fear Him. “FearGod… In wonder and awe, we thank him for our salvation, and we seek to serve and, to know him better. This is simply living as “man before Majesty”. We live before God honoring Him as a Father, and obeying (fearing) Him as a king and master (Mal. 1:6). Our forefather John Calvin called true piety, or the true spiritual Christian Life as that which combined reverence or the fear of God and the love of God together. He wrote,
“The gist of true piety does not consist in a fear which would gladly flee the judgment of God but rather in a pure and true zeal which loves God altogether as father, and reveres him truly as Lord, embraces his justice and dreads to offend him more than to die.”
- We keep His commandments. The Commandments are not merely The Ten Commandments although these are included, but they are more broadly all of the Scriptures. Our faith in this kind God and Savior is to be in submissively dependent upon his Holy Word (John 15:9-11). Our Lord Jesus taught: “Sanctify them by your Word, your Word is truth” (John 17:17). God has given us his Word to reveal himself ultimately, and to call us to a Savior who never changes who is fully committed to making us beautiful in his time, by his grace in spirit! Our hope and trust me are in this great truth:
CHRIST is our PERMANENCE as pilgrims in this present age.
We have a Savior who is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
So while everything created is always changing, by God’s grace in Christ, we can acknowledge that so are we—changing for the good and becoming more beautiful—in Him. And we wait the great change and complete transformation that 1 Corinthians 15:51 speaks about. One day we shall be completely and permanently changed in the twinkling of an eye, when we shall be completely like him, transformed in body, soul and spirit to be fully holy and to live with Christ in a world without Shadows.
Until that day, let us be faithful pilgrims seeking the Lord Our God and aiming to please him above all things! Because he is good, and greatly to be praised! He indeed will make all things beautiful in its time!
In Christ’s love, and– Congratulations! I’m grateful to be your pastor and I’m very proud of you!
P.S. And I must leave you with an assignment to read. What would I encourage you to read now that you have graduated?
* John Calvin’s ‘The Golden Book of the Christian Life” (Learn to serve God from a sanctified heart; this is an abbreviated version of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion that will change your life forever).
* C. S. Lewis’ “The Weight of Glory” (1942) (Learn of the glorious “immortals”!).
* J. R. R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” (Learn to be a faithful “sub-creator” because of the Great Eucatastrophe!).
 David Bowie, “Changes” from the album Hunky Dory, RCA Records (1971). What the great artist Bowie wrote about is clearly revealed in Ecclesiastes 3:11b: “…[God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” ; note the line: “But I can’t trace time…”
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.1-2: “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God…Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”
 Calvin, Institutes, Book 1.