In 1965, a musical group known as The Byrds came out with a song that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. “Turn, Turn, Turn” was in response to the Jesus Movement that erupted in the 1960’s. When hippies, Woodstock, “Free Love” and Vietnam War protests made the headlines, a generation of lost youth turned to God to find new meaning. It was a season like no other.
I was just a small child and knew nothing of all this, but I do remember this song on the radio. I was puzzled why Bible words were in a rock and roll song.
The Byrds took their inspiration from Ecclesiasties Chapter 3. Here God teaches there is a time for everything under the sun, all the way from "a time to be born, and a time to die” to “a time for war, and a time for peace.”
The Byrds stopped here, but directly after this passage is a paragraph that points not only to the seasons life contains, but how God means for us to find enjoyment in it all, even in our troubles and toils.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time…. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
Ecclesiasties 3:11-13 (ESV)
Just recently, I was shown a great example of this idea.
At the Middle School where I work, the last day brought screams of joy and a wild stampede when the last bell rang! Summer vacation is here, and the joy was loud and irrepressible…and that was just the teachers!
Amongst the summer plans and dreams of sleeping in, I am prone to stop, look back and appreciate all the work that went into the past year. It was toil, but toil for a purpose, bringing the best we can for our students. And like Ecclesiastes 3, there was a time for the bad and the good.
A time to struggle, and a time for success.
A time of frustration, and a time of satisfaction.
A time to scold, and a time to praise.
A time to instruct, and a time to understand.
Not quite as poetic as the Byrds' words, I know; but each piece needs to have its season, and in each of those seasons, there can be joy. A year of enjoyment rather than just at the end. Sound better? I think so.
I want to have this joy in the hard work God gives me to do, not just when the work is done and summer break is here. God says, "take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
What if we try to look at struggle and hard work as a gift? In a world focused on our comfort and ease, how can we be countercultural, looking at hard work to challenge us, teach us, strengthen us and bring joy and satisfaction.
I want that enjoyment, even in the struggles and sweat. I want to receive the gift God means it to be.
I want to think of the word “en-joy-ment” and hear, “meant to be in-joy.”
This past year, I had the honor of working with a fourteen-year-old boy who was racked with anxiety. He would not speak more than a few words murmured through tight lips. When offered help, he would only reply, “No, thank you. I’m fine.”
It was hard to watch him struggle and stand alone in his isolation. No friends. No help.
It was a struggle to earn his trust and a challenge to repeatedly be turned away and go back in and try again. I prayed for him, praised him for the smallest progress, and didn’t give up. The enjoyment of the hard work came when he started saying yes to help. Then, slowly, he would talk with me one-on-one, until finally, three months into the year, we had our first full conversation…and he cried. He had finally come to trust and was able to openly express himself.
In the last week of school, this brave kid had a full conversation with me right there in math class with people all around! And he laughed out loud! He even tackled some math problems without fearing the failure!
Every step was hard work with my courageous but anxious friend. But every step was also “meant to be in-joy.” And it was! Being there to work, to struggle, and to grow with this kid was one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me.
So what do you say, friends? Is there a season of toil or struggle that you can turn into a season of enjoyment? Is there a way you can start seeing challenges and toil as a gift from God?
A time for toil and a time for joy?
You were meant to be in-joy! May your time start now!