Category Archives: anxiety

Ecclesiastes 2 – We gain nothing – God gives everything

Discussion question:

Laughter is the best medicine. Do you know a joke you could share?


The Teacher of the assembly began by stating that everything around us is meaningless. That is, no matter how much you put in, you gain nothing. The world, on the other hand, under God’s rule provides and never ceases to provide. So, what is the point of our life? The Teacher decided to put their wisdom and understanding to use and experiment. Although the conclusion looks grim, the Teacher sets out to explore what to make of this world and this life.

Read Ecclesiastes Chapter 2



  • 1-9 The project of pleasure
  • 10-16 Poetry – The result of pleasure and wisdom
    • 10-11 Nothing to show for pleasure
    • 12-14 Better to be wise than a fool
    • 15-16 No better being wise than a fool
  • 17-23 The great despair of nothing gained
  • 24-27 The gift from God

1-9 The project of pleasure

“I said to myself…” The ESV says, “I said to my heart…” The meaning of the NIV is right but the word ‘heart’ helps us see where the Teacher is going. He wants to know what he longs for and what drives his life. He isn’t referring to a textbook on the matter but asking himself what is it all about. Note later the phrase, “…my mind still guiding me with wisdom.”

“I will test you with pleasure…” The first test will be to go where the heart desires and see what that produces. He will list out laughter and cheer before moving on to projects that are self-rewarding.

“…what is good…” Verse 1 and 3 have this same reference point. But what could he mean? The sense of worthwhile and profitable is probably in mind. Not a question of good verses evil but a judgment on what is useful and worthwhile doing.

“Laughter…is madness.” Again, a word to suggest an action done for no reason or benefit. True enough. A robot might ask that question.

“And what does pleasure accomplish?” He doesn’t seem to answer that question. Are we to assume nothing? As we continue through this chapter, we’ll find that some things can’t be concluded as bad or madness purely because it doesn’t produce anything. The Teacher is asking what progress do we make through pleasure. The answer is, ‘no tangible progress.’ But that doesn’t mean that pleasure is useless. He calls it pleasure and cheering himself. This is beneficial in the moment. But the question still remains, what real gain are we making through this?

“…cheering myself with wine…” We’ll likely cover alcohol later in the book but we will be sensitive for the moment on this topic. In the current context, the cheering through drinking achieves no profit. It is not condemned here but neither is it prescribed for better living. More on this will come.

“My mind still guiding me with wisdom.” Verse 3 and 9 have the same condition. The Teacher is on a project of understanding. The drinking and the folly was kept in check to observe the benefits. He did not cease his project of exploring the meaning of life. While pursuing pleasure, he was mindful of the process.

Verses 1-3a Describe his intention and the starting point was folly. Pleasure through madness. Unprofitable. But desirable. He then turns his attention to a different kind of pleasure: project management!

“I undertook great projects…” Verses 4-9 outline the exploration of putting his hands to work – not out of service to others but for self gain. Houses, vineyards, gardens and parks; servant breeding and stock, silver and gold and personal entertainment. The whole list of things are for himself. This is why this falls into the category of pleasure rather than of work. We certainly work for pleasure when it is achieving our goals and dreams. He was acquiring “…the delights of a man’s heart.”

10-16 Poetry – The result of pleasure and wisdom

After the decision to explore the fruit of pleasure through self indulgent pleasure and project management for wealth and leisure, the Teacher gives us some conclusions through poetry.

10-11 Nothing to show for pleasure

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired…” The boundary of his experiment was wide.

“My heart took delight in all my labour…” I suggest he means that he put his hand to nothing except what he delighted in. As listed already, the outcome of all his work was for self.

“Yet when I surveyed…nothing was gained under the sun.” The conclusion is that he has nothing to show for it all. Remember that in chapter 1 he had concluded that our life comes and goes and you are left with nothing but the sun goes round and round without us. When we are done, our stuff will belong to someone else. He will take us to this point later.

“…this was the reward for all my toil.” Verse 10d is interesting. While life is meaningless and all the projects leave us with nothing, we still have the pleasure in the process. What is the reward? “Delight in all my labour.”

12-14 Better to be wise than a fool

“…to consider wisdom and also madness and folly.” This is an experiment of comparison. Is it better to be wise or foolish? To live life with understanding or without.

