At the beginning of a new year, we always try to make changes to our lives. We base these changes on our current habits and what we envision our life to be next year. We sometimes adjust our lives based on what people around us say and do or based on what we think God wants from us. This new year, I thought it would be best to listen to some advice from the wise Solomon. At the end of his life and after he had enjoyed great wealth, wisdom and riches, spirituality and after he had turned his back against God and committed many sinful acts, he repented and wrote the book of Ecclesiastes (as many scholars believe).
Perhaps this year, we should start by hearing what God wants from us this year regardless of how small or how big. We do not follow our feelings and our hearts, but we follow principles, commandments, and the voice of our beloved God.
We selected 27 different advice pieces from Ecclesiastes as a starting point for our self-reflection before the new year.
1. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing. And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. (1:8-10)
You will never be satisfied. You will always look for more: a bigger house, better look or haircut, luxurious car, new fashion, profitable business, fulfilling relationship. And you never enjoy the moment. Your stomach will never have enough pizza or wings or your favorite drink. Being childlike is to enjoy the present and not be consumed with the past or the future. The world always wants us distracted from the moment into what we could do or own.
The wise is saying nothing is new. Fashion is simply a recovery of old styles; homes are a rebirth of ancient architecture. All the “new things” try to give an “original feel” or “a natural feel” of things we already knew, and even the new technologies were a dream of someone in the ancient time or appeared in a movie years ago. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further is because I am standing on the shoulder of a giant.” The world will always give us the impression that we want more, but it is only more of the same.
Saying of the Fathers: The sea pattern indicates the pattern of our journey through life, and, just as it never exceeds its capacity, so never should we (GREGORY OF NYSSA). 1
Prayer: Lord teach us not to run after our worldly sense with world music, talks, shows, fashion, food, and desires.
2. For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting (2:26)
God leaves those who do not seek Him with their busyness. Sometimes busyness in worldly matters is the biggest sin we practice. Yes, “the busy people” might be very successful, so that they may receive their reward on earth. We see this in the parable of the rich and Lazarus, “but Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and you are tormented” (LK 19). But God is waiting to give His wisdom and joy to those who follow His commandments. Nothing in our religious life is too small; we must watch for every commandment, call, correction, advice, and the voice of God.
Prayer: God teach us and remind us to seek you before we make any plans.
3. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. (3:11)
God is saying that He put in our hearts to feel that we will live forever. Even though we see death every day, our intuition and our instinct tell us there is more. God is continually standing and calling and saying, “there is more than this life.” Every moment is a call from God, and He is waiting for me to respond with love and humility. This response of unceasing prayer is only possible through the Spirit of God. Only through the Spirit can we pray unceasingly, regardless of the task at hand.
Sayings of the Fathers: Indeed, an evil observer of the times has this age in his jaws and strives with a great effort to wipe out the image of God, having chosen to fight against him from the beginning until the end.
Prayer: Lord, teach me to take each moment to Your presence and respond to Your call with prayer no matter where I am and no matter what I am doing.
4. Better a handful with quietness Than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind. (4:6)
What is your vision for your life? Do you just want to have business and companies and fame and clinics? Sometimes we convince ourselves that we will eventually help the poor. But God is saying it is better to live a content and peaceful life than never to be satisfied. It is better to balance your work and your life and your service than becoming a workaholic.
We need to have a vision for our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly life. Many times, our professional dreams destroy our spiritual, family, and service life.
Sayings of the Fathers: As Solomon says, “Better is a single handful with rest than both hands full with labor and displeasure of mind.” And in these allusions and inconveniences, all that are in the least weak are sure to be entwined. Even as they doubt their salvation and require the teaching and instruction of others, they are incited by the devil’s tricks to convert and guide others. And even if they succeed in gaining any advantage from the conversion of some, they waste whatever they have gained by their impatience and rude manners. (John Cassian)
Prayer: Lord teach us to balance our spiritual, work, service, and family life. Let me not become a workaholic but a tool in Your hands.
5. Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. (4:9)
God is saying, do not walk in your spiritual life alone. You need a father of confession. You need a spiritual friend or a family member that can encourage you when you are weak and fallen.
Sayings of the Fathers: Christ sent his disciples two by two, and it is dangerous to lead the spiritual life alone, whether one is a monk or not (St. Basil)4
Prayer: Let’s try to find a spiritual friendship before the year. Let’s make plans together and start changing our conversations into heavenly talks.
6. Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more (4:13)
When we resist advice from our parents or spiritual friendship or spiritual father, we are becoming foolish. The church fathers used to seek advice and even rebuke to grow in their love for God. Do not tell those who are advising you “stop judging” or “I know what I am doing” or “complain” or “accuse them of not understanding” or give them an attitude. The path of God requires ongoing repairs, which comes from the humility of accepting teachings.
Prayer: Let’s try to seek words of wisdom and guidance or even rebuke at least once a week.
7. Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. (5:1)
When we enter the church, the first thing we should do is worship in front of the altar and pray, “our Father, who art in heaven,” and thank God for allowing us to enter His house through His mercies. He accepted us in His home. We should not be talking in the church or using our phones, whether there is a service or not. Many times, at the end of liturgy or a prayer meeting, we see people chatting and laughing in the church. We must enter and exist with great reverence. We do not deserve to be there. God is present; how can I talk with someone else.
Desire: Each time I enter the church, I pray psalm 5:7, worship in front of the altar, and pray Our father. I desire not to speak to anyone inside the church except with God.
8. Do not be rash with your mouth and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. (5:2)
God does not accept everything we say in prayers. Unlike the Pharisee (Lk 18), the tax collector went home justified, even though both prayed in the temple. Prayer cannot be with the mouth only. It must be with the heart and the mind. Do not just repeat the same words without any understanding or humility, or desire.
Sayings of the Fathers: Listen to the Preacher exhorting not to be hasty to utter anything before God, “for God,” (says he), “is in heaven above, and you upon earth beneath.” He shows, I think, by the relation of these elements to each other, or instead by their distance, how far the divine nature is above the speculations of human reason. For that nature which transcends all intelligence is as high above earthly calculation as the stars are above the touch of our fingers, or rather, many times more than that (St. Gregory of Nyssa). 5
Prayer: Lord, teach me to pray with my mind and my heart.
9. Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. (5:5)
We always make promises to God, such as “God, I promise you, I will not commit this sin, or I will read the Bible every day, or if you help me, I will make such and such donation. We do not want to make promises to God, but we want to ask God to help us with all our desires according to His will. Lord, help me to overcome the sin of lust or greed or to judge or to lie! Lord, help me to be a better husband or mother or son or a friend!
Just a word of caution, sometimes we make our request to God and stop there. But our practice must reflect our prayers. We practice what we pray and pray what we practice. For example, if I ask God to make me a better father or husband, then I need to keep this prayer in front of my eyes all day. I need to examine my attitude. I need to read more about becoming a better husband. I need to ask my spouse and children for feedback.
Sayings of the Fathers: For as unbounded glory hereafter is promised to those who faithfully serve God and cleave to him according to the rule of this system, so the severest penalties are in store for those who have carried it out carelessly and coldly and have failed to show to him fruits of holiness corresponding to what they professed or what they were believed by people to be. For “it is better,” as Scripture says, “that one should not vow rather than to vow and not pay”; and “Cursed is he that does the work of the Lord carelessly (St. John Cassian).
Prayer: O Lord, teach me to put all my spiritual desires in Your hands. Teach me not to depend on my ability. Teach me to practice the holy virtues that I seek.
10. The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; But the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep. (5:12)
The Bible says that many rich cannot sleep well at night because they worry about losing their wealth. They are constantly worrying about the market and new policies. They are always concerned about those who are trying to steal from them or compete with them. When you own a business, sick days and vacations are not the same. You are still fully responsible for everything. It is stressful, but the Bible is not discouraging people from becoming rich; the Bible says that when people have a lot, they tend to worry more, and that is the problem. But a person who labors day by day or a professional working for a company does not have to worry about all the business driving forces. They can have fewer worries.
The scripture is trying to help us to clarify the vision for our lives. Sometimes, we are so obsessive with richness, ownership, and leadership, and this obsession turns into worries, anxieties, broken relationships, and lack of sleep. Our father, Abraham, was extremely wealthy, but he had no problem giving the best land to his nephew or risking his own life to save him. He was not obsessed with richness, but few are those who are like Abraham. If we obsess with something now, it might not give us peace later.
Sayings of the Fathers: People use their children as an excuse for gathering riches. At times they do injustice, rob and do similar things, saying: “I’m doing this for my children.”… I have seen a person who struggled to become rich, but his riches were of no use. He did not enjoy them himself, nor did his son receive them, but he remained poor and in the same state as he had entered the world. After all, he was not born with money or with clothes.…Only the soul’s goods can be taken away into heaven.… If he has done good with his money, if he has a good reputation and honor, and if he has tried to help the weak, then he takes with him something of what he has labored for, namely, that he has done good (Didymus the Blind) 7
Prayer: O Lord, take all my evil obsessions away from my heart. Your peace is the most precious gift I seek.
11. Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart. (7:2)
If one of your friends is suffering or struggling, it is better to support them than going to a house gathering or playing video games, or even attending a birthday party. In some instances, some of the saints would ask God to bring pain on themselves so that God may be merciful with a sinful person or someone who is suffering in sin. We mourn with those who suffer because God did for us, and we must imitate Him. Our nature is to run from suffering, but our union with God is related to suffering.
Prayer: Let me O Lord suffer with those who suffer and seek not my pleasure
12. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise Than for a man to hear the song of fools. (7:5)
I think most people who are close to you would know what you would like to hear. Sometimes people try to avoid confrontation, so they will just let things go or try to make you happy by supporting you in anything. “do whatever you want, man, you are a smart dude.” Or “as long as this will make you “happy” go for it.” We need to learn how to reject all the “fake support” and seek those who want to give us real wisdom. Receiving guidance begins by making people feel comfortable to provide me with advice or rebuke me. This year we want to resist making people uncomfortable when giving us constructive feedback.
Sayings of the Fathers: For most people it seems to be right to avoid the critique of a wise man, especially if they like to sin. Whoever desires amusement and sin avoids the person who wants to hinder it. Whoever has no insight is pleased with flatterers, preferring flattery to critique. It is the characteristic of the wise man that he criticizes the one he loves.… The flatterers sing in a certain way. Even when they give ethical speeches, they want to make their audience happy instead of looking out for their best interests. Such song is a speech that offers joy, but a rebuke helps one to find the right way (Didymus the Blind) 8
Prayer: Let me, O Lord change all the attitudes that make people scared to give me any advice.
13. The end of a thing is better than its beginning; The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit (7:8)
When you start any project, you will be excited, but at some point, in the middle, you will get frustrated. Think of your college years, college sounds exciting initially, but halfway through all the bad grades, lack of internship opportunities, and stress, you might feel frustrated. But fast forward to your graduation; it is one of the most memorable days for you and your family. The Bible is saying to be patient. The patient spirit is humble. Those who like to jump from one project to another are never satisfied, and they are moved by pride. Similarly, our earthly struggle (prayer, fasting, prostration, service, etc.) is difficult now, but in the end, there tremendous joy in haven.
Prayer: Teach me, O Lord, be patient this year in my demanding work and project and relationship
14. Do not be overly righteous, Nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? (7:16)
Sometimes when we read the life of the saints or begin in our spiritual life through the grace of God, we feel spiritual joy and grace that is unexplainable, but the Bible is saying you should not think highly of yourself or think that you are better than those who are around you. Sometimes, when we learn new information, we feel smarter and wiser than those around us. These thoughts of “I am better than those who are around me” or “I am smarter than those who are around me” simply destroy our spiritual lives.
Prayer: O Lord, make me see how holy and righteous everyone is. Make me approach everyone with great love and fear.
15. Also do not take to heart everything people say, Lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart hast known that even you have cursed others (7:21)
We consume ourselves many times with what people say about us. With the waves of social media and pictures and comments and shares and likes, we spend most of our day thinking about people’s opinions of our posts, videos, photos, etc. The Bible says that if you concern yourself too much with what people are saying, one day you will hear people speaking bad things about you, or this attitude will force people to talk bad about you. The fathers never concerned themselves with what people are saying about them. They ran from glory and accepted rebuke with love and humility.
The verse also says that everyone sins, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we also gossip or slander other people. So we have no reason to be upset with those who speak evil, and we have no reason to seek what people say about us. We should run away from these sorts of conversations because they corrupt the heart.
Prayer: O Lord, take away from me all the things that will draw my soul away from you
16. A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, And the sternness of his face is changed. (8:1)
We can feel and experience the people who walk with God regardless of how they look and how they act. Many of the saints put on a persona of foolishness or ignorance. However, God revealed their holiness to all those around them (especially those seeking God). People thought that the cross of Christ is foolishness, but it turned out to be the most incredible wisdom we have ever seen. We do not want to fake our spiritual life with God. We want the Spirit to work from inward outwards.
Sayings of the Fathers: As it is impossible to recognize a white thing if one does not know the color white, and as it is impossible to recognize science if one does not understand what science is, so it is also impossible to identify a wise person by someone who does not know wisdom according to which the wise person is formed and called (Didymus the Blind) 9
Prayer: O Lord, make me sincere in my quest for You. Teach me to meditate on Your passion.
