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Living on the Ragged Edge Workbook: Finding Joy in a World Gone Mad

Living on the Ragged Edge Workbook: Finding Joy in a World Gone Mad

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by Charles R. Swindoll

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In the never-ending quest for fulfillment, we sometimes convince ourselves that life would be better if we just had a different career . . . more education . . . a new spouse . . . a fresh start in another location. The solution to life's challenges, we think, is just around the corner, a few steps ahead?always just out of reach.

Living on the Ragged Edge


In the never-ending quest for fulfillment, we sometimes convince ourselves that life would be better if we just had a different career . . . more education . . . a new spouse . . . a fresh start in another location. The solution to life's challenges, we think, is just around the corner, a few steps ahead?always just out of reach.

Living on the Ragged Edge Workbook opens the pages of an ancient journal?the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. In this very personal, unbelievably honest book, King Solomon chronicles his search for satisfaction, experiencing everything the world offered. The wisest man who ever lived, he certainly had the intelligence and the vast resources to pursue whatever his heart desired?from personal riches to sexual pleasures. Solomon had it all. He did it all with abandon. And he came to the end of his days with the ultimate secret for the "good life."

Do you want to know the secret? Do you want to know how to find joy and peace in this world gone mad? In this bestseller Charles Swindoll delivers his characteristic insights and wisdom in an exploration of the book of Ecclesiastes and brings home to you Solomon's powerful message for living at its best.

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Living on the Ragged Edge Workbook

Coming to Terms with Reality
By Charles R. Swindoll

Nelson Reference & Electronic

Copyright © 2007 Charles R. Swindoll
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-41850-346-8

Chapter One

Journal of a Desperate Journey

[Ecclesiates Survey]

Surf the internet, watch your television, meander through a bookstore, or scan the radio, and you'll be shocked at the pervasive message of meaninglessness targeting young and old alike. The problem is not only that people have been unable to find purpose in life but also that many have even given up looking. Today, people who are weary of wading through the muddy waters of broken promises and wallowing in the mire of pointless pursuits are coming to the same conclusion: life is meaningless. With this conclusion comes cynicism, sarcasm, relativism, and pessimism. The response to most questions-especially questions regarding truth-is "Who cares?"

Of course, not everybody sees life this way. Not everyone has given up. Many are still in the midst of the rat race and are galloping faster and faster to reach the unreachable carrot always dangling just inches from their noses. Others are running on the treadmill of life, hoping that the feelings of going nowhere will pass and that the sacrifices they made to "the system" will start paying off. Some have even achieved the success they so desperately pursued, only to discover that the same void in their lives remains. At the top of the ladder of success they find that another rung awaits them, with a dozen more to climb. If they keep busy enough, though, they become numb to the painful reality that life in this world is meaningless. After dragging themselves through the desert of life toward the elusive paradise oasis just on the horizon, many find themselves chomping on the sand of a dismal mirage.

Reflect for a moment on the popular music, movies, or television programs in today's media. Can you think of examples of the attitudes of meaninglessness and frustration with the pointlessness of life? __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________

How has the goal of climbing the ladder of success made people miserable or failed to deliver the happiness they expected? Have you ever experienced this? Explain. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________

Life offers a smorgasbord of pursuits, an all-you-can-eat buffet of options promising to quench the insatiable appetite of the human soul. But very few people have the time and money to try it all. Many operate under the assumption-or even the hope-that the path to worldly happiness is there somewhere, if only they can stumble upon it. Others just accept things as they are and push to the furthest reaches of their minds nagging thoughts of something better. Most pass out of this world never having learned its cruel lesson-life is meaningless.

Few people in this world have had it all, seen it all, and done it all. And fewer still have not only realized the futility and emptiness of all they have done but also have turned from the world under the sun to the world above it. These rare individuals have discovered the emptiness of humanity and have exchanged it for the fullness of the divine. Finding such a person is like finding a diamond in a barrel of broken glass. The multifaceted insight he or she can bring to our lives is unparalleled.

