Planting Joy in Your Heart and Others

October 15, 2023

Topic: Joy

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Wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, wake up. Sound familiar?

Some of you are thinking, “You’re describing my life!” And if that’s not your life now, there’s a good chance that it was your life at some point in your past, or that it will be your life at some point in your future. And most of us, when we think about that kind life, definitely wouldn’t describe it as a life of joy.

Many people today and throughout history have lived joyless lives. Maybe you know a few people like this, who never have a kind thing to say, and always have a criticism or complaint, and never have a smile on their face unless it’s at the expense of someone else.

Or maybe you feel like you are that person, and you know that you’re not happy, and you’ve tried so many things in search of true happiness, but with all the things you’ve been through, and all the ways you’ve been let down in the past, you don’t know how it’s even possible that you could ever have true, meaningful joy in your life.

And yet, God does want you to have that kind of joy. And you can even have it while you work hard, not having a joyless existence, but a joyful existence. God desires a life of joy for you as you work hard for Him, and He describes this life of joy and hard work over and over again in His word, even several times in the book of Ecclesiastes which we’ve been studying. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 says:

I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

Efforts take work, but it’s God’s gift to enjoy our work. In the same chapter, verse 22 says:

I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. (Ecclesiastes 3:22, ESV)

It’s good to rejoice in our work! And then Ecclesiastes 5:18 says:

Here is what I have seen to be good: It is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

So we see over and over again in Ecclesiastes that as we labor under the sun, and that labor can be very hard, God desires and says that it’s possible that we experience good things even as we labor. He wants us to have joy!

Some read the book of Ecclesiastes as the ravings of an old man who finds no meaning or enjoyment in life, and I can totally see why they would come to that conclusion. For much of the book, the Teacher repeats the idea, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” And that word vanity is often translated as “meaningless!”

So as we’ve been studying the book of Ecclesiastes on Sunday mornings, we’ve been talking about how all of our pursuits in life, all of the things we work so hard to achieve, so many of them are vanity, meaningless, because life is uncertain and we don’t know what will happen as a result of our work.

But perhaps a better understanding of the word “vanity” in the context of Ecclesiastes is “vapor.”

The word is translated from the Hebrew word “hebel” which literally means “breath” or “vapor.”

It’s talking about how all of the things that we so often seek to find meaning in life are just vapor. They’re here today and gone tomorrow, and they have no substance. So for most of the book of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher is simply pointing out all the many, very common, meaningless things that we often strive to live for that can’t ultimately satisfy us.

Some of those that we’ve seen throughout the book are things like chasing after money, accumulating knowledge, living a life of self-indulgence, striving after achievement, seeking fame, or even thinking that you can make your life count through your righteousness or wisdom, because even then, we’ll all die and eventually be forgotten. In short, none of the things we do in life, if we do those things thinking that we can find ultimate satisfaction through our own efforts, are going to bring us true, lasting joy. It’s all vanity, a vapor, like chasing after the wind.

But now that we’re nearing the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher clears away the vapor so that we can see what remains: what’s true, and worth living for. If all the things we typically seek meaning in life can’t provide it, what should we be doing? How should we be living?

To answer that, we’re going to read Ecclesiastes chapter 11. We’ll read the whole chapter this morning, but for now, just verse 1. It says:

Send your bread on the surface of the water, for after many days you may find it. (Ecclesiastes 11:1)

Father, help us to trust You. Help us to worry less about our work, and more joyfully engage in Your work. Help us to love You and our neighbor. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

So this is the great wisdom at the climax of the book of Ecclesiastes: throw some bread into some water.

So I did.

Here’s a picture of me yesterday holding the bread just before I threw it into the water.

Here’s me about to throw the bread into the water.

Here’s a video of me actually throwing the bread into the water.

And here’s a picture of the bread in the water. So you can clearly see that I obeyed Scripture yesterday and cast my bread on the surface of the water. I thought about bringing a few loaves of bread this morning so that we could all obey Scripture by throwing bread in water, but I didn’t know how practical that would be, and where we would have to go to find water right now.

But you might respond to me and the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, “What’s the point of doing that?” What are you talking about? How’s that better than all the other things you said were vanity all throughout your book? And how does this even make sense? Like, if I throw bread into water, won’t the bread get all soggy and ruined? And if I throw it into a stream of a river, won’t it just float away? How could I possibly find it again after many days? And even if I did find it, what use would it be to me at that point? It’ll just be soggy bread, probably even falling apart and decomposing! This advice just seems completely nonsensical!

