Eternity on My Mind
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Eternity on My Mind

From Series: A Study in Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15  (ID: 2290)

Nothing on earth fully satisfies us because we were actually created for eternity. In this message, Alistair Begg reminds us that God wants us to enjoy life in order to bring Him glory and that even the mundane acts of life are a gift from God. With this awareness, we can find comfort, a humble sense of security, and a better understanding of our significance.


Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn your Bible to Ecclesiastes chapter 3. Ecclesiastes 3, page 473, and we’re going to read the first fifteen verses:

“There is a time for everything,
 and a season for every activity under heaven:

 a time to be born and a time to die,
 a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 a time to kill and a time to heal,
 a time to tear down and a time to build,
 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
 a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
 a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
 a time to search and a time to give up,
 a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 a time to tear and a time to mend,
 a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 a time to love and a time to hate,
 a time for war and a time for peace.

“What does the worker gain from his toil? I[’ve] seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He[’s] also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

“Whatever is has already been,
 and what will be has been before;
 and God will call the past to account.”

Amen.

You might want to keep your Bible open.

Father, we pray that as we study the Bible together, that you will help us; that the Spirit of God might be our teacher; that you will save us from error, from flights of fancy; that you will break the Bread of Life to us. And just as simply and as clearly as Christ broke the bread by the shores of Galilee to the physical benefit of those who were in attendance,[1] may he do so again to the spiritual benefit of each of us. For in his name we pray. Amen.

Through the corridors of sleep,
Past [the] shadows dark and deep,
My mind dances and leaps in confusion;
I don’t know what is real,
I can’t touch what I feel,
And I hide behind the shield of my illusion.

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
[That] my life will never end
And [the] flowers never bend
With the rainfall.

No matter if [I’m] born
To play the king or pawn,
For the line is thinly drawn ’tween joy and sorrow;
[And] so my fantasy
Becomes reality,
And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow.

[And] so I’ll continue to continue to pretend
[That] my life will never end
And [the] flowers never bend
With the rainfall.[2]

I don’t know whether Paul Simon, in the ’60s, had just finished reading the book of Ecclesiastes or whether, in particular, he had just finished reading Ecclesiastes chapter 3, but certainly his mind was going down very similar lines. And that song from the ’60s, all these years ago now, still is representative of the kind of escapist nonsense that fills the minds of many people when they think about their lives before them today.

One thing of which each of us can be certain is this: that although the person sitting next to us in this exact moment really has no concept whatsoever of what’s going on inside us, God, who made us, knows exactly where we are, what we’re thinking, how we’re feeling, and how we are trying to make sense of life as it is presented to us, not in a philosophical and abstract way but in an intensely practical way—in a way that deals with the fact of our singleness or our married status, that deals with our employment or our unemployment, that deals with our fears about the future and our disappointments with the past. Our lives are an open book to the God who wrote this book. And to the open book of our lives, he brings this book in order that he might match his truth to our need.

Now, this morning, in the time that we have, I want to draw my thoughts around three headings. And I want to give them to you, and that way you’ll know that we’re making progress.

The Same Old Routine

First of all, in verses 1–8, I’d like you to notice that what we have described for us here is what we might refer to as “The Same Old Routine.” “The Same Old Routine.” It’s a description of the cycle of life. Someone has cynically said that what you have here in these twenty-eight statements—fourteen pluses and fourteen minuses—adds up to nothing at all. And there is a way of looking at our lives which is exactly like that.

None of us have difficulty with these verses. We remember them, some of us, as a result of the Byrds making them famous. That’s not the birds in the trees; that’s the Byrds with the guitars: “To everything there is a purpose, turn, turn, turn.”[3] And many people that are familiar with these words didn’t even know they were in the Bible at all, didn’t know that God had actually written them. You could actually say that God wrote a pop song, couldn’t you, I suppose? We’ll just leave that alone.

