Many people want to know what the future holds before it comes. This increases at the end of each year while looking ahead to the next. How much more so this year! 2020 created more questions than answers—answers we still want to see resolved. And what will come in this new year, in what appears to be a chaotic election year?
Wanting to know the future isn’t new. Far from it! Fortune tellers, seers, and astrological forecasting have been around since ancient times. But our desire to know what will happen next and our fascination with the future can blind us from discerning the present times. We can be so focused on what might happen or could take place that we fail to realize what is going on right now.
Too often, we are so invested in how things could be better, we find little appreciation or contentment with what is good in the present. This isn’t so much an issue of being content or mindful, though both are beneficial. It’s about control. We want to determine the outcome of our own lives and the world around us, which inevitably includes the lives of others, especially in our immediate sphere of influence. In other words, we want to be like God.
Growing old with lots of life experience doesn’t always translate into wisdom. Longevity is no guarantee of serenity. If a person hasn’t learned to trust God for the future, they’ll probably be filled with anxiety, questions, and worry until the end of their days on earth.
Real wisdom enables a person to discern the present as it is and lets the future be its own mystery. Here is how Solomon expressed it in Ecclesiastes—
The mind of a wise person will know the right time and the right way to act. There is a right time and a right way to act in every situation.
Mysteries are revealed over time or at certain points in time. The mystery of the future is revealed as time passes, but not everyone understands the significance of what becomes known. When the future of our nation was dark and unclear in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln understood there was more at stake in preserving the union than the issue of slavery. And yet, more than five decades later, we still grapple with the outcome of the Civil War in various ways.
In these few verses at the beginning of Chapter 8, Solomon makes a distinction between knowledge and genuine wisdom — godly wisdom (James 3:17). The truly wise person can explain things that are a mystery to others, and their wisdom is beneficial and practical.
First, it changes a person’s countenance — “their face shines” and softens (Eccl 8:1). They don’t look stressed out. They understand what’s been made known in the past and the present, and they can face the future with confidence that what is unknown will become known and understandable.
Wisdom can also be practical in the form of discernment — the ability to understand something beyond the appearance of a situation or what lies below the surface. What Solomon says about the king and his power doesn’t seem so relevant for many of us in today’s world, although some nations have tyrannical leaders.
But we can draw some practical and relevant points from verses 3–6 if we view the king as a person of authority, even a boss, especially someone who is authoritarian or seems tyrannical in their attitude and behavior. More than a few of us have worked under leaders who were difficult to tolerate or had a parent who was a strict authoritarian. Perhaps we have been that person in the lives of others.
Here are some quick and simple takeaways—
Keep your commitments. Don’t overreact to people, conditions, or situations you have no control over. Be discerning rather than judgmental. A wise thought-out response is far wiser than an emotion-driven reaction. Reactions in a heated or stressful moment are often unwise and counterproductive. Discerning people know and understand the right thing to do at the appropriate or right time.
A couple more thoughts — not only is worrying about the future a burden we don’t need to carry or struggle with each day, but we all also have limitations, especially when it comes to our number of days on earth under the sun. If nothing else, the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic reminded us how fragile and precious life is. We may not know the number of our days, but we ought to know wisdom is more beneficial to our lives than living a careless, unrestrained life.
Solomon often contrasts wisdom with foolishness and wickedness in the Book of Proverbs, as he does here in Ecclesiastes. In this sense, wisdom isn’t mere knowledge. It’s connected to ethics, morality, virtues, and integrity of character, and discernment rather than judgment in the inner core of a person.
This kind of wisdom is more spiritual than philosophical. A person with this kind of wisdom is not driven by external circumstances or emotion, but guided by their conscience, which is grounded in truth. It’s godly wisdom. As the apostle James points out, this wisdom is —
“…first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17 NIV).
Because of these qualities, a person filled with this wisdom understands the importance and value of keeping commitments to others. They’re not overreactive or rude, but considerate and sincere, and don’t make hasty decisions or take up their cause in a rebellious or selfish way.
In our current culture and political environment, our nation and the world around us would benefit from such wisdom. So also within many homes and among extended family. This peace-loving, gentle, and sincere wisdom will go a long way to heal and restore relationships, even preventing divisiveness and strife.
As described here by Solomon, the wise person would be discerning the times, not making rash judgments about people or the events and situations others are involved in. A discerning person will assess what they hear and see instead of making assumptions or impulsive decisions. They neither react nor overreact, but understand the seasons of life and the nature of cultural changes.
When a discerning person sees changes in their culture, they’re not quick to embrace them and they don’t get caught up fighting against what they can’t control. They also aren’t overcome by hard seasons of life or get carried away by more pleasant times of life, as if they’ll never end.
A person with godly wisdom understands they are not fated to a certain destiny or thinks they can control everything in their life. They know the best way to be prepared to accept the end of their life is to commit their life to the One who gave it to them.
How can you gain this godly wisdom?
- Be grounded in the truth of God found in the Bible—His written Word.
- Listen for the voice of God’s Spirit and to your conscience.
- Seek out and spend time with those with whom you see these same qualities of character.
This is an excerpt from Trip’s book of devotional studies from the book of Ecclesiastes — Glimmers of Light In the Darkness of Life. You can read more about Trip and see his other writings and books at tripkimball.com.
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Photo credit– Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash (see on next page)