“What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?” This is not to be read as a universal question but specific to the outcome of this experiment. The present king has put his hands to everything he can find to do. Houses, vineyards, wealth and prosperity. What could the next king possibly do? I love the arrogance of this statement! Consider for a second, the Christian perspective on this. If the great Teacher and Kind is the one we ought to listen to: what on earth can we do that is greater than what the King of kings has done. Please forgive me. I’m not trying to jump too quickly to a hyper-Christian response. But the word of God here is for you and for me. I certainly can’t do what the Teacher has been able to do in his experiment. But take it even further and ask, what can we do that God has not already done?

“…wisdom is better than folly…” Having eyes to see is obviously better than not. The Teacher doesn’t seem to go further than saying that obviously it is better to be wise. But…

15-16 No better being wise than a fool

“…the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered…like the fool, the wise too must die!” This is the real measuring line. What is profitable? What is worthwhile? What is measurably good? Well, if death is the end for everyone irrespective of wealth or poverty, wisdom or folly, then what’s the point? The Teacher will begin the next section with much depression. The phrase “…the days have already come…” remind us that our days are numbered. Death is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’.

17-23 The great despair of nothing gained

“So I hated my life…” Has the lessons from the Teacher started depressing you? Well, that was his journey too!

“…the work…was grievous to me…” Not pleasurable anymore since the final word is death which resets all gains.

“…I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish?” Even if we think of our lives as a baton race where we help build for the next generation, even that is folly. It strikes me how every generation elements that we have done poorly and hope that we can leave something better for the next generation – when the reality is that they will grow up to lament their efforts also.

“For a person may labour with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it.” A great effort in this life amounts to…? Just note that the Teacher is not saying we should give up on life – bear with it – but what is the profit of life? What’s in it for me really? Depressing?

24-27 The gift from God

“…this too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Depression is replaced with contentment. The profit of wisdom, knowledge and skill is nothing. We gain nothing from any of it in the end. But the pleasure we receive in the process is God’s gift to us. The very presumption of the experiment is the gift from God. The fact that any pleasure can be received is God’s gift. Our emotional ability is God given. We can’t even produce that from nothing!

“…God gives happiness…” Godliness with contentment is great gain, says Paul in 1 Timothy 6:6. The ‘happiness’ is not simply pleasure or laughter but relief from the pains of gaining nothing. Relief from depression! True contentment is a gift from God. It doesn’t come from gaining through this life but through learning how to please him – to enjoy God and to know him. This is the fruit of the Spirit – to know God in truth and to be sanctified through a growing knowledge of God.

“…but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over…” To the one who strives to gain, they lose everything. But to the one who will pursue God, they gain contentment which is the gift from God. As Jesus once said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it!” Mark 8:35

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Verses 1-9 describe the Teacher’s plans to test pleasure. What types of pleasure does he describe? What is the difference between the pleasures of Verses 2-3a and the pleasures of 3b-9?

Q2. Verses 4-9 describe the endeavours of a king. How far away is our lifestyle to his? 

Q3. The poetry from Verse 10 is a reflection of his findings. What does he conclude?

Q4. When he contrasts wisdom and folly in Verses 13-16, which ends up the winner? Discuss the despair that results in Verses 17-23.

Q5.  How does the Teacher resolve his depression in Verses 24-27?

Q6. Look up one or more of these New Testament passages to discuss. Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Timothy 6:6-11; Romans 8:5-11.


Pouring our energy into this life for the sake of gain is fruitless. We can certainly try but the end will be the expected result. Both the foolish and the wise will die. Our day is coming. But to the one who turns to God and lives for him, they receive contentment as their gift. In this life, we gain nothing except vapour. But with God, we receive the gift of living.


Challenge#1 Seek first the kingdom of God

Matthew 6:19 onwards illustrates Jesus’ perspective on all of this. Even Solomon, in all of his glory, had nothing more than what God provided for him. We are in a more privileged position than Solomon. We have the benefit of his wisdom as well as Christ’s wisdom. This world will give us thrill if we chase it and we will be left with nothing in the end. But with Christ, seeking His kingdom first, we get wisdom, contentment, and eternity. The bible talks about ‘chasing after’ the things of this world like the pagan does. That is foolish. The wise person looks at the logic: we can add nothing to this life but God can give us everything we need and more. Shall we seek first our kingdom or Gods?

Challenge#2 How much is too much?

