We are kicking off a brand new series called 5 Easy Ways To Wreck Your Life. This going to be a fun series, but it’s also going to hit really hard. We’re going to explore five different ways that a lot of people are turning their lives into an absolute train wreck. A lot of us in this room are wrecking our lives in one or more of these five ways.
This series is based in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes was written by a guy named Solomon, and the stuff he lays out for us in this book has the power to be a game changer in our lives.
Also as we get started, we want to thank our friends at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY for their help with this series. They created the concept for this series, and they were generous enough to share it with us, so we want to thank them for that.
Let me pray for us and we’ll get things rolling.
Have you ever secretly read someone’s diary? Be honest. Did you ever find someone’s journal, and the temptation was just too great, so you opened it? Maybe you felt guilty about it, but not guilty enough to stop.
If you’ve ever done that, you really learned some things about that person, didn’t you? Deep things. Raw, honest things. Intensely personal things.
In this series, that’s essentially what we’re going to do. The book of Ecclesiastes is the equivalent of Solomon’s journal. Solomon wrote this book when he was an old man, near the end of his life. And when we open up his journal, we see a vulnerable, honest, broken, and repentant man. And thankfully, he wrote down the things that he learned for us.
And the main theme of most of this book is, “Don’t do what I did.” That’s what Solomon says over and over again, and that’s what we’re going to explore in this series.
Over the next 5 weeks, we’ll hear Solomon say, “Don’t do what I did. Don’t pursue happiness and fulfillment the way I did. Don’t look at relationships the way I did. Don’t settle for something less than an intimate relationship with God like I did. Don’t chase after the wind like I did. Don’t run after stuff like I did. Don’t let success consume you like I did. Don’t isolate yourself from healthy community like I did. Don’t life your life with no guardrails like I did. Don’t live like God doesn’t exist like I did.”
In this book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon shows us how to get life really right, but he also shows us how to get life really wrong. He got life really wrong, and so over and over again he says the same thing. “Don’t do what I did. Don’t wreck your life like I did.”
So let’s get into the book of Ecclesiastes. Let’s open up Solomon’s diary and see what he has to tell us. We’re actually going to start at the very end. But this isn’t a spoiler or anything like that. It’s not turning straight to the last page of a mystery novel and finding out who the murderer is. When we read what Solomon wrote at the end of the book, it helps us see everything else in the book through the right lens.
In Ecclesiastes 12:13, Solomon wrote, “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, NLT)
After everything was said and done, Solomon said, “This is it. This is what matters. Loving God. Following God. Finding your meaning and your worth and your fulfillment and your joy in God alone. Everything else is meaningless. Everything else is empty. I know, because I did everything else. And now I’m a broken man filled with regret. Don’t do what I did. Here’s what life is all about. It’s all about God.”
That’s the end of the book. That’s how to get life really right. Now, let’s go back closer to the beginning of the book and listen to Solomon tell us one way to get life really wrong.
One way to absolutely wreck your life is to let pleasure drive you.
This is what our culture feeds us all the time. Instant gratification is the name of the game. If it feels good, go for it. Like Sheryl Crow taught us, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”
I love to fish. I took my boys fishing a couple of weeks ago, and they had a blast.
Here is my youngest son, Brock, showing off his catch. That’s a pretty nice bluegill, folks. And as you can see, he was pretty proud of it.
At its core, fishing is all about deception. The whole point is to make the lure or the bait look so good, so enticing, so irresistible to the fish that the fish finally bites.
But after the fish bites, it learns the truth. Inside this beautiful, enticing, irresistible thing lies a hidden hook. But once the fish learns that lesson, it’s too late.
That’s what Solomon warns us about in Ecclesiastes. He said, “I know that culture is driving you to just chase after more and more and more pleasure. I know these things look great. They look so enticing. They look irresistible. But I’m telling you, there’s a hook inside. I know, because that hook got me. And I’m telling you, these things can wreck your life.”
If you would have seen Solomon early in his life, you would have been so impressed. His life began with such potential. He was the second son of David and Bathseheba. He was smart, handsome, had a ton of charisma…the kind of man that your son grows up to be. The kind of man you hope your daughter will marry.
