Way back when I was in Bible College, we were studying the Book of Ecclesiastes. As part of the course we were required to prepare and write out a sermon from a passage of our choice. Those of you who are familiar with the book, know that it can be quite a heavy book. So after some time reading through the book, the passage below jumped out at me and has stuck with me all these years. What’s more interesting, but in the last few months 2 pastors that I look up to have spoken on the same passage. So I thought I would share it here.

Let’s Read: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.  2 Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.  3 For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.

4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!  5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.  6 Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?  7 For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 New American Standard Bible

1. Prepare Yourself

It’s interesting to me that Solomon starts here : “Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools.” How many of us prepare ourselves to go to church? I think in most homes it’s become just another thing we do. We don’t give it much thought. We get up in the morning, we get ready, eat breakfast and head off to church. Usually with just enough time to get in the door. Others of us take our sweet time, with the attitude that if we can show up just in time to avoid the singing, which we don’t like, our day will be much better.

Solomon on the other hand takes a complete different view on this. He tells us that we need to “Guard our steps,” we need to watch what we do and where we go, as we approach the house of God. What Solomon understood is that the house of God is not just another place, it’s a sacred space where we go to commune with the living God. I don’t believe that Solomon is only talking about the actual day, but I believe he is speaking of even the night and day before.

Solomon, was a Jew and therefore would have observed the Sabbath. He would have grown up with an attitude that you started to prepare to go to the temple the night before.

Try it sometime, starting at sundown on Saturday start to prepare yourself to go to church. Take time to think about what you’re watching on TV or what movie your about to watch. Think about the activities you will participate in.  Maybe you need to think about the people you will be hanging out with! But take some time and prepare yourself for the main event of communing with God.

The reason Solomon talks about this is because often times when we attend church we’re just going through the motions. Physically we’re there, but mentally we’re somewhere else. As Solomon says we need to go ready to “listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.” The word listen in this passage is an active word and means “to hear and obey.” We’re not just to hear the word of God, but we are to obey. When we’re in church and our heads are of in another world, we’re being foolish.

I think it’s better not to be in church if you’re not there mentally, then to go just to go through the motions.

2. Watch your Mouth

Not only should we prepare our hearts, but we need to watch our mouths: “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God.” Our mouths can get us into so much trouble. I remember times where in my haste and perceived need, I asked god for something that I later wished I could take back. Solomon is not saying not to pray, he is telling us that we need to put some thought into our conversation.

Example: if you were to have a meeting with the Prime MInister of Canada, or The President of the United States, would you take time to prepare what you would say or would you just wing it? I think all of us would take time to think out and possibly write out what we’d say. I don’t think that’s true of God. I think most of us just wing it. I’m in that boat as well, I don’t take as much time to process what i’m going to say or take the time to think about how I’m going to say it. I tend to do most of the talking and forget that prayer is a conversation. Solomon says to let your words be few. We don’t need to use a lot of fancy speech, or big words, we need to be sincere and speak humbly. We also need to be willing to listen and obey to what God says to us.

3. Make a Vow, Keep a Vow

I’m always struck by this verse: “4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!” We live in a world where a promise doesn’t mean much. We make all kinds of promises to God and other people. Sometimes we make these promises just to get us out of a tight situation.

I remember as a kid, I hurt a kids who was younger than me. He started crying and I didn’t know what to do to make him stop, so I told him that if he stopped crying and didn’t tell his mom, that I would invite him to my birthday party. He stopped crying right away, and he never told his mom. I also never invited him to my birthday party. I no it’s a bad example, but I think you get the point.

The point is, that I made a promise, I should have kept that promise. Promises we’re key in Solomon’s day. A man was only as good as his word. If you told someone you would do something, and you didn’t, there were consequences and sometimes they were dire, but worse than that your reputation and your family’s honour was on the line.

There’s a story in Judges 11:29-40 of a man named Jephthah. He was one of the Judges of Israel and was at war with the Ammonites. He made a vow to God, that if he could defeat the Ammonites he would sacrifice the first thing that walked out of his door when he returned home. God allowed him to defeat the Ammonites and destroy 20 Ammonite cities. When he returned home his only daughter came out singing and dancing to greet him. He was devastated, but he knew he needed to fulfil the vow. What’s more interesting is that the daughter knew he had to fulfil the vow as well and encouraged him to carry out the promise, which he did.

I’ve had people tell me that Jephthah didn’t have to fulfil his part because it was a foolish vow. But I don’t think that’s the case. What Solomon is telling us is that if you make a promise you need to fulfil that promise. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a small promise, it’s still a promise. He continues to say that if we don’t fulfil our promises that God becomes angry and will destroy the works of our hands.

I wonder how much I’ve missed out on, we’ve missed out on, because of not fulfilling vows that I, we, made to God and before God? I wonder how much of the turmoil on our planet could have been avoided if we would’ve been a people of kept promises and not broken promises.

 

I find it interesting that if we were just to prepare our hearts to enter the house of God, worship services could be much more alive. If we would take time to think about our conversation with God our prayer would be so much more meaningful. If we would begin to only make promises we truly intend on keeping, our world could be drastically different. Not just for us, but for the world around us.

 

How do you prepare yourself to worship at the house of God?

 

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