Ecclesiastes is a wonderful book; Ch.4 tells us TWO things – what drives in our life, and what guard our life. Either we are called or driven, and what drives us comes from inside us. Living on Earth we need a community to guard us. I pray that God open our eyes to understand His word.
Two boys were talking about their father; they are arguing whose father is better than the other. The older one says, “My father is a pastor who can preach for 1 hour with ANY topic.” The younger one says, “My father is a pastor who can talk for 1 hour WITHOUT any topic.” Then the older one says, “Stupid, we are brothers, we have the same father!”
In life there are many competitions and comparison so that people are driven. But God want us to be called but not driven. What is the difference between driven and called? Gordon MacDonald gives EIGHT characteristics that are shown in a driven person:
(1) Driven people are usually only gratified by accomplishment.
(2) Driven people tend to be preoccupied with symbols of their accomplishment.
(3) Driven people are often caught in the uncontrolled pursuit of expansion.
(4) Driven people tend to have a limited regard for integrity.
(5) Driven people often possess limited or undeveloped people skills.
(6) Driven people tend to be highly competitive.
(7) Driven people possess “volcanic anger” and lose temper easily.
(8) Driven people are abnormally busy.
You may immediately think of your boss at work, but we seldom think of yourself.
But MacDonald gives a contrast of called people with FIVE characteristics:
(1) Called people understand stewardship.
(2) Called people is exactly who they are – they have security with their identity.
(3) Called people have a sense of clear purpose of life.
(4) Called people understand commitment – they are faithful.
(5) Called people enjoy peace and joy.
When we examine our life, are you a called person or a driven person?
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In life, being business is not a problem. Even Jesus is too busy to eat. But the question is not about whether your are busy or not; the real question is whether you are meaningfully busy. Are we busy in the calling of God? If no, are we living over-busy in an over-crowded life? If so, then we will find that we are a driven person. There is “driven-ness” inside of us. In Ch.4 of Ecclesiastes there are THREE things that can make us into a driven person: (1) competiveness, (2) complacency and (3) consumerism.
A. What Drives Us in Life (4:1-8)
1. Man is driven by competitiveness (4:4)
Ecc. 4:4, “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” The idea of “rivalry” comes from the Hebrew word kin·'at which is then translated into “envy”. Today there a lot of problems which are caused by comparing with each other. Pastors and missionaries compare with each other. There is no need to compare if we are called by God and we follow God’s calling. No matter if one comes from a large or small church, the question is whether he is following God’s calling. No one’s influences should be larger than the purpose God have given us; are we following God’s calling? Whatever God call us to do, big or small, we have to be faithful in it.
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When I was teaching the discipleship courses, I always give my testimony when I was growing up. When I was 21 years old, there was an important moment for me. I was touched by God; I came in front of God and said, “LORD, please use my life to change my world. LORD, you can use ordinary people to live extraordinary life; LORD, use me.” And I heard God spoke to me, so clearly that I wrote down on my diary, “I can answer your prayer on one condition.” I agreed. God said, “You have to stay in obscurity.”
What is obscurity? God then told me, “If I give you the gift to speak, you don’t speak all over the world; if I give you the gift to write books, don’t write; if I give you the gift of leading, don’t lead large ministry; if I give you a good mind, don’t get a Ph.D…” So I asked God, “For how long I have to stay in obscurity for You?”
God said, “For 20 years.”
For a 21-year-old, 20 years is like a life sentence. And God lead me to the smallest and slowest-growing denomination in Singapore the Evangelical Free Church. It was so slow that it was recorded in books. God told me, “You go there and serve.”
Therefore, I started to serve to young people first. I was blessed by many godly elders, mentors and senior church leaders; what I learned from them I passed to these young people.
20 years quickly passed. Some of these young people become missionaries and pastors, and I become the “pastor of the pastors”. I am 59 years old this year. In the past 20 years, God opened many doors, and many things are changed in my heart; and for now, I am no longer interested in doors that were opened and greater things anymore. I just want to pastor this church faithfully.
When I was 40 years old, there was a meeting in Singapore that many church leaders around the world come and visit us. At that time, I have already forgotten the dream that I had. I asked God, “Why are you bringing so many global church leaders to me? I am just a small potato pastoring a small church in a small office.” God answered me, “I am answering your prayer that you have made when you were 21 years old.” I have totally forgotten the dream to change MY world. So I told God, “I was stupid; I was only joking. I didn’t know how large the world was until I travelled to 100 cities. God, I just want to pastor this small church.”
But God then said, “No, I am not only answering the prayer of yours but also the prayer of your grandfather.” It is because my grandfather prayed everyday to God to “use this naughty boy”. And in these years, I connected people; I learned one important truth in 20 years – I need to be true to God’s calling, and then there will be no more competition and compare and no more big things in my heart. So what I want now is that “God please lead me, no matter it is big or small; help me, I will be faithful. If you don’t help me, I will not be unfaithful, so please help me.” Be careful of the spirit of comparison and competitions, because we can be driven by competitiveness.
