When I was a child, my parents used to take me to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for long afternoon visits. My Mennonite grandma would usually be sitting in her chair by the window, a small stack of brightly colored fabric circles on the table beside her. She would sew the edges of each small circle and gather it into a purse, called a “yo-yo,” and my aunt would stitch the yo-yos together into beautiful quilts and sell them at local craft fairs.
My grandma had a job to do: she worked with beautiful material; but she could not piece together the whole quilt. Even though we can’t see how the yo-yo’s of our life fit together into a beautiful quilt, we too have a job to do. What are we to “do in time with God”? We are to fear him (v. 14). But there is more. The Preacher tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13:
“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
We are to be joyful and do good. What simple, delightful tasks!
“One good way to understand and apply this verse is to put it in the first person and use it as a job description,” suggests Phil Ryken: “There is nothing better than to be joyful and to do good as long as I live, and to eat and drink and take pleasure in all my work—this is God’s gift to me.”
We’ll take the second part of this job description up next week, but first, how do we “be joyful” in this disillusioning, difficult life? We look for beauty. No matter what time we find ourselves in, there is beauty to be found. That beauty is God—his presence, his purpose, and his presents. “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecc. 3:11).
The Beauty of His Presence
First, we can “be joyful” when we find the beauty of God’s presence in every nook and cranny of our lives. “God intends to be found amid our toast and coffee, while we swing a hammer or change a diaper,” writes Zach Eswine. “This is why he is called ‘Immanuel.’ It means ‘God is with us.’”
The truth we celebrate at Christmastime is truth to celebrate at every time: God is with us. Our Savior is present in every moment of every day. And he wants us to find him there.
“What you need” Elisabeth Elliot tells mothers (and all of us) “is a habitual sense of the presence of God. Think that Almighty God, who created the stars and keeps the seasons revolving in perfect rhythm, is there in your kitchen, in your bathroom, in the laundry room, in the grocery store.”
Think, and find the beauty of God’s presence. Think until it fills your heart with wonder and joy. God is with you. Right now. Every carpool driving, expense report checking, diaper wiping, bed making, bite chewing, sunrise watching minute, the Almighty God is with you. Ponder the beauty of his presence, and you’ll find that there is joy to be squeezed out of every moment of every day.
He is still with us in the awful, stomach-churning moments of our lives. “God has not left the mess,” insists Eswine, “but remains here in it and with us. In that light, we start with what we have and we do this little bit each day with God.”
This is how we travel through unbearable times. By doing a little bit each day with God. Even when we don’t feel his presence, we know that he is with us. “[W]here shall I flee from your presence? asks the Psalmist, ready with the answer: If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there…” (Ps. 139:7-8).
“Wherever Jesus may lead us, He goes before us. If we know not where we go, we know with whom we go. With such a companion, who will dread the perils of the road? The journey may be long, but His everlasting arms will carry us to the end. The presence of Jesus is the assurance of eternal salvation, because He lives, we shall live also.” ~Charles Spurgeon
When we find the beauty of his presence—in the ordinary and the painful moments of our lives—every moment will be infused with joy.
The Beauty of His Purpose
God may not have shown us the whole quilt, we may only see “the outskirts of his ways” (Job 26:14), but we know he has a purpose for our yo-yo making, and this should fill us with joy.
Life doesn’t always feel purposeful. You spend the morning at the DMV only to discover you left your birth certificate at home. You get in a fender bender and miss an appointment. You burn dinner. Or maybe you work hard on a paper and get a “D.” You devote your life to your children and they still rebel.
What’s the point? Or, as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes puts it: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” (3:9).
His answer, in one sense, is nothing. “Vanity,” is the end of all the efforts of men (1:2). But not so the purposes of God: “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it” (3:14).
“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” David chimes in, as does Job, “No purpose of [his] can be thwarted” (Ps. 138:8, Job 42:2).
“No matter what time it is, we learn to adjust to it on the basis of the hope and purpose that God is in it, that everything has a beauty to it by which the Preacher declares that every disquieting and delightful moment under the sun has been fitted by God for his purposes. With God, everything fits, nothing is wasted or lost. God does not abandon one second of a life under the sun. No disquiet is God forsaken. No true delight is God neglected. Joseph pointed us to this beauty, these purpose-drenched seconds, when he looked at all the pain, the reoccurring tears and the long years of wreckage that his brothers had perpetrated, and he interpreted it all by saying, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).” ~Zach Eswine
The beauty of God’s purposes gives us joy. Everything fits. He does not lose or drop a single minute of our lives. None of our happy moments, none of our painful moments, and none of our waiting moments, are wasted by God. Every second of our lives is purpose-drenched.
