Free funerals for the living. That’s the service offered by an establishment in South Korea. Since it opened in 2012, more than 25,000 people—from teenagers to retirees—have participated in mass “living funeral” services, hoping to improve their lives by considering their deaths. Officials say “the simulated death ceremonies are meant to give the participant a truthful sense of their lives, inspire gratitude, and aid in forgiveness and reconnection among family and friends.”
These words echo the wisdom given by the teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes. “Death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Death reminds us of the brevity of life and that we only have a certain amount of time to live and love well. It loosens our grip on some of God’s good gifts—such as money, relationships, and pleasure—and frees us to enjoy them in the here and now as we store up “treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).
As we remember that death may come knocking anytime, perhaps it’ll compel us to not postpone that visit with our parents, delay our decision to serve God in a particular way, or compromise our time with our children for our work. With God’s help, we can learn to live wisely.
Zach was a lonely guy. When he walked down the city streets, he could feel the hostile glares. But then his life took a turn. Clement of Alexandria, one of the church fathers, says that Zach became a very prominent Christian leader and a pastor of the church in Caesarea. Yes, we’re talking about Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:1–10).
What prompted him to climb the tree? Tax collectors were perceived as traitors because they heavily taxed their own people to serve the Roman Empire. Yet Jesus had a reputation for accepting them. Zacchaeus might have wondered if Jesus would accept him too. Being short in stature, however, he couldn't see over the crowd (v. 3). Perhaps he climbed a tree to seek Him out.
And Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus too. When Christ reached the tree where he was perched, He looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). Jesus considered it absolutely necessary that He be a guest in this outcast’s home. Imagine that! The Savior of the world wanting to spend time with a social reject.
Whether it’s our hearts, relationships, or lives that need mending, like Zacchaeus we can have hope. Jesus will never reject us when we turn to Him. He can restore what’s been lost and broken and give our lives new meaning and purpose.
We trekked deeper and deeper into the forest, venturing farther and farther away from the village at Yunnan Province, China. After an hour or so, we heard the deafening roar of the water. Quickening our steps, we soon reached a clearing and were greeted by a beautiful view of a curtain of white water cascading over the gray rocks. Spectacular!
Our hiking companions, who lived in the village we had left an hour earlier, decided that we should have a picnic. Great idea, but where was the food? We hadn’t brought any. My friends disappeared into the surrounding forest and returned with an assortment of fruits and vegetables and even some fish. The shuixiangcai looked strange with its small purple flowers, but tasted heavenly!
I was reminded that creation declares God’s extravagant provision. We can see proof of His generosity in “all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit” (Genesis 1:12 nlt) that He’s created. God has made and given us for food “every seed-bearing plant . . . and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” (v. 29).
Do you sometimes find it hard to trust God to meet your needs? Why not take a walk in nature? Let what you see remind you of Jesus’ assuring words: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:31–32).
According to Chinese legend, when Sai Weng lost one of his prized horses, his neighbor expressed sorrow for his loss. But Sai Weng was unconcerned. He said, “Who knows if it may be a good thing for me?” Surprisingly, the lost horse returned home with another horse. As the neighbor congratulated him, Sai Weng said, “Who knows if it may be a bad thing for me?” As it turned out, his son broke his leg when he rode on the new horse. This seemed like a misfortune, until the army arrived at the village to recruit all able-bodied men to fight in the war. Because the son’s injury, he wasn’t recruited which ultimately could have spared him from death.
This is the story behind the Chinese proverb which teaches that a difficulty can be a blessing in disguise and vice versa. This ancient wisdom has a close parallel in Ecclesiastes 6:12, where the author observes: “For who knows what is good for a person in life?” Indeed, none of us know what the future holds. An adversity might have positive benefits and prosperity might have ill effects.
Each day offers new opportunities, joys, struggles, and suffering. As God’s beloved children, we can rest in His sovereignty and trust Him through the good and bad times alike. God has “made the one as well as the other” (7:14). He’s with us in all the events in our lives and promises His loving care.
Su Dongpo (also known as Su Shi), was one of China’s greatest poets and essayists. While in exile and gazing upon a full moon, he wrote a poem to describe how much he missed his brother. “We rejoice and grieve, gather and leave, while the moon waxes and wanes. Since times of old, nothing remains perfect,” he writes. “May our loved ones live long, beholding this beautiful scene together though thousands of miles apart.”
His poem carries themes found in the book of Ecclesiastes (1:1). The author, known as the Teacher, observed that there’s “a time to weep and a time to laugh . . . a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” (3:4–5). By pairing two contrasting activities, the Teacher, like Su Dongpo, seems to suggest that all good things must inevitably come to an end.
