Our Sunday School class has been studying Ecclesiastes the past couple of weeks. Today's lesson was on the final thoughts in that book. We all hope for, yearn for, search for true meaning and purpose in our lives. Raising children, supporting spouses, coping with jobs, handling the challenges that get thrown at us throughout our lives is what we look to for meaning. However, the author of this book (usually credited to Solomon but there is some question) points out that every person, whether evil or good is going to suffer the same fate. We all have to face death at some point in time. The meaningful parts of our lives will be those times we've invested in others and helping meet their needs. I think the meaningless part will be when we focused on our desires and ignored the needs around us. The author, in chapter 12, declares "Meaningless! Meaningless! It is all meaningless!" When we start looking at what matters in our lives, then we can see if it is meaningful or meaningless!
Our church helped sponsor 2 different mission trips this summer to 2 very different parts of the world. One trip was to Paris, France to work with the North African Muslim population. The other trip was to Idaho to work with 2 small community churches and the community residents. 2 very different cultures and very different types of issues - but one overwhelming need - HOPE! The North African Muslim men are working in France, often illegally, to try to provide for their families but they are certainly struggling to believe in any kind of hope for the future. The communities in Idaho have residents that are mostly non-believers and many have drug and alcohol abuse problems. The reports given talked about the sadness and despair in a lot of the faces of the people in these communities. After you've been down for so long, it's very hard to see if there is a way back up. Our mission teams were made up everyday people but we serve an extraordinary God! He is still in the business of meeting people right where they are, and turning their despair into hope, when they are willing to give Him their lives! There were awesome stories of changed lives, but there were also stories of feeling very useless and rejected. However - through those times - God reminded the team members that it takes a lot of hard work to till that soil and then the seed has to be planted. It may be that this time was for planting the seed that will be watered and brought forth at some time in the future!
So we come back to meaningless vs. meaningful. Both teams had times when they felt their efforts were meaningless but God was able to show them that the efforts were meaningful to Him. It's not by man's might or by his power, but by the Spirit of the Lord and His power working through those willing vessels that makes it meaningful!