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Have you ever feared a dream to come true?
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. And while I could answer “yes” to this question for multiple reasons, the one I keep coming back to is the fear that whatever I’ve been dreaming about won’t be all that I hoped it would be. That even if it comes true, nothing will actually change, and that I will still live with the same daily disappointments and frustrations. Because while dreams coming true aren’t a bad thing and they might satisfy us for a moment, they will never ultimately satisfy us. At least not for the long run.
Do you find yourself facing that same fear?
Maybe we’re all facing it on some level, with the world “opening back up” again. Whether you have been traveling still and getting together with friends, or you have truly been quarantining, we’ve all been waiting for the world to go back to “normal!” But what if “normal” isn’t as wonderful as we’ve spent the last year and a half remembering it to be? What if despite the return of brunch dates with friends, plane trips across the country, and large crowds at concerts and sporting events, our hearts are still unsatisfied, unsettled, and longing for more?
Or maybe you’re like me and you have a specific dream in mind. For several years, I have been praying for a job that gives me the ability to work from home and the flexibility to invest more time and energy into the things that matter most to me. If I’m being honest, I’ve spent the last few years pretty burnt out and discouraged, and was feeling very at the end of myself earlier this year. But God has finally answered this prayer! I started my new job this month and I already feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders! I cannot wait to be more present for my people, to travel with my husband for residency interviews, to finally pour into the passion projects that kept getting pushed aside, and to once again invest in my physical and spiritual health. I have hope! Hope for a life full of thriving instead of surviving. But every now and then I find myself thinking, “What if nothing changes?” What if I still feel stretched too thin to be a good wife, daughter, sister, and friend? What if I still struggle to step into my gifts? What if I still feel too burnt out and fatigued to do the work it takes to invest in my physical and spiritual health?
And you know what? Those are totally valid questions!
No matter how many of our prayers are answered on this side of heaven, we will still be our sinful selves, doing life with other sinful humans. Crushed expectations and other results of the fall will still affect us (if not now then definitely later). Health problems, relational conflict, and financial struggles will sneak right back in if they’re not there already. These are totally valid questions, not because we should live life with a negative perspective, but because we should live life with a realistic perspective.
And the reality is, Jesus is the only one who can be all that we hope He will be.
My church recently started studying the book of Ecclesiastes, and it has been so good. I had never really studied Ecclesiastes on my own or understood the value of it, but now that I do, I don’t understand why we don’t spend more time talking about it!
Ecclesiastes is basically a reality check on life; that life on earth is “absolute futility,” as my pastor put it (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Depressing much? If that’s all there is to it, then yeah, kind of depressing! But for anyone who puts their hope in Jesus (instead of in the things of this world), that’s not all there is to it!
So with Ecclesiastes as the backdrop, I want to walk you through three ways in which we often put our hope in the things of this world (which is absolute futility), and three ways that Jesus fulfills these hopes instead (giving us absolute fullness). My hope is that these will serve as a sort of “reality check” for your heart and mind as we live in the balance of dreaming for good things while still putting our ultimate hope in Jesus.
“What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes… History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.” Ecclesiastes 1:3-4, 9-11 NLT
Maybe it’s just the Enneagram 9 in me, but I often find myself frustrated with the way that our culture idolizes work. And don’t get me wrong, I love good work! We were created for work; work that glorifies God, serves others, uses our gifts, and provides for our families. But when the work itself takes away from glorifying God, serving others, enjoying the work of our hands, and the fruits of our labor? That’s what I get frustrated with. And I feel like this “hustle first” culture has become not just accepted, but practically expected.
Ecclesiastes cuts to the core of this. “We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now” (1:11). There are exceptions to this, of course, but for the most part, no one will remember us in 100 years no matter how hard we work. And that doesn’t just apply to our work; it applies to our money, beauty, possessions, influence, you name it. None of these things remain. Therefore putting our hope in these things is, to use the language of Ecclesiastes, absolute futility.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we should neglect these things. Again, we were created for good work, and I believe that God wants us to find joy in both our work itself and the fruits of our work! But what will remain? What will matter in 100 years? Jesus. Heaven. Hearing the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). And while the work that we do here on earth might contribute to hearing “well done,” it is nothing if we do it without Jesus.
I once heard my favorite pastor, John Mark Comer (who I honestly probably reference like once a day), say something about how at the end of our lives, all that will really matter is who we’ve become and who we’ve become that person alongside (our brothers and sisters in Christ who we’ve lived life and grown in spiritual maturity with). So let’s focus first and foremost on becoming more like Jesus (which means spending time with Jesus) and being in community with other believers. These are the things that will remain.
