I think I’ve mentioned before that when Heather & I were first married, I spent one spring working out at the Meadowbrook greenhouse just west of Penhold here. For the first two weeks of that job, when I came home from work at night, my body was sore. I was just carrying around these fairly light trays of plants, but I was using muscles that I didn’t usually use – straining them beyond their usual capabilities. But after about two weeks, I wasn’t really sore anymore. My body repaired the damage done and built up my muscles so they could handle that strain without issue.
And this is exact where this saying of “no pain – no gain” comes from. Without the pain that comes from straining your muscles, you will have no gain in strength. And so we often do this on purpose – (well, some people do). We call this exercise – or working-out. We purposely bring on this pain in our muscles so that we can grow in strength. A certain amount of pain is required if you want to gain muscle.
Well over the next few weeks, I want to use this catch phrase of ‘no pain, no gain’ as a way to remind us of what Easter is all about. At this time of year, most North Americans start thinking about eggs, bunnies, and chocolate – but of course, there is much more to Easter than that. And so over these next few weeks, I want to talk about what Easter is all about and why Easter matters. And I’ve titled this series “No Pain – No Gain.” Because this principle is true not just when it comes to our building our muscles – but it’s true when it comes to understanding the significance of Easter.
So the two big ideas I want to tackle over the next couple of weeks is the idea of pain and the idea of gain. I imagine most of you didn’t come here today to learn about body-building, so what is the ‘gain’ that we are looking for (if we’re not talking about gaining muscles) – and what is the ‘pain’ that leads to that gain? And of course, how does that all tie into Easter?
Well, let’s start by defining the ‘gain’ – that’ll be our focus for today.
And to do that, I want to start by taking a brief look in Ecclesiastes. Now Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon and for much of the book, he writes about all the things that he tried to do to find meaning in life. Now keep in mind that King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived.
You’ll remember that God came to him in a dream and basically promised to grant him the one thing that he wanted most. Solomon asked God for wisdom so that he could rule Israel wisely. God was very pleased with that request so he granted him, not only, more wisdom than anyone else on the planet – and with that, He also gave him exceeding wealth and power and peace in his kingdom. So Solomon ended up being the most wise, most powerful, and the most wealthy person on the planet at that time. He could literally do whatever He wanted. And so Ecclesiastes is his reflections on all the things that he saw – and all the things that he did to find meaning in life.
So I want to read for you a good chunk from that – most of the first two chapters actually – because I think Solomon really captures how many of us experience life. Let me show you what I mean. Ecclesiastes chapter 1 – starting at verse 1.
These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.
9 History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. 10 Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. 11 We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.
12 I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. 13 I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. 14 I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.
15 What is wrong cannot be made right.
What is missing cannot be recovered.
16 I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” 17 So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.
18 The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.
I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. 2 So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” 3 After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.
4 I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves.7 I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. 8 I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!
9 So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 10 Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors.11 But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.
And believe it or not – that goes on for several more chapters. But isn’t it interesting how Solomon said in verse 8, “I had everything a man could desire…” And yet, he found it all to be meaningless. He had wealth, he had power, he had pleasure, he had everything he wanted – but He claimed he had nothing worthwhile.
And I have two reactions to reading all this. First of all, I’m like – come on man! If I had several billion dollars and could do whatever I want – man, I think I’d be pretty happy. Imagine what you could do and what you could experience if you never had to worry about the cost?!
But then, on the other hand, if I’m honest, I’d have to ask, “Would doing whatever I want truly make me happy?” It would be pretty exciting for quite a while, but I’d guess that the thrill and excitement of it all wouldn’t last forever.
Because really, I don’t think Bill Gates or Warren Buffet (some of the wealthiest men in the world) – I don’t think they have any more joy in their lives than any of us. In fact, from what I’ve seen, some of the richest, most powerful people often seem to be the most miserable. It almost seems the more that we have – the more discontent we become.
And great accomplishments can’t satisfy us either. Take for example Wayne Gretzky. He’s a hockey legend. He is more famous – has more trophies – holds more records, than probably any other hockey player on the planet. And I’m sure that in many of those moments, those accomplishments felt great! But I wonder if today, some 20 years after his hockey career – I wonder if at the end of his day, he feels more satisfaction in his life than you or I do? I kinda doubt it.