Whether that question is about alcohol (v3) or prosperity and ambition (v9), in God’s wisdom we are required to be sober minded about everything. To keep wisdom with us (v3 and 9). The bible does not forbid alcohol (it endorses it at times 1Ti5:23) but it certainly condemns the foolishness of excess (Proverbs 23:20). The bible does not condemn making money (it endorses it at times 1Thess4:11; 2Thes3:10) but it certainly warns of the dangers of wealth (Matt19:24). The question is not, how much is too much, but why are you even asking the question? See Challenge#1

Challenge#3 Preach Ecclesiastes to your neighbour

The book of Ecclesiastes is an excellent text for discussing with our neighbours. All the work and toil that goes into this life and for what? So we can enjoy a long weekend at Bonny Doon? What if life was already handed to us? What if everything our heart desires has been offered to us through Jesus? Could it be possible that all our efforts are in vain? Could it be possible that if we lost our life and surrendered our efforts and attention to Jesus, we would receive much, much more than we could ever give up? Mark 8:35-38 challenges us to leave everything in faith and follow Jesus. Romans 8:30 tells us what we get when we turn to him (Romans 8:28-32).

Mark 6:30-56 sheep without a shepherd

Discussion question:

Have you ever felt like the last person to understand what is going on?

Read Mark 6:30-56


Before hearing about John the Baptist in Herod’s house, Jesus had sent the 12 disciples two by two to preach that people should repent. There have been a few lake crossings in this gospel and back in Chapter 4, Jesus had stood up in the boat and told the storm to be quiet and it was! Word about Jesus has spread and people have been wondering ‘who is this man?’



  • 30-44 Feeding the five thousand
    • 30-34 Sheep without a shepherd
    • 35-38 How many loaves do you have?
    • 39-44 From Jesus to the disciples to the people
  • 45-56 Jesus brings…
    • 45-50 Jesus left the disciples on their own
    • 51-56 The sheep follow the Shepherd

30-44 Feeding the five thousand

30-34 Sheep without a shepherd

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported…” This is the first time the disciples are referred to as the apostles. Mark writes this account after all is finished and the community who read this know them as the apostles. But also the word apostles means ‘sent ones’ and that is exactly what Jesus had done in Mark 6:7. This picks up after that mission was at an end. The account of John the Baptist created a sense of time passing in the story. The disciples must have been excited about what they did and witnessed. And they did it unaccompanied by Jesus. NB: They were so excited about all that they had done and taught and yet it seems that this whole section resolves with the fact that Jesus does everything – the disciples don’t seem to catch on to this yet. 

“…get some rest.” What a wonderful encouragement from our Lord. Just because there is more work to do doesn’t mean that we must sacrifice our rest.

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them…” Jesus does not see dollar signs or an opportunity for an ego boost, he sees people who need something. He felt for them.

“…they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them…” A crowd of lost sheep. They are shepherded through teaching.

35-38 How many loaves do you have?

“Send the people away so that they can go … and buy themselves something to eat.” Remember that Jesus had already said to the disciples that it is ok to go and get some rest. Now the disciples are showing compassion on the crowd and suggesting that they be let go to get some food for themselves.

“But [Jesus] answered, “You give them something to eat.” We’re getting closer and closer to the point of this story. Jesus is going to feed five thousand plus people miraculously, but he is going to involve the disciples in the work. Something that would be impossible for any person to do will be made possible through Christ.

“…more than half a year’s wages!” The disciples have not yet learned to trust Jesus. They have also outlined the magnitude of the problem for us.

“How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” Jesus is involving the disciples in this act of compassion. They have identified the problem and Jesus is helping them to solve it in ways that they could not have imagined. It must have felt like a fruitless exercise to them.

39-44 From Jesus to the disciples to the people

“…Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups…” A lovely extra bit of details about the green grass 🙂 Everyone is ready for a picnic without the sandwiches! But Jesus again helps the disciples to break down this problem and prepare the crowd to be served. It’s a bit like Israel being divided into clans and Moses leading the people by groups.

“…he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute…” Jesus is sent by the Father whom Jesus gives thanks to. The disciples receive from Jesus who is directing them. And they distribute it to the people. WARNING: bringing a Roman Catholic reading to this passage will see the Eucharist (communion) at work with the bread being provided by Jesus and distributed via the apostles. But there is no need to see this as the Lord’s supper. There is no deeper link here than providing food for the people. A better connection would be to look back to the wandering people in the wilderness who were fed manna from heaven under Moses. Also, there are fish provided too and a great deal of leftovers.