As Su Dongpo saw the waxing and waning of the moon as another sign that nothing remains perfect, the Teacher also saw in creation God’s providential ordering of the world He’d made. God oversees the course of events, and “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (v. 11).
Life may be unpredictable and sometimes filled with painful separations, but we can take heart that everything takes place under God’s gaze. We can enjoy life and treasure the moments—the good and the bad—for our loving God is with us.
A teenager named Aldi was working alone on a fishing hut anchored about 125 kilometres (about 78 miles) off Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island when heavy winds knocked the hut off its mooring and sent it out to sea. For forty-nine days, Aldi drifted in the ocean. Every time he spotted a ship he would turn on his lamp to try and get the sailors’ attention, only to be disappointed. About ten ships passed the malnourished teen before he was rescued by a Panamanian vessel.
Jesus told a parable to an “expert in the law” (Luke 10:25) about someone who needed to be rescued. Two men—a priest and a Levite—saw an injured man as they were traveling. But rather than help him, both “passed by on the other side” (vv. 31–32). We aren’t told why they failed to help. Both were religious men and would have been familiar with God’s law to love their neighbor (Leviticus 19:17–18). They may have thought it was too dangerous. Or perhaps they didn't want to break Jewish laws about touching dead bodies, making them ceremonially unclean and unable to serve in the temple. In contrast, however, a Samaritan—who was despised by the Jews—acted nobly. He saw the man in need and took care of him selflessly.
Jesus wrapped up His teaching with the command that His followers should “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). May God give us the willingness to reach out in love and take the risk to help others.
MingTeck woke up with a severe headache and thought it was another migraine. But when he got out of bed, he collapsed onto the floor. He was admitted to the hospital where the doctors informed him he’d had a stroke. After four months of rehabilitation, he recovered his ability to think and talk, but still walks with a painful limp. He often struggles with despair, but he finds great comfort from the book of Job.
Job lost all his wealth and his children overnight. Despite the harrowing news, he at first looked to God in hope and praised Him for being the source of everything. He acknowledged God’s sovereign hand even in times of calamity (Job 1:21). We marvel at his strong faith, but Job also struggled with despair. After he lost his health too (2:7), he cursed the day he was born (3:1). He was honest with his friends and God about his pain. Eventually, however, he came to accept that both good and bad come from God’s hand (13:15; 19:25–27).
In our sufferings, we too may find ourselves vacillating between despair and hope, doubt and faith. God doesn’t require us to be dauntless in the face of adversity but instead invites us to come to Him with our questions. Though our faith may fail at times, we can trust God to always be faithful.
A new believer in Jesus was desperate to read the Bible. However, he’d lost his eyesight and both hands in an explosion. When he heard about a woman who read Braille with her lips, he tried to do the same—only to discover that the nerve endings of his lips had also been destroyed. Later, he was filled with joy when he discovered that he could feel the Braille characters with his tongue! He had found a way to read and enjoy Scripture.
Joy and delight were the emotions the prophet Jeremiah experienced when he read the God’s Word. “When your words came, I ate them,” he said, “they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16). Unlike the people of Judah who despised His words (8:9), Jeremiah had been obedient and rejoiced in them. His obedience, however, also led to the prophet being rejected by his own people and persecuted unfairly (15:17).
Some of us may have experienced something similar. We once read the Bible with joy, but obedience to God led to suffering and rejection from others. Like Jeremiah, we can bring our confusion to God. He answered Jeremiah by repeating the promise He gave him when He first called him to be a prophet (vv. 19-21; see 1:18–19). God reminded him that He never lets His people down. We can have this same confidence too. He’s faithful and will never abandon us.
Samuel Mills and four of his friends often gathered together to pray for God to send people into the world to share the good news of Jesus. One August day in 1806, after returning from their prayer meeting, they got caught in a thunderstorm and took refuge in the shelter of a haystack. Their weekly prayer gathering then became known as the Haystack Prayer Meeting, which resulted in a global mission movement. Today the Haystack Prayer Monument stands at Williams College in Massachusetts as a reminder of what God can do in answer to prayer.
Our heavenly Father is delighted when His children approach Him with a common request. It’s like a family gathering where His children are united in purpose, sharing a common burden.
The apostle Paul acknowledges how God helped him through the prayers of others during a time of severe suffering: “He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” (2 Corinthians 1:10–11). God has chosen to use our prayers—especially our prayers together—to accomplish His work in our lives and in the world. No wonder the verse continues: “Then many will give thanks . . . [for the] answer to the prayers of many.”
Let’s pray together so we can also rejoice together in God’s goodness. Our loving Father is waiting for us to come to Him so He can work through us in ways that reach far beyond anything we could ever imagine.