Part 19: Time and Chance

By January 27, 2014 Meaningless No Comments

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part 19 – time and chance (Ecc 9:11-18)

The year was 1988.  There I was, in my OP t-shirt, chapped lips, mullet, on the stage in the auditorium of B.C. Charles Elementary School.  It was the 3rd grade spelling bee.

One by one, many of my classmates were eliminated from the contest as they misspelled words.  Every now and then, there was a word that I wasn’t sure exactly how to spell (I sure was glad I didn’t get those words on my turn) and after a couple of people botched them, one of the really smart kids nailed them.  Every time it was my turn, I happened to get a word that I knew exactly how to spell.

Eventually it narrowed further and further until I was left with about ten other students – the really smart ones.  Then we got to the word “handkerchief.”  One smart kid after another misspelled handkerchief.  Each time, I’m thinking, that’s how I would have spelled it.  How in the world do you spell it?  Finally, after eliminating about five kids, one of these brilliant minds spelled it correctly just before it was my turn.  Shortly thereafter, there were only three of us left (Wayne Tawney, Laura McClung and I).  We went round and round until Wayne was eliminated and it was just Laura and me.

It was Laura’s turn and the word was shoulder.  She forgot the “u”.  I spelled shoulder correctly and I won the third grade spelling bee.  I didn’t deserve to.  I’m not sure which word he eventually misspelled, but whoever got handkerchief right – that guy deserved to win.  I certainly didn’t.

  • I didn’t study much.

  • I wasn’t the smartest kid up there.

  • I wasn’t the best speller up there.

  • There were several words that would have eliminated me if they fell on my turn, but as time and chance would have it, my turn always presented me with words that I knew how to spell.

Sometimes the best speller doesn’t win the spelling bee.  Sometimes the fastest runners don’t win the race.  Sometimes the most qualified applicants don’t get the job.  Sometimes things don’t go as we would expect.  Sometimes the improbable and seemingly impossible happen.


Today at 2:00, the Denver Broncos will face the NE Patriots in the AFC playoff game and at 5:30, the Seattle Seahawks will face the SF 49ers in the NFC playoff game.  The winners will play in the Super Bowl.  Nobody knows for sure who is going to win those games.

But based on probability and statistics, the experts are throwing numbers out there.  Broncos are favored to win over the Patriots by 4 points.  It is predicted that the probable outcome is Broncos 28, Patriots 24.  Though that is probable, it’s quite possible that the Patriots could win.  The Seahawks are predicted to beat the 49ers 24 – 14.  That is the probable outcome, but it’s possible that the 49ers could pull off an upset.

The best running back in the league could fumble the ball and change the outcome of the game.  The best QB could throw a pass that gets intercepted by one of the worst DB in the NFL.  The best offensive lineman could slip and leave his QB to get sacked in the endzone.  Certain things are probable, but just about anything is possible.

When it comes to life under the sun, one of the great frustrations that presents itself is the problem of the improbable, when what we expect to happen based on probability and statistics doesn’t come to pass.

As the Teacher will show us in today’s text, when it comes to living a satisfied life, we should live and plan based on probability and statistics, but we should always keep our hearts and our minds open to the possibility that the unexpected could happen.  If we shut out and rule out all possibilities and expect only the expected, we may be quite frustrated in life, because we won’t always get what we were banking on.  Thus, we must accept the exceptions.

Sometimes that which is probable doesn’t happen.

Today we move forward in the text.  We will camp out in Ecc 9:11-18, finishing out chapter 9.  Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 9.

Ecc 9:11-18

11 I have seen something else under the sun:

The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

Sometimes the fastest runner doesn’t win. Sometimes the smartest people don’t have the top paying jobs.  Sometimes the Patriots win when the Broncos should and sometimes the smartest kids don’t win the 3rd grade spelling bee.  Time and chance happen to them all.

The word chance, here means occurrence or event.  Some things that are probable don’t happen and some things that are only slightly possible do happen.  In life, we must learn to accept the exceptions.  We must expect the unexpected to happen at times.  Not in every instance.  He’s not saying to throw probability out the window and always expect the unexpected, but in life, there will be times when the unexpected event occurs.  Expect that from time to time so that it doesn’t blindside you and frustrate you to the point that it saps your joy and prevents you from enjoying your life.

When you have blinders on and all you can see is the expected, you get blindsided by the unexpected, but when you accept the exceptions, leaving the door open for the unexpected, you are emotionally prepared and can better handle the situation.


