Ecclesiastes 7:10, "Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this."
This morning, much ado is made about how things are, how things were, and how things probably will be. Honestly, no one can accurately predict future details, and equally certain, no one can accurately remember all of the fine points of the past. Human faculties being as frail and faulty as they are, our minds are not disposed to retain everything we have experienced, nor are we capable of accurate prognostication, as that exceeds our capabilities. These shortcomings do not exclude many from trying on both counts however. Yet, while recollection of the past or prediction of the future can both be done to positive ends, the overwhelming majority of those that engage in both do so for faulty reasons. The faultiness shows forth an absolute lack of seizing the moment to do what we can right now. Future predictors oftentimes become procrastinators, while past recollections oftentimes become pine-fests. Either way, people are spending more time doing less with what they have right now.
When Solomon was inspired to pen this most woeful book, he had reached a point in his life when he had "done all that could be done under the sun." Whatever his natural inclination desired, he had tried it, and all to no avail. Everything he found was vanity of vanities and complete vexation of spirit. When surveying the scene of the tatters of his life, Solomon was inspired by the Holy Ghost to instruct as a preacher in words of wisdom. These wise words were Solomon's instructions to "not do as he had done." As he summarizes the book in the last chapter, he encourages the young man to apply himself to wisdom so that when the evil days of old age (that Solomon was then in the midst of) would not be as painful as they were to Solomon. In my short years in the ministry, I can attest that there is a vast difference between older people approaching their mortality. When people have lived lives like Solomon, they reach the end with regrets and sorrow for the vanity and pride of their former years. When people have lived lives like Solomon exhorts us to, they approach the end with fervor and zeal to go be with the Lord rather than think about past failures (though undoubtedly they have had many). This final scene of life shows us how peaceful the end can be for the child of God that has attempted to live Godly and soberly in this present evil world.
As we go through life, there is always a tendency to wonder about the future and think and dwell on the past. We will focus this writing more on the thinking about the past rather than looking to the future. However, the conclusion we hope to draw by the end will also serve as a valid exhortation for those that improperly look toward the future. Solomon tells us that looking at "former days" with overt fondness is not a wise behavioral pattern. Have you heard people wax and pine about the "good old days?" Perhaps all of us have even engaged in this ourselves. For some reason, we can remember those days and think them better than the day that is before us. Though quite often those days had their fair share of evil and travail, we seem to think only of the part that was "better" – seemingly – than today.
For the sake of argument, let us say that the olden days were better than these. Even if that were true, what does that knowledge do for us? Does it help in today's present struggle or dealing with the problems of today? In every case, it does not. Consider Solomon's early days of rule. He spent 40 years ruling over Israel, and admittedly, the first 20 years of his rule were exponentially better than the last 20. In the first half, he served God's people with wisdom and might, serving in splendor while building a masterpiece of a temple for the worship of God. The Lord endowed him with wisdom like the world had never seen and riches to boot. The latter half of his rule showed him with many enemies stirred up against him by the Lord for his mammoth idolatry, multiplied marriages to strange women, and persecution of the Lord's prophets. If there was ever a man to possibly have a case to think about and pine for the "good old days," it would be Solomon. He could sit and ponder about the days of heavenly favor, and delight in the quiet, peaceful splendor that was his.
Yet, this man knew and understood that thinking about those days – however good they may have been – did not change where he was at present. The longing for them did not help today's issues. You and I, dear friend, have not had the roller coaster of a life that Solomon did. If you had been married to 700 wives with 300 concubines with the majesty that Solomon possessed, you would be world wide news. Since we cannot compare our "olden days" to Solomon's and he still had no right or wisdom to glory in those days, what right or wisdom do we have to do so? In point of fact, we do not. More importantly, the olden days were not as problem-free as we remember, which is all the more reason not to spend our moments pining for the way things used to be.
Now, having established that waxing philosophical about the olden days and revelling in their beauty is not wise no matter what our past may have been, let us consider what such behavior might impede that we should be doing. One of the children of Israel's problems while wandering in the wilderness was constantly thinking about Egypt and contemplating going back there. As Paul mentions in Hebrews 3 while talking about that circumstance, he mentions that we should not be stiffnecked and stubborn like they were. One of the things they did not do was to "hear His voice" and thereby prevent entering into "the provocation." (Hebrews 3-4) Paul's case shows that we today can act just like that. We can refuse to hear His voice in how we should live and act. Granted, this voice we refuse is not the voice of power that comes in regeneration and the resurrection (which is irrefutable), but it is the voice of invitation that calls for godly service from us. (Contrast John 6:37 and Matthew 11:28)
God invited the Israelites numerous times to walk with Him and find the promised rest. We have a rest today that is also promised when we walk faithfully with our Lord. However, to hear and follow His voice, we need to remember when it comes: "To day." The voice is not looked for tomorrow, much less is it looked for yesterday. It is looked for in the day after yesterday and the day before tomorrow. Quite often when I talk with people about situations and problems they face in their life, I have to freely admit from my own experience, "There is nothing wrong with the Lord's communication, but there is a problem many times with my listening." When I get stuck in the past and pining for it, I fail to hear and heed the voice of today. By failing in that regard, I fail to find the rest today that I could have with serene and majestic seasons with my God.
Whenever we pine for the olden days, we admit by such a mindset that we are dissatisfied with today. Brethren, there is much that goes on daily that I do not like and am quite dissatisfied with. However, I do not want those black marks of the day to interfere with the rest I could enjoy with the Lord. We cannot live in the past or the future, but as creatures of today, we should be focused in walking with and talking with the Lord today. When such a practice is followed, we will find continual rest on a daily basis from the Loader of our daily benefits. (Psalm 68:19)
Does living in today mean that the past and future do not matter? Certainly the Bible says a tremendous amount about both time periods. The past is something we should learn from, while the future is where we should anticipate and look for the coming promises of God. However, our thoughts of the past and future cannot be there permanently as we cannot dwell there. One thing about the past and future that "should" be the case is that we view yesterday as potentially worse than today and tomorrow as potentially better. For instance, if we focus on today to make it the best we can, walk with the Lord better than before, and yearn to hear His voice today, we can make today better than yesterday. If we redouble our efforts tomorrow, we can make tomorrow better than today.
Notice how Solomon terms the longing for yesteryear. He terms them as better than these. If yesteryear is better than these days, then the simple cause is that we are not improving daily. If yesterday is truly better than today, then we have failed to utilize today as we should. If tomorrow is not better than today, we have failed to utilize that day when it comes. Whenever someone asks me as a minister how they should read the Bible, I generally use the same, simple answer my father gave, "More." We should read, study, pray, meditate, etc. more today than we did yesterday and more tomorrow than we do today. The next time someone says that they long for the good old days, I hope that I am having a season of fortitude to be able to respond, "These are the best days of my life." As I reflect on the past, I am supremely thankful for past blessings and truly hope not to make the same mistakes again. As I look toward the horizon, I see that God is already there with promises intact. As I look at this day, I see that He still stands with us and talks daily with us. May we listen today, work today, and even better tomorrow.