But we know that there is a time to be born and a time to die. We weren’t in control of our arrival, and we’re not in control of our departure, and that’s part of the problem. That is an immediate nuisance to men and women, especially those of us who like to be in control of everything—especially those of us who have those Day-Timers that we fill out, with the little boxes, and we tick everything. And it ticks us off that these things that are so crucial to us, we have really no control over them at all. Oh, we can plant, we can gather, we can rake leaves; we can do a number of things. But in actual fact, we have no control over when we rake the leaves. I suppose it would be possible for us to go and cut down leaves off the trees in the middle of the summer and lay them on the grass and then go and rake them. I don’t know why we would ever do that—some strange fascination with raking—but it would be possible to do. But in the scheme of things, there is a cycle over which we have no control. Springtime brings it, the summer sustains it, and the autumn watches it fall.

There’s a time for laughing, there’s a time for mourning, and a time for dancing. There’s a time to scatter stones, a time to gather them up. There’s a time to embrace; there’s a time to refrain—as your future father-in-law will tell you, when you’re over at the house: “I think it’s the time to refrain. Ecclesiastes 3:5. Take your hand off my daughter, thank you very much.”

There’s a time to kill and a time to heal. The same farmer or the same shepherd that nurtures and cares for the sheep recognizes that there’s going to be a day come when, often, in the cycle of things, it will be the farmer again that takes the knife to the sheep, to the lamb, that he loved so much. If you read James Herriot books, you know that’s the case. And some of you would be prepared, along with me, in an unembarrassed fashion to admit that you weep when you read those stories. My children love it when I read them, especially because there are these long pauses when I’m reading, you know, about the old horse that was placed down in the end of the field and the affection of the farmer for it and so on. And eventually, it has to go off, bye-bye. And I can still see my children looking along the line. They don’t want to look directly at me, but they want to see: “He’s crying again. This is ridiculous. He’s crying about a horse. Why would he cry about a horse?” Well, because it expresses something, doesn’t it? It appeals to us, if we have any care, any affection, any interest at all.

And when you look at the same old routine, you find that you say things that you hear other people saying too. You meet with an old friend, and you say to them, “Haven’t seen you in years! Who would ever have imagined that we would be here today?” Don’t they say that? “Who would ever have imagined that we would be here today, doing this?” Or you meet a friend from university: “Did you ever see yourself doing this? Did you ever think you would have a suit? You scruffy rascal, you! Did you ever think that you would suddenly be like other people? What is happening to us?” It’s the cycle of life.

In the recent McCartney concert, which I attended in Chicago, there was one song in his set I think was noticeably missing. You may have noticed it if you were here in Cleveland. And that was the song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.” He didn’t sing it. Why not? ’Cause he’s kicking sixty-two! When you’re twenty, you say, “Hey, when I’m sixty-four…” But now he’s gonna have to sing, “When I’m ninety-four,” or whatever else it is, in order to give it the punch that it had before. What’s happening to him? Ecclesiastes 3:1–8. The same thing that is happening to every one of us.

Now, the problem doesn’t lie in the fact that life doesn’t stay still. We often say that: “Oh, if I could only arrest time.” As parents, we say, “Oh, if only we could have this moment forever with our children.” “If only we could take this moment now,” a husband maybe say to his wife, “on this particular anniversary, and just encapsulate it and just live in this for a moment.” But we know that we can’t.

But that is not the ultimate problem. The ultimate problem is not that time doesn’t stop for us. The real problem is that we can only see a fraction of the movement of time, and as we try to make sense of our tiny little part in the vastness of all that, we’re aware that it really is tremendously insignificant. And that, when it dawns upon us, does something to the human psyche. That’s why, incidentally, so much of our lives are filled up with noise and with music and with activities: in part, to stop us from these poignant moments overcoming us when we look at the routine of life and we say, “Is this a tyranny, or is this a wonderful rhythm?”