It seems that we cannot be satisfied by money, fame, or fortune or any of these other things. Try as we may! God has provided for us many ‘good things’ in life, but none of them can give us full, lasting satisfaction.
There is a famous song lamenting this very fact. You might recognize it….
Of course, this was written by the Rolling Stones – a band that many people would consider to the world’s greatest rockin’ roll bands of all time. They had fame – they had fortune – they had women – they had money – but they sure sound a lot like Solomon. Everything is meaningless – I try and I try and I try and I try – but I can’t get no satisfaction.
There was still a longing or a desire for something that the Rolling Stones & Solomon just couldn’t find. They had some sort of need that simply wasn’t met by wealth or power or pleasure. And I think that’s a longing that we all have. We all long for satisfaction – and so we spend most of our lives chasing after it.
But far too often, like Solomon, we find that chasing satisfaction is like chasing the wind. Everything we try just doesn’t cut it.
So the question is, can we ever find that which truly satisfies? Is there anything in the world that is worth gaining? Is everything truly meaningless – as Solomon suggests? Is there anything that can truly fulfill that longing we have so that we need nothing more. Can we truly be satisfied?
I think we can. But before we can satisfy that longing – we need to identify what it is that we are truly longing for. For many in our world today, we might think it’s wealth – but as we gather more wealth, we find out that’a not actually what we’re after. Probably for most people, we might think it’s pleasure – but again, after chasing pleasure for awhile, we find out that ‘No, that’s not what we want either’. We might think it’s power and being in control of our own lives – but again, after chasing that for a while, we find out that it’s not that either.
We spend all of our lives chasing after these different things – only to find that that’s not what we really wanted – not what we really needed. But if we can identify what we are really longing for – then we can take steps to meet that need and be truly satisfied.
Solomon, in the midst of his lament of the meaninglessness of life, I think he actually stumbles upon the answer. In chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon is talking about how there is a time and season for everything under the heaven. And then he writes this in verse 11…
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
And the part that sticks out in this verse is that God has planted eternity in the human heart. In other words, there is this built-in awareness that there is more to life than the here and now. This world is not all that there is. Of course, we can’t see the whole scope of everything right now – but we have this built in awareness that there is more. We exist for a much more significant purpose than to just gather wealth, power, and prestige.
And I think it’s that awareness – that bit of eternity in our hearts – that creates this longing that can’t be satisfied by things of this world. We can only find true satisfaction when we identify and live out our eternal purpose.
Some time ago I was reading a book by Dr. Henry Cloud – he’s a popular Christian author and psychologist and he made a statement that I think fits what we are talking about exactly.
“Our deepest need is to belong, to be in a relationship, to have a spiritual and emotional “home”.
I thought that seems pretty accurate to me – that our deepest need as humans is to have a spiritual and emotional “home”. To be in that place where we belong. Where we are safe. Where we are loved – where we have nothing to hide. We can just be ourselves and know that despite our flaws, our faults and our failures, we are still deeply loved – no strings attached. We are at home. Our deepest need is a relationship like that.
And I think that ties in with Solomon’s statement that God has planted eternity in our hearts. God has planted within us a deep inner longing for home – a deep inner longing to be with our Creator and to have that relationship of unconditional love and acceptance with him. It’s like we have this internal homing device, that constantly beckons us to our spiritual and emotional home – which is eternity is God.
You see, God has created us to live in community with Him. To be connected to Him. To be in relationship with Him. And having that connection with our Creator, having that relationship with God, is the only thing that will bring us true and lasting satisfaction. It is the only thing worth gaining.
Jesus says in Matthew 16:26…
26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
The idea here is that, even if you gain everything the world has to offer – all of those things that Solomon chased after – the power, the fame, the wealth, the pleasure, the status, the… Everything…. But you ignored your deepest need of having a relationship with your Creator – if you lose your soul – at the end of the day, you’ll have nothing.
