Free Download: "Life Question" PowerPoint template and images.
In July of 1999 Barry Sanders shocked the football world by announcing his retirement at the height of his career. Lacking only 1,400 yards to eclipse the all-time NFL rushing record, many considered him the greatest running back of all time. Naturally, coaches, commentators, and football fans around the country tried to lure him back. While some said he should return for the record, others suggested he come back for the money, the fame, or the fans. But in a fax to a local newspaper, the low profile running back simply stated, "My desire to return to football is less than my desire to leave." With that, he boarded a plane and flew to Europe.
Why would a man pass up millions of dollars, a place in history, the adoration of thousands, and a high profile lifestyle? After all, isn't that the American dream? It wasn't for Sanders. Like others, he found those pursuits to be empty, temporary, and meaningless.
And he is not alone. A 1999 USA Today poll posed this question: "What would you ask God if you could get a direct and immediate answer?" By far the number one response was "What's my purpose here?" Or, as we consider it today, "Why am I here?"
Every day we go off to work only to return to eat and sleep. Our lives are as predictable as a hamster on a wheel in a cage. We are running in circles but going no where. And this existence forces us to ask, "Why am I here?" In our text, Solomon tells us how to find meaning beyond the monotonous.
I. Our original plan
God's Word reveals His plan for our lives. According to Psalm 139:16, God knows:  The beginning of your life;  The length of your life; and  The plan for your life. In Ecclesiastes 12 we see now God's word guides us.
A. It motivates us like goads
As we study God's Word we learn that we can know God's will - in that way it motivates us. If you study His word you discover two aspects of God's will:  His general will for all people and  His specific will for you.
B. It anchors us like nails
The truth is a stabilizing force in our lives. If you discover God's plan and you are doing it to the best of your ability, then you can weather all of life's hardship as if you're nailed down.
Maybe we can learn from the conversation between a canary in a cage and a lark on the window sill. The lark looked in at the canary and asked, "What is your Purpose?"
"My purpose is to eat seed" said the canary. The lark pressed, "What for?" To which the canary chimed, "So I can be strong." Again, the lark demanded, "What for?" "So I can sing," answered the canary. "What for?" continued the lark. The canary explained, "Because when I sing I get more seed." "So you eat in order to be strong so you can sing so you can get more seed so you can eat?" asked the lark. "Yes" came the reply.
"There is more to you than that," the lark offered. "If you'll follow me I'll help you find it, but you must leave your cage." It's tough to find meaning in a caged world. [Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace]
Perhaps we can learn from that lark. And the truth will set us free from a meaningless existence.
II. Our trivial pursuits
Instead of seeking God's plan for our lives, we often pursue substitutes to add meaning to our lives. Although some of these pursuits are not all bad in and of themselves, these pursuits are "empty." In fact, Solomon tried to find meaning to life in seven common pursuits that distract us.
A. Enlightenment: He wanted to know something - Eccl. 1:7
We have rightly elevated higher learning in our culture. But knowledge does not make a person better in a moral sense. What's more, some people spend their lives gaining facts while failing to grasp and apply the truth. Paul, a brilliant thinker, wrote that some are "Ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth"
B. Pleasure: He wanted to enjoy something - Eccl. 2:1-3
This substitute would include the search for happiness or the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure. Our culture has an unhealthy obsession with pleasure. We say, "Entertain me, thrill me, and stimulate me." This has seduced many into obsessive behaviors and addictions.
C. Vocation: He wanted to do something - Eccl. 2:4
We, especially men, have defined ourselves by our work. Unfortunately, if we lose our job or retire we diminish our sense of meaning.
D. Materialism: He wanted to have something - Eccl. 2:7-8
Although we have more than any other nation in history, we still cry, "More, more, more." Of course, the accumulation of things never produces satisfaction or meaning. We are like Rockefeller when asked, "How much is enough?" He replied, "One dollar more."
E. Power & fame: He wanted to become something - Eccl. 2:9
Solomon recognized that he had become "great." Did that make him happy or feel complete? No, he whined, "I hated life."
F. Humanitarianism: He wanted to help someone - Eccl. 4:1-3
For those that reject the reality of God, doing good deeds for fellow humans is the only noble pursuit of life. This, however, is meaningless if we are just glorified animals.
G. Relationships: He wanted to belong to something [his wives]
Although he was known as the wisest man to ever live, how wise can a man be that has 1,000 wives? Even a good thing like loving relationships can create stress and disappointment.
Solomon is the great example here. He bows his gray head and mourns five times that it all was "empty." He tried it all and realized that all those pursuits were unfulfilling.
III. Our ultimate purpose
After a life of meaningless disappointments, the wise king finally came to understand life's ultimate goal. Here Solomon reduces the purpose of life down to two elements.
A. "Fear God": Know Him properly
No life will ever experience meaning without God. He was not suggesting that people try religion. Instead, he instructs us to know God properly, i.e. on God's terms. A holy God deserves and demands reverence and adoration. In short, he challenges us to have personal relationship with God based on faith and grace. By faith we know God and by grace we are accepted by God.
B. "Keep His commandments": Serve Him faithfully
Jesus said that all the commandments could be reduced to two:  Love God with all your heart and  love your neighbor as yourself. If we begin to live in accordance with these two commands we will begin to experience a sense of meaning and purpose. And the world will notice that our lives and our faith is worthy of a second look.
"A man once stood before God, his heart breaking from the pain and injustice in the world.'Dear God,' he cried out, 'look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in your world. Why don't you send help?' God responded, 'I did send help. I sent you.'" [David J. Wolpe, Teaching Your Children About God, CD]
IV. Our eternal preparation
What does a life matter that disregards eternity? [See Mark 8:35-38, Matthew 16:24-27]
Eventually most people will consider the reality of eternity. Those that recognize that life continues after death will have to wonder what impact their present life will have on their eternal life. Hopefully, some will come see that the decisions and actions of our lives determine the place of our eternal existence. In other words, life prepares us for eternity - for good or bad. This, too, is part of our purpose.
"Everyone in Cabrini-Green (one of Chicago's toughest housing projects), it seems, knows 63-year-old Brother Bill. He's hard to miss. He wears a flowing, sky-blue cassock made from hundreds of tattered denim patches. Brother Bill's mission is to bring peace to the troubled housing project.
Fifty-three times, by his count, he has waded into gunfire in order to stop it. Fifty-three times the gunfire has stopped, and 53 times he has emerged unscathed. He talks trigger-itching assailants into putting away their guns and going home to their families. He sits beside wounded gangsters who hope to die and persuades them to live. And he insists that there is nothing special about him or his accomplishments. He just says, 'I'm an ordinary man on an extraordinary mission.' He doesn't preach, he loves. One of his fans, a 22-year-old "vice lord", says 'I really think God sent him here.'" [Time Magazine]
Brother Bill is a man who understands why he is here. Do you?