And yet, that’s kind of the point. The Teacher is challenging us to think less about trying to make life make sense according to our standards, and more about all the blessings we could give to others when we worry less about ourselves.

If we constantly think about what’s in it for us, we’re constantly disappointed with all the ways life didn’t work out for us. But when we think about the possibility of letting go and sowing good seeds, and trusting God for the results, we find joy.

So let’s think about this. If you throw bread into the water, what’s going to happen?

Maybe it will feed a duck. Hold your judgment if you think bread isn’t good for ducks. That’s not the point we’re addressing right now. We’re just thinking about what could happen if we actually threw bread into water. Maybe it will feed a duck.

Maybe it will break down in the water, fertilizing the ecosystem so that it promotes the growth of microorganisms.

Maybe it could attract a crowd of onlookers as people gather to watch the ducks fight over the bread. The point is, we don’t know what will happen. But something good could come out of it.

Many commentators theorize that this verse isn’t talking about actual bread being thrown in actual water, but about planting seed in fertile soil. And that’s fine. Maybe that’s true, I don’t know.

The Targum, which is a first-century Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament, suggests that it means giving bread to poor sailors as they were passing by. And, depending on how it’s read, it also suggests that the reward could be either in this world or in the world to come. We don’t know.

Regardless, the point is that when you take a step of faith and do a good thing, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You have to leave it in God’s hands. But you can be confident that God sees it, and loves when His people share His love with others.

So if you feel like you’re lacking joy in your life, start thinking about how you can plant seeds of joy in others. When you plant seeds of joy in others, you’re going to receive joy yourself.

Research shows that those who give money to charity are happier than those who spend all their money on themselves. Those who volunteer to help others more are happier people. It should be obvious, but the Mayo Clinic reports that helping others reduces your stress, reduces anxiety, helps with depression, and even improves your physical health.

The point is, it’s always good to do good, even when you don’t know what’s going to come of it. So we should always be looking for opportunities to bless others. Verse 2.

Give a portion to seven or even to eight, for you don’t know what disaster may happen on earth. If the clouds are full, they will pour out rain on the earth; whether a tree falls to the south or the north, the place where the tree falls, there it will lie. One who watches the wind will not sow, and the one who looks at the clouds will not reap. Just as you don’t know the path of the wind, or how bones develop in the womb of a pregnant woman, so also you don’t know the work of God who makes everything. (Ecclesiastes 11:2-5)

This wisdom goes completely against all the wisdom we’ve ever been taught in the world. We like to think that we know everything about everything, and even when we have to admit that we don’t know something, we like to have all the facts before we make a big decision. But God says, “Just trust Me.”

Now, God isn’t telling us to turn off our brains, or that we can only have blind faith, because God gives us plenty of reasons to trust Him. The fact that there’s something rather than nothing testifies that God made the world and everything in it. The fact of the resurrection of Jesus, testified to by over 500 people who saw Him after His resurrection, proves that Jesus wasn’t just a man, but was and is God. The abundance of Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are all rational reasons to believe in God and trust Him. And for all of these reasons, and so many more, we have ample reason to trust in the word and work of God, because God loves us and desires that we know Him, because He alone can fill us with lasting joy.

And yet, there are also a bazillion things we don’t know, and probably can never know. One of the most obvious examples of this is the future. As much as we like to think we’re so smart today with all our technological and sociological advancements, we can’t predict even a moment into the future with absolute certainty. James says it this way:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

You see, even our very lives on this earth are like vapor. It’s not to say that they’re meaningless, but rather that they’re extremely short, and not the true substance of eternity, especially when we make our lives all about our own ambitions, as if we were in charge. Instead, every moment we live, we need to live with the acknowledgment that we are not in charge of our lives. God is in charge.

According to the Bible and even all of history if you study it carefully, life is not about our work or about how much we think we know. It’s all about the work of God. God made everything, and all history is His story, and we can trust that He knows it all and has a plan for it all, and we can trust how He reveals His plan to us in His word. Just as we don’t know the path of the wind, and we don’t know how bones develop in the womb, and we certainly don’t know what the result of any particular action of ours is going to be in the world, we simply need to trust that God knows what He’s doing, because He does.

And this is actually a very freeing thought. Since God is in charge of tomorrow, we don’t have to worry about it. Our job isn’t to worry about tomorrow or to try to force the outcome that we think we want in life, but simply to be faithful to do what God’s called us to do. We’re to do good. We’re to be generous with others. Even when it seems impossible to meet all the needs of others, when even seven or eight people need help, or more, give generously. The rain’s going to fall when it falls, and trees are going to fall where they fall, but we don’t have to be concerned about that.