2. Man is driven by Complacency (4:5-6)
The second that turns us into a driven person is complacency; in 4:5, “The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.” There are two basic ideas to mean “eat your own flesh”: (1) Fools lead themselves into poverty to eat themselves, or (2) Fools are destroying themselves. A man in complacency is destroying himself and become poor.
There are two ironic extremes – competitiveness, which is discussed in last topic; and complacency. Be careful of complacency; this is as dangerous as competitiveness. Two nights ago we have discussed that success is not about accomplishment. One question is: if success is not about accomplishments, can we be complacent? So, what is the standard of excellence or progress? In Ecc. 4:5, Solomon says we have to be careful of complacency and laziness.
So what should we do? We should be faithful to calling of God and be careful for what we do. Are we driven or are we called? In Christian life and ministry, the most important thing is to be faithful to the calling of God.
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Many years ago I once met Chip Ingram, the president of World Teach, an organization to package and trade teaching courses worldwide. He came to Singapore and we received him for a conference. Because I had another appointment to go, I sat at the back of the hall; when Chip finished speaking, I exited the place. To my surprise, Chip did not go back to his seat; rather, he went out and met me just outside the hall. To my embarrassment, he said that my reputation precedes me. He then asked, “Can we take your teaching into the Global Teach and publish around the world?” I said to him, “I am honored, but I will not do so.” “Why not?” Then I told him, “Because God did not call me to do so.” He then asked to meet in the next day’s breakfast and discuss.
On the next day, he asks the same request, and I gave him the same answer: “God did not call me to do so.” He then responded with lots of reasons: that packaging the material will reach more people and more of them can be benefitted; that they have refused many other organizations before; and that it would be good stewardship to God if we allow authorizing the package. Then Spirit of God gave me an immediate, clear answer, “The highest expression of stewardship is obedience.”
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I was invited to do television in three countries – one of the ways to spread the teaching is television. But I humbly turned down these three countries. They said, “You don’t have to pay; you teach, and we play.” I said, “Thanks, but no thanks, because God did not told me to do this. If God told me to do something, I will do it; but if God did not told me, I dare not to do so.” “But don’t you want to reach more people?” I said, “I am happy in teaching 12 people in the same way to 12,000 people. I am happy with 50 people in the same way as 51,000 people.” Size does not matter; I don’t get excited in speaking to people in a large stadium. Someone may say, I have not tried this before, so you do not know how it feels. But no; I tried, but I did not feel excited. I am not excited whether I speak to big or small group of people; what I am excited is that I can do what exactly God call me to do.
It is because I am a small potato and a sinner saved by grace. The privilege to teach His Words is a real privilege. Therefore, don’t be competitive complacent but be faithful.
3. Man is driven by Consumerism (4:7-8)
Ecc. 4:7-8 “Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.”
The question is for whom are you doing all this for. There is a man who has nobody and yet he is working, working, working… for all these things he is being driven. Why? The answer is given: his eyes are never satisfied with riches. There is a consumerism inside him to drive him; there is a need for possession that drives him. He is driven by consumerism rather than the calling of god.
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Advertisements depend to our consumerism. Every advertisement says “you need this”, “you look cool in it”. Even if they’re advertising cigarettes, no advertisements will ever say “cigarettes will kill you”, “cigarettes is no good for you”; but they will say “you look cool smoking” or “you will have peace in smoking”. It gives you an image.
There was a story that the owner of a cosmetic company asks the staffs what things they are selling. A senior executive says, “We are selling cosmetic products.” And the owner says, “You are wrong!! We are not selling cosmetic products. We are selling HOPE!!” So it depends on our consumerism and insecurities in us, and we try to own all this extra things to feel good.
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I have a dear friend who owns a yacht. It was so large that it has a grand piano in the lobby. One night we're having dinner together; he told me the news that his yacht was burned down and destroyed. It was not destroyed by the fire; damage due to fire could be repaired. But it was destroyed because fire fighters pumped sea water and drown the yacht. Because of human negligence, the insurance company did not pay – the captain was run away. And they cannot sue the fire department. So he just said, “LORD gives, and LORD takes it away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” But his heart is full of joy and his face is of peace – he told me, “I need US$1 mil every year just to maintain the yacht, and now I am free and I can invest in the Kingdom of God.” After the dinner, he handed me a check for half a million dollars and said, “This is for your ministry of the Global Alliance for training people around the world.”
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This man’s value system has changed; he is no longer caught by this consumerism. All the traps of success no longer matter to him. Some professional re still thinking whether their dresses or watches mean some major success; but this friend of mine once had a yacht, and it doesn't matter anymore. There is nothing matters except the calling of God.
B. What Guards Us in Life (4:9-16)
Discipleship is about changes from inside out. Be careful of what drives us in life, then we have to learn what guard us in life.
