… a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them…
While Ecclesiastes is written by an unnamed Teacher, it has been traditionally linked to the corporate wisdom espoused by King Solomon. The Teacher opens the book by declaring “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” (1:2), which sets up chapter 3, as it paints a picture of a world that inevitably goes from one extreme to the other—“a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (3:8). In the midst of this well-known section of the Teacher’s poetic and ironic wisdom, there is an interesting line that I’d like to reflect on.
In Ecclesiastes 3:5, the Teacher says there is “a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.” When a farmer needs to work the field to grow crops—whether 3,000 years ago in ancient Israel or anywhere in the world today—the first thing that needs to happen is clearing out the debris from the soil. You can’t grow and harvest good crops without clearing out the rocks. This could be one allusion the Teacher is making when he says there is a “time to scatter stones.” As I read this section, a phrase sticks out to me: you’ve got to throw away the stones.
This past Christmas, I spent a good amount of time attempting to get a large playground built for my two girls in our backyard. Now, I’m no expert at building playgrounds, nor am I generally very handy with tools, but I knew enough to open the instruction manual which told me how to put together the six large boxes of materials—weighing 650 pounds—that were sitting on my driveway waiting to be assembled. The first thing it said to do before building anything was to make sure the ground was level and clear of debris. The problem was that my backyard was neither of these. Even after spending hours making the ground somewhat level, it was still full of broken concrete, nails, old pipes, and lots of rocks. I knew I couldn’t expect my children to be safe or that the structure would be secure unless I cleared out all of those things. I had to clear out the stones before I could even start building.
I invite you to reflect with me on this little pearl of wisdom from the Teacher. You’ve got to throw away the stones before you build anything. You’ve got to clear out the rocks before you plant anything. You’ve got to get help for that habit you can’t break. You’ve got to pay off that credit card debt. You’ve got to transition that team member who is undermining the vision. You’ve got to realign your leadership practices under God’s wisdom instead of pure pragmatism. You’ve got to make time for rest and reflection if you want your leadership to grow.
You might already know which stones God wants you to clear. The Teacher says there is a time to throw away the stones before you plant any crops. I hope 2018 is a year in which you throw away stones to make room for God to work in and through you, for his glory.
Something to Think About:
Ask yourself: “What stones do I need to clear out for God to plant, root, and grow something this year?”
Is there any self-condemnation that arises as you ask yourself that question?
Do you sense a kernel of truth in how you answered?
Something to Do:
Take a purposeful reflection time over lunch this week to ask yourself the first question above, and then write down your answers. This isn’t a new year’s resolution but part of a purposeful plan to act on something you have power to do. If you are able to, set up a lunch with a trusted person to ask them about how you can clear out some rocks to enable God to grow something in you and through you this year. Write down and share with someone what you sense the Holy Spirit is impressing upon you to receive and take action to build.
Lord, I know I want this year to be a season of building and growing into your will. Help me to see the stones that need to be cleared out in my personal life, work, attitudes, and schedule. Help me to avoid the natural self-condemnation that comes when I fail to reach the ideals I aspire to. Reveal to me directly or through some trusted people one thing that needs to be cleared out so that I can make room for what’s most important in your eyes. Give me courage to clear out the stones that I have been living with for far too long, so that you can build something that is life-giving and that lasts beyond me. Amen.