You know, we could consume ourselves thinking about all the “what ifs” in life. “What if I fail?” “What if my family gets sick?” “What if I’m just not good enough?” And for all of these “what ifs,” we might go overboard trying to guard ourselves from the dangers of them. We might constantly seek the approval of others, or micromanage our job, or avoid all risk, or attempt to shelter our families from all risk. And certainly there’s some wisdom in doing a good job, and making healthy choices, but God doesn’t want us to live our lives out of a position of fear, but rather out of faith.

If you’re constantly watching out for bad things, guess what you’re going to find? Bad things! If you’re constantly looking for reasons not to be generous with others, guess what you’re going to find? Lots of reasons!

Instead, always be on the lookout for opportunities to give. The Teacher writes, “Give a portion to seven or eight.” The idea is similar to how many times Jesus told us to forgive. “As many as seven times?” “No, but rather seventy times seven.” Seven was seen as the number of completion. It was seen as the number of perfection – the number of fullness. So the idea that we’re to be generous to seven or eight people isn’t to limit our generosity, or even merely given as a goal to shoot for, but to say to be perfectly, abundantly generous, and then some!

God has been incredibly generous to us, allowing us to live and enjoy His blessings, and even to know Him, and God invites us to be generous to others in the same way, because you never know when they may fall into disaster and really need it.

Because that’s exactly what God did for us. We were dead in our sins. Because we’ve all sinned against God, we all deserved His wrath. We all deserved hell. We had all dug a pit and fallen into it. We were all in a huge disaster of our own making.

But God, out of the richness of His mercy, sent Jesus. And He lived the perfect life that we could not. He perfectly obeyed God and rightly deserved nothing but life and blessing. But then out of the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, dying for our sins, and paying the price for our sins. He then descended to hell in our place, not for further punishment for our sins, but to preach to and rescue those who were captive in hell since the days of Noah, as it alludes to 1 Peter 3, and also so that when He rose from the grave, Jesus demonstrated even His power over the hold of hell. And He did all of this not only to display His power, but to show His love and grace to us, sinners, who are completely undeserving of His goodness.

And then God calls us to display that same goodness and grace toward others. That seems kind of impossible, right? And in our own strength, it is impossible. But nothing is impossible with God. Verse 6.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hand rest, because you don’t know which will succeed, whether one or the other, or if both of them will be equally good. Light is sweet, and it is pleasing for the eyes to see the sun. Indeed, if someone lives many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, since they will be many. All that comes is futile. Rejoice, young person, while you are young, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. And walk in the ways of your heart and in the desire of your eyes; but know that for all of these things God will bring you to judgment. Remove sorrow from your heart, and put away pain from your flesh, because youth and the prime of life are fleeting. (Ecclesiastes 11:6-10)

In other words, work hard, and enjoy every minute of it! Don’t give up working just because you don’t see any of the results of your labor! Keep on working hard, because you never know what may succeed, whether one thing you try or another.

And the Teacher tells the reader to feel free to try many things, especially while you’re young. Sow your seed in the morning, and let not your hand rest in the evening. Get busy doing some stuff when you wake up, and keep on doing stuff until you go to bed. I don’t think he’s instructing us to be workaholics, but rather simply not to be idle. It’s so easy to just waste so much time, and it just gets easier and easier with things like Netflix, and YouTube, and games on our phones, and even the unending pursuit of knowledge through books, it can all be such a waste of time when if we were to devote ourselves primarily to those kinds of things. But God would have us to enjoy life by working hard, not wasting our lives with things that are here today and gone tomorrow.

The Teacher writes that light is sweet, and it’s pleasing for the eyes to the sun. In other words, get out and do stuff. It’s good to get to work and live a full, rich, productive life.

And as you work hard, and enjoy life, chasing your dreams, rejoicing in every good thing that God gives you, just remember to do it all with the knowledge that God is the Lord. God sees not just what you do, but the motivations of your heart. He sees not just what we consider the big sins, but the hidden sins. He sees our greed. He sees our pride. He sees our lust. He sees that we are sinful beyond measure. And for all of these things, we deserve judgment.

Even our lack of generosity deserves judgment. The Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself, and the Bible says to give to those who ask of you, and the Bible says that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.

And yet, God still loves us. He loves you so much that He came down in the form of a man, Jesus, and died for your sin, forgiving you of all your sins. So as you live, don’t live as slaves to fear, but as God’s child, in freedom. You’re free to rejoice! You’re free to work! You’re free to enjoy the short life that we have on this earth, looking forward to eternity on the new earth, where God makes all things new.