Solomon was handed the kingdom by his father, David. He became the king of God’s people, the Israelites. And God told Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want.”
Anything Solomon asked for would be his. You know what he asked for? Wisdom. He asked for wisdom to govern and lead well. And God was impressed. God is always impressed by humility. So God told Solomon that He would make him unbelievably wise. But He went even beyond that.
Here’s what God told Solomon in the book of 2 Chronicles. “God said to Solomon, “Because your greatest desire is to help your people, and you did not ask for wealth, riches, fame, or even the death of your enemies or a long life, but rather you asked for wisdom and knowledge to properly govern my people— I will certainly give you the wisdom and knowledge you requested.
But I will also give you wealth, riches, and fame such as no other king has had before you or will ever have in the future!” (2 Chronicles 1:11-12, NLT)
God gave Solomon great wisdom. But because of his humility, Solomon was also rewarded with incredible wealth and fame and power. God poured out incredible blessing on him.
And in his youth, Solomon lived a life that was laser-focused on God. We see it in the beautiful book that he wrote called the Song of Solomon. It’s this beautiful, passionate, explicit love story between a husband and wife. It really shows the blessing that comes in a marriage that is centered on God.
Solomon also wrote much of the book of Proverbs. That book in the Old Testament is still the greatest collection of wisdom that has ever been produced in history.
But as Solomon continued through life, something happened. Something changed…and it wasn’t a change for the better. You see, it’s one thing to have all that wisdom. It’s quite another to apply it to your life. It’s kind of like the person who can quote a lot of the Bible. They know it, book, chapter, and verse. But it makes no difference in their lives. Maybe you’ve run into these hypocrites before. Maybe you even left the church because you got tired of that kind of hypocrisy. I just want you to know, I get it. I completely understand where you’re coming from.
It’s one thing to know the right stuff. It’s quite a different story to allow that right stuff to change your life.
Solomon’s greatest strength became his greatest weakness. Instead of trusting the wisdom of God that he had been given, he started trusting in his own wisdom. And that led him to start pursuing all kinds of pleasure.
In the book of 1 Kings, we read, “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, ‘You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.’
Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. [That would add up to 1,000 women, in case you’re keeping score.] And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.
In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been.” (1 Kings 11:1-4, NLT)
Solomon stopped trusting in godly wisdom and started pursuing pleasure. A lot of pleasure. I mean, 1,000 women. A lot of pleasure. I think we’re all tracking together here.
And what did this pursuit of pleasure do? Led him further and further away from God. And that’s where the book of Ecclesiastes picks up. Solomon is an old man, with a lot of pain and deep, deep regrets from the lifestyle of pleasure that he had pursued.
So let’s get into this book of Ecclesiastes. Here’s how Solomon begins the book. These are the very first words that he writes.
“The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, NIV)
How’s that for a beginning? That kind of intro really makes you want to read the rest of the book, doesn’t it? I mean, this is the guy your company needs to hire as its next motivational speaker. He’s living in a meaningless van down by the meaningless river.
It sounds crazy, but this is Solomon’s opening line. “Meaningless! It’s all meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”
It doesn’t exactly make you say, “Dude, that’s awesome! Want to be Facebook friends?”
But this isn’t just the opener for his book. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon uses the word meaningless 38 times. 38 times in just 12 chapters.
The book of Ecclesiastes was originally written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew word that we translate “meaningless” is the word hebel. Everybody say, “hebel.” Hebel.
The word hebel literally means, “emptiness, a vapor that vanishes quickly without a trace, meaningless, futile, vanity, chasing after the wind.”
And 38 times in Ecclesiastes, Solomon says, “If you’re living life without God, that’s all it is. It’s meaningless. It’s empty. It’s vanity. It’s hebel.”
Let’s move to the next chapter. In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon wrote, “I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1, NLT)
In this chapter, Solomon is going to tell us about all the pleasures that he pursued. But right upfront, he tells us what he found out. All these pleasures were hebel. They were empty. Futile. Meaningless.
Look at the next verses. “So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.” (Ecclesiastes 2:2-3, NLT)
Solomon was not stupid. He knew that he kept coming up empty in his life. So he thought about it. And after much thought, he said, “You know, here’s something I haven’t tried yet. I’m going to get wasted. I’m tired of thinking about the emptiness in my life, so I’m going to fill my life with something that won’t let me think anymore.”
