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There is Nothing Better

Sermon passage: (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26) Spoken on: June 26, 2016
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Ecclesiastes

Tags: Ecclesiastes, 传道书

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Title: There is Nothing Better
Date: 26th June 2016
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Ecclesiastes 2: 24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Peace to you brothers and sisters. When I was a student in secondary school, a glass of soy bean milk cost 20 cents. I can still remember the scene in the school canteen, where there were lots of glasses of soy bean milk at the drinks stall counter, and every student in the fast-moving queue would just put down a 20-cent coin, and then grab a glass and go. It was the cheapest drink you could find if you didn’t bring a water bottle. And in a boys’ school, nobody brings a water bottle. There was one particularly hot day, a day that I remember, where I didn’t buy the usual soya bean drink. Instead of joining the soya bean queue, I went straight to the drinks stall uncle and ordered a glass of watermelon juice. He then took out a plastic tray of watermelon from the fridge. These watermelons had been pre-cut into long rectangular strips, just the right thickness to fit into the juicer. Then the juice was poured into a big glass of ice, and served to me.

That glass of watermelon juice cost 1 dollar. That amount in those days, for a secondary school student, that’s five glasses of soya bean drink, enough to last me a week. That glass of watermelon juice was a luxury item. I couldn’t remember if that was my first time drinking watermelon juice. But on that hot school day, it felt like my first time. The chill from the drink was utterly refreshing, and the sweetness of the melon was pure bliss. At that moment, there was joy, and the sensation of satisfaction with life. What made that moment especially significant was because I remembered an ambitious vow I made to myself. Brace yourselves: My aim and dream in life was to ensure that I could enjoy a glass of watermelon juice every single day. One glass of watermelon juice every single day. Then, I would be happy every day. That was my ambition in life.

Ecclesiastes 2: 24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. The Preacher was saying that this is the very best thing that a person can do. That’s the first preliminary conclusion of the book after the very first question: Ecclesiastes 1: 3 What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? How can there be no gain? But after all the life experiments and all the observations of the world, the Preacher concluded: yes, there is truly nothing better.

He also said, “This too, I see, is from the hand of God.” (v.24) This is the second time in Ecclesiastes that God is mentioned. It makes us recall the first time that God is mentioned. 1: 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! Humans wonder about life because that is also from the hand of God. This point would be repeated again in chapter 3: 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

As a human, we can feel the endless extension of time, and we begin to wonder. And it is a heavy burden from God, especially when our lifespan is so short compared to the limitless passage of time. How can this be all there is to life? To MY life? I will be remembered! No, you will be forgotten. I will figure this out! I will gather all the knowledge and solve this. But, 1: 18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. Then, how about pleasures? I will enjoy the heck out of life! I will gather and build so much that I will never have a dull moment in life. I will let each second feel like it’s forever. But it’s not forever. Despite all the gathering, you will find emptiness in the end. And furthermore, there is death. Death does not make sense. It means that no matter how we lived, we end up the same. It means that whatever we gathered, we cannot take it with us, and must pass it on to someone else. This burden of wondering about our existence in time comes from God. The Preacher tried to challenge it with achievements. The Preacher tried to negate the burden with wisdom and pleasure. But in the end, there is no gain. 

Are you ever been frustrated with time? Have you ever tried to hold on to a perfect moment, or perfect situation, but it slowly slips away? Sometimes, I feel it as a pastor. Every time you feel like you’ve managed to patch up something, another tear appears. After a youth matures, another rebellious one comes along. After a hard-fought reconciliation, another conflict occurs. After a leader is groomed, another is called to the heavenly home. For every sermon appreciated, there is a sermon forgotten. This is a whack-a-mole game that goes on and on. There is a genuine fear that these will be all for naught. I’m not an ambitious man. I don’t seek to be remembered. I don’t even like to be recognized or admired. But I am greedy for actual gain. I want to know that what I do matters in terms of real transformations. But the Preacher is right. In the long passage of time, there is no gain. God’s hand has given us a magical gift, that we humans can perceive the passage of time. But sometimes, it is so frustrating, because we know we cannot really hold on to anything. You can feel the wind, but you cannot catch the wind.

Then one night, after a wake service, I was driving an Elder home. I’m very close to this Elder because we had been partners in more than a hundred visitations. But we haven’t had long conversations for a while because I have since switched zones. We reminisced about the cases we had managed, including the bereaved family we just visited. I also shared about some of my worries for the church. In the midst of the conversation, I suddenly felt immense joy and peace. I realized that even though I’m helpless about many things including the onslaught of time, I don’t control the future; as for the past, it will fade with time; but I realized that that moment, that conversation, that relationship, that really mattered to me. Many things could be incomprehensible to us, God’s plans and timing may elude human thoughts, but that moment, that I could understand. I felt immense joy and peace because for once, I could grab the moment. It was a precious moment to connect as one, and in doing so, there was mutual affirmation that what we have done, and what we are still doing in ministry really matters. I also realized that that moment was by the grace of God. God may have burdened us with the eternity of time, but the very same hand also gave us the joy of appreciating a single moment.