“They all ate and were satisfied…” Five thousand men plus extras were satisfied by this miracle.

“…and the disciples picked up twelve basketful of broken pieces of bread and fish.” Notice again how involved the disciples are here. Jesus is trying to teach them something. They have seen the concern (V35) and they have seen the resources (V38), they have seen the size of the problem (V40), they distributed what was given and gathered what was left over. They saw better than anybody that day what was possible. 

Summary: Jesus saw that the disciples needed rest. Jesus saw that the people needed a shepherd. Jesus directed the disciples to provide for the people with the resources that Jesus brings.

45-56 Jesus brings…

45-50 Jesus left the disciples on their own

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him…” The rest that they needed is still on Jesus’ mind. They won’t get the rest while Jesus is with them. Notice that Jesus ‘made them’ get into the boat. Remember back in Mark 4:36 that the disciples were taking Jesus places. On that episode they commanded the boat with boldness but were frightened by a storm which Jesus commanded. This time, Jesus sends them off and we’ll see again how little Jesus needs the disciples!

“… he went up on a mountainside to pray.” Jesus also needed time alone with his Father.

“Later that night…he was alone on the land.” The theme of being with or without Jesus continues in this passage. They were ‘out there’ on the lake and he was alone on the land.

“He saw the disciples straining…shortly before dawn he went…” A super hero would see people in trouble and fly to them but not our Lord. He sees our straining and struggle and waits for the right moment. In God’s wisdom it is good for us to have struggle.

“…he went out to them, walking on the lake.” You know, as you do! A simple bible reading would stop and conclude that this is the important part of the story. But a deeper reader will see that this is just one element of the story. The point is more than ‘look at what Jesus can do!’ The point lies in how he treats us and why he has even come to us.

“…they all saw him and were terrified.” The last thing they expected to see was their teacher walking by them on water. While they strained, he strolled. NB: do ghosts exist? While the answer is no, there is a spiritual realm with angels and demons and there is a story of King Saul bringing Samuel back from the dead and there is that time when Moses and Elijah stood with Jesus on a hill! There is also superstition and over imagined realities that we have no concrete answers to. Best to just say no.

50-56 The sheep follow the Shepherd

“Immediately he spoke to them…” The quickness of Jesus here is contrasted with his delay in Verse 48. 

‘“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them.’ Surely Jesus didn’t get into the boat for his own benefit but for theirs! The disciples need Jesus. Jesus understands their need. They are not alone and the man who can feed five thousand with a few loaves and the one who can walk on water has come from heaven to walk with them. To direct them.

“They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” It’s at this point when I read this story that I thought I had understood the loaves but then Mark reintroduces the point here! The disciples had not yet caught on to what the crowds seem to be craving. The crowds are amazed at Jesus and will go out of their way to find him and spend ridiculous hours with him. The disciples are still thinking 2 dimensionally about mission. Jesus wants to send them but they must realise that they go with Jesus. They saw the crowd who needed to be fed but Jesus directed them on how that would get done. It is time for the disciples to start believing that Jesus can feed multitudes, cast out demons, raise the dead and walk on water. Have they even answered the question that they asked back in Chapter 4: Who is this man? We are told that their hearts were hardened and so they are yet unwilling to see who Jesus is.

“…people recognised Jesus. They ran throughout the whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.” This simple and excited faith is what Jesus wants from his disciples. If only they could see what the crowds were seeing!

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. What events were the disciples talking about in Verse 30? How did they describe the events?

Q2. How easy was it for Jesus to do things in these Verses? Look over the whole story and note all the amazing things that Jesus is said to have done and how simple it was for him.

Q3. What problems did the disciples face in all these Verses? How did the disciples think each problem should be solved?

Q4. How are the crowds described throughout these verses? What were their needs and how were they resolved?

Q5. What was Jesus waiting for the disciples to learn? Compare what Jesus was doing while the disciples were straining themselves on the lake.


The disciples had a special and close connection with Jesus and yet they had not yet become excited about who he is. We are all sheep without a shepherd. Without Jesus we struggle against the wind. With Jesus we are directed to teach one another to have faith in him. Jesus saw the crowd who was lost and he began to teach them. Jesus saw the disciples’ who were afraid and said “take courage because I am here.” Jesus has now left us to do this without his physical presence. But the same practice is followed. Rely on God and not our own strength. See the difficult task before us and take courage. The needs of the many are solved by knowledge of the One.


