I always thought Ecclesiastes was like Proverbs. That's probably because of the "to every time there is a season. . ." passage. So when a friend of mine read Ecclesiastes from "The Message," I wasn't prepared for her reaction.

Her first comment was, "It made no sense." I tried to get her to explain that. She couldn't. She just kept saying things like "It's so negative. He just keeps saying everything is smoke. It makes no sense." Finally in desperation, she said, "You read it, and see if it makes sense to you."

Now I know a nudge from the Holy Spirit when I see one. So I went the next day and started reading. She was right. It was negative. It didn't seem to fit in the Bible at all. Depressing is a word that comes to mind.

Throughout the whole book, the writer talks about life as smoke, an illusion. He says it's pointless because all you do is work and work and then you die. What is the point?

At first, I was as taken aback as my friend, but as I kept reading, I realized what he was really saying. Life lived by the world's standards of success and fulfillment IS smoke. It's an illusion, and the saddest thing in the whole world is to get to the end before you realize that.

I belong to several writing groups ? Christian ones mainly. As January rolled around several groups talked about the individual's goals for this year. I will never forget one post. It read simply:

My only goal this year is to get this silly novel rewritten and published.

In light of what I now see through Ecclesiastes, this is a tragic statement. This person is focused totally on the smoke. She believes that once her novel is published, then life will really begin. She is not excited about the prospects of learning from the rewrites or even the connections with other people she may make in the publishing process. In short when and if she publishes her "silly novel," I'm quite sure she will be left asking the Anthony Robbins' question: "Is this all there is?"

At that point she may think that when she gets two books published, THEN life will really start happening. It's such a lie. It's such a trap. And yet, it's a trap many, many people are living in today.

My friend asked, "How do you make sure you're not just going for the smoke?" To which I said, "Make the right things important, and the right 'things' aren't things ? they are people."

So often in our headlong rush to get the smoke, we fail to take notice of those weary travelers on life's road with us who need our help-emotional, spiritual, and/or physical. We have the means and the opportunity to help them, yet we are so focused on getting the smoke that we pass up that chance completely.

Because of the lesson of Ecclesiastes, I now know that when I get to Heaven, my awards and accomplishments will amount to water through a sieve. The only thing that will be real is the love I have extended and to how many people I have extended it. Everything else is just smoke.

Copyright 2005, Staci Stallings

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