So far in Under the Sun—our series about the book of Ecclesiastes—we’ve seen Solomon reflect on how any pursuit of purpose, meaning, or pleasure, without keeping God’s eternal perspective in mind, will ultimately come up short and leave us dissatisfied. He’s talked about how chasing fulfillment in the form of success, wealth, material possessions, and relationships will all leave us feeling empty if we don’t chase after God’s purpose for our lives. In Chapter 5, he continues his reflection and tells us that even religion is inadequate to satisfy us if we don’t actively bring meaning back to our faith.

Question: In what ways has going through the book of Ecclesiastes challenged you to shift your perspective on a satisfying and purposeful life? Have you experienced encouragement or conviction as you’ve read about Solomon’s search for meaning in a variety of places?

Read Ecclesiastes 5.1–7.

When it comes to finding meaning in life, the ritual of religion that’s not accompanied by the fear or reverence of God will leave us feeling dissatisfied and empty. Even though Solomon wrote this thousands of years ago, it’s still relevant to us today as we continue to struggle against our tendencies to make our relationships with God about what we can get out of them rather than about glorifying God for who He is. Sometimes, we see God as a means to an end instead of revering Him as we’re called to do. This can be dangerous; when we don’t know how to fear, revere, and worship God, we’ll look to be entertained and will look to escape situations where His truth makes us uncomfortable. There are several consequences to practicing religion that is lacking an attitude of reverence and fear of God.

Question: What is the difference between ritualized religion and a true relationship with God?

1. Our offerings are worthless.

Read Matthew 5.23–24.

Simply making an offering with no faith behind it is nothing more than a performance to try to gain God’s favor. This passage in Matthew makes it clear that God is much more concerned with what’s happening in our hearts when we’re giving to Him than the outward action of it. It’s possible to give outwardly to God without giving over our hearts and worship to Him, but this isn’t a way that we’ll be able to experience life-giving change and restoration.

2. Our prayers are powerless.

Psalm 128.1 tells us that fearing God means walking in obedience to Him. When we pray, we should fear God by coming from a place of obedience and reverence. When it comes to prayer, what we say or how we say it isn’t what God’s the most concerned with—it’s what our hearts look like when we come to Him with our needs. If we’re living a life of religion and praying regularly, but those prayers aren’t coming from a place of fear and reverence, we’re not praying in a way that’s honoring or glorifying to God.

3. Our vows are a joke.

When we’re living a life of religion instead of meaningful faith, we can fall into the pattern of making vows to God as we ask for His blessing. It’s not uncommon to ask for God’s blessing or healing in exchange for our time or sacrificial giving. These kinds of vows aren’t honoring to God. Instead, Solomon tells us that God takes vows seriously and that, if we make a vow to God, we need to take the corresponding action to fulfill it. Just a God fulfilled the ultimate vow to us when we sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, we need to honor the vows we make to God as they bring glory to Him.

4. Our lives will be unchanged.

The most dangerous thing about living a life of ritual and religion is that we buy into the lie that the acts of religion will be the things that will make us right with God. It’s easy to think that as long as we read the Bible, go to church, and pray before bedtime that God is going to work in our lives, but if we do these things without fear or reverence of Him, we’re not going to see His life-change and restoration. We begin to view the things that can bring about growth and change as a list of tasks to check off, a list of things that we “have to” do.

Question: Have you experienced a season in your life where you felt like you were living out of religion instead of out of the fear of God? Were you finding fulfillment out of it, or were you still craving a deeper relationship with Jesus?

A life of religion won’t lead to spiritual growth, but Proverbs 14.25–27 says that the fear of the Lord is the fountain of life. With this in mind, how do we get back to a life filled with vibrant faith? How do we move out of ritualized religion and bring meaning back into our faith?

1. We need to stop living for ourselves and put God first daily.

Read 2 Corinthians 5.15.

When we became new creations in Christ, we were called to stop living for ourselves. Instead of focusing on our own needs, we’re called to live lives that will, first and foremost, bring glory and honor to God.

2. We need to stop trying to change from the outside in and let God change us from the inside out.

Read 2 Corinthians 5.17.

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, He begins working in our hearts first. As long as we continue to try and change ourselves, we’ll never experience Jesus’ lasting restoration and hope. If we allow Him into our hearts, He will begin the work and restoration that only He can bring about.

3. We need to stop working for God’s approval and start living from God’s approval in Christ.

Read Colossians 1.12.

Because of Jesus’ incredible sacrificial love for us, we don’t need to work to be accepted by God. Instead, Jesus’ death on the cross has already qualified us as God’s children, and we can take hold of that freedom.

4. We need to turn from dead religion to a life-giving relationship with God.

The best way to do this is to spend some time continuously falling in love with Jesus. When we reflect on the sacrifice He made for us and all He’s done for us, the things that once seemed like something we “had to” do become things we now feel like we “get to” do. It’s a privilege to be able to spend time with God, learning from His Word and listening to His voice. As we fall in love with Jesus, we recognize all of the gifts He’s given us that we get to do.

Question: What can you do throughout your week to continuously fall in love with God? Take the time to build that into your daily schedule as you go throughout the week.