Read an Excerpt
Moving Past Everyday Struggles
By Marilyn Hickey
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2006 Marilyn Hickey
All rights reserved.
enjoying life isn't a sin
Have you ever thought, What is life really all about? Is this all there is? You wonder why you work so hard, just to get up and do it again tomorrow. Life feels dark.
There was a time when my life felt that way.
I had traveled and preached for a living. Studying the Word of God, as well as talking and praying with people, was my livelihood and my lifestyle. But through my travels, I contracted a debilitating illness.
No one knew what was wrong. I endured many medical tests, but none of them delivered a diagnosis. The doctors said, "Maybe it's your heart." They confined me to the hospital for two days, ran more tests, then announced, "You have the heart of a forty-year-old." Great news to a seventy-two-year-old! But still, no diagnosis.
Food lost its taste, so I lost my appetite along with twenty pounds. I looked like a bag of bones. I shook all the time on the inside. People's voices jarred me to no end; as a result, I would go to church late and leave early to avoid conversation. Too weak to drive my car, too sick to fly in an airplane, I was forced to cancel all travel plans. I fell into depression; as my body deteriorated, my mind declined, too. I had just finished memorizing the book of John, but to my dismay, I couldn't recall any of it! And then not to know what was wrong with me ...
As I lay in bed, the enemy pestered my mind with thoughts like "You're dying. You'll never preach again. You had that big crusade in Pakistan, but you'll never have another."
However, the Lord helped me by doing something extraordinary. He led me to read Ecclesiastes, the gloomiest book in the Bible! Even though I had read the entire Bible many times over, I had never enjoyed reading this book. So negative!
Yet this time, as I began to read the first chapter, I discovered that the writer described exactly how I felt: "Meaningless! Meaningless! ... Everything is meaningless" (Eccles. 1:2 NIV). As I continued reading through the most pessimistic pages in the Word of God, an amazing thing happened! The Lord began to show me how to enjoy life.
Who would have thought that during the most negative time in my life, reading the most negative book in the Bible, He would show me a truth so simple, yet so profound: God wants you and me to enjoy our lives!
Eventually, the doctors reached a diagnosis and my health was restored. Although I was ill for seven months, I was delighted at the end by a double transformation—good health and happiness.
What do you do when your life feels dark? When you feel as if ...
... you can't live with your husband.
... you don't like your kids.
... you can't stand your boss.
Instead of feeling frustrated and hopeless, what would it be like to enjoy life? The ability to enjoy your life is a gift from God! And He wants to show you how.CHAPTER 2
are you bored?
Growing up, the mind-set in my parents' German home was to work very hard, be extremely disciplined, and learn to provide for yourself. Consequently, I have always worked exceptionally hard and pushed myself to accomplish. When I wanted to pursue a college education, my dad's comment was, "Great, but I'm not paying for it. Get scholarships and work your way through." So that's what I did.
All of my life I was taught: achieve, discipline myself, achieve, discipline myself. Therefore, I carried that mind-set into my spiritual life. Frankly, I subconsciously thought it was a sin to enjoy life.
But God changed the way I think. Lying sick in bed feeling deathly ill, I couldn't accomplish anything. I felt trapped! I felt bored out of my mind! The devil told me I was losing my mind, but the Lord gave me a mental and spiritual revelation.
Do you feel trapped inside your present circumstances? Are you bored with your life? Are you tired of the same old problems, the same old things, the same old crises? Are you thinking, I just want to stop the world and get off!?
Well, don't stop the world and get off. Inspired by the Spirit of God, the writer of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, describes a life view. Does it match yours?
There's nothing to anything—it's all smoke. What's there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it's business as usual for old planet earth. The sun comes up and the sun goes down, then does it again, and again—the same old round. The wind blows south, the wind blows north. Around and around and around it blows, blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind. All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up. The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again. Everything's boring, utterly boring— no one can find any meaning in it. Boring to the eye, boring to the ear. What was will be again, what happened will happen again. There's nothing new on this earth. Year after year it's the same old thing. Does someone call out, "Hey, this is new"? Don't get excited—it's the same old story. Nobody remembers what happened yesterday. And the things that will happen tomorrow? Nobody'll remember them either. Don't count on being remembered.
Do you view life this way?
"I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity ..." (Eccles. 1:14 NKJV, emphasis mine). Throughout the twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes, Solomon refers to life "under the sun" twenty-nine times and describes this life as "vanity" meaning "meaningless" thirty-seven times (KJV).
