It’s tragic that male youth suicide is so high in this culture, given that ours is a youth-centered culture. We are under a constant pressure to think young, act young, and look young. Age is hidden. Wrinkles are covered up. Grey hair is coloured.
Our popular music has been written by people mostly in their twenties. What makes youth suicide so tragic is that our youth is the time where we are meant to enjoy life and be happy. Ecclesiastes 11:9 tells us:
You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. (NIV)
My first question is, “When is young?” Is he talking about a 15 year old, or a 30 year old?
I remember when I changed sides from young to old. I still remember after turning 40 that a member of our 8 am congregation—whose average age is 70 years old—said to me, “Congratulations, Ray, you are now one of us!” I didn’t realize that by turning 40 I had crossed a line. There was no going back. It was like what the Nigerian pastor said to his wife when he saw me while we were waiting in the queue: “Let the old man go first”.
There is a call to be happy and take advantage of your youth. Youth is the time to enjoy. Why? Because the body has not yet begun to break down. You can eat what you like and get away with it. Friends are plenty, and there is always a party to go to.
But there is also a warning, that we are to enjoy life, but we also are to know that someone is watching. As Ecclesiastes 11:9 tells us:
You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. (NIV)
Don’t so enjoy life that you will forget that you have to give an account before the living God. So even in your youth, with the world at your feet, before your dreams are dashed, while health is yours and happiness is in the palm of your hands, then don’t forget that judgment is coming! Your choices matter. So if judgement is coming, you must remember your creator. Ecclesiastes 12:1:
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”. (NIV)
The teacher has spoken of God as judge, but here for the first time God is called ‘creator’. God is the one who made you, the one who gives you the gift of life itself. And the hardest place or the hardest time to remember God is in the days of your youth. That’s when you have too many things to do. There are too many things to miss out on.
I always had this fear of missing out. That is why I always found my mentor’s quote so helpful: “Heaven is for everything I never had time for on earth.”
And we also must remember our creator because the days of youth don’t last forever, Ecclesiastes 12:1:
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.” (NIV)
The same mentor said about getting older, “It’s the pits.” “Another year, another specialist”, he said. A day will come when you will say “I find no pleasure in them.” The curse of modern medicine is that it keeps our bodies alive while our minds get demented.
Remember God before you get old and so can’t remember anything anymore. My dad when he was in his nineties said to his granddaughter Hannah, “When I look at you, it’s like I’m looking at a stranger in the street.” It was tragically funny. I visited my mum on Wednesday, and for the first time she didn’t know who I was. So the word here is to remember your creator before you are old. Remember your creator before the aging process sets in and you can’t remember anyone.
And then Ecclesiastes gives us a description of the aging process. Verses 2 to 5 is a poetic description of growing old. Welcome to your future! Remember your creator before the breakdown happens, where everything falls apart.
So with the onset of old age, the sun, moon, and stars look dimmer, and you realize that it is time to visit ‘Spec Savers’. I remember the time in my mid 30s that I wasn’t enjoying reading. I was getting angry at the inside car light, and I was thinking to myself as I looked at a street directory, “Why do they have such weak lights in cars these days?” I blamed the weak light when it was my weak eyes.
With age, the “grinders cease because they are few”. The picture here is of teeth that have been ground to nothing, or have fallen out, meaning that you need dentures.
With age, the “strong man stoops”. And with age that taught, muscular body is reduced to curvature of the spine. Six packs become six extra inches of waistline.
With age, the songs of birds grow faint. Hearing loss makes it impossible for me to enjoy the sound of cockatoos and kookaburras that wake me up at five in the morning. With age, you spend your time saying, “What was that?” or “Can you speak a little louder?” I’ve pick up tinnitus, which means that I have a siren blasting in my head every day. The songs of the birds have grown faint.
With age, your hair changes to the colour of a white almond blossom.
With age, desire is no longer stirred. Let’s face it, as you get older, your sexual desire fades. Viagra only postpones the inevitable.
With age, we become afraid of heights and dangers in the streets. Fears set in as the body grows frail. You take less and less risks. Going outside at night is scary.
I was given a gift of a two hour sailing cruise on a tall ship on Sydney Harbour. And for an extra $30, I could climb up the rigging as the ship was sailing around the harbour. But half way up and I was terrified. I was too proud to give up. So I made it up and came down again in 30 minutes. And as I came down the rigging I saw a seven year old dart up and down in eight minutes.
Surveys show that the elderly are afraid to go out, not because things are getting worse, but because having a frail body makes you feel vulnerable. It’s why political parties target seniors with the promise of more cops on the streets. So remember your maker who gave you your body. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, and by the way, if you don’t do it in the days of your youth, it’s less likely that you will do it when you are old.
The NCLS survey reported that 46% of those who filled out the survey form in Australia were converted under the age of 11 years. And we rejoice in this. We rejoice in the fact that eleven children came to Christ at our last July holiday club. It’s why parenting, and children and youth ministry, are vital.