In The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, the one-woman play featuring Lily Tomlin—a play, incidentally, which should be avoided at all costs—in her opening monologue as Trudy, the bag lady, she expresses all of the things she worries about. It’s a quite masterful piece of writing. And it builds and builds and builds until she finally says… And the pathos and strangeness of it is that you’ve got this lady who’s essentially just out there in the middle of it all. And she looks up and she says, “I wonder about my place in the vast scheme of things.” And then she says, “I wonder if there is a vast scheme of things.”[4]

Now, you see, that is the great, fundamental question, isn’t it? When you realize: “Here we are.” “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray,” and “I [have] been for a walk, on a winter’s day,” and “[I dropped] into a church I passed along the way,” you know. “[I’m] California dreamin’.”[5]

Why? Well, we gotta get out of here, with these leaves and the chilly blast of winter—the way it somehow or another seeps in and settles on our souls, and it speaks of something about more than winter. What is it doing? It is confronting us with the cycle of life. It is confronting us with what is described here. And the chilling impact of it comes into the hearts and minds of men and women, and purposefully so. They hymn writer addresses it: “Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away.”[6]

The frustration that men and women experience is actually the result of a God-given burden.

The Queen Mary was built on the River Clyde, as was the Queen Elizabeth II, the QE2. I was born on the Clyde. And this year, as I stood on one of the bridges and looked at it, I thought about how the Clyde has just been going and going and going before me, all the time I’ve been gone, and then when I came back, just rolling along the same way. From high up in the foothills, a tiny stream builds into this vast, wide river that issues in the Firth of Clyde, carrying away eroded material and by attrition picking things up and taking them away. And the hymn writer says, “And that’s exactly what happens to us: time picks us up like a rolling river and bears us all away, and we fly, forgotten, like a dream.”[7]

You come to breakfast and you say, “Well, I dreamt last night, but I can’t remember what I dreamt about.” Says the hymn writer, “That’s what it will be like for us.” Everybody believes that they will be remembered forever, but the fact is, everyone will say, “What was his name again? Who was she?”

Why is it that on our own we’re unable to make sense of these things? Why is it that in the jigsaw puzzle of life, when we go to it, it always appears as if there are bits missing from the box? You look at the picture, you look at the pieces, and you say, “There are not enough pieces here to make that picture.” Why is that?

A Whole New Perspective

Well, that brings me to my second heading: “The Same Old Routine,” followed by “A Whole New Perspective.” “A Whole New Perspective.”

The question, incidentally, in verse 9—“What does the worker gain from his toil?”—is not a financial question. It’s not about remuneration. It’s a far more foundational issue than that. He’s essentially saying, “What’s the point of going to work? You work so you can get money to buy food, so that you can stay alive, so that you can go to work to get money to buy food so you can stay alive so you can go to work.” “What does the worker gain from all his toil?” “Why am I doing this?” I meet people who say that all the time: “Why do I even do this?”

Well, look at the perspective. Verse 10. This is good news. “I have seen the burden God has laid on men.” In other words, the frustration that men and women experience is actually the result of a God-given burden. A God-given burden. How could this be? Read on: “He[’s] made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they can[’t] fathom what God has done from [the] beginning to [the] end.”

In other words, God has created the world. He’s made a beautiful world in all of its pristine, absolute perfection. He sets it in time and space. He makes man—male and female—to know him, to commune with him, to walk with him in the garden, to enjoy all the benefits of his companionship. Death is not designed into that system. Frustration is not designed into that system. It is all beauty. It is all purity. It is all harmony. It is all perfection. And in that experience of communion, God establishes all that will one day be the reality when he completes the picture.

But man has turned his back on all that the Designer had to say. And as a result of that, the notion of eternity that is in a man or a woman’s mind is something that actually tyrannizes, tests! Because not only here in Ecclesiastes but throughout the whole Bible—for example, in Romans chapter 1; you may like to turn to it. But Romans chapter 1 affirms what the rest of the Bible says—namely, that men and women are made with a knowledge of God. There’s no escaping from the knowledge of God.

