Have you ever entered a contest and won every category? It happened to me.
I was 10 years old, leaving swim lessons at the YWCA, when I noticed posters for an Easter bonnet contest. Being an artsy girl who made cards and decorations from scratch for every holiday, I was instantly hooked. The next day, my best friend—another art fanatic—agreed to enter with me. For the next two weeks, we worked feverishly on our creations, outdoing each other as our bonnets grew more and more extravagant. On contest day, we borrowed hat boxes from our mothers to carry our entries by bus to the event. I was excited to see our competition, certain our bonnets would win the “Most Beautiful” category. We’d poured heart and soul into our projects, all without benefit of craft stores or pre-made anything.
I remember the cold silence of the gym where we sat and waited for our competitors to show, clutching our hat boxes. Two adult judges kept popping in to see if any latecomers showed. Nobody came.
The contest had several categories besides “Most Beautiful”. Funniest, Most Creative, Most Unusual…things like that. When enough awkward time had passed, the judges oohed over our bonnets and awarded us every 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbon in each category. I was overwhelmed—with feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, and pride-mixed-with-ashes. The bonnets didn’t seem as beautiful without competing talent. I knew there was nothing funny or unusual about my hat, except that designing it had consumed me. And I remember my intense feelings more than I remember the bonnet itself.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Enoch this week, and what we learn from him. He’s the second hero named in the Faith Hall of Fame—Hebrews 11. We find his story in Genesis, four verses scrunched into the genealogy from Adam to Noah. Here’s what we know about him:
- He was father of Methuselah, oldest human in the Bible.
- He became a father at 65, and had other children besides Methuselah.
- After his firstborn’s birth, he walked with God for 300 years.
- At the age of 365, he was “taken away” by God, bypassing human death.
He gets a second mention in Hebrews 11:
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. (verse 5)
And the lesson from his life: And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (verse 6)
So many questions from these verses!
What was his life like before he started ‘walking with God’?
What prompted the change? Was it becoming a father—a parent?
How did he know how to ‘walk with God’, when others weren’t doing it?
What prompted God to take him directly to heaven, bypassing death and a longer earthly life?
We can only speculate. But I find it amazing that one man, out of countless generations before and after him, pleased God so much that he proved the exception to the universal rule of death.
Only one other person in the Bible escaped death: the prophet Elijah. He was lifted to heaven in a whirlwind, accompanied by a chariot of fire and fiery horses, as his protégé, Elisha, watched him ascend and cried out, “My father! My father!” (See 2 Kings 2:1-12)
Other men and women, besides Enoch and Elijah, pleased God by their faith. We’re not told why these two, in particular, got the direct-to-heaven treatment.
But in every generation, those who earnestly seek God are always the exception. And it’s easy—too easy—to measure our spirituality by comparing ourselves with others, being satisfied with an average grade on the curve. Who am I, we think, to aspire to be a spiritual giant? Or at least I’ve thought that, and cut myself a lot of slack.
The truth is, we’ll all be judged on the basis of our heart’s intentions.
God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life.
Are you among that group? Or does this better describe you:
But to those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romans 2:6-8)
Self-seeking or God-seeking? Even our motivation for seeking God should be scrutinized. Are we merely seeking God’s protection and blessings for our own plans, or are we actually seeking to know him?
Because He is worthy our full attention, interest, and praise. Because He is our Creator, our reason for being. Because He gives ultimate meaning and purpose to our lives. Because in Him we live, and move, and have our being.
We’re in the early stages of COVID-19 prevention as I write this. Many of us are in self-imposed isolation, hoping to stop the spread of the virus. I’m sure this time of slowing down and pulling in is prompting a lot of soul searching, even among believers. What actually gives my life meaning, purpose, and shape? What personal goals and dreams keep me going? What am I really living for?
Are you truly living to please God? If God were to judge the world right now, which side would you fall on?
My Easter bonnet fiasco left me feeling foolish, as I imagined competitors that didn’t exist. But living to please God isn’t a competition with others. We’re competing against ourselves—against the persistent, worldly desires of our sinful nature, and our desire to coast instead of reach.
Enoch shows it’s possible to be the sole contender, to have no contemporary role models, yet still excel. Most Faithful. Most Devoted. Most Persistent. Most Holy.
Instead of being baffled by Enoch’s fast-track to heaven, let’s be inspired. Imagine yourself taking every ribbon—because God loves your heart, your decisions, and your actions!