Look, I’m not saying you can’t have a glass of wine. I’m not saying you can’t have a beer. But I am saying that this is an absolutely horrible place to go if you’re trying to medicate the pain in your life. If you’re trying to fill an emptiness or a void, you simply can’t drink it away. And for the record, you also can’t snort, smoke, or shoot it away, either.
Some of you know that all too well. Doesn’t work, does it? It doesn’t work.
Solomon tried. In his pursuit of pleasure, he decided, “I’m just going to start throwing parties.” And this guy had the money to throw a PARTY!
But when the party was over and he sobered up, nothing had gotten better. Things had only gotten worse.
Let’s keep going in Ecclesiastes 2. Solomon went on to say, “I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves.” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6, NLT)
“Well, the booze didn’t work, so let’s try this. I’m going to build my dream home. It’s going to be awesome. I’m going to change my external surroundings, and that will fix what’s broken on the inside.”
Guess what? It doesn’t work. But that didn’t stop Solomon from trying, and it doesn’t stop people from trying today.
“If I just get the new home, or the new car, or the new Apple device, or some new clothes, or a new (fill in the blank), then I’ll feel better. That will fix things.”
And it never does.
Oh, it might for a little while. It’s kind of like your kids who just HAVE to have this new toy or video game or whatever for Christmas. On Christmas morning, they rip off the wrapping paper and they yell and scream. It’s awesome! They finally got it! Everything in their world is perfect!
Where is that thing now? Does your kid even know where it is? Has it already been boxed up? Or even thrown away? Did it really make them happy? Did it really bring them joy?
No. It brought them temporary excitement, but it didn’t change anything.
Changing your external circumstances never does. Changing the outside will never fix what is inside.
But Solomon tried. He built his dream home. This is the stuff that the people at HGTV dream about. His palatial estate was more than you and I could ever dream of.
But you know what this pursuit of pleasure did? It led Solomon further and further away from God. We should be noticing a pattern here.
For perspective, the Bible tells us that it took Solomon seven years to build an amazing temple for God. It took him 13 years to build his own house.
That’s probably a good indication of where the train had gone off the rails in Solomon’s life.
Next verses. Solomon wrote, “I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces.
I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!” (Ecclesiastes 2:7-8, NLT)
Think of the pleasures that Solomon covers in these verses. He said, “I had people who served my every whim and desire. I had more possessions and more money than you could ever dream of. I had unbelievable entertainment at my disposal. And then, of course, there was all the women I could sleep with.”
He sums it up by saying, “I had everything a man could desire.”
“I had EVERYTHING.”
This sounds remarkably like what Deion Sanders wrote in his autobiography. If you’re not a sports fan, Deion Sanders played in the NFL. He also played Major League Baseball for a short time. He played with the Reds briefly in the 90s.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a couple of years ago and he works as a football analyst on TV.
Here’s what he wrote in his book. “I had just had the best season of my career. Everything I touched turned to gold. But inside, I was broken and totally defeated. I remember sitting at the back of the practice field one afternoon, away from everybody, and tears were running down my face. I was saying to myself, “This is so meaningless. I’m so unhappy. We’re winning every week and I’m playing great, but I’m not happy.”
“I tried everything. Parties, women, buying expensive jewelry and gadgets, and nothing helped. There was no peace. I had everything the world has to offer, [Solomon and Deion Sanders both said the exact same thing…I had EVERYTHING] but no peace, no joy, just emptiness inside.”
“The Bible describes it in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes as chasing after the wind, and that’s exactly what it was like. I tried to buy myself something to make me happy and I was even emptier than before, because I could see that nothing could possibly satisfy the hunger deep down inside me.”
Deion Sanders was at the top of his game. A lot of people believed he was sitting on top of the world, and yet he was completely miserable. So miserable that he actually attempted suicide. All the pleasures that he had pursued weren’t able to fill that hole inside him.
Look at the next verses in Ecclesiastes 2. Solomon said, “So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors.” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-10, NLT)
The booze and the parties didn’t work. Sleeping with the woman of his choice didn’t work. Changing everything about his external surroundings didn’t work. So Solomon turned to work.