So, for example, in Romans 1:19: “Since what may be known about God is plain to them”—that is, to men and women. Why? “Because God … made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power … [his] divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.” But they became “futile” and “foolish.” And although they strutted around and said a lot of things about science and their vast wisdom of cosmology, they really became very foolish. And giving up on worshipping the God who had made them, they began to worship gods that they made themselves.[8]

Now, if you’re here this morning as an atheist, I want to tell you that the Bible knows something about you that you’re not prepared to acknowledge about yourself. You may seek to repress a knowledge of God, but you know that you can’t escape a knowledge of God. There are no ultimate atheists. There are only those who argue against what, in the deepest recesses of their being, they know to be the case—namely, that God is. And it is the very “is-ness” of God which creates the dilemma in the heart and mind of an individual. Think it through!

God has created us for a purpose. And unless we discover and fulfill that divine purpose, we will never be fully satisfied with anything else that is offered along the journey of life and within the realm of Vanity Fair. There is no experience of religion that can answer to this great longing. There is no relationship with a child or with a parent, with a spouse, with a lover, with a friend, that can answer the issue that is deeply set into the psyche and soul of a man or a woman. And this, says the Pundit, is the burden that God has laid on men, having made us for his pleasure, having created us in his image: we have to be forever dissatisfied until we come to know him and until we come to live in fellowship with him.

What the Bible says is that you and I, creatures of time, were actually made for eternity—that you and I, who live out the life that is ours, were actually made for his presence. Therefore, it’s no surprise that our lives would be marked by frustration and by confusion when we turn away from him. It shouldn’t surprise us that if we choose to live in the dark, we can’t see.

People say, “Well, why doesn’t God make himself known to me?” Listen: God is under no obligation to satisfy your intellectual curiosity. He will cater to the genuine, humble expression of a longing, seeking heart, but he doesn’t do tricks for the arrogant. And if we doubt that, we need only look at Jesus dealing with the Pharisees and the people around him: “Hey, Jesus, do another miracle for us. If you do this, we’ll believe that. If you send somebody here, we’ll do that.” And Jesus walks away, and he leaves them. Why? Doesn’t he care about them? He cares passionately about them! He cares so much about them that he refuses to capitulate to their arrogant insinuations.

When a man or a woman begins to think for a moment about their finitude: “I was not in charge of my birth. I will not be in charge of my death. I can’t make the leaves fall, and I can’t make the green shoots grow. I’m really, actually, in a process here over which I have very, very little control. In fact, I’m not sure how the double circulatory system really functions. I really have got no concept of what would bring about renal failure. I don’t know why it is that my eyes don’t stick shut in the night and why when I waken up there’s still enough fluid in them. I don’t know why it is that there is synovial fluid in my joints that prevent me from becoming an arthritic basket case. I can’t explain why I even have breath to breathe, to shout in such triumph at these Ohio State games,” and so on.

What is it all? What is it all, you see? And man in all of his pride says, “You know, I’m in charge of this. I am in charge of this.” You’re in charge of nothing! Anything you think you’re in charge of is an illusion. You think you pull a string and make God dance for you—he who has magnified himself in the beauty and order of creation; he who has spoken in the person of his Son; he who comes to us through the pages of a book that understands us.

You see, this is all different. It’s a radical perspective, isn’t it? Tyrannized by the routine, frustrated by a sense of homesickness that we can’t explain. Why do we feel this way? Because we are a fugitive to our destiny. “Oh, well, when I graduate, I’m going to feel fine then,” says the adolescent kid. And they graduate, and there’s a great sense of flatness. “Well, I’ll get on, and I’ll get a degree.” And they get a degree, and there’s another sense of flatness. “Well, if I can get a job, that’ll give me the opportunity for enough to be able make a…” And there’s another sense of flatness. “Well…” And so it goes on through life. Why? Is there no joy in life? Of course there is! But what I’m saying is this: that they’re ultimately fleeting. They’re ultimately transient. They ultimately cannot fulfill the deepest longing in the soul of a man. Why? Because God has set this burden upon them.

