THINK: Is this almost depressing, or what? Most believe that Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon at the end of his life. If so, it's easy to see how his experiences may have led him to pen these words. He'd been blessed with extraordinary wisdom as he followed God at the beginning of his reign. Yet in time, Solomon experienced a tragic spiritual decline as he got caught up in idol worship and materialism. In the end, a self-indulgent lifestyle likely left him empty and disillusioned. He had enjoyed everything life had to offer, but it brought no lasting satisfaction. This may explain the conclusion in Ecclesiastes that life without God is meaningless.
RESPOND: What's the overall theme of Ecclesiastes, and how does this relate to one's relationship with God? (See 1:2 note.) What seems to be the author's aim, and how does this relate to a worldview apart from God? (See 1:2 note, subpoint 1.) What's the solution to the hopelessness expressed in Ecclesiastes? (See 1:2 note, subpoint 2.) Why can't we look to nature to find ultimate purpose, meaning or destiny for our existence? (See 1:5-11 note.) What does it mean that "there is nothing new under the sun"? (See 1:9 note.) What kind of wisdom is futile for finding purpose or trying to fix the world's problems? (See 1:12-18 note.) Why do worldly pleasures prove to be empty or meaningless (2:1ff)? (See 2:1-11 note.) Why don't great accomplishments or vast possessions bring satisfaction (2:4-11)? How are wise people different from foolish ones, and what experiences do they have in common? (See 2:12-17 note.) How did the writer feel about all he had worked for, and why (2:18ff)? (See 2:18-23 note.) How can people find satisfaction in their work, and in what way is this a gift (2:24)? (See 2:24-26 note.) How can one's relationship with God affect his or her outlook on life, work and wisdom? (See 2:24-26 note, subpoint 2.)
PRAY: Give thanks that you don't have to view things from the hopeless perspective of life apart from Him. Pray that you'll never depend on pleasures or possessions to provide the purpose and fulfillment that only Jesus can.
ACT: View all your work and opportunities as gifts from God, and put forth your best effort. If you're relying on anything more than God for satisfaction, either get rid of the thing or put it in its proper place regarding your priorities.
THINK: Do you ever feel out of control-like life is just taking you for a ride? Throughout life we're subject to changes over which we have little or no control. However, God has an eternal plan that includes the activities of every person on earth. If we devote ourselves to Christ and reserve our lives for God's purposes, avoiding evil activities and motivations, the Holy Spirit will work in and through us to accomplish God's perfect plans for our individual lives. Regardless of life's ups and downs, joys and difficulties, we will fulfill God's plans for us in His perfect timing as long as we keep trusting Him with control of our lives and circumstances.
RESPOND: In what ways do we have control and in what ways do we not have control over life's changes? What comfort can we have despite our lack of understanding and control? (See 3:1-8 note.) What are the implications of the fact that God "has also set eternity in the hearts of men"? (See 3:11 note.) What assurance do we have even though evil and injustice may seem to prevail (3:16-17)? (See 3:16-17 note.) How was the writer affected by the oppression he witnessed in the world (4:1-3)? Why can we have hope despite the world's evil and oppression? (See 4:1 note.) In what ways do people's efforts and achievements often stem from their envy of others? (See 4:4-6 note.) How can trusting God bring contentment? What are the advantages of working with others? (See 4:9-12 note.) How should you "guard your steps when going to the house of God" (5:1), and why? (See 5:1 note.) In relating to God, why is it more important to keep an open ear and receptive spirit than an open mouth (5:2-3)? How can this affect your time in prayer? Why are those who love money never satisfied and frequently troubled? (See 5:10-17 note.) How should we view honest work and anything we get from it? (See 5:18-20 note.)
PRAY: Express trust in God regardless of what you can't control or don't expect. Praise God that His justice ultimately prevails. Take time not only to speak to God, but to listen for His answers and peace as you pray.
ACT: If you're doing anything out of competitive envy - to keep up with or outdo someone else - back up and do only what God expects of you, and do it for the right reasons. Depend on friends who have proven to be dependable.