The Reverend Michelle Olson made a well-planned slip during her sermon to the commissioners of the presbytery this past weekend. Preaching on Isaiah 65: 17-25 about God creating “a new heavens and a new earth” she was quoting the 22nd verse regarding God’s chosen ones “enjoying the work of their hands.” Instead, what came out was “My chosen ones shall long endure…oops!” Whether it is was planned or not the message was crystal clear—how often do we endure the unfinished work of our lives rather than enjoy the journey of working and creating?
“Endure or enjoy,” that is the question.
I smile when I think of this revealing dichotomy. Those who know me best will tell you that I have an unusual capacity for endurance (I crossed the Nevada desert in the heat of August on my bicycle eight years ago and cycled up to Everest Base Camp two years ago). But, I am a neophyte when it comes to simply enjoying what is right in front of me.
Strangely enough, I do recall when I was crossing the Nevada desert that the first answer in the Shorter Catechism kept showing up in my brain—“The chief end of man is to glorify God and ENJOY Him forever.” It seemed like while I was proving my remarkable endurance to the world my soul was needling me saying, “Any chance you are going to just enjoy the ride too?”
My children often pressure me to not take life so seriously and just enjoy more. I reassure them, “That’s one of my goals this year–to work at having more fun!” I am a lost cause, I know.
But I think this issue of “enjoying God” or “enjoying the work of our hands” is more than just a reminder to not work too hard or approach every challenge as if it is something to be endured. I think there is a deeper God-thing going on here.
I am reminded of my favorite Frederick Buechner quote about vocation where he writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” He uses the word gladness, but I wonder if the words delight, joy and even enjoyment are worthy synonyms.
I write this because many of us have fallen into the belief and practice that ministry in this time is about working harder and enduring longer. “If we can just hang in there a little longer God will turn this ship around,” we unconsciously say to ourselves. The Bible tells us that patience is a virtue and with patience often comes the belief that endurance must follow. In tough times we tend to turn toward endurance rather than fun.
But what if patience and enjoyment lived as comfortably with each other as patience and endurance? What if living with the “not yet” of life actually frees us up to have more fun along the way rather than feeling like we need to buckle in and buckle down for the long haul? What if doing those things that bring us delight and enjoyment are exactly the things that God wants for us when things are toughest?
I will be honest with you. I am a worker. I have an unusual capacity for endurance. If I believe that a problem just needs a little more effort and determination that is what I am going to do. I don’t have a problem working harder to solve life challenges. It’s in my psychological DNA.
But, as I have repeated to our staff and our presbytery leadership many times, “I don’t believe we are going to get through this time simply by working harder.” We need to think differently, act differently and believe differently.
That’s what I heard in Rev. Olson’s lovely and wise sermon.
“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” states the answer to the first question of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession.
“Endure or enjoy?” Rev. Olson asked us.
We Presbyterians know how to work hard. Maybe our growing edge is learning how to play, have fun and just enjoy simply for enjoyment’s sake.
Or maybe I am just preaching to myself. It wouldn’t be the first time.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades