A friend once asked me, “Why are you Christians always poking into each other’s business?” One of her Christian colleagues had been thinking about dating someone, and ran it by his cell group. After considering their advice, he decided not to date the girl.
My friend was appalled, even a little irritated, at the thought of the cell groupmates not being supportive. To her, it looked like Christians felt they had a right to dictate what other people should do. And she couldn’t understand why her colleague would let others persuade him to give up what he wanted.
It’s not difficult to understand where she was coming from. Most of us would like to think that we’re the best authority on our lives, and know what will guarantee us the most satisfying life. But it is not without reason that Scripture tells us, “Do not be wise in your own eyes” (Proverbs 3:7).
As the Teacher reiterates throughout Ecclesiastes, life is “hebel”—a Hebrew word that means “smoke” or “vapor.” It suggests that, like smoke, life is difficult to grasp and make sense of. And sometimes, when “you’re stuck in the thick of it, like fog, it’s impossible to see clearly.”1
As anyone who has driven through thick fog knows, the light from our own car isn’t often enough to help us see the road clearly. Similarly, the “light” from our own hearts isn’t sufficient to take us through the uncertainties and complexities of life.
I learned this the hard way, after getting into relationships that I knew were unwise. Clouded by the lust of the flesh, the pain of childhood wounds, and self-sabotaging thought patterns, I made decisions that left me deeply hurt. Perhaps that’s why the Preacher in Ecclesiastes advises us to “fear God and keep his commandments” (v. 13), rather than using our own smarts to navigate through life.
But even though doing things my way was causing me pain, it was still not easy to repent and choose to walk in God’s way. Like “goads” (spiked sticks that shepherds use to herd their flock) and “firmly embedded nails” (v. 11), God’s commands were piercing. Verses that instructed me to lay down my idols (Colossians 3:5) and to “throw off anything that hinders” me from finishing the race well (Hebrews 12:1), poked at the parts of my life where I was reluctant to relinquish control. Choosing God meant giving up people who had become sources of comfort and security, even as they were leading me away from Him. It meant looking into a future where I’d be alone, a pain that felt impossible to bear.
But a mentor wisely pointed out that even though it would initially be painful to obey God, I had to trust that He is good. He is the Light that saves; His commands would move me in the path that leads to life and hold my wandering heart in place. And she was right. The joy and peace that come from God’s life-giving commands have far superseded the pain of being alone.
As I hope my friend will eventually come to understand, sometimes we need the counsel of the wise to help us obey God’s commands. Like the Preacher, who “pondered and searched out” that which is “upright and true” (vv. 9-10), let’s cherish the wise counsel that points us to the Truth: only God can keep us from getting lost in the fog of life.
—By Nelle Lim, Singapore
1 “The Book of Ecclesiastes,” YouTube Video, 6:41, “The Bible Project,” August 17, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeUiuSK81-0
Questions for reflection
- Do you seek the counsel and input of wise men and women when you make your major life decisions? Why or why not?
- Is there a decision you’ve made that seems to contradict any of God’s commands? Ask the Lord to search your heart (Psalm 139:23) and examine your motives. Does your decision stem from a place of anxiety and brokenness, or from a fear of the Lord?