“So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless — like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NLT
To give you a little background, Ecclesiastes was written by a man (most likely King Solomon, or at least in reference to King Solomon) who was extremely wealthy, famous, and powerful. So when he was conducting this sort of experiment on the meaning of life, he literally had every resource available to him. Our modern version of his experiment might sound more like this: “I also tried to find meaning by building dream homes for myself; one on the beach, one in the mountains, and oh, one in Europe too. I built pools, recreation spaces, and entertainment spaces. I have a personal chef and housekeeping. The money never runs out, so my friends and I just hang out and have fun, travel as much as we want, eat as much as we want, have private events, get top-tier experiences everywhere we go. I have everything a girl could want!” So yeah, that’s basically the life that the writer of Ecclesiastes created for himself. And at the end of the day? Everything was “absolute futility.”
None of us have the resources that the writer of Ecclesiastes had, but his “experiment” goes to show us that even if we did, it wouldn’t make a difference as far as our satisfaction goes. I read a statement like that (or, write a statement like that) and immediately think to myself that can’t be totally true. Wouldn’t I have at least a little more satisfaction from all of that? But the writer experienced this kind of lifestyle firsthand so that he could tell us otherwise.
The world will constantly tempt us to find satisfaction in the things of this world, and it’s so hard not to believe that we will (whether your “dream life” looks like the situation described above or something much more simple). But we weren’t created for these things, therefore we will never find satisfaction in them. We were created for Jesus and for eternity. And He is the only one who can, and will, satisfy the desires of our hearts. Every single one of them.
So what is that “thing” for you right now? What are you waiting on to make everything “good”? It is important not only to identify what that thing is but also to identify what you’re hoping to find in that thing; what desire you’re longing to fulfill. Because whatever it is, Jesus can fulfill that desire abundantly more than anything in this world can. So let’s be conscious of what our hearts are truly longing for and curious to find how Jesus can truly fulfill those desires.
“Don’t let the excitement of your youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore”… Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6-7 NLT
How often do we hope in “the excitement of our youth” more than we hope in Jesus? That phrase makes me think of all the times when I was in high school and said things like, “I’m excited for Jesus to come back, but I kind of want to get married first.” Anyone else?
But as this verse indicates, a lot of this “excitement,” or things to look forward to, passes with age. While there are always things to look forward to, and I hate the lie that “our best days are behind us” once we reach 30, or whatever age it is, there is truth to the fact that the excitement of our youth (not the excitement of our old age) is a real thing.
And it is so easy to put our identities in these things. But when we do that, as these things pass, we lose those identities. We find ourselves watching other people experience these things that we once experienced for ourselves, wondering if our identities are now “less” than what they were in that season of life. The tragic thing is that most likely, we’ll do the same thing with our current identity that we’re currently discontent with 5 years from now!
Sister, this is no way to live. But you know what is the way to live? Finding your identity in Jesus and letting that identity define your self-worth. Not your grades, or your job, or your marital status, or your kids, or your home, or how young or how “beautiful” you are. These things will all fade, but your identity in Jesus will never fade. “For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (verse 7). Your temporary “identities” will return to the earth, but your spirit, the part of you that remains for eternity, will return to God, the one who created it to find ultimate satisfaction in Him.
So what are you putting your identity in right now? Where are you finding your self-worth? The older I get, the more I realize how much growing in spiritual maturity is growing in the discipline of finding my self-worth in Jesus; because if our identities are truly aligned with Him, our thoughts, words, actions, and overall lives will be too. And unlike the “identities” of this world, nothing can take this identity away from us!
“What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again.” Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 NLT
Ecclesiastes shows us that without Jesus, everything really is “absolutely futile,” but with Jesus, there is absolute fullness. We will still face disappointments, frustrations, and unmet expectations, even in the midst of dreams coming true and life finally returning to “normal.” But we can trust in the Lord with all our heart and not depend on our own understanding. We can seek his will in all we do, and He will show us which path to take (Proverbs 3:5-6). This is all we can do, since “we cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” I think that we all fully realized this truth in the past year and a half more than ever before!
Ecclesiastes 3 is only a few chapters into the book, and there’s so much more wisdom and goodness if you keep reading, but I love how this chapter summarizes the writer’s conclusion to his “experiment.” It acknowledges that life is hard, but heaven is coming, and God is in control, so we might as well just be thankful and let God be God, putting all our hope in Him alone — whether we face another global pandemic in 2021, or life goes back to normal.
Putting all our hope in God alone doesn’t mean that we don’t also do the things that He has called us to do and pray for Him to work, but at the end of the day, “whatever God does is final and nothing can be added to it or taken from it.” So let’s enjoy His good gifts, answered prayers, dreams come true, and life returning to normal, but all while remembering that doing so is only made possible by finding our ultimate hope in Christ alone!
Tiffany is a 20-something from Louisville, KY, where she is supporting her husband through med school and chasing her dreams on the side. She is passionate about cultivating communities and conversations centered around helping others feel seen, known, and loved for who they are and who God created them to be. A 9w1 and “extroverted homebody,” her ideal weekend is spent planning and hosting the perfect dinner party, and she has a special place in her heart for brides and newlyweds.
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