Few people in history journeyed as far to investigate the happiness offered by the world as King Solomon did three thousand years ago. Having gone through a period in his life when all the treasures of this world had lost their luster, he investigated some of the most basic assumptions about existence. Thankfully, Solomon kept a journal of his desperate journey, a book in the Bible known today as Ecclesiastes.

A Man and His Perspective

One doesn't need to be a Hebrew scholar to realize quickly that Solomon's outlook on life seems pretty bleak. In fact his opening speech began, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He said everything is futile, pointless, and empty. Why did Solomon characterize life this way?

Read Ecclesiastes 1:3-11. How would you describe the Preacher's tone and attitude? __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________

When we view life from Solomon's perspective, we are forced to ask the same question: is life worth living? When hopelessness, despair, emptiness, and purposelessness abound, the search for meaning begins. When we fail to find meaning in the material world, despair increases and hope is lost. Daily activities become routine and ridiculous, and we wonder why we even wake up in the morning.

For the most part, life is routine. Dr. James Dobson calls the humdrum of life the "straight life." It's not glamorous, and it's not exciting. In fact, as Solomon indicated in Ecclesiastes 1:3-11, life can be downright boring. Dobson writes:

The straight life for a homemaker is washing dishes three hours a day; it is cleaning sinks and scouring toilets and waxing floors; it is chasing toddlers and mediating fights between preschool siblings.... The straight life eventually means becoming the parent of an ungrateful teenager.

For the working person the situation is just as wearisome:

It is pulling your tired frame out of bed, five days a week, fifty weeks out of the year. It is earning a two-week vacation in August, and choosing a trip that will please the kids. The straight life is spending your money wisely when you'd rather indulge in a new whatever.

Think about your own "humdrum," day-to-day pattern of life. Does this cycle ever make you wonder if there's more to life? Have you ever lost sight of God's plan and purpose in the midst of the mundane? If so, briefly describe that experience. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________

General Survey: The Flow of the Journal

Introducing the Journey (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11)

In the opening verses of Solomon's journal, we read that all human tasks done "under the sun" are in vain: "What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?" (1:3). The general support for this assessment is the wearisome cycle of life as displayed both in the world around us and in our constant inability to find lasting satisfaction in our toil (1:4-11).

Pursuing and Exploring Life (Ecclesiastes 1:12-6:9)

After a rather shocking introduction to the meaninglessness of life, Solomon presented the report of his pursuits, leaving no stone unturned. At the buffet line of life he tried a little of everything to increase his worldly wisdom and knowledge, but he concluded that these bring only grief and pain (1:18). He found that the paths of pleasure and possession were futile (2:1-11). Worldly wisdom was pointless, for both the wise and the fool had the same end: death (2:12-17). One's life's work proved empty and meaningless (2:18-3:22). Finally, Solomon reported that the injustice of oppression and the accumulation of wealth brought frustration and dissatisfaction (4:1-16; 5:10-6:9). In the end, nothing the world had to offer could satiate Solomon's hunger for more.

Reflecting and Summarizing (Ecclesiastes 6:10-11:6)

By the time we reach this section of his journal, we find Solomon drawing a series of conclusions and lessons from his attempt to find meaning "under the sun." It's a rapid-fire record, an endless cycle of nothingness: bleak, blank, and bland futility. No matter how varied the experiences of life, they fail to satisfy people's deepest desires. Without God's help, people cannot discover what's good for them, and without His revelation they cannot prepare for what's coming.

Being Young and Growing Old (Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8)

Exhausted by chasing after the wind, Solomon dismissed his despair and presented a view of life under the sun that was as hopeful as one could reasonably muster: enjoy life because it's passing by faster than an express train at rush hour (11:7-10). Yet Solomon urged his readers to be guided by one thing: "God will bring you to judgment for all these things. So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting"(11:9-10). Because this is true, he reasoned, we must forsake our vain pursuit of meaning apart from God and remember our Creator in the days of our youth (12:1). A life of chasing after the wind, Solomon argued, will in the end find nothing and lose the one sure thing that was there all the while: God.