Ecclesiastes 2: 24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? The eating and drinking here is not the same as just吃喝玩乐, or pleasures described in the start of chapter 2. This is referring to the joy that comes from the simple pleasures in life. As I reflect on this, I remembered my watermelon juice life goal. A daily watermelon juice was supposed to make me so happy and contented everyday. What happened to me? Now that I can afford my watermelon juice, why is my joy so few and far in between? 2: 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. If your heart is far from God, then you would put your faith in getting and accumulating more and more. Ironically, the more you have, the harder it is to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. This can also happen to a person busy in ministry. As we work on bigger and better projects, we may fail to appreciate the simple pleasure of connecting spiritually with another soul. But if you draw near to God, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You begin to realize that every single day is by the grace of God. And that wisdom alone would make you thankful for the simple pleasures of life.

(Show picture of Mr. Khaw Boon Wan.) Do you know who that is? That’s Minister Khaw Boon Wan. Five years ago, some people gave him a nickname: The Man who didn’t find happiness in Bhutan. Bhutan became famous for its happiness when it was ranked 1st in Asia by Business Week in 2006. [1] They used a self-developed index, the Gross National Happiness (GNH), to shape their national policies. However, in 2011, Minister Khaw gave a speech in parliament about his experience in Bhutan. He explained why Bhutan was not a paradise on earth. He said, “most of the time, I saw unhappy people, toiling in the field, worried about the next harvest and whether there would be buyers for their products.” [2]

That very line created a stir, and a Bhutan school teacher responded to Minister Khaw: “ [3] Since you questioned the presence of happiness in Bhutan, let me answer by telling you few things that you overlooked when you visited my country. Those people you saw in the fields weren't unhappy, if you have gone closer you would have heard them singing and enjoying the social lives, perhaps you won't understand that. If you have spent a little longer time watching them, you would have seen a woman with a basket on her back and holding arms with several children coming with steaming food- we don't have McDonald or KFC. Then everybody will sit down to eat their lunch, laughing and joking, feeding babies, for over an hour- you wouldn't have had so much time to sit and watch I know, time means money in your country.” [4] That response went viral, even circulating in Facebook these days five years later.

To be honest, after reading that, I was feeling a little judgmental of Minister Khaw. How dare you judge the happiness of the people of another country using your own presumptions? But I decided to dig a little deeper. And what I found was that, that was only one line taken out of context. Minister Khaw in his speech actually showed good understanding of the situation in Bhutan.

He said, “My Bhutan visit left some deep impressions.
First, the plight of a tiny nation. How do you make yourself relevant in the harsh world of big nation politics? Or simply making your voice heard?
Second, the hard reality of living next to giant neighbours. I spoke to the Cabinet Secretary to understand their economic structure: what were their revenue sources, how did they make a living? Most of the Government income was aid and handouts from a giant neighbour next door.
Third, the challenge of making yourself relevant in a globalised world. The talented are leaving for opportunities elsewhere. The economic opportunities at home are few.
Fourth, self-determination and self-reliance bring dignity and pride. If survival means pandering to the wishes of others, it is no fun at all, let alone, happiness. This is so at the national level; it is equally true at the personal level.” [5]

Minister Khaw was making a comparison between Bhutan and Singapore. His point was that it is not easy to survive as a tiny nation, whether it is Bhutan or Singapore. Sure, we all desire simple pleasures in life. And it would be easy to find happiness if we were carefree. But life is often not like that. In order to be happy, you first have to survive. This is why Bhutan was learning from Singapore. We survived. As Singaporeans, we are wired to be prepared for a rainy day, and there’s no free lunch in this world. We are gatherers because we have to. And because of our constant crisis mode and survival instinct, we may feel burdened by time. The future is just so hard to see. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.

However, this is the take home message: Even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Singapore, do not forget what it is that truly matters. What it is that there is nothing better. I want to remind you of the other gift of God. This divine gift is that by the hand of God, you can also enjoy and appreciate every single moment of God’s grace. It can be a glass of watermelon juice. It can be a chat with a close friend. And that is always within reach. You just need the wisdom to cherish it. In fact, these are the moments that really matter. This is not a chicken soup for the soul. I’m not saying this to make you feel good. This is more like a Chinese herbal chicken soup. It is bitter at first. But it is nutrition that you need.

Now at the seventh sermon of Ecclesiastes, we have come to a mini-conclusion of the book. Congratulations to you, you have reached the first pit-stop of Ecclesiastes. I wonder how you feel so far. To be honest, I’m quite concerned. Many of these subjects, whether it is the vanity of pleasures or accomplishments, or the reality of death, are not comfortable topics. But I hope that these are good reminders to you. Perhaps, you could relate more closely to the topics with more life experiences. And that’s the main aim of this sermon series. We believe that God has given his insight into life and living, and it would be wise for us to explore this insight and live a fruitful life.

[3] I am not surprised even when you said (the line) because I heard a proverb in school that goes, "Two men looked through the prison window, one saw the mud and other saw the horizon". I am amazed at your ability to figure out whether the people are happy or unhappy just by looking at them- O' you even knew they were "worried about the next harvest".