1. The Synergy of Community (4:9)
Ecc. 4:9, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” In other words, combined labor produces a greater result; this is called synergy. Synergy comes about teamwork. The most important thing about leadership is the ability of a leader to create a strong and high-performance team. I am thankful that our church has a strong leadership team; it is strong because we are united. Our pastors and church board work in a united way; pastors among themselves work in a united way. We have four key pastors for different fields such as marketplace leader, manager leader and shepherd leader. They have different gifts; but when they come together, their gifts are synergized together, and therefore the result of their labor is much more effective.
We do this in our preaching team as well. We do not have something called “Saturday Night Fever” that we try to prepare sermon on Saturday nights. We write before Mondays, because we have to share the outline among the pastoral team in Monday meetings, and every one of us inputs ideas into the sermon notes. And in the rest of the days in the week, we prepare ourselves to preach on Sunday. We find that if we work as a team, it is much stronger. Our fellow pastor will not speak of something off from the Scripture because there is an entire team to guard them.
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What is true for a single church is also true for the churches in the city. Time is short; Jesus is coming again, and therefore churches in a city should unite. Once there was a church which invited me to preach about prayers to 40 leaders. That night, I was surprised to see 400 leaders. Where did they come from? And the senior pastor says, “No, they are not from my churches; they are from other churches. When they heard about the meeting, they would like to come and join and pray together.” So the leaders of that church joined together and prayed together. There is something really special in this unity.
In another time, there was a children carnival held by 3 churches. They did not worry “sheep-stealing”; rather, they unite to hold the event and serve the area. May the churches in Hong Kong learn to join together more and more, to see the Kingdom go God advances.
2. The Support of Community (4:10-11)
Ecc. 4:10-11, “For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?”
One of the greatest social problems today is loneliness – not gambling or drugs or other problems, but emptiness in human heart. The loneliness people are the old people. Singapore and Hong Kong are aging cities; there are more and more old people in these cities. There is a chronic loneliness among people.
A few years ago I saw a video about homeless people in the U.S. There was a social experiment to see what homeless people will choose – beer, food or money. But one of them says, “I don’t need any of this; I just want someone to talk to. Everyone passes by as if I don’t exist.” Everyone has a sense of community.
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When I was small, there was a cowboy TV show called “Lone Ranger”. Some Christians today is like lone rangers. But God do not want us to. Even the Lone Ranger has an Indian companion called Tonto. We need to revive. We need to get in Christian cell groups. Now I am busy, and my wife travels with me for 2-3 trips every month – which means ~25 trips per year. Despite of the busy schedule, we have cell groups to go to. We all need a small group and share with each other. When I was studying, even though I was busy, I had a small group to go to every Friday night. You and I need community. Find a small group; don’t be alone. And contribute in the small group.
3. The Security of Community (4:12-16)
Ecc. 4:12-16, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.”
There is strength in unity. We should have the idea that when we are facing opposition, we don’t face alone. You are not facing spiritual warfare alone. A three-fold cord is strong; we need to watch over each other.
There was a conference that every year we declare unity. We all say to Satan, “If you attack one of us, you mean you are attacking all of us.” There is a strong anchor in unity.
Do not fall into the trap in comparison and performance alone. We have to know God’s calling, and we have to do it all together. We have to unite into one heart, because Jesus is coming soon. We cannot do it alone. God call us to do it together. If we end up comparing or competing with each other, then we do not learn unity.
There was a story which touches my heart deeply. It was told in a Singapore Jubilee prayer with – by God’s grace – 51,000 Christians. A family has a cornfield, and cornstalks are taller than the little girl of the family. One day, when the little girl was playing with her brother, she was lost in the field. In panic, she ran faster to find her family, but she had no idea that she was running to the wrong direction and went further from the house. The field would be very cold at night, and the girl might die of cold. So the parents called the neighbors to help, hoping to find the girl before sunset. They shouted and searched their own pieces of land, but they did not find the girl because the field is too large. Finally, one of them said, “Stop!! Let us join hands together to form a line to search.” Finally, they found the little girl, but she was already frozen dead – she had asthma and could not stand the cold. While the parents were crying and neighbors being stunned, one said, “If we have joined hands earlier, she would not have died.”
Today, we will not lose this world ONLY IF we join our hands earlier, if we put down our competitions and comparisons earlier, if we unite earlier. It is time to unite.
LORD, please teach us to know Your call but not to compete and compare. Help our communities unite. You want us to join hands together. There is a lost world that needs Jesus.
Dear God, I don’t want to be driven person but a called person. Please help me to recognize Your work that You unite us together. It is a time to join hands together, to put aside our differences, to put aside of old hurt and wound, to put aside compete. Many people die without knowing Jesus. It is time to join hands together.
LORD, this is time or the church to join together. And this is my hand to unite. I want to be a called person but not a driven person. So please help our churches to unite together as one. Please help us; please help the churches in Hong Kong as well as in China.
In Your precious name we pray. Amen.