And again, people do this all the time today. We allow ourselves to be defined by our career. Success at work means success in life. So we work more and more hours. We see our family less and less, but hey…it’s okay, because, “I’m doing this all for them.”
And then one day, you don’t have a family anymore because they don’t even know who you are anymore because you’re never home. And you’ve achieved everything you ever wanted in your career, and lost everything else in your life in the process. It’s one more pleasure that will wind up leaving you broken and empty and hurting.
Listen to how Solomon summed all this up in Ecclesiastes 2. In verse 11, he wrote, “But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11, NLT)
He had it all. He amassed every pleasure you could ever imagine. And this is where it landed. It’s all hebel. It’s meaningless. It’s like chasing after the wind.
It sounds completely backwards, but Solomon learned that the more pleasure he pursued, the more miserable he became. And it’s all because his pursuit of pleasure led him away from his pursuit of God.
That’s where we probably need to set the record straight on something. God doesn’t want you to be miserable. A lot people have an ax to grind against the church because they think the church is just out to spoil their good time.
Not true. Not true at all. We want you to live a life filled with joy. We want you to be blessed beyond belief. That’s what God wants for you, too.
But here’s the thing…that blessing, that joy is not found in most of the places that we look. God wired us up to be empty if we fill ourselves with anything but Him. He alone is the One that can fill the void. He alone can fix what is broken in us. He alone can give us joy and peace.
Everything else is hebel. Everything else is meaningless. It’s just like chasing after the wind. Everything else is going to leave you worse off than when we you started.
But that’s not what pleasure tells us. Pleasure lies to us. Pleasure says, “If you only had this, you would be happy.”
If you only had a new car or a new house. If you only had a new job. If you only made more money. If you only had a boyfriend or girlfriend. If you only had more sex. If you only got married. If you only had a child. If you only had more friends. If you only partied more. If you only had fame. If you only had (fill in the blank).
Pleasure always has you pursuing something to make you happy, but you wind up chasing the wind. If only you had this, you would be happy. And then you finally get it, and realize that it didn’t change anything.
There’s a different way. There’s a better way. And it starts and ends with Jesus. One of our core values at Connect is, “It’s all about Jesus.” The reason that’s one of our core values is because we know that Jesus is the only One who really can fill the emptiness. He is the only One who really can fix the brokenness.
Here’s what Jesus had to say about this pursuit of pleasure. In Matthew 6, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33, ESV)
God is not anti-pleasure. He is not anti-joy. He is not anti-fulfillment. But He created us to find all of those things in Him. Jesus said, “If you seek me first, if you surrender everything to me, that’s when you’ll actually find real joy. That’s where you’ll find real fulfillment. That’s where you’ll find real peace. Constantly pursuing pleasure is going to wreck your life, because none of these things that you’re pursuing can actually fill you. You’ll just wind up broken and empty again and again and again.”
In John 10, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)
The pleasures that a lot of us pursue are thieves. We think they’re going to fill us. We think they’re going to make us happy. But in reality, they wind up robbing us of the very thing we thought they would give us. We thought we would be happy, but we wind up unsatisfied. We thought we would be fulfilled, but we wind up empty.
But Jesus is different. Jesus is the Son of God. He came to our world. He lived a perfect, sinless life. And then He died on a cross. He died to take the punishment for our sin so we would never have to. And then three days later, He rose to life again. And His resurrection to life gives us the promise of a brand new life. A life of real peace. And real joy. And real fulfillment.
It doesn’t mean that life in Christ is easy. It’s anything but easy. But it’s the only place where peace and joy and fulfillment are actually possible. And it’s the only place where life for all eternity is possible.
I don’t know what pleasure is driving you. I don’t know what pleasure you’re pursuing, but I do know this. If you’re trying to find fulfillment and joy apart from Jesus, it’s going to wreck your life. And then you’ll move on to the next pleasure, and it will leave you hurting and empty. And you’ll pursue the next pleasure, and it will leave you hurting and empty. It’s a vicious, self-destructive cycle. But it’s a cycle that Jesus has the power to break.
He has the power to heal and restore the most broken, wrecked life you can imagine…and He can do that for you, too.