King Solomon is describing an "under-the-sun" life view. God, however, has something much better for you, and it's so enjoyable! It's life "under the Son."
"Under-the-sun" living views life from a secular, horizontal standpoint, noticing people and the surrounding environment.
"Under-the-Son" living views life vertically, looking upward to God. It's asking, "Jesus, will You come into my dark situation? I need Your light to show me what to do." It's trusting God to take your situation and do something good. It's watching for the answer. It's noticing what He does and thanking Him for it, even all the little things that make you feel good in your daily existence. It's believing He makes all things beautiful as you walk through the seasons of your life. And ultimately, it's looking forward to enjoying heaven.
Living life from an under-the-Son viewpoint is living a life of faith, not a life of negativity. Basically, the word faith means trusting God to take a situation and do something good. Viewing life this way, no matter what you're feeling or going through, ensures you won't have a boring life.
When I began to read Ecclesiastes, I was at a point in my life where I was sick and I thought, Everything's dull, everything's a drag. I've done it all. Nothing was new and exciting anymore. I felt like I didn't have anything to look forward to. My negative thoughts pulled down my emotions until I felt passionless about life.
From deep within I cried, I feel terrible! I'm not hungry enough to eat. When I drink my morning cup of coffee, it tastes horrid! God, where are You? I felt like Solomon's description of the person who lives under the sun crying out, "Life is meaningless!"
If ever there lived a person who had the opportunity and inclination to discover what gives life its meaning, it was King Solomon. Born around 990 B.C., his reign as king of Israel began when he was about twenty years old. He reigned until his death at approximately 930 B.C. The richest king ever to rule Israel lists his annual income as 666 talents of gold, which is roughly equivalent to $20 million today, and that didn't include income from traveling merchants, traders, kings of Arabia, and governors of the country (see 1 Kings 10:14–15 NKJV). Ruling during peacetime in Israel, he had the time, wealth, and human resources at his command to investigate the meaning of life. During the latter part of his reign, he wrote the practical book of Ecclesiastes, covering every aspect of life from birth to death.
Throughout Ecclesiastes, King Solomon takes us on a tour of life, revealing the emptiness of an under-the-sun lifestyle, while threading the hope of an enjoyable under- the-Son lifestyle.
Why did he write it? He wanted to record his pursuit of the meaning of life to save us the time and money, and to prevent us from making his mistakes. Instead, he wanted us to enjoy every day of our lives.
Are you ready to find out what Solomon discovered?
The first thing Solomon tried was the pursuit of knowledge:
I looked most carefully into everything, searched out all that is done on this earth.
Have you ever thought, My life is boring. I think I'll go back to school and get my degree? After a while, Solomon had studied enough to acknowledge:
I know more and I'm wiser than anyone before me in Jerusalem. I've stockpiled wisdom and knowledge.
Did it satisfy him? His surprising conclusion:
The more you know, the more you hurt.
The more you learn, the more you realize how ignorant you still are. More knowledge doesn't fill the empty feeling inside.
Next, Solomon thought, I'll test pleasure to see if it gives meaning to my life. Have you ever decided to throw away all your cares and just do whatever feels good? Solomon did. Determined to have fun, he experimented with a profuse amount of sexual partners.
I said to myself, "Let's go for it—experiment with pleasure, have a good time!"
What do I think of the fun-filled life? Insane! Inane! My verdict on the pursuit of happiness? Who needs it? With the help of a bottle of wine and all the wisdom I could muster, I tried my level best to penetrate the absurdity of life. I wanted to get a handle on anything useful we mortals might do during the years we spend on this earth.
You know, when you look at life under the sun as Solomon did, it feels sour. Do you know why? It's because you're looking at life from a horizontal viewpoint, blind to anything supernatural. Oh, I tell you, when people don't have God, life is so empty, or when people have God in their lives but don't notice what He's doing for them daily.
So full of what we see on television and read in newspapers, our minds have become diverted from noticing God. We don't give ourselves an opportunity to know there is a God or to acknowledge what He is doing for us.
But there is a one true God, and He is working on your behalf! Life in the Son transforms life under the sun, helping you enjoy all of life. Instead of life that's dead and a drag, life is fun! I'm having more fun now than ever before because I've learned that God gives wonderful enjoyment of life for every one of us. It's His gift.
When my health began to return, I woke up one morning and was overjoyed to discover I could taste my coffee. I had never thought about how great it tasted until that moment. All of a sudden, it dawned on me to thank the Lord for the ability to enjoy it. It was a gift from Him to me.