The thing about saying ‘no’ to God is that you get good at it. I spoke to one chaplain to a hospice—the place where people go to die—and I said, “I guess you see a lot of people coming to Christ as they face old age and death”. But he said, “No, it’s quite rare, Ray”. Deathbed confessions are not common.
Now is the time to come to Christ! Remember your creator before you grow old. Remember your creator before you die. Ecclesiastes 12:5b, “Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” (NIV) We might say, “Remember your creator before you cark it, or kick the bucket, or push up the daisies. The writer of Ecclesiastes wants us to remember God before the “golden bowl breaks” or the “pitcher is shattered.” Remember God before you die.
In contrast, our culture says that we must remember to do our bucket lists before we die. But be assured that when God sifts through your life, he won’t be concerned about what is on your bucket list.
Remember God before you die and, Ecclesiastes 12:7, the dust returns to the ground from which it came, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Death comes to all. We all are to remember our creator before death happens. After that, it’s too late.
‘Remembering’ in the bible is not just a memory thing. When God says that he remembers our sins no more. It’s not that he develops amnesia and memory loss. It’s that God will not count our sins against us in Christ.
When God remembered Israel suffering in Egypt, it’s not that he says to himself, “Oh that’s right, I made that promise to Abraham to protect his descendants. I completely forgot!” When God remembers Israel, he acted on their behalf to save his people. To remember God is not just to think about him. It’s to fear God, to trust him, and to obey him. Remember your creator before you become old.
That is, remember your creator before you die, if you want God to remember you.
These words from Ecclesiastes have been getting under our skin. Ecclesiastes 12:11 tells us that “the words of the wise are like goads, and their collected sayings are like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd.” (NIV)
Do you know what a goad is? It is a sharp pointy stick, like a cow prod. It’s like sharp nails embedded in your psyche. These words have been a sharp and painful reminder of where meaning is not found. The recurring, depressing, refrain is now said for 38th time in this book. Ecclesiastes 12:8:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!” As a shepherd, the wise man is trying to steer us in the wise path. He is showing that every option without God is a dead end. Whether it is pleasure, work, love, or wisdom, it all comes to nothing without God.
The theme of this book is meaningless, but it is not the conclusion. The conclusion is that we fear God. Ecclesiastes 12:13:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. (NIV)
Are you a God-fearer? Once Christians used to be called God fearers. It was a compliment. A hundred times in the bible we are commanded to fear God. Without the fear of God all is meaningless, and nothing will last. There are three groups when it comes to the fear of God.
First, there are those who do not fear God. They ignore his word and live as if there is no judgment day. I’ve been meditating on Psalm 10 this week, and the one who does not fear says to himself, in Psalm 10:11, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees. My choices don’t matter.”
Sometimes the refusal to fear God surfaces as pride. I think of the man who survived a major mountain climbing accident in Peru in the mid 1980s. He walked for weeks on his own with a broken leg. He then boasted, “I am so proud that I never prayed to God for help.” He had no fear of God. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Our God is a consuming fire.
We send our missionaries out so that they can tell the people of Malta just as we can tell the people of Australia, “If you do not fear him, you will end up in a Christ-less eternity”. And there in that place you will beg God to kill you, but you will not be able to die. And if you do not fear of God, you will live in fear of either people or sickness or death. Come to Jesus so that you can serve the Lord without fear.
There is a second group—they are those who fear God, and who know him as creator and judge. They know that he is powerful and cannot be opposed. They even know that he is holy, and that they are unfit to look upon him. They live in a state of dread and fear because they are unforgiven sinners. This fear of the Lord is sheer terror for these people.
The fear of God is where you should start in your relationship to God, but it is not meant to be where you end.
Then there is the third group, where the fear of God has caused you to run to Jesus and take refuge in his grace. You have a child-like fear of the Lord’ which is marked not by terror but by awe and obedience and respect and joy. You know God is powerful and nothing can resist him. You know that God is perfect and we are unfit to be in his presence. But you also know that God is merciful and has provided his Son to wash away every one of your sins without exception. Most of all you know that to fear the Lord means that you can serve the Lord without fear. And as you fear the Lord, you don’t fear anything else, like Satan and death and the final judgment. For what can man do to me?
More than that, there are two different types of fear, for there are two judgments. There is the judgement that sends people to either heaven or hell—and for those in Christ, it’s a guaranteed ticket to heaven. Then there is a second judgment, but only for believers—it is a judgment of our works, and issues in rewards for keeping God’s law.
These judgements that each of us face makes it clear that life is not meaningless. Fear God and keep his commandments. A child-like fear of God is tied to our obedience of his commandments. As one person said “Without the law, the love of God has no eyes. Without love the law of God has no heart”.
Child-like fear of God means that we want to keep God’s commandments because that pleases God and does not grieve him. We fear and respect only those who take our choices seriously. This child-like fear sets you free from being enslaved to the approval of others. It was said of John Knox, “He feared the face of God so much he never feared the face of any man.”