Challenge#1 Jesus is the solution to all of our problems.

In this passage we see Jesus solving problems in ways that the disciples did not foresee. The disciples even thought that their mission was done by them alone! Jesus, who can walk on water, provide food out of virtually nothing, and can heal simply by being present has much more to say and contribute to our problems than we can even imagine. The disciples still treated Jesus like a side-kick to all of their needs. Both the calming of the storm and the walking on water incident left them blown away (pun). But Jesus challenged them on both occasions about their fear. Why are you so afraid? Where is your faith? (Mark 4). And “Take courage. Don’t be afraid?” (Mark 6:50). Jesus is asking us to put him at the centre of the solution to all of our problems. Without him we are just straining at the oars against the wind. But with him, we can be directed and take courage.

Challenge#2 Finding rest in the middle of chaos.

Jesus shows teaches us the importance and value of praying in the quiet when he does it so often himself. He didn’t wait for a quiet moment, he created one.

Challenge#3 Think lost sheep, not problems to solve.

We are all like sheep that have gone astray. We all need the Great Shepherd. It’s not some more than others. The disciples needed to see this of themselves rather than being the muscles for Jesus. When we see this then we can spend more time directing people to Jesus than solving people’s problems. The more we try and fix people’s problems the more weary we will become. But keep directing people to Jesus and we will find this solution much easier. Even Jesus saw the sheep without a shepherd and his solution was to direct them to the word of God as he taught them.

Commandment #10 – Do not covet

Opening Question

Name 3 things that you already have and are thankful for.

Exodus 20:17

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

In the beginning (5 mins)

Once again we turn our minds to Genesis 1-3 and consider what is there that speaks to covetousness. What do we see is our focus in life?

Genesis 1:31-2:1 – God made everything very good. It was complete and full of life.

Genesis 2:7-9, 15-18 – God continued to bring everything into being. He made man from the earth and gave him everything to enjoy. He was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The big idea here is that mankind did not create, establish or struggle for existence and plenty. God created and gave generously.

Genesis 3:6 – they took and ate after they looked and considered how good it looked. They wanted what was not theirs to take and what they did not need.

*God created all things to be dependent on him and to live in harmony with his order and will. Life is not defined by objects but by relationships, especially to God and his will

The command to Israel (5 mins)

What is listed as things to potentially covet in the 10th commandment?

House, wife (or husband), slave (or Jim’s lawnmowing service), ox or donkey (or VW Tiguan), or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Israel’s history (10 mins)

Read Psalm 49. What is the conviction of this Psalmist? See also Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.

Wealth may look appealing but it will not defeat the grave. Note verse 16 tells us not to be in awe of the rich and verse 18 warns us against being seen by others as successful. You can’t take it with you. What is most valuable, according to this Psalm is understanding.

The Gospel (10 mins)

Jesus warned against giving our hearts to riches on earth that are stolen and fade in Matthew 6. He did so also in Luke 12. Read the following and discuss how easy it is to be living like the rich fool (12:20) and pagans (12:30)!

  • Luke 12:13-21
  • Luke 12:22-34

The command is to not covet. What is the cause of coveting according to Verse 32? 

Fear. Jesus said, ‘do not worry’ in the Matthew 6 account. 

What do we replace coveting (or fear) with according to Luke 12:28,31,32?

God has already given us the kingdom. We already have everything we will ever need. For today, we will need to exercise our faith and trust him. In this life, we may see others with more and apparently easier lives (a lie) but our hope is not for heaven right now. We have a Father who loves us, a Lord who gave his life for us and a kingdom prepared for us and promised. 

Christian Living (15 mins)

We know that God created life and everything in it. We know that turning to Christ is about receiving a kingdom that can never perish spoil or fade. And we know that our greatest test is to put our trust in God (faith) and live for the kingdom. 

The New Testament throws reason after reason to stop hoping that this world will deliver and turn our hearts to God who has promised us everything we need. Either read through the following three passages and turn them to prayer or focus on 1 Timothy 6:6-12a.

Ephesians 1:3-10 lists out how much we have received in Christ!

1 Peter 1:3-9 reminds us that we have been given new life into a living hope through the resurrection. The time of struggling is only or this world and is there to mature us as we learn to lean on God and love him more and more.

Read 1 Timothy 6:6-12a and turn it into prayer. Being the final week on the 10 commandments, it might be appropriate to consider how we need to repent and turn back to God and live our lives for him.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life.