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July 10, 2023

The Three Ls Of An Empty Life

I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?”

–Ecclesiastes 2:2

“Life” magazine once asked several dozen people from all walks of life to answer the question “Why are we here?” This is what taxi driver Jose Martinez said: “We’re here to die, just live and die. I drive a cab. I do some fishing, take my girl out, pay taxes, do a little reading, then get ready to drop dead. . . . Life is a big fake.”

It sounds like Jose had been spending some of his time reading the book of Ecclesiastes, because that is exactly the conclusion Solomon arrived at in his book. He said life seems to be meaningless–just look at the cycles of nature: the sun rises, and the sun sets; people are born, and people die. But before Solomon pronounced his final verdict on the meaningfulness of life, he set out on his own personal quest for meaning.

If Solomon had been a country songwriter, I think he would have titled this section “Looking for Joy in All the Wrong Places.” But I call it “The Three Ls of an Empty Life.” Look at Ecclesiastes 1:13: “I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.” That word “seek” refers to an intellectual pursuit, and the word “explore” refers to a personal experience. Solomon was saying, “I am going to not only intellectually pursue but also personally explore to see if there is any meaning in life.” And then he looked at three areas of life to try to find joy and meaning: living, learning, and labor.

Solomon’s first stop on his journey was living, or pleasure in life: “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.’ And behold, it too was futility” (2:1). We see that Solomon explored several specific areas of pleasure to see if it brought the joy he was seeking. For example, in verse 2, he looked at laughter: “I said of laughter, ‘It is madness,’ and of pleasure, ‘What does it accomplish?’”

In Proverbs 14:13, Solomon had written, “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain.” I remember reading a biography of Johnny Carson, the great comedian who led “The Tonight Show” for thirty years. Laurence Leamer wrote that Johnny was a completely different man when the cameras were not rolling. Leamer said, “When the red light went on, Johnny was as funny as he had ever been. When the light went off, his life was full of darkness and uncertainty.” That is what Solomon found: laughter in and of itself was empty of meaning. He needed to find a source of deeper joy.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “The Three Ls of an Empty Life” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2009.

“The Meaning of Life,” Life, December 1988, 80; Laurence Leamer, “King of the Night” (New York: William Morrow, 1989), 335.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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