Solomon eventually discovered joy in life, too, but before he did, what else did he try? After he failed to find the meaning of life through the pursuit of pleasure, Solomon decided to try the opposite. He threw himself into working hard, wholeheartedly laboring to build and create all he could:
Oh, I did great things: built houses, planted vineyards, designed gardens and parks and planted a variety of fruit trees in them, made pools of water to irrigate the groves of trees.
Have you ever thought, Maybe I'll be happier if I work a lot? And so you dive in and work, work, work. Just like Solomon, you think, I'll achieve. I'll create. I'll accomplish something new. In my line of work, I could think, I'll go on more Christian television shows than any woman in the world. I'll travel to more countries.
But you know, unless your work is directed by the Son, it becomes just another part of living life under the sun. Just like my coffee when I was sick, life becomes tasteless. As you wonder, What's wrong with me? What's going on? God is saying, Would you just stop and let Me be in charge? Would you enjoy what I have given you? Would you enjoy your grandchildren? Would you just enjoy putting your feet up and marveling at the sunset I made for you?
I live in Colorado in a house with a huge picture window that frames some pine trees outdoors. Do you know, I lived in this lovely house for about four years before I enjoyed the view! I never enjoyed it until I got so sick all I could do was lie down and look out the window. I realized I'd been missing out on God's gift to me.
Completely bored, Solomon next tried collecting things. Oh, how he collected—male and female slaves, silver and gold, singers and women. First Kings 11:3 records the astonishing fact that Solomon had "seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines."
Do you collect? I don't feel satisfied, so I think I'll buy a Bentley and a Porsche. I'll own the most houses. I'll have the most mink coats. I'll possess the most beautiful clothes. I'll own as many shoes as Imelda Marcos.
Collect, collect, collect. But you see, collecting doesn't satisfy:
I hated everything I'd accomplished and accumulated on this earth.
Why? He says he took a good look at everything he'd sweated and worked for only to realize he would have to leave it all behind when he died (and to people who might not appreciate or take care of it). Therefore, everything he'd worked for was worthless. He said it was as if he'd simply spit into the wind.
Everything he learned, indulged in, created, and collected was as worthless as smoke. In his pursuit for the meaning of life under the sun, he concluded:
It's all smoke, nothing but smoke. The smart and the stupid both disappear out of sight. In a day or two they're both forgotten. Yes, both the smart and the stupid die, and that's it. I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is a bad business. It's smoke— and spitting into the wind.
Are you bored? Do you hate your life? Since Solomon has already figured out that learning more, pursuing pleasure, working longer hours, and amassing things doesn't alleviate the empty feeling inside, we would waste our time, resources, and money following in his footsteps. We can learn from the conclusions he drew and decide not to look at our lives from a disillusioned, under-the-sun viewpoint.
Instead, we can look up and say, "Oh, Jesus, reveal Yourself to me. If there really is a God up there, and if You really love me, I want to know You." If you already have a relationship with Jesus, you can say, "Jesus, I want to know You more! I want to enjoy this life You've given me."
He'll do it. He'll reveal Himself to you because "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life" (John 3:16). Life lived apart from Jesus is temporary, like smoke. Here for a minute, then gone.
But Jesus gives you eternal life. Not only that, but He has a plan for all of our lives that is beyond what we can imagine or expect: "It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone" (Eph. 1:11–12).
I know about God's goodness from firsthand experience. One day during my illness when I was lying in bed, completely bored, and so weak I could barely walk across a room, something wonderful happened. As I was sleeping, the Lord gave me a dream.
I saw myself in Europe just as the sun was rising. I was in a city, walking up the hill of a city street! In my dream, I thought, I'm healthy. I'm walking up a hill. I have energy! And then I thought, I'm in Europe. I have to call our executive director of global events and say, "Have lunch with me. I'm ready to have a meeting." Then the dream was over.
At that point, I knew the Son had spoken to me! He filled me with hope. I was experiencing life under the Son instead of life under the sun! And do you know, about a year and a half after I recovered, my daughter and I were holding a meeting in Naples, Italy. When we arrived in the busy downtown area, I noticed a street that looked familiar. I had never been in this part of Naples in all my life, but I found myself thinking, Why does this street look so familiar? Then it hit me—this was the very street with the hill I had walked up in my dream! The sun was coming up, and I was able to walk, just as in the dream.
Excerpted from Enjoy Life by Marilyn Hickey. Copyright © 2006 Marilyn Hickey. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.