Ever taken trip out of town on vacation and gotten lost?  Back in the day we had to pull out a big map that we couldn’t fold back the right way.  Today, we have talking GPS and SIRI so we don’t even need to know where we’re going.  It is probable that you can throw on the GPS and get to where you’re going.  But it’s possible that SIRI could take you somewhere else; it’s possible that your GPS tells you a wrong turn.  That’s the exception, but it can and does happen.  Trust me…I know.

And if you’re in that kind of situation and you have left the door open to that possibility, your emotional response is likely to be much more pleasant.  It falls into the category of wise.  If you’re not open to that possibility and your blinders are on and the unexpected happens but you’re not expecting the unexpected, it’s possible uh maybe probable that your emotional response may not fall into the category of wise, but, well…it’s harsh, so let me just read you a proverb from the Bible Prov 29:11 a fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.

Want to keep yourself under control?  Godly preactions lead to godly reactions.  In life, accept the exceptions, expect the unexpected to occur occasionally so that you are emotionally prepared to handle what time and chance bring your way.  Plan for the probable, but prepare for the possibility of the improbable.

12 Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:

As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.

We looked at the inevitability and certainty of death last week.  We do know that we will die, but as he says in v12, no one knows when their hour will come.  Here, he reinforces that in light of his theme of expecting the unexpected.

  • You don’t expect to die young.

  • You don’t expect to die on your way to work.

  • You don’t expect the twin towers to come crashing down.

  • You don’t expect a bomb at a marathon.

But those things are possible, as improbable as they may seem.  Fish are swimming along and then a net just sweeps them up unexpectedly.  Birds don’t expect to be taken in a snare but it happens unexpectedly.  People are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.  You don’t know when your hour will come, but it may just happen when you least expect it.  So in light of that, what is the application?  Last week’s message.  If you weren’t here last week, go online and listen.  If you were, I won’t preach the whole thing again, but here’s a brief sketch:

  • Death is a reality of life

  • Life is the gift of God

  • Enjoy your life while you have it

    • Eat your food with gladness

    • Drink your wine with a joyful heart

    • Enjoy life with your wife whom you love

13 I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: 14 There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. 15 Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.

17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one sinner destroys much good.

So here, the teacher tells a story that reinforces his point.  He could be referring to an actual event that occurred in history.  But then again, he could be telling a parable to make his point.  We aren’t sure.  Either way, his story here is the classic story of the underdog, a transgenerational cross-cultural story that every one of us can envision and understand.  A small city with only a few people gets invaded by the big powerful army.  A man in that city was poor but wise.  That right there is one of those unexpected breaks from the norm.  The wise aren’t usually poor, but as he pointed out earlier,

food [doesn’t always] come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

This poor but wise man used his wisdom against the power and might of the invading army and saved the city, against all odds.  You would expect the big bad army to demolish the small town with only a few people – that’s probable.  But it’s possible, though unexpected and improbable, that the small city could ward off that invading army.  And it did.  This is more evidence that in life, one should expect the unexpected.  And it makes his point that wisdom is supreme.  As he said in Ecc 2:13 Wisdom is better than folly.  Here: Wisdom is better than strength, and wisdom is better than weapons of war.

But look at what happens.  In spite of the superlative excellence of wisdom, we are told in v16 – the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.

What would you expect after he saved everyone from certain doom?  You would expect

  • that this wise man would be honored

  • that they would appreciate his wisdom and effort.

  • that they would name the town after him

  • that they would hold feasts in his honor

  • that they would build a statue of him.

  • At the very least, continue to seek his counsel and heed his words.

But they take his wisdom for granted, they don’t seem too grateful for the salvation he brought for his words are no longer heeded.



This hits on another frustration under the sun – the frustration of ingratitude.  In life we all do things:

  • we go out of our way

  • we serve

  • we build

  • we clean

  • we make suggestions that revitalize relationships

  • we make discoveries that change the future

In life when we make such sacrifices and serve others, but they aren’t appreciated, when people aren’t grateful as we expect them to be, how does that make us feel?

That can lead to frustration and if we allow it, if we don’t expect the unexpected, that can sap our joy and prevent the enjoyment of life.


So, what do we do?  What do we do in response to this frustrating reality of ingratitude?

Two things:

  1. don’t expect gratitude

  2. be grateful & express your gratitude

Let’s flesh these out.

First one.  Don’t expect gratitude.  Expect the unexpected.  We would expect people to tend to show appreciation and acknowledgement of what we did.  But instead of expecting that, we should expect…NOTHING.  We should serve with no strings attached, with no desire for recognition, appreciation, a statue in our honor.  We should serve, expecting nothing in return, not even a thank you…nothing.  We serve because we love God and love others.