You have a restlessness in your life laid on you by God in order that when you face up to that, he, the burden maker, may become to you the burden taker.

This explains your friends at work, incidentally. Don’t be too unkind to them tomorrow morning when they show up at work, because they’re frustrated with everything. They’re confused by everything. They’ve gone through another Sunday. There was no worship in it for them. In fairness, we could say there was worship in it. They worshipped at their own shrines. They did their own thing. They assembled themselves before the gods of their own making. But they didn’t satisfy. Their gods couldn’t answer. Their gods didn’t speak. Their gods didn’t hear. In fact, they were in charge of their gods. They programmed their gods and got from them what they desired. And what they desired really didn’t satisfy. And now here they are, driving in the car again down 422. Now we’re to 271. Now we’re back on the same rat race as last Monday, and the same one as next Monday, and the same one as the following Monday, and the following Monday, and the following Monday, and I can’t take enough vacations to deal with this. I can’t drink enough booze to handle this. I can’t shoot up enough to clean this up. I’m a “nowhere man,” I’m just living “in my nowhere land,” I’m “making all my nowhere plans for nobody.”[9]

Now, the day that you’re prepared to get there is a great day. It’s a great day! Because now the burden on your back has weighed you down enough to realize there has to be an answer somewhere else. There has to be an answer in someone else. And, of course, there is.

Augustine. Read his Confessions. What a story! Augustine, you know, turning his back on everything that was made available to him as a boy, running away into oblivion, spending his life in dissolution, ignoring the prayers and the cries of those who loved him most. And finally, in the space of a very short period of time, God in his grace uses the tiny voice of a little child playing in the garden, singing a little rhyme: “Take up and read, take up and read, take up and read.” And he says to himself, “You know, I think I ought to take up and read the Bible.” And he takes up and reads the Bible, and it comes like a dagger to his soul; it comes like a shaft of light into his darkness; it comes like a river assuaging the deepest thirst of his life—the thirst that could not be met in his dissolute lifestyle. And Augustine finally encapsulates, and he says, “O God, you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”[10]

See, I know this about you. I don’t know where you live. I don’t know your street. I don’t know your income. I don’t know your IQ. But I know this about you: you have a burden laid on your back by God. You have a restlessness in your life laid on you by God, in order that when you face up to that, he, the burden maker, may become to you the burden taker.

But you see, you never ask anybody to help you when you’re walking down the street carrying nothing, do you? That’d be a bizarre person. Just walking down the street, you see someone coming, you say, “Could you help me with this?” The person says, “With what?” Say, “Oh yeah, that’s right. I don’t have anything for you to help me with. Sorry! I just want to…” Yeah. But when you’re coming down the thing with those plastic… “Do you want plastic or paper?” Do you realize what a paralyzing choice that can be sometimes, for someone as indecisive as me? I can be stuck there for about seven minutes. But anyway… When you finally go for plastic, and you’ve got ’em all creased and pulled in here in the thing, then you realize: “If somebody doesn’t intervene here for me, I’m in trouble.”

First the burden, then the awareness of the burden, then the cry for help, then the solution. But if in your life you’re just walking through like this… No cry for help, no relieving of the burden.

The Possibility of a Solid Conviction

Finally, “The Same Old Routine, “A Whole New Perspective,” and “The Possibility of a Solid Conviction.”

You see, the way you and I respond to life’s circumstances—the circumstances that are described here under the heading “A Time for Everything”—actually reveals a great deal about us. The despair that the Preacher here describes is clearly not his own despair, and he describes it in such a way as to tell us, “And this needn’t be yours either.” The believer, the person who trusts in God, can accept the same program as is described here, but accept it as an assignment, accept it as a gift. Look at verse 13, for example: “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.” Now, let’s read it another way: “That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God? This is the gift of God?”

