Play and the Purposes of the Lord: A Theology of Play

1997 Jefferis Kent Peterson

Very little is said in the Bible about the concept of play or fun. Yet as children there is very little else we care about except having fun. Curiosity made learning exciting. Playing together took up the bulk of our energies and enthusiasm. We fought at times, but our fights were quickly forgotten and we came back to play together again. Jesus said that unless we become like little children, we cannot receive the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:15). And I think he had play partly in mind. How can that which forms so much of a child’s life not be part of what God means when he says we should become like children? If we are to receive the Kingdom as a child does, wouldn’t that include its joy and fun? After all, doesn’t it say that “the joy of the Lord” is our strength (Neh. 8:10)? Joy speaks of gratitude for our life. It speaks of an enthusiasm that can carry over into every area of life. Can you imagine saying, “I can’t wait to get to work today, I am so excited about what I am doing there”? If you cannot say that, some of the joy of the Lord is missing from your life in the area of work.

Most people do not know joy in the place of their labors. But did you know that the priests who served God in the Temple were not supposed to wear wool or anything that would make them sweat (Ezekiel 44:18)? Do you know why? Because sweat is a sign of frustration and frustration is a sign of the curse. When Adam sinned, God told him he would have to earn his living by the “sweat of his brow” in fields full of thorns and thistles (Gen. 3). Life would no longer be easy for those in the world, but hard. However, for those who serve God, their labors were not to be part of the frustration of the Fall. Instead, they were to be a sign of a return to an Edenic like relationship with God: free of the fear and the frustration that so burdens humanity in this world. Their service to God was to be a light duty with an easy yoke. And for those who are in Christ, the scripture says that we are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). We too are to serve God just as the priests of Israel once did – without the sign of frustration upon our brow.

I realize that not everyone can like their work. It is often only a necessary chore that provides food for one’s table. But all of life is not to be drudgery and joyless. Their should be a joy and enthusiasm in worship and in praise and in the Church, which is God’s house. If there is no joy there, then something is wrong either with the place you worship or with you and your attitude. If it’s your attitude, change it; if it is the place you are not worshipping, leave it. [Yes, you will have conflicts with others, as children often do, but hopefully, you have learned the lesson of forgiveness so that you can quickly return to friendship and joy and true worship.]

One thing that the Lord has been teaching me over the years is the value of play. I am tempted to be a perfectionist, intense, and to take myself too seriously. Yet God has upended my theology on a number of occasions and has told me to “lighten up.” Jesus went to parties and banquets and enjoyed himself. He celebrated and appreciated the life his Father had given him. He took great joy in life in the midst of a very evil world. But even the evil of this world did not destroy his joy or his celebration of life. Many times when Jesus healed people, he was on his way somewhere else – to a banquet or a festival. He was not on his way to be “a minister.” He ministered life and power wherever he went, but he was not going with ministry as an agenda. He was going to enjoy himself! And ministry happened on the way.

When I was a new pastor, I spoke with a Presbyterian pastor from Greenville who had tried to start a youth group without success for over a year. Then he told me that he began to ride bike trails because that is what he liked to do… And before long he had a bunch of kids following along with him because that is what they liked. There! He had a youth ministry, but not by trying to start one. It developed by “accident” out of the things he loved to do. What he communicated to those young people was his love of life and of the Lord in his enjoyment of the things of this world (1 Tim 6:17). That witness of joy created a ministry.

About a year ago, I got involved with a flight simulator group that plays games over the Internet. I did it because that is what I like: computers and games. [Besides, I always wanted to be a jet pilot, and now I can be one without hurting anybody.] The interesting thing is that this group adopted me as the squadron chaplain and the number of ministry opportunities that have developed have been incredible. I prayed over the Internet with a pilot’s wife stationed in Arizona after a crash killed some pilots on her base last year. The whole group allowed me to minister and pray with her in the name of the Lord. Yet all this comes not from trying to minister, but from just being myself and ministering while I am playing with others and having a good time. I don’t intend to minister, but ministry sometimes just happens. And it is earning the favor and respect of non-Christians in the group. Now how can this be? God can use things you love and enjoy to be your greatest opportunity of outreach to others. After all, if you enjoy the life God has given you, don’t you have something to offer to others who don’t have that joy in life? Is your witness just going to be your anger at evil and sin, which the world already knows, or are you going to show them something about the goodness of God about which they know nothing, but which would cause them to hunger to know him for themselves?

Jeff Peterson is a Macintosh pioneer, acquiring his first 128k Mac in 1984. In 1993, he produced one of the first electronic magazines, O Theophilus, and some of the first educational courses for the web. He started his own web design company in 1999, and is still acquiring new clients. He wrote for Jeff is also a part-time theologian on The Scholar’s Corner, and he loves to play Flight Sims when he gets a chance, being part of the notorious Shadow Riders, call sign Padre =<SR>=

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