17. One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath. (9:2)
We often like to compare and consume ourselves with what happens to other people. We ask, “how come someone who is far away from God is doing good in life?” and” another close to God is suffering?” The Bible says we can’t make predictions or specific trends on what God brings upon the people. The good and the wicked will receive good things from God and also tribulations from God. I must focus on my action and my shortcomings. I want to leave all the evil in me to be one with God.
Sayings of the Fathers: Except that our belief in Christ raises us to heaven and promises eternity to our souls, the physical conditions of life are the same for us as for the brutes (Jerome) 10
Prayer: O Lord, make me not analyze or be consumed with other people’s personal life, teach me to leave all the evil in me at once.
18. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity (9:9)
God does love family. He instituted marriage for us. He also married the church, and He marries each human soul made worthy by Him. We are required to live a happy life together with our spouses. God does not like drama in the house. Each of us should look into what sort of gloomy thoughts, conversations, or attitudes they bring to the family and ask God to change it this year. Any failures in the past, complaints in the present, and future fears need to leave our homes.
Prayer: O Lord, make me see my spouse as the best spouse in the world. Help me to take away all the drama I bring to the house and teach me to practice Your joy within my family
19. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. (9:10)
God is saying whatever work God put in your way; you should do it faithfully. We do not work faithfully to please people, but we report to our Lord. When we study, we do not cheat to get good grades, but we seek learning and put effort into being faithful in what God has given us. When we work, we do not appear trustworthy in front of our superiors by backstabbing or lying or wasting time or being bossy, but by being faithful to the Lord.
Also, do not be afraid of the magnitude of the work. God did not give us the spirit of failure or fear. We need to be courageous in saying no to cheating or lying. Our fathers used to show courage when the demons fought them. Some searched for tombs and areas where everyone was scared to live because they maintained God’s children’s bravery.
Sayings of the Fathers: May your action be according to your ability! “Do with your might!” Act, according to the might you have received.… That might consists in the gifts of grace from the Holy Spirit. The one who has might and still does not increase his spiritual capacity does not use his might. The one, however, who forcefully does more than is right, not out of real desire, but out of ambition or for another reason, commits a sin.…The beginner acts like a novice, the one who has made progress like one who is on his way, the one who has reached perfection like one who is perfect. Thus, one has to act in accordance with one’s ability. If you are not weak, do not act in a way that would diminish your ability to assert your will. On the other hand, do not attempt something which you cannot do! (Didymus The Blind)
Prayer: O Lord, teach me to be faithful to you in the work You have given me. O Lord, give me the courage not to fear the evil around me.
20. He who digs a pit will fall into it (10:8)
Unfortunately, sometimes we deal with people who continue to lie or continue to make up stories or continue to oppress other people. And we could be these people at times. The Bible is saying People will come to know these negative behaviors. As they have treated you, they will treat others. It is a matter of time before they are revealed. So, any “earthly wisdom” that people use, such as lying, deceit, false accusation, breaking promises, etc., will be turned against them in time. We need to reject all the pitfalls we sit for ourselves from worldly methods.
Prayer: O Lord, teach me not to lie or deceive people, but teach me continuous repentance.
21. Because of laziness the building decays, And through idleness of hands the house leaks. (10:18)
Many successful parents who worked hard to build great businesses had lost everything when their children took over. Laziness is one of the deadliest sins. It is fatal because we do not see its immediate impact. It kills the soul, making the soul adopt hostile attitudes from self-pity, pride, complaining, envy, etc.
Sayings of the Fathers: No house ever falls to the ground by a sudden collapse, but only when there is some long-standing flaw in the foundation or when by long-continued neglect of its inhabitants, what was at first only a little drip breaks through, and the protecting walls are gradually ruined. Due to long-standing neglect, the gap becomes larger, and the walls break away, and in time the drenching storm and rain pours in like a river. For “by slothfulness a building is brought low, and through lazy hands, the house shall leak (St. John Cassian).
Prayer: O Lord, teach me not to be lazy but to work hard in the days of my estrangement in the earth.
22. Do not curse the king, even in your thought; Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; (10:20)
Yes, many people like to follow politics. They have political discussions, but the Bible says do not think evil or be angry in your thoughts against the president or anyone powerful. We see some un-Christian political conversations taking place, but the Bible is saying watch even your thoughts.
Politics is one of these topics that could slowly sneak into our heads and drive us away from God. Our goal is to make our mind pure. We all feel obligated to be good citizens and think about the right candidates, which is essential, but the devil wants us to take it a step further; let’s curse each other and get angry with each other. Let me consider one political party as pure evil and so on. Even though I must evaluate many things in my life, I must be proactive and an excellent Christian citizen, but I must keep my thoughts pure.
Prayer: O Lord, teach me not to engage in foolish conversations and lead me to keep my mind a closed paradise for You.
23. Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days (11:1)
This verse is saying to give generously. Give your money (your bread) to anyone that comes your way (the waters). The act of giving will not go unrewarded. The Bible is encouraging us to tip generously and to help people whom God puts in our ways. To cast our bread is better than to give money because it highlights the idea of giving from our needs. Sometimes we are asked to provide from our limited time or our limited resources. The Bible is saying give generously whenever you can.
Sayings of the Fathers: When you give, give generously, with a joyous countenance, and give more than you are asked for, since it is said: “Send forth thy morsel of bread toward the face of the poor man, and soon you will find your recompense.” Do not separate the rich from the poor, nor try to discriminate the worthy from the unworthy, but let all persons be equal in your eyes for a good deed (Isaac of Nineveh)
Prayer: O Lord, make me rejoice in giving, even from my needs. For from Your hands, we have given you.
24. Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. (11:9)
The Bible is saying, don’t do whatever you want. I want to go to a party or date this person for fun or try this drink or make tons of money in stocks or show off with a house or a car. The heart of man is deceitful. Our hearts can tell us the wrong things. That’s why we must follow the principles that the scripture teaches us. I get worried when people say, “I will do what I like or what I want” or “whatever makes me happy.” But the scripture is saying there is judgment for all our actions.
Prayer: O Lord, teach me not to follow my heart and my ways, but to follow your commandments, for no one can stand in Your judgment.
25. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come (12:1)
We must give God our best offerings: our young age when we are energetic and hungry to learn. We give God our first salary. We offer our first hour of the day or spend some of our vacation time taking personal retreats or using our career to serve and give back to our community.
We do not have unlimited opportunities on this earth. Whatever opportunity we lose does not come back. God gives us a chance to experience Him and get closer to Him; if we waste these chances, they might not come again.
Prayer: O Lord, teach me to offer you the best I have. Teach me to give myself to You.
26. For man goes to his eternal home, And the mourners go about the streets. (12:5)
Before us, great people have surpassed us in all different fields: sports, business, science, politics, spirituality, etc., but people move on. Most of our day, we consume ourselves with people’s opinions, but people move along in the end. We need to focus on what’s everlasting. It is not that great service or new building or business, book, or game that will make me unforgettable, but my name is written in the book of life.
Prayer: O Lord, teach me to only focus on all that is eternal.
27. Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.
The fear of God is to know that God is present. He put within our hearts the intuition of eternal life and good and evil. He has told us that everything we do matters. There is nothing small in our relationship with God. To fear God means to be diligent in everything and to fulfill the commandments and meditate on His law. If I have faith that God exists, and He is everywhere, and I am soon to meet with Him, how does this knowledge change me? That is the most significant driving force of my life.
Sayings of the Fathers: Let us indeed “fear God and obey his commandments,” for each person was born for this purpose, that knowing his Creator, he might venerate him with fear, honor and observance of the commandments. When the time of judgment arrives, whatever we have done will stand under judgment and await the double sentence that each person will receive for his work, whether he has done evil or good. We will be held accountable on the day of judgment for what we were able to do, “for every hidden deed, whether good or evil,” as Symmachus and the Septuagint translated it, that is, for every contempt, or at least every negligence, but also for every idle word offered even unknowingly, not willfully. But because fear belongs to slaves and perfect love drives fear away, fear has a double meaning in divine Scripture, for beginners and for the perfect. The fear of him who has been perfected in virtue, I believe, is expressed here: “They who fear the Lord lack nothing.” Or at least because he is still a man and has not taken God’s name, he knows his own nature, that he might fear God while placed in the body. For God will bring each creature, that is, each person, to judgment for every decision he or she made contrary to that which God has arranged and said. “Woe” indeed “to those who call evil good and good evil. (Jerome)”
Prayer: O Lord, teach me to feel Your presence everywhere. Teach me Your fear that I might not become lazy in my spiritual struggles on earth.
May God give us this year to follow Him daily and seek His commandments and rejoice in each opportunity to fulfill His will in our lives.
“O Supreme Good, I want to love You as no one on earth has ever loved You before! I want to adore You with every moment of my life and unite my will closely to Your holy will. My life is not drab or monotonous, but it is varied like a garden of fragrant flowers, so that I don’t know which flower to pick first, the lily of suffering or the rose of love of neighbor or the violet of humility. I will not enumerate these treasures in which my every day abounds. It is a great thing to know how to make use of the present moment.”