What things in today's world do people use to fill up their hunger for meaning and purpose? What are the results of these attempts? __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________

Why do you think children and youth are statistically more likely to come to the Lord than older adults? How can maturing toward adulthood drive God further and further from our minds? __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________

Drawing Some Final Conclusions (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14)

At the close of his journal, the wise preacher gave his bottom-line exhortation. He wrote, "The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil" (12:13-14).

How the Journal Relates to Our Journey

One author has written that the book of Ecclesiastes "gives the appearance of being written with our time in mind.... Consequently, many people have turned to this book for help when they have experienced disillusionment with their world and even with their God." Perhaps few of us have viewed life with the stark realism of Solomon, but if we're honest with ourselves, we can't deny the accuracy of the book's portrayal of life apart from God. His "under-the-sun" philosophy is one that many share today, especially younger generations who have given up on standard answers to age-old questions. Solomon's words may be uncomfortable-even difficult-to hear, but they present the raw truth about life's emptiness that so many are facing. We can draw three initial principles for our lives from our flyover of Solomon's experiences and conclusions.

Road Map for the Journey #1

Solomon's big idea throughout Ecclesiastes is rather simple: "God is God and we are not." In the course of his journey he will develop four other themes under this main idea.

God is God and we are not. Therefore,

1. God does as He pleases according to His perfect plan.

2. Our exploits apart from God are futile.

3. God gives all things to us as gifts to enjoy.

4. Our response should be to fear and obey God in wisdom.

Solomon begins his journey by examining the utter futility of life apart from God in the Valley of Futility, occasionally crossing the River of Life with rare insights of wisdom. He then climbs from the valley to discuss the practical applications of his discoveries in the Practical Plain. Finally, he ascends the Ultimate Peak for a glimpse of the ultimate purpose of life.

First, the sensual lure of something better tomorrow robs us of the joys offered today. The temptation is great to think the grass is greener on the other side. But we must resist the lure of this deception. We must choose to live to please God today rather than trying to build our empire to enjoy tomorrow. If we do, we'll find it easier to be content and less likely to catch ourselves chasing our tails in a vain pursuit of happiness.

Do you invest all of your time, talents, and treasures in an uncertain future when you believe you'll finally reap the rewards, or do you treat each day as a unique gift to be enjoyed and used to God's glory? Defend or explain your answer with specific examples. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________

Second, the personal temptation to escape is always stronger than the realization of its consequences. We seldom look beyond anticipated, immediate satisfactions to see detrimental, ultimate consequences. However, if we think about the effects of our actions, we'll take a firm step toward seeking the eternal priorities in life and forsake the meaningless pursuits of life under the sun.

Many of us want to escape the humdrum monotony of life's responsibilities. If you were to simply walk away from the "boring" duties in your life, what would be the consequences? __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________

Third, the final destination will never satisfy if God is absent from the scene. Emptiness and a fleeting sense of contentment pervade a life lived without God's perspective and approval. The only cure for the disease of futility is a consistent walk of faith in and obedience to the living God.

Have you ever gone through a "dry spell" in your walk with the Lord? What did you do to fill the void? What was the result? Are you going through such a time right now? __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________

* * *

Solomon was wealthy beyond comprehension and had the world at his fingertips. Yet that impressive king endured a period in his life when the world lost its luster, when the very roots of his life were dug up and exposed. He wrote a journal of that dark and desperate journey as he asked whether one could find meaning in the world apart from God. Solomon sampled the physical, intellectual, and emotional wares that the world under the sun had to offer-and they all came up short. Compared to a life with God, Solomon concluded, it was all empty, nothing, a chasing after the wind. It's a lesson about reality that many of us today need to learn and relearn daily.


Excerpted from Living on the Ragged Edge Workbook by Charles R. Swindoll Copyright © 2007 by Charles R. Swindoll. Excerpted by permission.
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.

Meet the Author

Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the clear, practical teaching and application of God's Word. He currently pastors Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, and serves as the chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. His renowned Insight for Living radio program airs around the world. Chuck and Cynthia, his partner in life and ministry, have four grown children and ten grandchildren.

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