Let our only reward be the inward satisfaction of pleasing God and knowing that we have been a blessing to others.  Then when people aren’t grateful, when we don’t feel appreciated, we aren’t blindsided, let down, frustrated or angry.  We maintain our joy because our joy isn’t contingent upon receiving an earthly reward of some sort even if it is just a thank you.

As we noted last week, so much of what we are dealing with here is a matter of perspective.  So let’s put this whole ingratitude thing in perspective.  This story of a poor but wise man who brings salvation to his people, does this story remind you of anyone else in history?  Does it bring to mind another poor person, maybe someone about whom it is said that foxes have holes and birds have nests but this man had no place to lay his head?  Does it bring to mind another wise man, maybe someone about whom it was said, the queen of the south came to listen to the wisdom of Solomon but someone greater than Solomon had come?  Any other person in history, who unexpectedly brought salvation to his people?  (I mean, can anything good come from Nazareth?)

As much as we feel like we deserve to be shown gratitude for even the most insignificant of acts, Jesus laid down His life that we may live.  As much honor as we feel we deserve for the little things we do, consider the greatest act in human history, and how grateful are we?  Do we show the gratitude for our salvation that Jesus deserves, or do we often take it for granted?  I know you atoned for my sin so that I could have fellowship with God instead of remaining under his wrath, Jesus, but there are things that aren’t going my way.  That brings perspective.

We hear this story in Ecclesiastes about the man who saved his people and how the people didn’t show gratitude and we think, “What a bunch of selfish, ungrateful individuals” but when we put it in perspective and find ourselves in that story with a poor but wise man who saved his people, we do tend to be those selfish ungrateful individuals who take our salvation for granted.

So our first response to the frustration of ingratitude is: rather than expecting appreciation, affirmation and honor for things that we do for others, let’s first examine ourselves to see whether we are being grateful to God for his salvation.  And let’s serve others with no strings attached as Christ served us with no strings attached.

When we do, we aren’t blindsided and frustrated when we don’t get the gratitude that we feel that we deserve.  Expect the unexpected; expect people to take your kindness for granted and don’t let it frustrate you because in all likelihood, you, like me, do that very thing to God, and we certainly do it to others, which brings me to the second response to the frustration of ingratitude.


The second response is this: be grateful and express your gratitude.  Jesus said “do to others what you would want them to do to you, for that sums up the law and the prophets.”  You and I want others to be grateful for what we do.  Therefore, instead of focusing our energies on fishing for compliments, awaiting affirmation and groping for gratitude, let’s go out of our way to compliment and affirm others and grant the gratitude that we desire from them.

While we will aim to serve with no strings attached with no expectation of gratitude whatsoever, we will aim to grant to others the gratitude that we hope to receive.

In every facet of your life, there are ways that people serve that benefit you.  Look for opportunities to show gratitude.

Here at church:

  • Coffee

  • Chairs

  • Video

  • sermons uploaded

  • bulletins

  • music

  • people with your children right now so that you can actually hear the message without screaming in the background – go thank them when you pick up your kiddos, be grateful for their service.

At home:

  • dishes

  • laundry

  • clean floor

  • mowed lawn

  • washed car

  • honey-do list

At school: teacher…when did they plan the lesson?  When did they grade your papers?  How often do you think they hear, “thank you”?  Want to bless your teacher and put wind in their sails?  Offer them the rare gift of gratitude for the things students typically take for granted.

Look for opportunities to show gratitude to others.  Little things matter.  Set your sights on searching out little things dig deep into the minutia and look for opportunities to praise others, thank others, show gratitude to others.



The teacher warns us that if we always bank on what is probable, we might be blindsided by what is improbable.

  • The fastest runner may not win the race.

  • The strongest guy may not always win at armwrestling.

  • The smartest kid in 3rd grade doesn’t always win the spelling bee.

  • Time and chance happen to them all.

So plan for the probable, but prepare for the possibility of improbabilities.  Accept the exceptions and expect the unexpected to occur on occasion so that you might avoid the frustration that has the potential to sap your joy and prevent you from enjoying this short life under the sun.

Among those things that we should expect in life: ingratitude.  Why?  Because the people for whom we toil are humans, like us.  And like us, they don’t always show the gratitude that we would appreciate.  So when we serve, let’s do so with no strings attached, with no expectation of even a thank you.

And while we don’t expect a thank you from others for what we do, let’s do to them what we would love them to do to us and let’s go out of our way to say thank you for what you do.