My family took me to breakfast for my birthday in July and we had a wonderful time chatting and eating some of the biggest cinnamon rolls I’ve ever seen.
“What were the diners like in North Carolina?” I asked. My parents lived there during their early married years.
It took them a moment to think about it. “Well, if we remember correctly, there were mostly buffets.”
I was born and raised in New Hampshire, so the only buffet I remember going to was at a hotel, but I have an affinity for buffets because of a book I wrote recently. I’m not sure if buffets are still a North Carolina thing, but they certainly are an Ecclesiastes thing.
I don’t mean that the ancient Israelites rolled up to a dive on Saturday morning to partake in a legitimate all-you-can-eat buffet. Instead, the Preacher, whose words of wisdom fill the book of Ecclesiastes, was a big fan of sampling everything good.
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.Ecclesiastes 2:1-3
Do you see the buffet? The Preacher walked down the line, filling his plate with all kinds of wonderful things. The Preacher wrote as if he had access to an enormous amount of riches, privilege, and power—as much of everything as he could ever want. But when he sat down to eat, he wasn’t satisfied. Yes, the things on his plate smelled heavenly—they even tasted good—but for some reason, they weren’t fully satisfying.
The first two chapters of Ecclesiastes are made up mostly of the Preacher’s buffet experience. He looks for ultimate meaning in…
- Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)
- Pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3)
- Possessions and Accomplishments (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11)
- Reputation and Leaving a Legacy (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17)
- Work (Ecclesiastes 2:18–26)
But after sampling everything good this world had to offer, he concluded that it was all “vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
Have you ever been there?
Maybe you hoped your new job would fix your life, but you still struggle with feeling purposeless, restless, or discontent.
Maybe you find yourself returning to the pantry again and again, while knowing deep down that the comfort of comfort food only lasts until the last bite.
Maybe you got the promotion you were working toward, but instead of enjoying where you are, you find yourself wishing for the next raise or promotion.
It’s a cycle the Preacher was well acquainted with. “When I _________, then _________.”
When I get married, then my life will feel complete.
When I lose the weight, then I will like myself again.
I will never forget the moment a middle school student looked me in the eyes as they were leaving English class and said, “I’m happy, but it just feels like I’m missing something in my life.”
I wanted to scream, “You are!”
When we want life to feel good and meaningful, of course we turn to the things that bring enjoyment. People love to enjoy things! I love to enjoy a mug of blueberry coffee on the lake with a good book. My husband loves to enjoy a good woodworking project with his friends or a perfectly balanced sound system. My brother and sister both love to enjoy impromptu adventures. What do you love to enjoy? Whatever it is, the beauty of enjoyment is not a man-made concept. We were made to enjoy things. Specifically, we were made to enjoy God himself.
But our sinful nature makes us want to enjoy anything but God. And yet, does anything else ever satisfy us for long?
It’s good to enjoy the things God has given us—indeed, the book of Ecclesiastes tells us how to enjoy these things. God is the giver of all good gifts, and our God is a God of abundance! Ecclesiastes shows us that only when we’re satisfied in God can we begin to truly enjoy the things of this world. Pleasures and gifts from our generous heavenly Father are wonderful, but they can start to be a problem when we use them to replace God in our hearts.
Sometimes it feels as though the things of this earth will comfort or satisfy us better than God ever could, because they are tangible. We can touch and taste and experience them immediately. Enjoyment and pleasure often mask our pain. Certainly, “[a] cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22 NIV)! But this wound we all have is too deep to fill it with entertainment. Is our “cheerful” heart actually desperate avoidance, or is it the peace and joy the Holy Spirit grows in us when we are abiding in Christ? This heartache cannot be fixed with bandaids. Our longing is truly for God. That deep hole we try to fill with pleasure can only be filled by God, because we were designed for a relationship with him.
The Preacher was asking different things to fulfill him in this life. We do the same. What makes life worth living to you? Is it relaxing or having fun on a weekend? Family? Summer vacation? A spouse? An ideal you are building (the perfect house, family life, etc.)?
All of these things are good gifts, but we will be dissatisfied if we ask them to fulfill us. If the weekend is what makes life worth living and you get called into work or your friends have to cancel plans with you, that will hurt just a little more. Why? Because you’re losing control of a meaningful reality. If you ask your spouse to fulfill you completely, you are going to have some unrealistic expectations (perhaps even subliminally) of them, and when they don’t live up to those expectations, you will be hurt—and, in turn, will likely hurt them. What we’re asking these things to do is to fill God’s shoes. And those are some big shoes to fill. What are you asking to fill God’s shoes in your life? What are you asking to fulfill you?
For my people have committed a double evil:Jeremiah 2:13 CSB
They have abandoned me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug cisterns for themselves—
cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.
Nothing in this life holds water like God does. Every earthly basket we put our eggs in will eventually crack. People are sinful, so we sin against each other. Health fails. Beauty fades. Satisfaction is temporary. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy the gifts that God gives us. Instead, it means that we truly enjoy those gifts when they are in their rightful place. We can’t try to make gifts into an idol. It’s not what they’re designed for. It’s not what we are designed for.
Ecclesiastes 1:8 says, “No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content” (NLT). The good news is that Jesus extends his nail-scarred hands to us, beckoning us home and inviting us to drink deeply of his forgiveness that is bigger than all our sin, his love that is bigger than all our insecurities, and his presence that is the most satisfying thing for our hearts.
Sitting at a diner eating cinnamon rolls with my wonderful family will never fill God’s shoes. It will never complete me. But when I am filled up by God—when my satisfaction hangs squarely on him—then laughing with my family over breakfast is even more enjoyable, because I’m not trying to force it to fill me. The Spirit already does that.
You make known to me the path of life;Psalm 16:11
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Take some time and sit in silence with the Lord, asking him to bring to mind some things you are asking to “fill God’s shoes.” Look for what you worry about the most or what you feel like you need to be completely satisfied. Write them down here.
Read Psalm 16:11. Have you ever experienced fullness of joy in God’s presence? We can ask God to give us fullness of joy in his presence as we talk to him, sit in silence with him, study or meditate on his Word, and dwell with him throughout the day. Ask God to help you dwell with him today, and ask him to reveal himself to you more.
This article is just a taste of what is explored in our seven-week devotional Eternity in Our Hearts. Join Alicia as she journeys through the book of Ecclesiastes and dives into what the Bible says about purpose, meaning, wisdom, eternity, and God’s heart for you.
Photo credit: Lydia Supinger
Alicia Hamilton and her husband, Jack, are planted in beautiful New Hampshire where she spends her days ministering to college, high school, and middle school students. She gets excited about nature, good literature, and people. She is passionate about biblical literacy and helping people "taste and see that the LORD is good" (Psalm 34:8 NIV).