John Ortberg wrote a book a while back entitled “When the game is over, it all goes back in the box.” And he talks about the game of monopoly. You can be ruthless monopoly player and buy up all the properties, build your houses, build your hotels, take everybody’s money. You can own everything on the board – but when the game is over, it all goes back in the box.
And that principle is true in life. When the game is over, it all goes back in the box. You can have all the wealth, you can have all the fame, you can have all the achievements, you can gain the whole world – but at the end of your life on earth, it all goes back in the box. None of it transfers with you into eternity.
The only thing that counts then is your relationship with God.
When we stand before God, the rich will have no advantage over the poor. The famous will have no advantage over the unknown. The popular will have no advantage over the out-cast.
God sees Wayne Gretzky, Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, the homeless guy on the street and every one of us on a level playing field. Earthly fame and fortune are not factors in God’s evaluation. It all comes down to whether or not you have a genuine relationship with your Creator.
So that is the one thing that is worth working for. So to go back to our theme of “no pain – no gain”, this is what we’re trying to gain. We’re trying to gain that relationship, that connection with God which we so deeply long for – because it is the only thing that will bring us true satisfaction.
But that leads us to another question: How?
How do we get from “I can’t get no satisfaction” to being completely satisfied in our relationship with God? How do we meet that deepest need we have to belong – to be completely at home? How do we get to be connected like that to our Creator?
The good news is that God wants this for each one of us. Remember, He is the God who planted eternity in our hearts in the first place. He created us specifically for this. He wants us to find this satisfaction.
Sometimes we get this notion that God is against us – that He’s out to get us. Or at the very least, He wants to keep us from anything fun. But that is totally contrary to what the Bible teaches. God is for us. He loves us deeply. He wants to meet our deepest needs and give us ultimate satisfaction.
If you look through the Scriptures, time and time again we see that God is seeking us much more than we are seeking him.
When Jesus tells those parables about what the kingdom of God is like – he describes it over and over as someone desperately searching for something.
- The shepherd who searches the wilderness for the lost sheep.
- The woman searching high and low throughout her house for that lost coin.
- The pearl merchant who sells all that he has to buy that one precious pearl.
- The Father of the prodigal son – watching down the road for his son to return – and running to embrace him when he does.
Those are all reflections of how our Heavenly Father loves us and chases after us – we are like a precious treasure to him. He loved us far before we ever even thought of loving Him. In fact, that’s why Jesus came to earth in the first place.
10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
God’s looking for us. He wants us to be satisfied. He wants us to experience the joy and delight of spending eternity with Him and all his goodness. That’s the good news.
The bad news… well, I’ll get into that next week. I’ll spare you from the bad news this week – but we will have to talk about it next week.
But as our final thought for today, I just want you to take a few moments to reflect on your own satisfaction in life.
Do you find yourself singing along with the Rolling Stones and King Solomon? “I can’t get no satisfaction. I try and I try and I try and I try – but nothing truly satisfies. I think even as Christians sometimes we forget where true satisfaction comes from, and we chase after other things trying to find it. But its like chasing after the wind.
Do you find yourself in that game of monopoly, where you’ve worked so hard for so long to gain the whole world so to speak – to gain all those things that you thought were so important – only to realize that soon the game will be over and it will all go back in the box?
Last week we talked a bit about how we often neglect the important things in life to take care of the urgent things? In all the busyness of your life, have you been neglecting the one important thing that will actually matter in a 1000 years from now? Remember, the only thing that doesn’t go back in the box is your relationship with your Creator.
If that’s you this morning, take heart. The game’s not over yet. As long as you’re on this planet, its not too late. You’ve still got a chance to gain that which truly satisfies.
And I don’t want to spoil the whole ending this series – but I’ll give you two little teaser verses to chew on this week. The first one is John 6:35.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. John 14:6
The bottom line is that Jesus is the source of ultimate satisfaction. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
We’re going to dig into that a little more as we explore the ‘pain’ side of the equation – because if there is no pain, there is no gain. But like I said, we’ll talk about that next week!
But for today, let’s pray and then we’ll be dismissed into the rest of our day.