Soul Searching Sunday – Happiness for Eternity

Soul Searching Sunday

Last week I started a new series entitled “Soul Searching Sunday” and we first examined Ecclesiastes 7:14. While I was leafing through Ecclesiastes I was reminded just how much I love this book of the Bible. It is written by an old man who feels he hasn’t relied on God fully and therefore his life has become meaningless. With the benefit of age this old man is able to indulge in philosophical and theological reflections and make the accusation that life without God is meaningless and lacks purpose.

I just love the honesty and candour in this book of the Bible. I feel the book is very conversational. I can imagine an old man who is opinionated and passionate speaking many of the passages to a small group of people. Perhaps he is trying to inject some purpose and passion into the lives of his children and grandchildren with the noble ambition of helping them avoid some of the mistakes that he has made in their lives. Whatever motivated the writing of this soliloquy, I personally gather strength from reading the words in this book. It makes me want to go out and laugh, have a good meal accompanied by a nice wine with friends and family during the good times and it encourages me to rely on God and his strength during the difficult times.

I thought I would share another scripture from Ecclesiastes today that encouraged me recently. It’s beautiful and poignant.

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.
Ecclesiastes 3:9-14

I love it that God notices our hard work and efforts. I also like that in Ecclesiastes it doesn’t dismiss work as easy or to just get over it. It calls it toil, it acknowledges the effort and often difficulties that are required when working.

My favourite phrase in this passage is, “He sets eternity in the hearts of men”. It makes me think of Arthur Stace in Sydney – Mr. Eternity.

I first heard the story of Mr. Eternity. after the word “Eternity” was emblazoned across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the year 2000. Soon after, it didn’t take long to hear the inspiring story which was well known already within Sydney.

Eternity - Sydney Harbour Bridge
Image Source

Arthur Stace was born in 1884 and grew up in the Balmain slums, living a life of poverty with drunken parents and family members. He was virtually uneducated and started working at age 14 but was already to experience the first of many jailhouse stays at age 15. In his early 20’s he worked carting liquor as well as other jobs in his sister’s Surry Hills brothels. Following the example he had been exposed to growing up, he was a hopeless drunk himself, especially upon returning from France gassed and almost blind in one eye after World War 1. After another appearance in court, and feeling challenged by a judge to change his behaviour, Stacey went to a soup kitchen during the Depression years and was impressed with the quality of the people serving the vast amount of down and out men. It led to him deciding that he wanted to experience the same thing and he left the building and went across the road to a park where he kneeled and asked Jesus to become his Lord and Saviour.

The transformation of this hopeless meth drinking drunkard was phenomenal. He finally gave up drinking. He obtained a job. He became an active member of a church.

One night he was listening to an evangelist, the Reverend John Ridley. The preacher proclaimed, “I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney.” Ridley kept shouting, “ETERNITY, ETERNITY”. It had such an impact on Arthur Stace that he later recollected, “His words {Eternity} were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write ‘ETERNITY’. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and I bent down there and wrote it. The funny thing is that before I wrote I could hardly have spelled my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn’t have spelt Eternity for a hundred quid. But it came out smoothly in beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it and I still can’t.”

For 37 years Arthur Stace would write this one word on the streets of Sydney. Over half a million times Stace would declare his one word sermon in his unique evangelical style. At first he wrote it in chalk, but later he changed to crayon because it lasted longer in the weather. He was almost arrested 24 times, but Stace claimed he had permission from a higher power. Committed to his mission, Stace would wake at 4am, pray for an hour before leaving home to the Sydney suburb he felt God had told him to go that day.

The appearance of the word Eternity around train stations, walls and pavements was a mystery to the people of Sydney. For many years no one knew who “Mr. Eternity” was. There was speculation in the paper and some who even claimed to be the writers. The real truth was revealed when a minister noticed his church cleaner write the word Eternity when no one was looking. The Minister asked if he were Mr. Eternity. Stace replied, “Guilty your honour.”

Arthur Stace

I find this story so inspiring. God can use everyone of us, no matter if you are illiterate and have an awful past. Who would think that such a simple thing such as writing one word repeatedly would make such an impact that 70 years later that wonderful word would illuminate the city’s most well known landmark in spectacular fashion before millions of spectators?

Back to Ecclesiastes. When I consider that simple word Eternity in that context, it makes me determined to live my life full of purpose, just as Arthur Stace did. ┬áTo find happiness in my life here on earth. To enjoy not only what I eat and drink, (and enjoy this I do! I’m thinking particularly of the Wagyu steak and pear cider which was the highlight of my culinary week this week) but also to find satisfaction in the work I do, whether it be paid employment or the myriads of tasks I do every day so that my household functions and the task of raising my children.

It’s not easy. Life is not easy. But when you have an eternal calling, everything becomes meaningful. An eternal calling makes you bold to live a life worthy of the God who created us as eternal beings. We don’t know what God has in store for us. It’s not all going to be rainbows and sunshine. There may be storms and blackness and dark holes.

In its time God makes all things beautiful. This assurance can bring such happiness to life.

 

You can find a more detailed story of Arthur Stace’s life story here.

 

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