Now, the unbeliever comes to it and says, “Are you telling me this is the gift of God? My sorry pilgrimage here? I’m a train driver. I drive up and down the Amtrak: Baltimore, DC, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, DC, every day on the train. And you’re telling me that this food, and the thing that my wife put in here for sandwiches, and the jolly Diet Coke, and whatever I’m getting when I get home, this is satisfaction, and this is the gift of God? I don’t see it.” Of course they don’t see it!

Now, why a train driver? I don’t know. I guess, you know, the psychologists out there are saying, “Hmm. He probably really wants to be a train driver.” Maybe. But leaving that aside for the moment: it doesn’t matter whether you’re driving a train, a golf cart, a boat, or your automobile. You see the difference. Same people going down the same road, the same people going through the same routine, the same people experiencing the same rhythm. One looks at it and says, “This is absolute nothingness.” The other person looks at it and says, “I’m driving a train, to the glory of God! Suddenly, my food, my drink, my life, my coming and going has taken on a completely different perspective. Because I understand,” verse 14, “that the plans of God need no correction. ‘I know that everything God does will endure forever,’ and ‘nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.’ So, you see, I’ve come to terms with my own finitude. I’ve come to realize that I won’t even be a footnote in history. I’ve come to recognize that in point of fact, you go through the cycle: you build it up, you lose it, you try it again, you build it up, you were successful, then a little failure, a little more failure, then try it again, and so on. You work hard, you start with nothing, you end up with nothing, and that’s the process of life. But that’s, like, fine. Because I know that God, who in his overarching purpose is doing things that will endure forever… And my significance is not ultimately in me, but my significance is ultimately in my identity in God—that I was made for his pleasure; that I suddenly realized, I exist for someone other than myself. I exist for a purpose far greater than just driving the train. I exist for more than being a dad, more than being the mother, more than being the teacher. I am all these things, but those things, left within the cycle of life, may become for me only the source of confusion and the source of tyranny, until I understand that in this process, God is doing something far greater.”

As Paul writes it in Romans 8, he says, “All things work together for good to those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose”[11]—that God, today, in his providence, is preserving his children, operating in everything that comes to pass, so that through it all, God has his hand in all of our affairs; that we’re not at the mercy of blind forces; that when he uses the three-letter word “all,” he uses it purposefully. He means it. And “in all things”—the things that happen as a result of my personality, the things that happen as a result of choices that I have made—good choices and bad choices—the things that happen within the frame of my own biochemical makeup, my physicality; the things that emerge as a result of the social context in which I live—born in the inner city, or born in suburbia, or born to be a king, or born to be a pawn—in all of this, God is fashioning his purpose and his plan for us.

God has no abandoned projects, and he has no forsaken children.

And when a man or a woman is brought to that perspective, then it changes everything, you see. It will produce within such an individual at least two things. And I’ll tell you these, and I’ll finish.

Number one, humility. Humility. You’re not gonna find a person who understands that God has intervened in this way walking around saying, “You know, I’m such a smart individual. I’m glad I figured all this out. And, you know, I have a course on it. I’d love to introduce you to it.” No, this individual is amazed that God would have intervened in this way. “He to death through life has brought me.”[12] “I’m amazed in the presence of Jesus,” says this individual. So there is a humility that comes.

And also, there is a security that comes. There is a security that comes! We live the same lives. We go through the same things. We have the same leaves that fall. We have the same diabetes that sets in. We have the same challenges with our children. We have the same issues with all of the accoutrements of life. Christianity doesn’t take you out of that, take you off into some funny place—leaves you right in the middle of it all! So then, how do you make sense of the cycle of life—a time to be born, a time to die, plant, and to gather and heal and so on? How do you make sense? “Because I am confident,” says Paul, “that he who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”[13]—that right in the heart of it all, “he … made everything beautiful in its time”; that God has no abandoned projects, and he has no forsaken children.