What are God’s purposes? We do not know them all. Our efforts to piece together the yo-yo’s of our lives are often futile, and frankly arrogant, for we “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecc. 3:11).
But this we know: everything has a good purpose, and one of God’s main purposes is to teach us to be content with his purpose.
What is God doing here?! Why did I lose my job? Why am I not getting married? Why did I get cancer? Why is there conflict in my family? We don’t know everything he is doing in these difficult situations, but we do know something: he is teaching us to be content. He is showing us how to “be joyful.”
“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows’. Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. Down busy self, and proud impatience, it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of Love! Trials must and will befall-but with humble faith to see-Love inscribed upon them all-this is happiness to me.” ~Charles Spurgeon
So often we chafe against the purposes of God; or as Rick Holland puts it, we “spend a lot of time trying to get out of what God has put us into.” But if any situation would have been better for us, God would have put us there. God wants us to see that his purpose for these unwanted circumstances is the joy in Christ he purposes for us to have. The very thing we want to get out of is the way to get to joy.
Find the beauty of God’s purpose—our contentment—in every moment of every day, and you can be joyful.
The Beauty of His Presents
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” James tells us, “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17 ).
No matter how diminished our circumstances or how difficult our road, God has given us gifts to enjoy in this season. Sometimes finding these gifts feels like doing a child’s “hidden pictures” page. But God’s gifts are always there to be found for our joy.
“At some point, we all have to come to terms with the spiritual truth that true joy is found in God and God is found right where His gifts are. God’s gifts are our lot. This means that right here where we are is where God will be found…” writes Zach Eswine.
What are these gifts? “There is nothing better,” says Eswine, quoting the Preacher, “than to have a place to inhabit, a thing to do in that place, and some people in that place to share it with. With God, such small things are happy and gainful.” In other words, we must stop trying to turn a grapefruit into a baseball and enjoy it for breakfast.
These gifts are the very ones we often overlook as we long after other gifts. We often pine for gifts we used to have or pant after gifts we never had, and we pass over the gifts we have right now. This is how not to be joyful.
But look around you. Has God given you a “place to inhabit”? Has he blessed you with a roof over your head, a place where you belong? Your home, and the small expressions of beauty there hold a myriad of gifts.
Do you have some people to share your life with—a family, a church community? They may be a quirky, raggedy bunch, but each one is a gift from God. And so is your work, whatever “the next thing” is that God has given you to do. It may be a small work, a praying work, a difficult work, but it is a gifted work, designed to give you joy.
“The Preacher reorients us. To taste the sweetness of ordinary joys, we learn to enter each day with a conviction about the givenness of all things…. Pay attention to what God is giving and what he is not, receive with humility what he gives as enough, thankfully pursue this enjoy this”. ~Zach Eswine
Joy is right under our noses in the form of God’s gifts to us today. We only need to find them out.
I’m reminded of the hymn we used to sing in church as a child:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
Count your blessings. Once you start finding the beauty of God’s gifts in every day, you will be, as CS Lewis put it, surprised by joy. “Find him, not in what you do not have, but amid the smallest things that remain, he will find you!” (Eswine).
In every season, no matter how reduced or unpleasant, we can find the beauty of God’s gifts. Corrie and Betsie ten Boom found beauty even in the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie recounts how her sister Betsie resolved to “give thanks in all circumstances,” including the fleas which infested their barracks. “Fleas are part of this place where God has put us,” Betsie told her sister.
Some time later, the ten Boom sisters discovered that the guards would not step foot in their barracks, thus leaving them free to share the Scriptures with the other women, all because of the fleas. Corrie remembered her sister’s “thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”
If Betsie ten Boom can find the beauty of God’s gifts in a flea-infested concentration camp, how much more can we find beauty in God’s gifts to us today? No matter what time we find ourselves in, there is beauty to be found.
Even in our lowest state, we have The Gift of Gifts in the person of Jesus Christ. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). As we ponder his sacrifice for us this Easter week, may we be full of sorrow for our ingratitude and filled with joy for his gift of salvation.
Find beauty in God’s seasonal gifts, and God will find you and give you joy.
Here is part one of our job description, our quilt circles: find beauty. Find beauty in God’s presence, in God’s purpose and in God’s presents and you will “be joyful.”