You see, that’s the doctrine of providence, isn’t it? He doesn’t abandon projects, and he doesn’t forsake his kids. Mercifully, he’s not like us: “You do that again and you’re out of here. If I hear that one more time from you,” and so on. If God were to treat us in that way, where would any of us be today? But he doesn’t abandon his projects, and he doesn’t desert his children. Why would he? He who is involved in the life cycle of the sparrow is profoundly involved in the life of his children.

And so here we have it: “The Same Old Routine,” “A Brand New Perspective,” “A Solid Conviction.” “Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come?”[14] Well, because I’ve had a bad week, and because something happened here, and a couple of things that I can’t tell you about. I mean, in immediate terms, there is a number of reasons. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the case. Just the cycle of life. Just the stuff. So what changes? Not the cycle. The perspective.

Why should I feel discouraged,
[And] why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart [seem] lonely
And long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my [captain]?
My constant [strength] is he:
[And] his eye is on the sparrow,
And I know he watches me.[15]

Making a pathetic attempt to dig some leaves out one day this week—it was a humorous, tragic picture, really. I hope none of my neighbors saw me. But I was hanging out of the bathroom window, in jeopardy of my life, holding on to the broom part of the broom and using the long part to flick leaves out of the gutter. And there were a couple of times where I almost flicked myself right one story down. But in the course of doing that, I came on a tiny sparrow that had died right up in the gutter. And I thought, “Hmm.” Oh, I can’t tell you all the things I think, ’cause you’d think I’m weird. But, you know… ’Cause I always think things like “I wonder if he went out flying and was supposed to be home for his tea, and he never came back,” you know, that kind of stuff. But anyway…

And then I thought, “And there’s not a sparrow falls to the ground but, Lord, you know it altogether.”[16] And at that point, I had something that was, like, a major thing on the back of my neck. And so here I am, hanging out with a broom, flicking around, trying to make sure that when it rained on the next day, it wouldn’t be a dreadful overspill. And God in his providential care, in the course of the cycle of life, said, “I’ve got you. I’ve got you. And I want you to know, I make everything beautiful in my time. Just hold on. I’ve got you.”

Does he have you? Do you have him? You may.

Let’s pray:

God our Father, thank you for the Bible that speaks to us with clarity about life and the things that all of us face—points us away from ourselves to the wonder of what you’ve done in laying a burden upon us, and so that when we become aware of it, we may see that Jesus, in his death upon the cross, bears all of the burdens in order that having all of our care and all of our sin and all of our darkness cast on him, we may rise to face the same routine, the same leaves, the same process of life, but to view ourselves not now trapped in some tyrannical, confusing cage but now living in the framework of your providential care.

Come, then, to our hearts, we pray, and remind us forcibly that you really do what you say, and that although “we see through a glass, darkly,”[17] that you will make everything beautiful in your time. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.


[1] See Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–13.

[2] Paul Simon, “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall” (1966).

[3] Pete Seeger, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (1959).

[4] Jane Wagner, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1977), act 1, scene 1. Paraphrased.

[5] Lou Adler, “California Dreamin’” (1965).

[6] Isaac Watts, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (1719).

[7] Watts. Paraphrased.

[8] See Romans 1:21–23.

[9] John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, “Nowhere Man” (1971). Lyrics lightly altered.

[10] Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1. Paraphrased.

[11] Romans 8:28 (paraphrased).

[12] Philip P. Bliss, “My Redeemer” (1876). Lyrics lightly altered.

[13] Philippians 1:6 (paraphrased).

[14] Civilla D. Martin, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (1905).

[15] Martin, “His Eye.”

[16] See Matthew 10:29.

[17] 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV).

Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.